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Good Morning. I’d like to thank the Veteran’s Commission for once again allowing me the honor to speak on behalf of our city; to once again memorialize how much we appreciate the men and women that have given so freely of their lives to serve this country we all love.

For the many years I have been afforded this opportunity, I have always been struck by the very intimate nature of this sacrifice. Young men and women leave kitchen tables and warm beds, jobs, boyfriends, wives, mothers and children to enter the military. It is an unimaginably poignant choice to make, and I have always understood this decision with sympathy from the perspective of a civilian.

But I cannot begin to understand the depth of this decision, as I have not the experience or knowledge of a veteran.

I cannot ever know what a soldier knows.

I cannot know the weight and force of the resolution to serve – to leave family and community for a higher purpose. A soldier sacrifices comfort, safety and autonomy for the comfort, safety and freedom of those they love and those in need.

A soldier must, with faith and willingness, turn one’s life completely over to others. One must commit, must train, and must learn to march in unison with precision, each thundering step a testament to tenacity.

A soldier may be deployed in times of peace or times of war to any corner of the world and must bear up under merciless conditions, which are sometimes as routine as loneliness or boredom, but sometimes so unbearably painful they leave permanent mental or physical scarring.

Soldiers know heat, humidity, cold, separation, stress and fear. More than that, they know faith and courage. They know the close relationship that humility has with pride.

A soldier must be able to take orders and give one’s undivided effort to see that they are executed, as an essential member of a squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment, brigade, division and corps. Our soldiers make up the greatest military in the world and know, in the fullest sense, dignity and camaraderie.

Soldiers know complete and selfless devotion. They will shelter, support, or fall for the soldier standing next to them, in front of them, or behind.

Becoming a soldier, being a soldier, being a veteran is not merely a decision; it is a calling. It is the response of a special few that have answered in the affirmative – that they would become the caretakers of this nation’s defense and ensure the continued quality of life we enjoy on these quiet streets of manicured lawns, simple gardens, and homes of wood and brick. These special few know the ultimate cost of their gift of love and commitment to our community.

The men and women that stand among us today as veterans have proudly given years of their lives for our way of life and the beautiful flag that marks our destiny.

The words of General Douglas MacArthur are particularly fitting in this regard:

“The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training – sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes, which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image… However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for country is the noblest development of mankind.”

The truth of these words is evidenced as communities across the nation commemorate the selfless generosity of our men and women in uniform.

Today, on Veteran’s Day, we celebrate the extraordinary offering you have given to each of us. We mark your time and efforts with words, spectacle and memorials, but can never thank you enough for knowingly surrendering the innocence of your youth that we may pass our days protected from aggression and treachery.

To each veteran that stands here today, under the heavy sky and waving flag, our words are not enough.

Know, as only a soldier can know, that you have our deepest respect, gratitude and love.

God bless.

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A Prayer among Friends

Among other wonders of our lives, we are alive
with one another, we walk here
in the light of this unlikely world
that isn’t ours for long.
May we spend generously
the time we are given.
May we enact our responsibilities
as thoroughly as we enjoy
our pleasures. May we see with clarity,
may we seek a vision
that serves all beings, may we honor
the mystery surpassing our sight,
and may we hold in our hands
the gift of good work
and bear it forth whole, as we
were borne forth by a power we praise
to this one Earth, this homeland of all we love.

– John Daniel, from Of Earth. © Lost Horse Press, 2012.

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Thank you to all of the volunteers that helped to amass the large pile of gathered refuse, safely bagged and ready to go behind City Hall, despite the rain and an erroneous radio announcement that we had cancelled. I wish I had been able to get more photos, but spent most of the six hours hunting down paper cups, candy wrappers, cans, chip bags, styrofoam plates, plastic bags, straws and lids, and a variety of unspeakably unrecognizable yet fragrant items along the roadside. We picked up areas all over town: Reid Hill, Five Corners, Pulaski Street Bridge, Milton & Fourth Avenues, Church Street, Forrest Avenue, Rt 5 behind the Riverfront Center, Rt 5 to Church Street, East Main Street, Vrooman Avenue, Guy Park Avenue, Elizabeth and Prospect Streets, and the exits to and from the South Side. Folks of all ages showed up, from four to seventy-five years, and proved again what this community is about: commitment, generosity, hard work and pride. To each and every participant, I am enormously grateful for your service. If you’d also taken photos, please don’t be shy about posting them. The rest of this city needs to see what you were up to on this damp but productive day.

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Kenneth C. Andersen (Dad)

The huge number of loved ones that showed up for today’s 8th Annual Out of Darkness Walk for suicide awareness, research and prevention in Saratoga was incredibly moving. Many of us were there in memory of those that we had lost suddenly, leaving pain that only time, faith, and the support of others can soften. I walked in memory of my father,
Kenneth C. Andersen, an intelligent, gentle, funny, generous, and loving man that took his life in 1974. There were many from Amsterdam that attended in support of the Fiorillo family remembering AHS student Vinnie Fiorillo, as you can see demonstrated by the number of purple shirts below. Organizer Marianne Reid’s family shared this day for her brother that passed five years ago.

There were a few thoughts that I came away with from this day:

1. Our loved ones succumbed to illness, many times resulting from depression or substance abuse. Shame and guilt are unecessary as this illness and its tragic end are no more desired or the fault of the family than cancer or diabetes. The taking of a life is the action of a desperately suffering individual.

2. Survivors do not carry a contagious disease. In dealing with those that have suffered this loss, please be compassionate, respectful, warm, and directly acknowledge their grief. It is the oddest sensation to have people casting furtive glances one’s way and speaking in hushed tones, or to avoid conversation completely. It’s 2012; suicide should not be stigmatized any longer. Suicide is not a dirty word.

3. There is so much love that surrounds us. Today’s walk proves it. For more information on suicide prevention, click here.

Thank you to all that paricipated.

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AUGUST
Mayor’s Report

Community Engagement:
• Community Task Force: Wishful Thinking
• Department Criminal Juvenile Justice Grant
• 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament – HUGE success
• 7 on 7 Kickball Tournament planning (September)
• Neighborhood Association “Meet & Greet” planning (September 22)
• Lois McClure Riverlink Park visit planning (September 22)
• Homecoming planning (October 5)


Economic Development:
• Interviews conducted for CEDD position
• Developer Luncheon planned – September 6
• MVREDC strategic plan – final touches for submission
• Train Station Relocation: meeting at DOT, August 9th – projected $45M impact
• Pedestrian Bridge community forum co-hosted with Amsterdam Common Council
• Land Banking Advisory Committee meeting
• BOA meeting: finalizing reports (East End, Northern Trolley Neighborhoods, Waterfront Heritage)
• CEO Roundtable Discussion hosted by Dusty Swanger: public/private investment and partnering for revitalization
• NYCOM Executive Committee meeting: mandate relief, training
• Hydro-electric study
• Waste Water Treatment Digester study
• Highland/Holland PILOT


Engineering/DPW:
• Market Hill water/sewer/road infrastructure improvements completed
• Market Street Traffic Improvements
– excavations nearing completion
– one bad valve identified
– State to start repaving in next few weeks
• I/I contracted, start September (need $90K to do manhole inspections)
• Traffic Re-patterning progressing rapidly
• Bell Hill: rebuild retaining wall
• Series of sink holes/excavations to be remedied in the coming weeks
• Only 19 hydrants out of service

• Interviews conducted: Codes – Wilkie Platt appointed

 Insurance/Trust Issues being resolved; accounting must be set up, finalize Delta/Davis contracts

Need attention:
• Capital Projects
• Professional Assistance: Controller
• IT Contract: County
• Dove Creek solution

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In response to a recent violent act that took the lives of two city youths and has affected hundreds of relatives and friends, a Community Task Force was formed between the City of Amsterdam, GASD, St. Mary’s Healthcare, Centro Civico, and passionate volunteers from our community. As is the case whenever we are faced with tragedy, there has been a welling up of support and compassion that is unmatched by any other community I’ve lived in.

The group’s been discussing aspects of grief and recovery and have come up with several tactics to help heal the deep wound many have suffered, especially our students that will be returning to school in a matter of weeks.

Recognizing this, four young men from the group organized a 3-on-3 basketball tournament focused on stopping violence and growing support for youth activities. John Sumpter, Calvin Martin, Casey Martin and T.J. Czeski put together an event that attracted hundreds of people of all ages. This is no small feat – volunteer scheduling, tents, raffles, refreshments, grills, generators, sound system, referees, score keepers, crowd control, promotion, t-shirts and team sign-ups had to be tightly coordinated. This was managed so well that the event ran as perfectly as the beautiful day God provided. I find it particularly inspiring that such young men are willing to take on the mantle of leadership, giving back so significantly to the city they have grown up in and love.

Huge thanks to all that were involved. The photos below are a few shots of the great day’s activities. Click on any individual photo to enlarge.

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The Board of Trustees of Amsterdam Creative Connections is pleased to announce that the cultural arts center initiative has made marked progress in recent weeks with formal adoption of articles of incorporation, application process underway for non-profit status and scheduling of the center’s initial series of special events including the LINK Art Show/Sale on August 18th from 6-10PM at Riverlink Park, Amsterdam.

The initial advisory committee had been charged with steering the formation of a cultural arts center and investigated the option of a city-run operation. With budgetary constraints realized, the advisory board offered the solution of incorporating as a private foundation by which to support the operations of a center in conjunction with the municipality so as to enable private fundraising, grant writing and membership campaigns.

The community’s efforts are also much lauded in the participation of the center’s naming contest. While “Creative Canvass” had been the initial selection, it became apparent that the name might have caused a trademark conflict with another agency. As such, the Board, in an attempt to respect the community’s initial suggestions amended the name for corporate filing to Amsterdam Creative Connections, which also pays deference to the centers vision “to inspire creative connection and spark community arts expression in a collaborative environment for the enrichment and unification of the community at large.”

Creative Connections will utilize space in partnership with the City of Amsterdam at 303- 305 East Main Street, providing compensation for utilities once operations have commenced. As the initiative maintains self-sufficiency, possibilities of location may warrant purchase of present space or even securing a larger venue based on success of operations.

The board of trustees represents a dynamic grouping of the community with a myriad of personal and professional attributes, whose sole purpose is to promote the vision and mission of Creative Connections in a positive and engaging atmosphere. Members include Thom Georgia, Julia Caro, Janet Tanguay, Gail Talmadge, Patrice Vivirito, Jessica Murray and Mandi Bornt.

Board President Thom Georgia is the former Director of the NYS Library Technology Opportunity Program at the Amsterdam Library.

Board Vice President Julia Caro presently serves as the Community Development Initiative Director for Centro Civico.

Janet Tanguay is a mixed media artist and Owner/Chief Creativity Coach at Art n Soul, Inc representing over 100 artists and works as Entrepreneurship Manager at the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Jessica Murray is a mixed-media artist, painting instructor, serves as President/Co-founder of the Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance and works professionally as a legal assistant in a local law firm.

Patrice Vivirito brings with her 20 years of advertising and marketing experience and is a former Creative Director and VP of Copywriting in NYC before moving to Amsterdam where she is now a freelance copywriter.

Gail Talmadge is an Artist/Muralist who has owned and operated an antique and design business and is also a licensed realtor specializing in home staging and interior design.

Mandi Bornt joins the board from the corporate business sector where she currently serves as the Outbound Group Leader for Target Corporation.

Mayor Ann M. Thane serves as an ex-officio participant to the Board.

For more information, contact: contact@creativeconnectionsarts.org
This press release was written by Thom Georgia.

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As comments have closed on the Pars Nova site and Tim Becker felt my response was still worth posting, I submit the following as an addition to the Reflections on Friday musings:

I read this morning’s Recorder editorial with some amusement; point made for me. Either you want to believe stats or (apparently) not. Either you hang with the labels (apparently so) or not. Is a poll about safety put up within a week of a horrific killing valid? What would the poll have said the week before? Is a poll of 74 people out of tens of thousands significant? Is a poll that changes it’s wording mid-stream worthwhile? I put to you that this particular poll only exacerbates feelings of distrust and division. It does nothing to alleviate tensions in our community. As has been indicated in the other comments, it’s time to move beyond labeling and pandering to concrete solutions to problems which may be societally-based and affect communities across the nation.

Do shootings in Aurora indicate that the Metro-Denver community is more unsafe? That they haven’t done enough? Rather than honing in on the community experiencing such loss, the question begs an examination of contemporary family structure, changes in the role that organized religion plays, governmental responsibility, and the influence of mass media and the internet on today’s culture.

I find it odd that the Recorder continues to want to label the city as not doing enough, to tag Amsterdam with murders that, though tragic, really are unrelated and isolated, and insist that there we are only about spin.

Nah, son.

We’ve continually acknowledged that there are problems here, but must counter that we are not the urban nightmare falsely put forth in editorials, radio meanderings, blogs, or coffee shop gossip. The fact is that we are a relatively safe, active, and close-kit community. We respond to our problems thoughtfully and support those in crisis.

Truth is, Charlie, that I am very grateful to you specifically for your continued focus on the good things in our community (thank you for the nod this morning regarding Neighborhood Watch.) My comments about labeling are not solely pointed at you because the negative myth has been pervasive for decades. My goal is to stop this repetitive droning and move on to a message that is more realistic; not lollipops and roses, but welcoming, accessible, affordable, and on our way up.

small city. big heart.

The city, schools, hospital, churches and community organizations have already begun to meld together in a response that is once again immediate and compassionate, a trait that is ALWAYS present in our community during times of great difficulty. Residents and businesses are busily holding fundraisers and surging with support for these families.

That we’ve suffered and share in the grief driven by an egregious crime is not unique to Amsterdam and we will never be entirely free of crime. The reality is that shootings or murder are so rare here that they incite outrage. That’s a good thing. In other nearby communities, these tragedies happen with such regularity that they may go almost unnoticed. That’s the real story of our community and is what is deserving of ink.

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No one exptects to lose a child. To help these stricken families raise money for funeral services, please donate at the following links:

Peace for Pauly

Peace for Jonathan

“Entre lo que existe y lo que no existe,
el espacio es el amor.”

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Last Saturday saw the first concert of a planned summer series at Riverlink Park. It’s so great to see the park filled with 250 people just loving the music, the food, the venue, the evening air and the glorious sunset. Hope you’ll make it down this weekend (the Joey Thomas Big Band will be performing!) to see what all of the buzz is about!

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The “new” city pool at Veterans Field has been the place to be this summer. Last week, Beechnut made swimming lessons available to 200 children, compared to only 60 per year in the prior two years. This is a tremendous victory for all of those children that braved the waters to learn a skill that will serve them for a lifetime, and is a wonderfully generous gesture on the part of our corporate partner. Their contribution will also fund construction of a large pavilion that will provide families shade for years to come.

As well, Dollar General Regional Manager Jim Glorioso arranged for a fantastic donation of pool toys including swimming googles, inflatable wings & vests, bouyant noodles and oodles of flip flops to fit every foot that steps into the welcoming blue water. Please spread the word that every individual that visits the pool will receive a FREE set of flip flops as long as supplies last, whether you choose to swim or not!

The following photos were taken of the swim class on July 3rd and of today’s visit by YMCA summer camp participants, just in time for the Dollar General delivery!

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It’s surprising to me when I hear there are people that live in Amsterdam that still have not been to Riverlink Park. Our premiere entrance to the City of Amsterdam has attracted the attention of travelers from around the world, sporting fabulous vistas from almost anywhere in the park. The first of many summer concerts will kick off on Saturday night, July 7th. Why not stop down with your friends and family, have a fantastic meal at the Cafe, and enjoy a waterfront destination that is second to none along the Erie Canalway?!

Check out what you’ve been missing (get up close and personal by clicking on any of these photos for a larger view!)

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It’s been a busy few weeks for me, with trips to Rome, Schenectady, Liverpool and back to Schenectady, all in the pursuit of regional affiliation.

In Rome, I participated in a strategic planning session with members of the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council (MVREDC). We’ve been focused on reviewing last year’s projects, identifying new scoring criteria and priority projects, and reporting on our progress as a newly formed and amazingly cooperative entity. We’ve all been pleasantly surprised at the willingness of all six counties to work collaboratively toward common goals.

In Schenectady, I was honored to serve as a panelist at Congressman Tonko’s “Mighty Waters” Conference, again, tailored to look at regional commonalities experienced by communities necklaced along the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. Two hundred fifty stakeholders from all walks of public and private life gathered at Union College to discuss waterfront development, job creation, environmental issues, educational opportunities, tourism and historic preservation throughout the Capital Region. In a manner that is in keeping with his progressive vision for this area, the Congressman unveiled legislation to create the Hudson-Mohawk River Basin Commission.

The Commission would carry out projects and conduct research on water resources in the basin, which stretches across five states and includes five sub-basins, increasing our understanding of these waterways and the dramatic impact they have on our lives.

The highway soon called me farther westward to Liverpool to enjoy a day with members of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission. “Stretching 524 miles across the full expanse of upstate New York, the Erie, Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca Canals are among our nation’s great successes of engineering, vision, hard work, and sacrifice.” Similarly, the Commission works to showcase this tremendous asset and has been instrumental in facilitating tourism, economic development and historic preservation along this spectacular state treasure.


Lastly, I ended up at a meeting in Schenectady’s magnificent City Hall to launch a new partnership: one of New York State’s first landbanks, a collaborative effort between the City of Schenectady, Schenectady County and the City of Amsterdam. We are fortunate that Planning Commission Chairman Bob DiCaprio and URA Chairman Bob Martin have agreed to serve on our city’s behalf. As with the other efforts cited above, this progressive initiative marks a new age of cooperation between communities that had been traditionally separated by geographical and territorial isolationism.

I am profoundly honored to play a role in this emerging regional sensibility and believe strongly that these relationships will change our future in ways we are only beginning to understand.

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The kids and I went down to the park on Division Street to bedazzle the second side of the handball court wall, opposite the tiger mural. It took us just about three hours and about three quarts of sweat. The following photos document the journey.

Lines for play contributed by a new friend. 🙂

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I’d like to thank the Veteran’s Commission for once again allowing me the honor of speaking at this Annual Memorial Day Ceremony. I can honestly say that this is one of the greatest privileges afforded my office. Devoting these moments to the tremendous loss our nation has suffered is an appropriate way to share our feelings of faith and gratitude born of heavy grief.

As is the case in years past, I am mindful of how syncopated the elements are with the occurrences of this day and how they echo with the gravity of our common experience. Clouds have slowly worked their way through the night across a waxing moon – warm and unsettled – laden with moisture that may bring showers today. The air around us is heavy with expectancy – the enormity of the moving gray-blue sky above us stretches as far as our imagination and our memory. The breeze carries our heartbreak lightly amongst us. The flag stirs with our hearts.

Our hearts. We hold our loved ones in our hearts.

Perhaps you have noticed the many red hearts that are strewn today on the hillside beside the monument. There are precisely 3,727 hearts that represent every child enrolled in the Greater Amsterdam School District. It took me three days to cut these hearts out of construction paper, which is plenty of time to recognize the incredible gift that each child is, imbued with naiveté, laughter, mischief, talent and promise. It is cliché, but true, that these children are our future. They are the reason we work difficult jobs and strive to make our community and world a better place.

These hearts represent 3,727 living, breathing, inspiring reasons to be free and to live well.

And as we are considering the very large number of children that populate our elementary schools, middle school and high school, know this: that well over 3,727 children have perished as soldiers around the world since September 11, 2001… in fact, precisely 1,984 soldiers have perished in Afghanistan and 4,486 have given their lives in Iraq. 6,470 bright-eyed, dedicated and hopeful lives have been snuffed out. Add to that other military fatalities around the world in that time and you approach a number that is almost double the number of hearts you see around you. More than twice the number of children we send innocently off to school every day.

6,740 is a startling number, but it is nothing. In our two hundred years of proud US history, military losses to the violence of war have totaled 1,306,000 beating hearts. The Civil War alone claimed an unimaginable 625,000 lives. World War I took 117,000 lives; World War II took 405,000 lives; the Korean War took 37,000 lives; and the Vietnam War extinguished the lives of 58,000 men and women, though ask some of the men here and you will know that most were only boys… their best friends and family members. I imagine that 1,306,000 hearts would cover all of Veterans Field and then some.

Look out at the hearts. Know the value of each life they represent. We lost more than these anonymous hearts, or names on a monument, or numbers that are easily tallied. We’ve lost our young ones and loved ones and unique souls that will never know another kiss of daylight.

And we continue to pay in lives today around the world. Two more lives were added to this number in Afghanistan over night.

Our hearts break from this knowledge and we share this realization in the truest sense of community. Our communal heart, that is the family of Amsterdam, shares this pain for all Americans.

We must never forget that these brave young warriors gave everything so that we would live our lives to the fullest. We must never forget that these individuals, with lives to realize and loves that were timeless, died as soldiers fighting for the principles that make our country great… liberty, honor, valor, commitment, and selfless service to others.

Our city and country have lost more than we can know.

And yet, we must know gratitude. For God has granted us not only those that have given their lives for our peace and prosperity, but a community that honors our dead, and veterans that continue to dutifully care for the memories of our fallen heroes.

Amsterdam’s veterans are the living embodiment of our city’s service to our nation, representatives who served in all the wars of living memory. They stand here, not just in their own right, but also for all those who cannot.

Today, we will again be honoring several individuals that had served so proudly by awarding them the Amsterdam Veteran Service Medal. To these valiant individuals, we owe our continued thanks and support.

And to those that proudly wear our uniform and honor our flag around the world today, we owe our praise and deepest appreciation. We all pray, come back to us safely in God’s hands.

Before you leave today, please take a heart from the ground, in stillness and with respect, and keep it – that you may be reminded of the calling that lead our children away, never to return. Recall all that we have lost and all that we hold dear, and draw closer as a community because of what we so sadly, but so necessarily, know in our hearts.

Amen.

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For years, I’ve watched the handball wall at the park between Guy Park Av. and Division Street be tagged by folks that are far from expressing their creativity. They are merely vandals. Again and again, we’ve sent crews to paint the profanity out, only to be hit again the following week.

Mind you, Liberty painted a mural in the same park three years ago and it has been untouched. So my theory is, if there is something cool on the wall, the criminals will leave it alone. With that in mind, I drove to Lowes, loaded up on spray paint, and have started a new mural at the park. I’m pleased with its beginnings and am sharing it here. The beauty about this wall is the second side that I am already planning for!

If you’re interested in tackling a wall too, give me a call at 841-4311. The more art, the better. My hope is that one of these anonymous taggers will be inspired to put up something beautiful instead of defacing another public place.

The wall: start

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Spring Fling 2012: Click HERE!

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Letter to Montgomery County Republican Committee Chairman Joe Emanuele, Montgomery County Democratic Committee Chairman Bethany Schumann-McGhee, City of Amsterdam Republican Committee Chairman Vito “Butch” Greco, and Montgomery County Democratic Committee Secretary Thom Georgia

Dear Joe, Bethany, Vito, and Thom,

Thank you for generously spending time to discuss global topics of concern related to our community. Those that look to you for leadership should note your courage and sincere good will in pioneering this endeavor.

Briefly, we touched on the following points:

1. This was a meeting of party leadership to discuss global, non-political issues and initiatives that both parties may support. It had never been our intent to overstep the authority of elected officials by dictating policy or manipulating budgets.

2. Problems faced by our communities are common to all of us as residents of the city. We are interested in identifying areas in which the parties may provide collaborative solutions, even if they are very basic in nature, that are beneficial to our taxpayers.

3. We spoke broadly about: obstacles and issues that hinder effective and efficient government; communication between the city and county; jointly advocating for state initiatives that may be beneficial to our residents; and the willingness of party leadership to provide guidance across party lines to any elected official when called upon.

4. We agreed that government benefits when intelligent, committed individuals with pertinent qualifications and experience become involved at either an elected or appointed level, regardless of political affiliation. To that end, each party chairman will provide the Mayor with the names of recommended candidates to fill vacancies on city boards and committees.

All in all, this was a very positive first step in fostering a new air of diplomacy in our city. This is vitally important to reshaping our identity in the region and will strengthen the faith our residents have in government. On behalf of the people of Amsterdam, I appreciate your cooperation in this dialogue and look forward to future opportunities to share thoughts and concerns.

Sincerely,
Mayor Ann M. Thane

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Good evening and welcome. To each and every one of you in this room and to those of you watching at home or online, thank you for caring about our City. It is a privilege to serve as Mayor of the City of Amsterdam, and to once again deliver this annual message.

This exercise makes me realize the wisdom of those that put the practice of the annual speech into place. While my experience may be one of studying city operations through a microscope, I remember that most constituents are gazing down from the window of an airplane.

The annual speech is a necessary discipline and an honor, but I must admit that it is a daunting task, as its content is so vast. While pondering this undertaking, I’ve been drawn to one theme that resonates with recent events and our shared fortunes. The phrase “tough times” comes to mind in relation to the difficult economy, crazy weather, infrastructure problems and at-risk neighborhoods.

Yes, times are certainly tough.

But just because times are tough, we do not give up. Adversity is something we are familiar with and despite the difficulties we face as a community, we meet our challenges with forceful determination. We are fighting through one of our most challenging periods in our City’s history and are holding our own. We are small, but we are tough.

2011 was a year that tested our resolve and spirit, and our community has risen to the occasion. We have reason to be proud on so many levels. Despite the financial stress felt by municipal budgets on all levels, we have weathered economic turmoil better than surrounding municipalities. Unlike the County and the School District, we have held to a self-imposed 3% tax cap. We managed this feat through creative measures that have added hundreds of thousands of dollars to our annual budget and cut spending to a bare minimum. In this past year:

• We’ve secured nearly $500,000 in additional sales tax revenue from the county.

• We’ve negotiated a new revenue sharing agreement with GAVAC that brings in $200,000 a year.

• We’ve taken recycling in-house, saving over $100,000 a year in expense.

• We are controlling discretionary overtime in all departments and have realized significant overtime savings with the addition of three patrol officers to the Amsterdam Police Department.

These initiatives have helped to shelter us from major tax increases or deeper cuts to essential services.

Our drive to succeed in tough times has resulted in the completion of key capital projects in our city that serve to enhance the quality of life of our residents. The completed projects are as diverse as they are numerous, rounding out one of our busiest construction periods ever. They include:

• Reconstruction of the Bridge Street corridor.

• Upgrades to infrastructure, including water, sewer and road systems on the South-side.

• Asbestos removal from City Hall, rewrapping of pipes, and new window inserts have resulted in tens-of-thousands of dollars in energy savings.

• $13 million dollars worth of improvements at the wastewater treatment and water filtration plants, paid for in part through stimulus funding and our agreements with Hero Beechnut.

• Removal of the fire-damaged Eddy Brush Company building and site remediation of brown-field issues.

• Demolition of 45 dilapidated and dangerous structures with some participation from Montgomery County.

• Repairs to Amsterdam’s Transportation facility including a new furnace, flooring, portable lifts, energy efficient lighting, as well as new buses, also funded through the federal stimulus program.

• Resurfacing of streets in each ward in the 2011 Road Program.

• Remediation and replacement of asbestos-covered water lines beneath Grieme Avenue Bridge.

• Construction of Riverlink Park Phase II includes new walkways, lighting and the new sculpture entitled, The Painted Rocks of Amsterdam by world-renown artist Alice Manzi.

• Additional improvements to the park include a new band shell, café deck and landscaping.

We have managed to complete these phenomenal projects in a year that we were challenged by a flood of dramatic proportions not seen in recent memory.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, we triumphed over a tumultuous set of circumstances which enabled us to see city operations at their finest. Staff mobilized to appropriately and effectively respond to the safety of the public, coordinating a comprehensive evacuation strategy, rescue efforts, temporary shelter, and traffic management protocols, all in a matter of hours.

Throughout the emergency, we were able to disseminate information in real-time through our facebook page and in partnership with WCSS and the Recorder. Because of this achievement, we now understand social networking to be more than a pastime. It is an essential tool of effective communication.

Volunteers displayed incredible compassion and selflessness, showing up in droves to assist their neighbors in recovery from tragedy in the weeks after the storms. We witnessed community partners cleaning homes and businesses, organizing donation drop-off sites and distributing supplies, all of which lent support in a time of great strife.

We are tough. We pull together.

Our strength is in numbers and our commitment to one another demonstrates the true character of the people of Amsterdam. 2011 was a banner year for volunteerism in our city. Not only did we host several successful events including National Night Out and the Main Street Winter Mixer, but we also geared our efforts towards community beautification with litter clean-ups, graffiti paint-outs, murals, plantings and gardens, all of which have had a positive effect in reshaping our image. We offered free concerts over the summer at Riverlink Park and Hero-Beechnut sponsored swimming lessons for 125 young children at Veteran’s Field swimming pool. Additionally, Spring Fling sought to highlight the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Induction ceremonies while promoting commercial space in our Downtown area. This much-celebrated occasion brought 3000 people to Main Street. All of these initiatives were provided at no cost to our taxpayers.

While community-initiated efforts have begun to transform our image, we have also taken a more direct and professional approach to marketing our community. This year, those efforts were recognized by Empire State Development as “best in class” for website design and collateral printed materials. We were able to augment our presence with videos produced by Amsterdam High School students that are broadcast over the Internet and continue to garner attention.

In these tough times we have decided who we are and who we choose to be. We must embrace change and understand the opportunities it presents. We are a community of many cultures, and must be welcoming to those that wish to make Amsterdam their new home. Recently, Chinese immigrants have purchased 40 properties. They have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in materials, taxes, fees and labor, with the intention of bringing many more friends and families to our community. The investment made by these individuals will be transformative.

The coming year invites a host of exciting prospects, even those that will be difficult to surmount. We are faced with the imposition of a 2% cap on property taxes that will force us to be both brave and creative. Upon entering into the new budget season, we must have a complete and accurate accounting from our new Controller of all revenues, expenditures, departmental budgets, fund balance and debt.

These difficult economic times demand that we break new ground and create new relationships. We must meet our challenges with civility and measured thought as we reach out to our partners at the county, regional and state levels to find solutions. We must function as a regional participant to share funding sources, labor and equipment to adequately provide for the future.

Traditionally we have only thought to reach out to the County Board of Supervisors as partners. While we may certainly engage with the County in a number of cost saving initiatives, including records management, energy conservation, joint purchasing and cross-agency transportation options, we must establish new relationships with surrounding municipalities in the Capital District and Greater Mohawk Valley. We’ve seen evidence of this successful approach with the recent awards to the Regional Economic Development Councils. By establishing a commitment to collaboration we will increase the likelihood of securing necessary resources to realize economic growth.

This commitment must extend to the political parties that have traditionally been drawn to stances that are dramatically polarized. Our problems are universal. It is time to put political agendas aside, to identify commonalities in our positions, to rally people and resources, and solve the problems that we are charged to overcome. To this end, I have invited the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic City and County Committees, as well as the members of the Common Council, to assist me in this pursuit. This may be tough to do, but it’s time for the factions to move past their differences.

Tough times dictate that we create a network of like-minded communities. We have established a dialogue using the State’s regional model to explore avenues such as land banking, the continued expansion of water and sewer infrastructure for residential and commercial development, as well as long-range planning and investment in waterfront development and downtown revitalization. This dialogue also includes a proposal to relocate state offices to our city, which identifies us as a community worthy of investment. We are creating a new dynamic and have pride in the fact that several industries in our city have seen significant growth over the past year. Breton Industries, NTI Global, FGI and Mohawk Fabrics have all undergone expansion of their facilities resulting in more jobs and investment in our community.

We are going to continue to succeed in tough times. Over the coming construction season we will progress water distribution improvements on Market Street Hill. We will identify and remediate storm and sewer cross-connections around the city and we will implement the new traffic patterns to route visitors back to our downtown. We will install a new memorial at Riverlink Park to honor those lost on 9/11, roads will be resurfaced, valves and hydrants will be strategically replaced and we will complete the demolition of the Chalmers property.

We must also turn our attention to the Esquire property at the Mohasco site. On account of its advanced state of deterioration, the building has been found unsafe and requires demolition. The site must serve as a key driver for revitalization of that district. This coincides with other active projects targeting neighborhood revitalization on the East End, Reid Hill, waterfront heritage area and along the Chuctanunda Creek. As well, we are partnering with the Amsterdam Urban Renewal Agency, Montgomery County Habitat for Humanity and the Amsterdam Homeless Project to provide opportunities to those most in need during tough economic times.

We continue our fight to keep our residents safe despite economic stressors. Our neighborhood watch groups have been instrumental in bridging a relationship between the community and law enforcement. Awareness within the neighborhoods has netted arrests for drug and other non-violent offenses as officers utilize the information provided by the watch groups to enhance public safety. Thanks to these efforts, Amsterdam remains one of the safest communities in the Capital District.

It is during tough times that we need to be the most optimistic and hopeful. I am reminded each day that I am surrounded by a highly qualified and talented team who come to work each day impacted by limited resources and staffing, yet together we find the resolve to shoulder our responsibilities to those of you who pay our salaries. I want to thank these good people, our employees, on behalf of the residents of this community for the fine job that they do. When times are hard, they work harder.

These tough economic times cannot be used as an excuse to pull back or avoid progress. It’s a mistake we have made too frequently in the past. In this regard, we must address inadequacies in staffing that negatively impact city operations. These shortcomings limit our opportunities to generate revenue and address issues of great concern to our citizens. The condition of blighted properties is perhaps the most often-cited complaint heard in my office, on the radio, or on the Internet. We must strengthen our codes department by adding an additional inspector, even if the position is part-time, to manage health and safety matters. As well, we need additional seasonal help to cut grass and pick up garbage when property maintenance is an issue. In 2010, the year before the flood, we cleaned 210 properties, generating 351 full dump trucks of debris. Of course this past year, much of the efforts of these four men went to cleaning up after the disaster.

If we are to grow our tax base, we should again look to refunding the Community and Economic Development Department. While several development agencies exist, there is no organization that can fill the void created by the absence of this entity. We need this department to muscle comprehensive planning which includes revamping the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, Brownfield programs, the zoning rewrite, neighborhood and downtown revitalization; to coordinate community events and activities; to oversee property disposition and grants in a coordinated fashion; to coordinate activity between departments, state, county and development organizations; to assist struggling not-for-profits; to update the website; and to proactively research and propose new incentives for development and growth.

We cannot let naysayers and negativism determine our fate. We’ve been through floods, a hurricane and a global economic downturn and we are still here. We are small, tough and determined. I am reminded of a short quote by Thomas Buxton, “With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.“ In every sense of the word, our community has been heroic in its perseverance. To those of you in our community that taken up the load when times are tough, that have reached out to your friends and neighbors with the offer of help, that love this community for what it has been, for what it is and for what it will be, I thank you for your commitment.

We are going to make it. We will be galvanized by our experiences; we will be better; we will be stronger.

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“What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.”
~ Eleanor Powell

The following are photos of some of the many gifts donated by Amsterdam’s “Christmas Angels” to families-in-need.

This all started when one individual contacted me on facebook saying that he and his wife had done well in life and wanted to help out a family that was struggling to provide for their children on Christmas. As this is not in my normal line of duty, I told them I’d check with some of the local agencies and see what they may suggest. Not twenty minutes later, another person contacted me to say that she was terribly embarrassed, but that she and her family had fallen on hard times this year (disabled, unemployed and relatively new to our city) and would I know how to get them some help. I was able to hook the two up and everyone was quite pleased.

The next day, much the same scenario happened, all within a twenty-minute span. Over the ensuing two weeks, thirteen families with 28 children were aided by 37 Amsterdamian angels! My office has acted as the conduit (and industrious wrapping elves) for these connections, as most participants wish to remain anonymous. We’ve received toys, clothing, books, music, movies, sporting items, candy, food, gift cards and more. That said, I’m totally blown away by this amazing show of generosity by people who don’t even know the folks they are giving to. This is a great and inspirational show of kindness. Better yet, this is the real spirit of Christmas.

Most everything is wrapped and ready to be picked up on Wednesday by our identified families. Thank you to all the wonderful, caring people that made this Christmas the best I’ve had in years.

small city. big heart.

bet your bippie.


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