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Archive for November, 2008

Ah, ye of little faith. As we are prone as humans to do, some of us are dissatisfied with the efforts of others. Tag lines have been bounced about and not everyone is pleased. To that I say, fear not.

Rest assured that there is a positioning statement, marketing strategy and that we have identified target audiences (unfortunately, all of this is at the office. I left everything there in an effort to actually stop working over the holiday. I cannot tell if I will indeed triumph over my desire to toil.)

The problem with branding an aging, post-industrial city on a river is that almost any slogan you come up with can be applied to any other community along a river, any river, in the northeast. That said, what this community has overwhelmingly identified as its greatest strength is the close, caring nature of its people. Again and again, when asked in a survey what someone would tell another to entice them to move here, this same point would float up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. It was what we could not, and should not, ignore.

Four slogans emerged as final contenders after weeks of gathering information and more time distilling. There have been many volleys back and forth between the marketing firm and the hypercritical jury in City Hall. The final four tags were sent out in a mass emailing to over a hundred random folks for feedback. “Small City. Big Heart.” was chosen almost three-to-one over any other offering, frequently with expressions of delight.

It is my expectation that the logo design and advertising concepts will round out our marketing initiative in ways that a single slogan cannot. Our gorgeous location, cultural heritage, fascinating history and future opportunities may be addressed creatively in a multi-faceted campaign.

Abraham Lincoln once said “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.” More importantly, he went on to say “I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.” The resurgence of the City of Amsterdam is dependent on its people, not only a snappy ad campaign. It will be the combined actions of everyone of us to turn this ship around; every act of civil obedience, every small utterance, every simple prayer, every shared kindness. At this time of thanksgiving, let’s turn our sights to what we have that so many others do not – homes, friends, families and, really, that we are all so committed to coming up with a little tag line that will shine, hope.

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please and thank you

If you go to this web site, http://www.LetsSayThanks.com, you can pick out a thank-you card. Xerox will print it and it will be sent to a soldier that is currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. You can’t choose who gets it, but it will go to a deployed member of our armed services.

Please send a card. It is FREE and it only takes a second. Regardless of individual feelings related to our involvement in the wars, our guys and gals over there need to know we support them and pray for their safety…

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tao

From the Tao Te Ching, Verse 22:

No-thing remains itself. Each prepares the path to its opposite.

To be ready for wholeness, first be fragmented.

To be ready for rightness, first be wronged.

To be ready for fullness, first be empty.

To be ready for renewal, first be worn out.

To be ready for success, first fall.

To be ready for doubt, first be certain.

Because the wise observe the world through terms of faith, they know they are not knowledgeable.

Because they perceive not only through their perceptions, they do not judge this right and that wrong.

Because they do not delight in boasting, they are appreciated.

Because they do not announce their superiority, they are acclaimed. 

Because they never compete, no one can compete with them.

 

Verily, fragmentation prepares the path to wholeness, 

the mother of all origins and realizations.

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FYI

Much has been said over the years, especially during campaign season, about the City of Amsterdam’s Comprehensive Plan of 2003. Many of us participated in the community forums to voice our concerns. More importantly, we wanted to help shape a vision for the future of our community that was in keeping with what was (and is) in our hearts: this is our home and we love it.

The following is a brief outline of the seven goals that had been articulated in the Plan.

 

The City of Amsterdam Comprehensive Plan    Adopted January 21, 2003

Overall, the City of Amsterdam seeks to strengthen its role as a livable city; a great place to live, work and visit in the Capital Region. To achieve this vision, the Comprehensive Plan recommends a series of actions organized around the following seven goals:

1. Improve Amsterdam’s Image and Identity in the Region

Market Amsterdam effectively to the Capital District region and beyond. Overcome negative perceptions and emphasize the community’s positive attributes.

2. Rebuild Amsterdam’s Economic Foundation 

Assist existing manufacturers in applying new technologies to their manufacturing processes, provide incentives to lure new industry, and diversify the City’s economic base beyond manufacturing. Improve local and regional coordination with the goal of creating “one-stop shopping” for economic development.

3. Reestablish Downtown as the Community Center 

Reinvent Amsterdam’s downtown as a vibrant, central place for people to meet, shop, live, work, and visit. Engage the coordinated efforts of City government, state agencies, and downtown stakeholders toward a common vision for downtown. Recognize this as a long-term, evolutionary process.

4. Stabilize and Strengthen Neighborhoods 

Amsterdam’s greatest asset is its neighborhoods. Harness the energy of community volunteers toward neighborhood self-improvement projects. Provide a forum for shared ideas and work in partnership with City Departments to facilitate projects.

5. Redevelop Old Mill Sites and Improve Connections to Neighborhoods

Reposition some of Amsterdam’s historically most important and valuable real estate, preparing it for expanded investment or future reinvestment. The focus for the former Mohasco Complex and the Chalmers Building will be to redevelop these derelict sites/structures as a catalyst for improvements to their surrounding neighborhoods.

6. Enhance important gateways to the Community

Through a combination of transportation enhancements, design guidelines, rehabilitation incentives, and other coordinated efforts, improve gateways and transportation corridors throughout the City.

7. Create a City Greenway System

The City’s parks, waterfront, NYS Canalway Trail, and the remaining tree-line boulevards all contribute to Amsterdam’s quality of life. Maintaining, improving and expanding these resources are all necessary to attract and retain businesses and skilled workers.

 

I am told repeatedly that manifestation is a long-term process. That said, I think I speak for us all when I say that I am willing to push, press, sweat, toil and torment to see that this gets done sooner than later.

Patience is a virtue I’d rather lavish on my children.


 

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Poem

The Story of My Life
by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Each day goes down in history, wets its feet,
bathes in the clear or murky stream, drinks deep,
comes out to join past days on the other bank.
We go in with the bathing day, every morning,
brace the shiver on our skin, taste the slaking
of thirst, find footing on mossy rock. Climb out
with sleep. Waking, we’re back on the first bank,
wading with a new day into the kaleidoscopic
water. Days far from either bank are barely seen
and seem unseeing. There is no recording of them
that knows the cold and quenching of their moment
in the water. Yet I cannot let them go, nor bear
the strong suggestion formed by their fading figures
that they have let us go and that those coming cannot
be foretold anything actual of water, flesh, or stone.
Publisher holds out a large envelope says, Sorry.
We can’t publish your autobiography.
Man sighs, says, Story of my life.
All these words, then, are only for the stream?
The stream is everything? The stream is not enough?
The specters on the banks are deaf but listening?

“Story of My Life” by Jennifer Michael Hecht from Funny.

© University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.

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Fore! Four!

I am not angry. I am not sad. I am not insulted. I am a bit incredulous. I did sleep well last night and enjoyed my day at work.

But I must admit that I am disappointed with a result of last night’s Common Council meeting.

Four out of five aldermen elected to award a “new” Golf Pro contract without review or discussion. So, without further flamboyance, I am posting my exceptions to this contract (though allow me this – as you read, hum the theme song to this blog from the Who: “We won’t get fooled again” and think, “I wish.”)

– The term of the contract changes from a three-year term to a five-year term.

– The contract gives the Pro a 23.6% raise (includes compensation for a Ranger. Without the additional employee, this would equate to a 13% raise.) Compensation will increase by another 2% over each of the next four years. City employees are held to a 3% raise per year.

– Retail space for the Pro Shop is rent-free for the five year term of the contract. Electricity is free as well. All profits from the sale of equipment, supplies and accessories go to the Pro.

– The contract stipulates that the Pro submit a business plan, financial statements, a current balance sheet, and income statement to the City for review prior to the awarding of the contract. The business plan was included and states that the explicit objective of the plan is “to market the Golf Course and Pro Shop in order to promote business”. There were no real marketing initiatives included in the plan beyond publication of tournaments on “bulletin boards and in local papers” and it lacked financial analysis completely. Most of the “plan” is merely verbiage that has been copied and pasted from the contract. The rest of the required financial information was not included with the contract.

– The contract changes wording that the Pro shall obey all reasonable orders and directions of the “Mayor” to “Golf Commission”.

– The contract directs that the Pro shall assist in the promotion of the Course, but “promotion” is not defined.

– As was the case in the past, the Pro must publicize tournaments on bulletin boards and in local papers, but there is not stipulation that proof of these efforts be produced.

– The Pro owns twenty carts for rent to golfers. All profits from the rental of carts go entirely to the Pro. We don’t know how many rentals there are in a season, because though they have been required by contract since 1985, financial statements have never been produced. We do know that there are approximately 40,000 rounds of golf played a year. If only 10% of those rounds of golf involve rentals at $20 a pop, that’s $80,000.

– The Pro stores the carts over the winter at no cost.

– Lastly, the final item in the contract is incomplete, stating it “needs to be added”.

The list above is what I’ve picked out when comparing this contract with the last contract. On top of all of this, we have no solid financial reports as to how the Course did this season, no projected budget and no plan to address debt or upcoming capital projects.

I believe in democracy. I believe in lively debate. I don’t believe I will win every battle. All I ask for is an opportunity to engage in healthy discourse when so much money is involved.

I’ve got my evening prayers cut out for me tonight.

“Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
No, no!”

I wish.

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downtown revisited

Petula Clark never had it so good.

Well, when I think back to the lyrics of her song “Downtown”, she did.

“The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go DOWNTOWN, things’ll be great when you’re
DOWNTOWN – no finer place, for sure
DOWNTOWN – everything’s waiting for you!”

I’ll be humming that for the rest of the night.

From what I have heard of Amsterdam’s past, our downtown offered much of the experiences described in these lyrics, dating back to times when women dragged their skirts along the streets up to the psychedelic miniskirts and fishnets of the 60’s. I’m sorry not to have know Holzheimer & Shaw or Mortans when shopping was oh-so-civilized and elevator music was standard fare. I imagine it was quite elegant and for some reason, I can almost smell my grandmother in knit, gloves and a hat.

So, I’m tired of imagining. In fact, a whole group of us are tired of imagining and are trying to do something about it.

The beauty in wearing the hat I wear, (which is not a magician’s turban – though I’ve been known to wave my hands in the air when I talk as I try to conjure an image for my audience – boy, do I digress) is that I have called my fellow league of the frustrated together and we have started a Downtown Development Committee to tackle our tattered Main Street.

I introduce you to our mission –

The purpose of the City of Amsterdam’s downtown development effort is to:

• revitalize and preserve the historic character of the downtown
and enhance the City’s quality of life.
• recommend changes to legislation and zoning that will inspire and enhance
multi-purpose usage of existing buildings (commercial, professional, residential).
• recommend changes to vehicular & pedestrian traffic patterns, as well as parking.
• increase the diversity of goods and services available to residents and visitors.
Identify and entice investors to open up desirable businesses downtown.
• make recommendations that will improve access to governmental information
needed or required by business owners, investors and developers
(tax assessments, maps, codes, permitting, etc.)
• identify financial resources (grants, loans, incentives, etc.)
that will encourage investment in this area.
• maintain and increase property and sales tax revenues.
• create jobs for City residents.
• recognize the contributions that small businesses make to the City.

No short order, may I say, but we’ve made great progress. We’ve contacted most of the property owners in the concentrated area we are starting in (west of the mall), held a community forum to field concerns and suggestions from these owners, developed an assessment form for each building and have gone for a NYS Small Cities grant to help with rehabilitation of buildings. We have several community groups working on a clean up and decorating campaign for empty storefronts and have talked with the Department of Transportation to assist us in developing a new traffic plan. We are going to be going for more funding and will be putting together a stepped marketing initiative involving targeted print advertising and direct mail.

If only I could wave a wand. I am the most impatient of all participants, but am encouraged by the progress we’ve made so far.

I like to think my good friend Jan West is guiding from heaven, because this meant so much to her and I’ve got to believe that Texan willpower is enhanced when she gets to direct on behalf of the almighty. Which makes me, and I know her, smile. Hell, it makes her laugh that deep, beautiful, full laugh of hers.

Ah well, angels, devils, wands or plain tenacity are going to payoff. As always, it’s only a matter of time and slamming this hard head against the wall repeatedly until it finally

gives.

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a musing

The view from my position as a new mayor is frequently odd. Many, many times when greeted by friends or strangers, they gently touch my upper arm in a gesture of sympathy and ask “how are you doing?” in such a way that one watching might suspect I had just lost a loved one or I’d just been told I’ve only 3 minutes to live.

I wonder how many of the male mayors before me were queried so plaintively.

The truth is, I love my job. Better yet, I LOVE my job. I have yet to have had a job that offered up so much opportunity to utilize my talents, exercise sound judgment, act with discipline and direct change. It’s crazy busy and crazy good.

Of course, sound judgment is a bit subjective, but again, I am being given the opportunity to trust my instincts and the incredible people that advise me. I am surrounded by exceptionally intelligent, experienced and (added bonus) witty people that take their jobs seriously and share my delight in the daily battle for good.

The hard part is not listening to the nay-sayers, or know-it-alls, or digs by those that think I should have had our problems all wrapped up with a pretty ribbon yesterday. The greatest challenge I face is not responding in kind. It is everything not to give into my desire to joust, which is pretty deep-seated for the eldest of five. Many a night, I triumphantly slay an opponent or two in my head with a tongue as swift as sword, in order to grit my teeth the next time I must face someone in person. This ultimate opportunity for self-discipline is the truest test I have been given and has reaped me my greatest rewards.

So, don’t underestimate my angst, my anger or my pleasure the next time I smile benignly from the dais. Sometimes, when I lightly handle the gavel, I am not thinking of hurling it at someone’s head. I am waging war with myself.

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Veteran’s Day speechifying

Veteran’s Day Remembrance Ceremony 11.11.2008

WWI Veteran’s Park, Amsterdam, NY

I am always humbled and moved by the men and women that have chosen to give so freely and completely of their lives to serve this country we all love. They give of their talents, their intellect, their bodies and souls to defend our freedoms and to promote justice and democracy around our world.

And unlike the many good soldiers, having made the ultimate sacrifice, whose names are memorialized on monuments across the country, these men and women – our veterans – have survived unimaginable circumstances; long, arduous trips away from home and families and all that they hold dear; grueling physical conditions, frightening conflicts, sometimes boredom, sadness or loneliness, and often great loss and heartache.

And yet, these boys and girls that had gone off to serve with commitment and pride return to us as men and women that have met adversity with courage, and sacrifice with honor. They have returned to us true patriots – having conducted themselves with discipline, strength and dignity. Our veterans are deserving of this day that honors them for the gift of freedom we have all been given.

This leads me to a critically important point. What these men and women have given so freely deserves continuous compensation. As citizens of this great country, we must ensure that each and every Veteran gets the respect, support and attention we so certainly owe them. We must advocate for financial and medical resources they need if they struggle, be they age 19 or 90. On an individual level, acknowledge their gift with gestures of kindness and compassion. Help to get a young veteran returning from the Middle East a job. And I encourage you all to contact your representatives the in State and Federal government to make certain that our Veterans are well cared for on the home front.

In closing, I’d like to quote a veteran’s day prayer by Mark Roberts.

God of the ages,
We thank You for all who have served in the armed forces of this country.

We thank You for the freedom their sacrifice has earned and guarded for us. Help us to prize this freedom and use it well.
We ask You to bless all living veterans in a special way today, as well as the families of all veterans.
Comfort those who grieve for those who gave the last full measure of devotion.
Strengthen those who bear physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds.
Stand with those who provide care to them.
Move us to reach out to sisters and brothers who are veterans, or relatives of veterans, or who currently serve in the military.
We pray for the day when no one needs to serve in the military. Help us to live now in anticipation of that day, as people who long for peace, who pray for peace, and who seek to be peacemakers in this world.
Amen.

Thank you, all of you that are veterans.

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11.09.08 broken hip

The wall
that is reality
I so willingly avoid
day-to-day for years on end
is not dulled
when life goes
slapping up against it
at the most normal of moments
maybe
standing in line at the mall
ordering a hot pretzel
when the call comes.
Mom’s fallen.
She is lying on her side
strangling on her words
in pain and the space
that is the mall
closes in to my breath
in and out of the receiver
and the racing heartbeat
slamming the walls of my chest.
An hour later, I stare at the white
walls of an emergency
room that have taken all
of those striken with
moments like this.

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Starfish

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.
Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.
So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

“Starfish” by Eleanor Lerman, from Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds.
© Sarabande Books, 2005.

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I read with interest an editorial in the Schenectady Gazette regarding the Walter Elwood Museum and it’s possible relocation. I divert in thought from ideas expressed by the author in a few ways.

I agree that all challenges come with mixed blessings and that this may be an opportunity for the museum to reassess its collections and pare down to what is deemed “essential”. I also believe the collections should be carefully looked at in terms of its current mission and vision before they are parted with, which are not specifically about preserving local history.

WEM Mission

The Walter Elwood Museum is a gateway to learning using the past to illuminate the present. Utilizing local experience, stories and artifacts, we examine history and culture in all its dimensions. We offer educational programs, unique collections and creative activities to enrich understanding of ourselves and each other.

WEM Vision

As a cultural center, the Museum inspires curiosity, creativity, and understanding of our past and present. The Museum promotes a dynamic, rich, unified community that values its heritage.

As you see, the illuminative mission of the museum is to interpret all history and culture through local experience, not the preservation of local artifacts. This allows for the utilization of the diverse collections (which have origins from around the world and through time) in new and unique ways that inspire pleasure, curiosity and reflection.

The museum’s collections should be very carefully evaluated before they are offered up for auction, with an eye toward mission and creative usage. A critical challenge for the Walter Elwood Museum has always been the interpretation of its permanent collections, which include not only local history materials, natural history collections, and Native American collections, but other cultural materials from around to the world. Elwood himself acquired some of the objects, and for over six decades, local residents responding to Elwood’s passion for object-based learning contributed many others.

With this potential relocation, the museum may create new exhibits focused on the qualities of its namesake Walter Elwood: teacher, explorer, collector, tradition-bearer, naturalist and prominent community activist. Delving into his passions for traveling & collecting, his drive to understand global culture as well as personal and local history, his commitment to education, and his dedication to community service, the museum may offer global perspectives that go beyond the reaches of our City limits.

They may also spotlight the contributions of other individuals in our community that exemplify these qualities. In this way, our community is given the chance to celebrate the attributes of individuality, commonality, and creative pursuit that bring color and life to all people while also attracting an audience with interests outside of the immediate area.

By interpreting the collections through the kaleidoscopic personality of Walter Elwood or the stories of local experience, the museum has an opportunity to feature exotic and varied items that have been sequestered away for decades. It would serve everyone to design changing exhibits in the new location that combine objects on display, storage, studios, archived materials, and play space. That way, the balance of the collection could go into storage and be circulated out according to the curricular needs of the schools, season or in response to current events.

Ultimately, the vision of the museum is to create a strengthened community through the understanding and acceptance of history, art, the sciences and culture. May it always be so.

The museum is a valuable resource for students and families and is vitally important to the revitalization of Amsterdam. I encourage all of you reading these local blogs to provide for the museum with your time and/or financial support. As is true in every situation, it’s the individual contributions of each person that make the difference.

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In with the “in” crowd

Hello all.

I am diving into the world of shared thought. I’ve found myself logging in every day to the cacophonous voices of others in my community and feel compelled to blather a bit myself.

So hear I am and will be. I’ll chime in when prodded by pundits, puritans or pirates.

I look forward to this.

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