Case dismissed: City's purchase of Watertown Golf Club can proceed

Jan. 17—WATERTOWN — The city's purchase of the Watertown Golf Club for $3.4 million can proceed after state Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky dismissed a legal challenge brought by a city property owner opposed to the deal.

Maryellen Blevins, who owns property on Washington Street, filed action Dec. 28 claiming, among other things, that the sale price far exceeded the property's appraised value and represented an "unconstitutional gift to private entities."

Her suit named the city, its City Council and three council members who voted in favor of the purchase, Patrick J. Hickey, Lisa A. Ruggiero and Clifford G. Olney III, as defendants. Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith and Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo Pierce, who voted against the measure, were not named in the suit.

The council plans to spend $3.4 million in city capital reserve funds to buy the club, which will include about 64 acres of land on which club owner Michael E. Lundy operates nine of the club's 18 holes, along with the clubhouse, carts and other assets.

The agreement also calls for a deed restriction with Ives Hill Country Club and Prime LLC owner P.J. Simao in which Mr. Simao will take his golf club down from 18 holes to a nine-hole course, leaving the city as owner of the sole 18-hole course within the city. In exchange for the restriction, Mr. Simao's companies will receive $850,000 in compensation from Mr. Lundy.

Ms. Blevins complaint sought a preliminary and permanent injunction preventing the sale, as well as a declaration that the council's resolution to proceed with the sale be voided.

In a decision and order Tuesday, Judge McClusky denied the requests to halt the sale and dismissed the case.

The judge, citing case law and subsequent appellate rulings, noted that allegations of overpaying for something are not enough to sustain an action on a taxpayer's behalf under General Municipal Law, as other courts have found the use of funds must also be "for entirely illegal purposes."

"In this case Watertown seeks to purchase and operate a golf course. This in and of itself is not an illegal activity," Judge McClusky wrote in his decision. "Further, there is no allegation of fraud or waste of public property in the sense that the purchase represents the use of public funds for entirely illegal purposes. The alleged fraud and waste only alleges that (Ms. Blevins) believes they are grossly overpaying for the golf course."

Judge McClusky said while the "courts must not trespass into the purview of the legislature" that established General Municipal Law, there are remedies for taxpayers or others to address elected officials they believe overspent taxpayer money.

"The recourse for a disgruntled voter is not to seek redress from the Court but rather express their opinion at the ballot box," the judge wrote. "If a voter believes their representatives have paid too much for an item, they can get upset, and if they believe they greatly overpaid they can vote them out of office."