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Archive for February, 2010

We demo’d two buildings that had collapsed in the recent snow storm, starting at 6am this morning. This was after two days of wet, heavy snow and the necessity for DPW crews to tackle the elements for almost 48 hours straight. The buildings had been slated for demo by the end of the month, but I guess the gods were impatient. This morning’s success is the result of an excellent collaboration between the City and County. We are grateful for this exemplary, cooperative effort.

104 Brookside Avenue

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119-125 Brookside Avenue

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click here.

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quote

Another way that you love your enemy is this:

When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy,
that is the time which you must not do it.
There will come a time, in many instances,
when the person who hates you most,
the person who has misused you most,
the person who has gossiped about you most,
the person who has spread false rumors about you most,
there will come a time when
you will have an opportunity to defeat that person.
It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job;
it might be in terms of helping that person
to make some move in life.
That’s the time you must do it.
That is the meaning of love.

In the final analysis,
love is not this sentimental something that we talk about.
It’s not merely an emotional something.
Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men.
It is the refusal to defeat any individual.
When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems.
Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.

loving your enemies – martin luther king jr. – 1957

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fragile

If I had to choose just one artist to listen to for the rest of my life,
I think it would be Sting.

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poem

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

– Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven.
© Alfred A. Knopf, 2005

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“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

– Nelson Mandela

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Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

– max ehrmann – 1927

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This week, Dr. Dustin Swanger, President of Fulton-Montgomery Community College, and I met with officials from the NYS Office for Technology to discuss curriculum development and job opportunities in the area of information technology systems.

In speaking with Dr. Melodie Mayberry-Stewart, the agency’s director and State Chief Information Officer and Deputy CIO Catherine Durand, we highlighted FMCC’s emerging Center for Engineering & Technology and the competitive skill set students will receive from the program. In addition, discussion with Christine Thayer, director of NYS Technology Academy, focused on the IT curricula offered by area institutions and the continued recruitment of qualified information technology professionals by NYS. Currently, consulting firms provide NYS with much of its necessary IT workforce, however the state continually seeks to provide placement in job and training opportunities to those who have attained at least entry-level IT certification.

In addition to FMCC’s partnership with an on-campus BOCES and the Business Education Alliance under Swanger’s leadership, we touted the successes of the Greater Amsterdam School District in forging programs such as Upward Bound with FMCC to combat the high school drop-out rate. We spoke of the incentives created with Amsterdam’s potential selection for the newest NYS Office for Technology consolidated data center including necessary job creation. Citing the need for academic and professional advantage for the city’s youth and growing minority population, we reasoned that the efforts of the state technology office, local SUNY community college and the City of Amsterdam should work in concert to enhance professional development and employment opportunities in the immediate area, thereby reinforcing mutual benefits between the entities and support for the community.

Our foray was inspiring and I look forward to continued positive developments this year.

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Join us on Sunday, February 14th for a Valentine Ice Skating Party at City Hall from 2-4pm. Sponsored by the City of Amsterdam Neighborhood Associations.
Fun for sure!

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There are many great jobs right here in your own backyard – paying really good money. You just have to know how to find them. It’s also true that many of these good jobs require that you have the right kind of education and training. But we can help you with this. We’ve pulled together some resources that will tell you a lot about what you need to get ahead – and get going on a successful career right here in our region.”

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For any organization or agency, the Strategic Plan serves as both a map and evaluation tool. It is critical to the health of an organization to periodically assess the progress made within a given timeframe and the efficacy of initiatives, staffing and structure. The following is the AIDA Strategic Plan which was adopted in January of 2009.

AMSTERDAM INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY STRATEGIC PLAN

Mission Statement
The mission of the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency is to serve the City of Amsterdam and its citizens by enhancing of the quality of life and by the creation and retention of employment opportunities.

Vision Statement
The Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency will achieve its mission by a variety of means, including the recruiting of businesses to the Amsterdam area, assisting existing local businesses to grow and expand, seeking to fill the gaps in essential community services, marketing the community and its amenities, enhancing the quality and range of leisure time activities, building community spirit, and promoting small community oriented businesses.

GOAL #1 – INTERNAL ORGANIZATION
AIDA will establish a more clear description of the roles of the various participants in the AIDA governance and operations process.

STRATEGY
1. AIDA will establish or review job descriptions for the following:
– Board Members – All Staff – Consultants – Committees
2. The Board Committee structure will be examined, and revised to best meet the needs of the organization.

GOAL #2 – COMMUNICATION
AIDA will improve communication with the City of Amsterdam and other economic development organizations in Montgomery County.

STRATEGY
1. AIDA will arrange a joint meeting with the Montgomery County IDA and County economic development officials to discuss cooperative and collaborative relationships.
2. Regular meetings will be held with the Mayor to discuss projects that AIDA is working on, and ideas and projects that the Mayor’s office would like to initiate.
3. Regular communication will be established with the Amsterdam Common Council to keep Council members apprized of AIDA activities.

GOAL #3 – BUSINESS ASSISTANCE – ONE STOP SHOPPING
AIDA will establish a “One Stop Shopping” concept to assist developers and businesses seeking to locate in or expand in the City of Amsterdam. The goal is to avoid the problem of prospective businesses facing a confusing maze of agencies, and to ensure that those agencies are working in a coordinated manner.

STRATEGY
1. AIDA will gather information on the various agencies which could potentially have information or financial resources to assist businesses, as well as agencies which have regulatory responsibilities (i.e., zoning, permits).
2. AIDA will establish a mechanism to coordinate the work of various agencies when a prospective business examines Amsterdam as a potential site.
3. AIDA will provide information to prospective businesses, will assist in setting up meetings between prospective businesses and the relevant agencies.

GOAL #4 – PUBLIC RELATIONS
AIDA will seek to improve public relations, overcome any past negative perceptions, and give the public a better understanding of AIDA’s activities and accomplishments.

STRATEGY
1. AIDA will highlight its accomplishments by regular communications to the public, including press releases and news stories.
2. AIDA will provide regular, periodic presentations on its activities at Common Council meetings.
3. AIDA will prepare an “Annual Report Card” on its activities which will be available to the news media, community leaders, and the general public.
4. AIDA representatives will attend and speak at meetings of local organizations and service clubs.

GOAL #5 – MARKETING PLAN
AIDA will establish a marketing plan to recruit businesses to the Amsterdam area.

STRATEGY
1. AIDA will initiate meetings to discuss elements of the marketing plan.
2. AIDA will identify other participants with whom marketing plans need to be coordinated including the City, County, Chamber of Commerce, State and regional organizations such as the Center for Economic Growth (CEG).
3. AIDA will identify the target market to which its efforts will be directed, such as the nanotechnology industry, chip fab related industries, or other emerging growth industries that will provide economic opportunity and potential for quality of life in Amsterdam.
4. In developing its marketing plan, AIDA will identify the role of its staff and others in undertaking the marketing plan.

GOAL #6 – IDENTIFY AND INVENTORY POTENTIAL SITES
AIDA will establish a comprehensive list of sites that would offer potential for a prospective business or industry seeking to move into the Amsterdam area.

STRATEGY
1. AIDA will identify the participants, including City officials, who will assist in the process of establishing a property inventory list.
2. AIDA will establish criteria for a property to be placed on the list, and the relevant information to be gathered and included in the inventory.
3. AIDA will undertake field surveys, consult with the City assessor, and other organizations which could assist in the process, such as the County Real Property Tax Services, in developing the inventory.
4. The inventory will be periodically updated as conditions change, to ensure accurate and timely information.

GOAL #7 – FINANCIAL STABILITY
AIDA will seek to improve its financial condition for two purposes. The first is to ensure the financial soundness of the organization itself. The second is to ensure the financial capacity to undertake economic development projects and assist businesses in order to meet its organizational mission.

STRATEGY
1. AIDA will assess its ongoing financial needs, and examine the need for future revenue to support basic organizational operations.
2. AIDA will identify current and potential sources of revenue which will support the organization, and determine a course of action to achieve needed revenues.
3. AIDA will examine collaborative relationships with other economic development entities to achieve the financial backing needed to undertake major projects, such as the development of new industrial park lands.
4. AIDA will continue to explore loans and grants available through State and Federal sources to enhance AIDA’s ability to undertake economic development projects.

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I had forwarded a digital copy of the AIDA strategic plan that was established last January to our Common Council and new AIDA Board. I expect that the new board will review the document and decide what is pertinent and what is not. It is a necessary tool for AIDA board members and the Council to evaluate staff performance. It is important to determine what parts of the organization are highly functioning and what is lacking. I posit that the grant writer, Nick Zabawsky, has been extraordinarily successful in garnering funds for economic development for the City. Unfortunately, the new board has decided to retroactively eliminate the grant writer as of January 1, 2010.

Economic development in this City is the reason AIDA was formed.

My concern is that we have nineteen open grants at various stages of implementation totaling $9.6M. Grants have been instrumental in driving projects as diverse as storm/sewer separations, street reconstruction, park enhancements, brownfield redevelopment, neighborhood revitalization and marketing. These initiatives would be facilitated by a Community and Economic Development Department, but since the former administration decided to eliminate the CEDD, we have no one to shoulder this responsibility. These grants would not be written or administered by any current department head as the grants are not specific to any particular department, not to mention the fact that most department heads lack the expertise to simply take off where this experienced grant writer has left off.

AIDA is the City’s only existing economic development arm.

Additionally, there are three upcoming grants that should be worked on now including the HOME program ($400,000), the CDBG program ($400,000), and the NYSERDA program ($500,000). The three grants alone represent $1.3M in funds that the City could very likely garner. Amsterdam has had great success with the HOME and CDBG programs in the past, and there is every reason to believe that there would be future success. The City has been averaging over $2M a year in new grants over the past 4 years and golden opportunities are being lost.

All of these grants required complex interim and final reporting, tracking, and project management. It is essential to note that for every one dollar spent to hire this grant writer, we receive approximately $74 in awarded grants. While I appreciate the budget difficulties AIDA may be having, I feel they should have had a discussion with the Council before making this decision as it has far reaching consequences operationally for the City.

It is my hope that the Council may meet with the AIDA Board to discuss their strategic plan, our symbiotic relationship, and how we will move forward. I am waiting to hear back from AIDA Chairman Dan DeRossi as to when we may hold a joint meeting. Perhaps an alternative scenario that is advantageous for all can be worked out. This is vitally important to the taxpayers of our city as we try to figure out how the City will emerge from this difficult economy.

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I spent the day in Albany advocating for the City of Amsterdam.

The morning and a good part of the afternoon were spent waiting to give testimony before the NYS Legislature 2010/2011 Joint Budget Committee. Today’s topic was Economic Development. As anxious as I was to speak, it was enlightening to listen to the many knowledgeable individuals that contributed to this critically important discussion. I shared the stage with speakers as varied as Dennis Mullen, Chairman of the Empire State Development Corp, Kenneth Adams, President of the NYS Business Council, Brian McMahon, Executive Director of the NYS Economic Development Council, and Dr. Alain Kayloyeros, Senior VP of the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering at the University of Albany. All told, there were 39 speakers.

After the hearing, I met with several members of the Assembly, including George Amedore and five members of the Hispanic Caucus, to thank them for their support for the City of Amsterdam as a prime location for the new State Data Center. There is $99.5M allocated for the project in this year’s budget. I will continue to tout our advantages, as a project of this magnitude would dramatically alter our fortunes for the better.

My testimony:

I’d like to thank the Chairmen and Committee for allowing me the opportunity to speak today on a topic that is so vitally important to everyone across the State of New York.

The topic, and our shared goal, is economic development. Our state, the nation and global markets are battling unrivaled economic difficulty and uncertainty. We must respond in this time of need with smart economic development policy and press forth towards financial stability utilizing every avenue along the road to prosperity, both legislatively and administratively.

I come to you to paint a picture of my small part of the world, the City of Amsterdam, New York. Much like other post-industrial cities that had sprouted up along the rivers and canals that cross our great state, Amsterdam has its share of majestic natural beauty, handsome Victorian architecture, and charming suburban neighborhoods. The truth be told, our blessings are numerous, as our city is extremely safe, our location is central to world-class cultural, recreational and educational venues, and we are an extraordinarily close and caring community. We celebrate the fact 17% of Amsterdam’s residents are Latino, which is the largest Hispanic community north of Westchester. We are proud of waves of immigrant populations that have called Amsterdam “home”, the Italians, the Polish, the Irish and Lithuanian, as we have been greatly enriched by this ethnic diversity.

That said, we struggle with a debilitated water distribution system throughout the city that is rife with leaks and damage and, in a couple of instances, has left us unable to locate a working fire hydrant at the time of crisis. The older neighborhoods are victim to creeping blight and vandalism. More and more of the financial burden is born by our residents, as businesses leave for what is perceived to be more fertile ground elsewhere. Unemployment statistics in our area hover around 10% and the school district is facing certain draconian cuts to operations that are bound to negatively affect the academic performance of our children. Our population is aging, young people are moving away, and our numbers have been in decline for decades.

We are at a point in our history where significant challenge must be met with intelligent action and resolve.

To this end, the City of Amsterdam has identified specific strategies in our Comprehensive Plan and made considerable progress in advancing our initiatives. Through our partnership with the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency, we have developed a dynamic, new marketing campaign to elevate Amsterdam’s profile in the region and brand our image as warm, affordable and easily accessible. Restore New York grants and the Brownfield Opportunity Act are allowing us to creatively redevelop old mill sites and revamp our traffic systems. NYS Community Development Block Grants and a Main Street grant are breathing new life into our waterfront heritage area and downtown in the way of newly constructed streets, sidewalks, lighting, facades and parks. The NYS HOME Program has allowed for targeted rehabilitation of residences and we are partnering with our county to demolish debilitated structures in many of our aged neighborhoods. We are designing a vibrant, urban core for our people to visit, shop, work and live. In the near future, we will connect our north and south shores with a beautiful new pedestrian bridge that will inspire private investment in retail and commercial establishments along our main streets. These efforts are directly spurred on by the investment of public monies made available through the Departments of State and Transportation; Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Housing and Community Renewal; the Dormitory Authority; and Empire State Development.

It is this critically important infusion of public monies into our struggling economy that I stridently advocate for today. While understanding that your options on the Budget Committee are limited, that the decisions you make are exceedingly difficult and frequently unpopular, I encourage you to give the communities of Upstate NY the tools they need to reinvent themselves as attractive destinations for families, businesses and industry. Again, well-spent state dollars motivate the imagination of the private sector. The Empire Zone Program kept the building of a new Beechnut facility in Montgomery County and in turn, has lead to the updating of Amsterdam’s wastewater filtration systems and brought hundreds of thousands of dollars in water and utility fees to our coffers.

As Mayor of the City of Amsterdam, I look with particular interest at the proposed building of a new data center for the Office of Technology that has been allocated for in this year’s state budget. The location of a facility of this kind in the City of Amsterdam can undoubtedly provide jobs and economic assistance to this city, but more importantly light a spark of hope for the future that has long been absent. For years, we have watched hungrily as state resources were funneled to New York City, Albany, and the Northway corridor. I say to you now, that if these administration and legislative bodies are truly committed to the economic development of Upstate New York, you must fairly distribute funds north and west of the capital. Your actions this year can and will have dramatic and lasting effects. The impact of your decisions can and will be truly transformative.

My constituents and I are grateful to you for championing our interests and confronting the problems of today’s world with willingness, determination and fiscal intelligence. Thank you again for this opportunity to bring our concerns to your attention. Our faith and prayers are with you.

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