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Archive for the ‘public art’ Category

Good afternoon and welcome to City Hall. It is my honor to offer an annual assessment of the progress this administration has made over time and to set some goals for the coming year.

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The word “Renaissance” has been bandied about a bit lately, which is not a word I regularly cite in regard to our city. It is a word that suggests extravagance and romance. One imagines colorful medieval robes, mortared courtyards, writhing statuary, and spiraling baroque architecture all set in the rolling hills of Tuscany.

Not quite the picture of Amsterdam, NY in 2015.

Ours is a typical, twenty-first century, post-industrial American city that has experienced difficulty and true struggle over the decades. The beating heart of our downtown was ripped out, businesses and jobs fled the state, traffic patterns were hopelessly scrambled, and government’s frequent response had been to cut away funding for critical infrastructure, equipment and workforce. Amsterdam was vigorously torn apart in a physical way and the soul of this community tore in ways that have been ceaselessly painful and difficult to mend.

It’s easy to point out the trouble of past years, especially foibles of the last year. I will take a different tact. I see no good in giving ill will and dysfunction entry into a new year that may be recast into a time of faithful service, cooperation and most certainly progress.

With that, I will briefly highlight the successes 2014 brought us and plans for the coming year.

Fiscal Responsibility

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We continue to heal years of chaos in our Department of Finance thanks in great part to the diligent work of our new Controller Matthew Agresta. I cannot say enough about the tremendous job Matt is doing. He is skillfully progressing the many tasks identified in our Corrective Action Plan that the prior council, city attorney, Matt and I scripted in response to an audit done by the Office of the State Comptroller. He’s readily taken command of staff, process and remedy. He’s successfully shifted his department from antiquated accounting software to the state-of-the-art municipal system that will allow for prompt reporting and analysis. He’s recommended an upgrade of the city’s computer and telecommunication systems, and will see to it that the technological needs of city government are met. He’s overseen the dissolution of the insurance trust and is finally progressing the foreclosure that had languished in the hands of his two predecessors. He has been directing reconciliations of internal records, bank statements, and the general ledger necessary to complete our reports to the State.

Thankfully, it looks like we will be in good stead at the end of this process, with a fund balance that is trending in a positive direction. This trend indicates that this administration has confidently led us through the global recession at a time when State government has limited our revenues and expenses have escalated at alarming rates. These crushing realities have devastated other communities economically.

The most important quality that our young Controller presents is that he is a consummate team player and puts partisan politics aside for the betterment of this community. It has been a pleasure to have a partner that willingly takes up the mantle of his office and works peacefully toward the goal of making Amsterdam thrive. Thank you, Matt.

And thrive we will, thanks to the many hands that make light work of our tasks. We have a tremendously skilled workforce and wonderful volunteers that hold the vision of a restored Amsterdam in their hearts and put their backbone toward my next topic:

Revitalization

Not to be confused with a fully realized renaissance, revitalization is an incremental process that takes time, patience and extreme effort. This past year saw numerous projects implemented and completed that improve the physical fabric of our surroundings.

This is a list of some of our many accomplishments.

• The Reid Hill neighborhood received two $400K Community Development Block Grants over two consecutive years that allowed for interior and exterior property improvements of over 50 structures. We coupled that with several demolitions and road improvements on Bell Hill that included curbing and sidewalks to an active pedestrian area. This year, we will apply for funding for these activities in the Grand Street area.

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• Colonial Gardens and the Roosevelt Garden apartment complexes saw the complete rehabilitation of all 269 units, and 100 Woodrow Wilson apartments are under way. This reconstruction entailed complete renovation of all windows, siding, insulation, roofs, kitchens, bathrooms, carpeting, living space and common areas, ensuring attractive, safe and affordable housing to low-income families.

• The downtown traffic pattern rerouting has been completed without the “carmagedon” that had been anticipated by feverish naysayers.

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• Footings to the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook are in place. We will see this structure rapidly develop over the coming construction season into the beautiful, treed, pedestrian bridge envisioned in our Comprehensive Plan.

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• Shuttleworth Park saw the laying of the controversial new artificial turf and drainage. Thank you to Gabriel Paving and Contracting and the Amsterdam Mohawks for their extraordinary generosity in seeing that this job was installed by baseball season. We’ve also built a new deck, put new stadium seating in place and have constructed a warming hut by the creek for ice skaters, winter joggers and snow shoeing enthusiasts.

• Phase IV of our storm sewer infrastructure project was completed and we’ve just received $600K funding for Phase V. Over the past five years, the city has received $3 million dollars in grants to eliminate cross connections between the storm water and sewer systems, saving the city from costly fines while protecting our residents and natural environment.

• We’ve steadily progressed repairs to our water distribution system and now can report that out of over 1,000 hydrants, only six are out of service.

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• Citywide volunteer clean-ups in the Spring and Fall have cleared out a six year total of 24 TONS of litter from our streets, water ways and public spaces. BRAVO to every man, woman and child that helped in this effort!

Collaboration

Our partnerships with surrounding municipalities continue to develop. Several notable projects will impact our budget and neighborhoods.

For several decades, our community has looked longingly toward the Capital District for inclusion. I am proud of our growing relationship with Schenectady. This is exceedingly important. We have not seen such opportunity for shared growth or collaboration since GE had its heyday.

I’d like to thank Mayor Gary McCarthy specifically for including Amsterdam in a vision for prosperity along the Mohawk that is natural and familiar.

• Our partnership brought a successful launching of the Capital District Land Reutilization Corporation (the “Landbank”), which is off to a great start. Through this channel, Amsterdam has received $562,000 in funding for over a dozen rehabilitation projects and demolitions. Work on the first rehab in Amsterdam, the Julia Street property, will be completed before the flowers blossom.

• Amsterdam threw its support heavily to Schenectady in support of its Casino application once it was clear Montgomery County was out of the fight. Their award will mean jobs for our residents and hopefully interest from developers along the river that see opportunities just upstream on our shores.

• Amsterdam and Schenectady have been working with the Center for Technology and Growth and are proud to announce a $550K grant with Gloversville and Troy to design a shared code enforcement module. This prototype will track blight, out of town landlords, and help us to better address deterioration of properties. It may one day be used across the state or better yet, the nation.

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• Five capital district mayors have bonded together to take up the President’s National Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran’s Homelessness in the Capital District. Amsterdam, Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga and Troy are committed to fulfilling this mission by 2016.

• We’ve been exploring shared service opportunities with Montgomery County. We will start by tracking actions we already collaborate on and a full inventory of public works equipment and laborers. Some additional initiatives I have been proposing since 2009 include shared records management, energy procurement and efficiencies, labor negotiations, and GIS mapping of critical infrastructure.

• We’ve negotiated a sludge disposal agreement with Madison County to take the particulate from our wastewater treatment plant. This deal will save our taxpayers $125,000 in our annual budget.

• We’ve opened up discussions with Fulton County to determine if selling water to their communities is feasible. We know our water will enable economic growth further north and south as it has on RT30 in the Towns of Amsterdam and Florida.

• We just signed a solar energy contract that will save the city $264,000 a year, resulting in $12M over the lifetime of the agreement.

• FMCC, Montgomery and Fulton Counties and CDTA have been meeting with us to possibly establish a regional transportation strategy that services our communities in a cost-efficient, effective manner.

• Of course, we are proud of the success we’ve had in bringing grant money to our city. This year’s regional economic development council awards target City Hall reparations at $225K, the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook $325K, and the aforementioned city infrastructure repairs of $600K.

Quality of Life

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Across this nation, it is recognized that revitalization is spurred by amenities and attractions that enrich our quality of life. To that end, many, many hands are sharing in the responsibility for shoring up this city, and perhaps none so vigorously as those working to provide cultural and recreational opportunities for youth and families. W1shfu1:Th1nk1ng (especially TJ Czeski, Jon Sumpter, Casey Martin, Calvin Martin and Matt Moller) has played an integral part in outreach and mentoring to an at-risk community that has long been neglected. The women of the Creative Connections Arts Center (Barbara Neznek, Tammy Merendo, and Suzannah Hunter) offer instruction as well as loving, familial relationships to some children that have never experienced such caring. Danielle’s House provides welcome to the homeless and the school district has received funding that will allow us to address the nutritional and physical health of families that we had intended in last year’s “Reinvent Yourself Amsterdam” program.

Our recreation department has been at the center of much of this activity, coordinating events, spaces, and interested parties. Bacon Recreation Center and the Arts Center continue to be hubs of activity for fun and learning. We host basketball workshops and tournaments, Saturday morning play dates for toddlers, and Summer Camp to hundreds of children. We have an award winning 4H Club, community garden and after-school tutoring for any child that wants help. We offer free-swimming classes to kids at the city pool and free buses that get them there from our poorer neighborhoods.

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Our annual events are growing in participants and impact. Spring Fling attracts thousands of visitors to our Main Street and our Farmers Market makes locally produced vegetables and products available to a community that is hungry for this opportunity (thank you to Sherri Crouse for being a primary organizer of both efforts!) W1shfu1:Th1nk1ng’s Annual 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament at Vets Field commemorates a moment of extreme pain in our community, marking the tragic murder of two young boys, as well as the willingness of this community to resiliently push back with love. The same rings true for National Night Out, populated by our Neighborhood Watch Association members, families and many organizations that are committed to fostering a safe and healthy environment for our residents.

It’s important to stop here and point out how safe we are in relative terms. In fact, our statistics show that the City of Amsterdam’s crime rate is trending downward over the past three years and compared to surrounding municipalities, we are very safe. This does not mean we must pull back from efforts to manage wrongdoing. It means we are going in the right direction. To this end we have expanded APD’s outreach to the public via electronic media and instituted “Tell us Tuesday” regarding wanted subjects. Tips from this avenue have led to successful arrests. We’ve developed the animal control site, “Furry Friends Friday” which will assist adoption of local rescued animals. We’ve expanded surveillance cameras in the Five Corners area, reinstituted walking beats in problem areas of the City, received a $100,000 Homeland Security Tactical Team Grant, and are partnering in a newly developing “Crime Stoppers” program. We will fill vacancies at the police department and come up with more programs that bring neighbors together and encourage youth.

Other areas where we’ve triumphed are as follows:
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Sassafras Playground received a much-needed facelift from a group of dedicated volunteers and city staff. Rusty nails, splintered wood and vandalized areas were remedied and a fresh coat of paint brought the aged structure back to life for young families.

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• The GAR Park and monument dedicated to Civil War Veterans below City Hall was reestablished. The lawn now hosts an expansive flower garden and labyrinth that attracts visitors from around the world. The cost has been negligible to taxpayers.

Action

There are several projects we will aggressively pursue this year. They include:
IMG_8804Master Planning. Over the past few years we have compiled studies, reports, assessments and plans from various sources. We’ve generated the Waterfront Heritage BOA and Northeast BOA forums, train station relocation and waterfront walkway feasibility studies, the NY Rising strategic plan, a state-mandated Hazard Mitigation plan, the Fulton/Montgomery and Regional Economic Development Plans, the Erie Canalway Heritage Corridor Plan, our Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and a couple of Municipal Golf Course strategic plans. This Spring, HUD will begin a citywide assessment of housing and community issues. All of these documents must be condensed into one cohesive executive summary. To that end, we will convene a Master Planning Committee to come up with a new guiding document that augments our older Comprehensive Plan. Some of the goals and strategies in the original document still hold for today’s world; others must be updated to address the evolving needs of our city in the 21st century. We should take this opportunity to think about where we want to be in ten years and what we may do purposely to achieve our desires. This will be an exciting and thought provoking process.

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• As the cold season wanes and work again starts up on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, we will press hard to market the Chalmers and downtown properties on Main and Bridge Streets. We are planning a late-winter event that will feature hidden commercial and residential spaces that can be the envy of the Mohawk Valley.

• The Concordia assisted living facility will be built adjacent to the River Ridge Living Center, providing over 100 good paying jobs and much-needed access to this type of care in our City. The hotel downtown will be revamped and a new business will launch at the FGI building on Edson Street. The collapsing wall along Dove Creek will be repaired and RT5 will be reconstructed to alleviate annual flooding in that area along the river.

• We are well into the conceptual process necessary to build a new Recreation Center. Renderings, cost estimates and an initial operational budget have been conceived. We are studying several possible locations and have spoken to a few well-known developers about the project. We’ve also begun the arduous task of raising money with our not-for-profit partners to make this a reality. We are certain that this project will be successful on several levels, not the least being the wellbeing of our youth and families.

• We are also looking to convert Isabel’s Field to a ball park and playground facility that will support individuals with special requirements, i.e., those with mobility challenges needing wheelchair access, grab bars, etc. We know that this type of offering would attract individuals and teams from across the region and would be a proud addition to our recreational provisions.

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• Just as every resident is responsible to keep up with the maintenance of their home, City Hall will see necessary reconstruction of several critically compromised areas of the building, including the back patio and portico off of the southeast wing. This is the primary seat of city government and protecting this asset directly signifies the pride we have for our heritage.

• For those of you that are aficionados of modern technologies, we will implement a mobile application available to smart phones and computers that makes it easier for residents to report concerns such as graffiti, potholes or suspicious activities in their neighborhoods. The application, used by many cities and towns across the country, allows administration to more effectively track work orders, set goals, and gather macro-data to support budgetary requests.

• There are many smaller actions that we will take to address our common concerns. We will be proposing new legislation targeting enhanced code enforcement efforts pertaining to vacant properties and restoration incentives. We will begin a scheduled program off employee training to keep our staff safe and secure. We will open up ways to generate additional revenues and cooperate with our partners. I hope that, in this Chamber, we will commit to respectful and considerate behavior.

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It is the duty of this government to reconstruct the tattered quilt of this community into a colorful, well-constructed patchwork of hope. We must take the torn pieces of our physical reality and repurpose them into an environment that is vibrant and growing. This takes sincere good will, ingenuity and willing compromise. I humbly ask my fellow members of the Council to work WITH me and do all in their power to see that we succeed.

Thankfully, we may depend on the indelible strength and charity of the people of Amsterdam to assist us in this goal. Together, we will must keep to our dreams for this city and provide the foundation for a proud, kind and prosperous future.

As Lady Bird Johnson so aptly put it, “While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier because neighbors were so few, it is even more important now because our neighbors are so many.”

May we all depend upon each other in these times of change. Thank you.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

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From: Gerry DeCusatis
Date: Fri, 29 Aug 2014 15:22:21 -0400
To: Office of the Mayor, Richard Leggiero, Ed Russo, Ron Barone, Valerie Beekman, Diane Hatzenbuhler, robert spagnola
Cc: Susan Alibozek
Subject: Fwd: resolution request

All:

The requested resolution appears to be an attempt to direct city employees in their day to day actions.  The direction of city employees is an executive power belonging to the mayor.  This power cannot be changed by a resolution. A charter amendment would be required and such an amendment would be subject to a mandatory referendum.

There is no “legalese” that will cure this proposed resolution.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I were provided with more details of the actual events that this is attempting to regulate along with some communication of the goals of the resolution from the requester.

G DeCusatis

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On Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 3:20 PM, Susan Alibozek wrote:

Gerry – below is a resolution draft requested by Alderwoman Hatzenbuhler.  The request stems from the removal of the fence at Milton Avenue, painting of murals on City owed property, etc.   There may be a Committee of the Whole at 6:30 on September 2 to discuss this resolution therefore if you can provide more legalese to the resolution it would be most appreciated.

WHEREAS, in the past City-owned property has been removed, used, painted etc. without the knowledge or consent of the Common Council.

RESOLVED, no city employee shall use, remove, paint, deface any City-owned property without the written knowledge and consent of the Common Council.

Susan Alibozek, City Clerk
City of Amsterdam

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There’s no other way to start this out but with gratitude for those that have supported me all of the way through this endeavor. It’s possible that in several minutes you will wish that I had been made speechless by this honor, but please bear with me.

First, thank you to Executive Director Peter Baynes and the most accomplished and gifted staff I’ve ever encountered. Your team exemplifies excellence in every application of the word. Thank you for cultivating an organization that cares for the individual needs of each community and is the motivating force for the aggregate. Thank you for accepting me, for nurturing me, and being patient with me.

Thank you to outgoing President Dick Donovan, and those that came before you, that set the tone and direction of this organization. Dick, your energy and resolute integrity have inspired all of us. You have carried our message to every corner of this great state. You teach us to never back down from our conviction that the state MUST respond to the needs of local government in order to forge a bountiful and sustainable future for all.

Thank you to my fellow executive board members for your warmth and welcome. I look forward to our regular meetings throughout the year much like children look forward to the holidays. I no longer think of my relationship with you as one of service. I think of you all in a very real way as family.

Which leads me to my Amsterdam family. To Congressman Paul Tonko, thank you for never forgetting your hometown while fighting in Washington DC for a stronger nation. I aspire to follow your example, with your ceaseless passion for public service and your vision for a revitalized Amsterdam through waterfront rehabilitation and heritage expression.

To Mary and Gerry DeCusatis, thank you for your years of friendship. To Mary, thank you for creating a loving haven for my children when I had nowhere else to turn and for your incredibly giving nature. Your home is a reflection of your generous heart and I love you for it.

To Gerry, my Corporation Counsel and my best friend, thank you, thank you, thank you. Years before the decision to run for office, we spent hours in the living room weaving the tale of how our city would thrive if we ruled our small world. You are the reason my administration works and the reason I can make it through the toughest hours. I love your resolve, your zany humor and your endless tolerance of my quirkiness. You are doing a fantastic job and are the best thing that ever happened to Amsterdam. If our local media pundits don’t know it, now 200 new people in this room do.

And now for the wellspring from which I emerged, my real family, people that are eloquent, hard headed and fun. With me today are several of the women in my family that sport the same obsessive drive to perform well, the same vibrant interest in politics, and the same easy laughter. My aunt, Mary Lou Andersen, was a true feminist in the 60’s. She showed us that women not only belonged in a world dominated by men, but that we would flourish there. My attraction to public service began as I watched my aunt’s weekly commute from Delaware to Washington DC. Thank you Aunt Mary Lou.

To her daughter, Joan, thank you for being here. You know you are much more a sister to me than a cousin and that the bonds we share probably flow deeper than this corporeal reality. I love you. To my cousin, Caroline, that religiously follows me and fights for me on Facebook from Florida despite the 50 years since we last met, thank you! I love that you are here!

To my mother, Peg Tigue, I am so glad that God chose you as the vessel that gave me life. You’ve taught me to be strong in impossibly difficult times, to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us, and that if everyone else can’t see that beauty, we do and we will make it so. My mother’s presence is felt across the City of Wilmington, Delaware – from its tall ship and waterfront redevelopment to the preservation of its most valued historical properties to the restoration of neighborhoods one house at a time through Habitat for Humanity. My mother is a crusader for urban revitalization. I don’t fall far from her loving branches and am so grateful for her particular genes. I love you, Mom.

To my husband, Peter, thank you so much for the life you’ve given to me and for the home you sustain. You are my harbor, my balance, my boxing partner and my hero. You provide me a safety net when I fall, constancy when the political world shreds at my will, and quiet dignity through every difficult bump in the road. You teach our beautiful children and me that honesty and loyalty are all that matter, and that family come before all else. Thank you, Pete, for staying the course through all of the toil, turmoil and sudden smiles. I love you.

To all of you in this audience, I love you for sitting through this speech so far!

It’s such a pleasure to look out over all of the faces gathered here today at our annual meeting. Yours are the faces of true leaders: intelligent, creative and committed to your communities in ways that few can understand until they’ve walked in your shoes… until they’ve received the call at 2am about a factory fire that’s consuming an entire city block in one night and will smolder for a month, or the call that the river is rising by several feet an hour and that you’ve got to evacuate several thousands of people before the devastation hits, or the call that two teenagers have been murdered in an inexplicably violent manner by two kids of the same age and the community is on the verge of rioting, or the half hour phone call describing the six-inch pot hole in front of an elderly constituent’s driveway.

Your commitment is astounding. You patiently endure council meetings that are contentious, labor negotiations that are highly challenging, lengthy budget sessions that are taxing in more ways than one, and manage to steadfastly oversee the ins and outs of daily departmental operations. You gracefully persist despite the biases of local newspapers, uninformed radio hosts, bloggers and Facebook hot shots.

Give yourself a hand. It’s the shared experience of the people in this room that give me the courage and inspiration to get up every day and once more do the job of mayoring.

I am extremely grateful to NYCOM for their guidance on this joyous and sometimes difficult journey into local governance. I think my first experiences with this organization were in rooms very similar to this one as I found my way to the ample well of knowledge provided in these training sessions. My first year in office was one of wide-eyed idealism and I burned like phosphorous that first year, soaking up anything and everything I could to bring new light to years of darkness that had plagued the City of Amsterdam. I immersed myself in Internet searches, online tutorials, budget workshops and, of course, regularly scheduled training opportunities through NYCOM.

In 2009, I received a call from now-Assemblyman John McDonald inviting me to serve on NYCOM’s executive board, a prospect that was both enticing and terrifying at the same time. I guess you can say I still had freshman jitters, but a good friend had given me sound advice in the beginning and I continue to chant this to myself to get through any challenge choice may bring me: “Put on your big girl panties and just do it.” It’s great advice and I encourage you all to fall back on it in times of trouble, no matter your gender.

NYCOM Executive Board meetings are generally around an assemblage of tables to accommodate 25 or so very smart, very savvy staff and board members with a combined experience level that spans decades and distance. They are congenial, knowledgeable, brave and amazingly apolitical. It is at that table, both then and now, that I witness some of the highest functioning governance, anywhere. I wish my council or the state legislature could attend to see how effective shared vision, ample research, probing discussion and working toward the common good benefits all involved.

Because that’s what our highest purpose is, in NYCOM and in life, to work collaboratively so that our communities thrive.

Certainly, we here at NYCOM have our work “cut out for us.” Local governments are under siege by a State government that sees us as frivolous and in need of guidance. Rather than make difficult decisions that may cut into campaign coffers, they underfund us year after year and shift the heavy cost of state legislative and budgetary inaction to the backs of counties, cities, towns and villages. This sluggish response to real need at the local level cannot be managed by capping our revenues.

We need the state to cap our costs!

Cap my costs and my budget will take care of itself, thank you very much!

And please, we are quite familiar with sharing services. We’ve been sharing and consolidating and creatively partnering for years. The fact of the matter is that our budgets are not fat and we’ve been balancing delicately constructed budgets with the provision of services without falling back on gimmickry since the inception of public service. At our level, the impact of our decisions about a pothole, a police vehicle, a fire hydrant, a city playground or an abandoned property is immediate and noted by our consumers, the voters that put us in office to properly manage their money. Believe me, if we do not meet the expectations of those voters, the consequences are harshly personal.

It is this personal message that must resonate in both chambers of the legislature and echo down the hallways of the capital building.

In order to make this message heard at the state level, we must redouble our efforts to educate our constituents and our state representatives. The beauty in NYCOM’s reaction to the persistent budgetary problems faced by the state is that, not only can we identify the origins and intricacies of these troubles, but we offer sound, innovative solutions as well. We are here to help!

The difficulty for us is communicating our message of hope effectively. And this is where you all come into play. We need YOU, the representatives of 582 member municipalities, to be the loud and insistent voice for responsible stewardship of our tax dollars.

We need YOU to loudly witness for the 11 million people we represent. We must understand the legitimacy and power that we posses when advocating for 11 million residents. Our interests cannot be ignored. We speak for 11 million of the 19 million people that live in New York State. Let that knowledge empower you when discussing local issues with your state senators and assemblymen. Let that knowledge drive your determination when speaking to the press, labor unions and state agency representatives. Let the destiny of those 11 million souls inform your actions when you return to your hometowns after this conference.

The future of NYS is in each of your hands and here’s a shared service we at NYCOM encourage you to take back to your constituents: Share our message. Be a catalyst for REAL change. Make it your personal responsibility to understand the NYCOM platform. Talk about mandate relief to everyone you can. Build coalitions with your neighboring municipalities, counties and school districts. Utilize our staff and resources, both printed and online. Follow the NYCOM example of setting political partisanship aside for the betterment of our communities. Be the leaders you had promised to be when you sought office.

I read a quote this morning by a very famous fellow named Anonymous which, I think, speaks perfectly to our situation. It said, “Put your future in good hands — your own.” I can’t think of any better advice… Just couple it with the panties.

In closing, own this: WE, the members of NYCOM, are THE force in this state to be reckoned with and we will have this our way.

Thank you again for this great honor. I look forward to working with you over the coming year.

Click on this image to see the Word Cloud of this speech:
Wordle: NYCOM Acceptance Speech

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EDIT:
SURPRISE! The Recorder editorial board does not agree with me about the mural, just as they hadn’t about the $20M re-purposing of the Chalmers building (that’s the empty lot on the South Side now), beautification efforts downtown and at City Hall (oh, maybe they’re on board now?), demanding fiscal accountability from the Golf Course, or about just about anything else I’ve attempted to change in the name of responsible progress.

I guess they are in the business of expressing their opinion (though the “news” seems to get mightily slanted by their bias). The thing that disturbs me the most about the Recorder is its persistent pandering of misinformation; i.e., that “HUGE” parts of the mural are lifting or missing (not) and that my attention is holding up the project (not.) The mural can easily be stabilized and repaired to a point that there is time for more improvements.

They also claim that I won’t “play nice.” How condescending and incorrect. I have repeatedly asked to have a group of interested folks do a walk-through to suggest creative usages of the room and discuss marketing the building. Throw fundraising into that scenario. The AIDA Buildings and Grounds Committee is disallowing our entry because of political reasons and personal avarice. One might wonder why the Recorder isn’t on top of that?

For those of you that have not had the pleasure of personally visiting (or viewing on my FB page) the MURAL that has been the topic of recent radio and newspaper fodder, I post the following photos. Please note, the “house” referred to in the Recorder is actually Historic Ft. Johnson.

This mural is on the third floor of AIDA’s building on Main Street. Through my prompting, representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office visited the site to recommend preservation strategies. The mural, original light fixture and medallion that had graced a prohibition speak-easy are pictured in the photos below. They are stunning and photos don’t do the space justice. The little money it will take to stabilize and keep this treasure pales in comparison to the huge gain we realize in protecting our history.

When AIDA made me aware of their interest in the building, I was pleased, as I had indicated then that the mural was to be considered an irreplaceable piece of our history and strongly advocated for its preservation. I had anticipated their cooperation in this matter. My stance has never changed over the decade since I first saw the mural or in the two years since AIDA had become involved.

Some comments by local historians:

“Had a nice chat with Bruce Conover, whose father used to own the building. The mural long predates the Seely Conover Company presence. In the day that room had been the home of one of the Red Men fraternal groups that were popular at the turn of the last century, so the mural likely originated with them, or at least that was the Conover family understanding.”
– Bob Going

“Once again, please satisfy yourselves by consulting http://www.fultonhistory.com under “Worley Moat” 4/25/1894. “Artist Worley Moat is giving the interior of the new hall of the Kenneyetto Red Men in the Morris Hall block a realistic appearance, now being painted to represent numerous portions of the Mohawk Valley so dear to the red men of years ago.” Moat’s father owned a brewery on Washington St… End of question I think, since it came right out of the 1894 Amsterdam newspaper.”
– Peter Betz, Fulton County Historian

That the AIDA Board is waffling about its preservation at this late date is a disgrace. They should have had a plan in place from the start, but it seems that planning is not a strong suit of the AIDA Buildings and Grounds Committee. The building has not been marketed and I have seen no evidence of an articulated budget or plan for the building, or any other of their holdings.

Unfortunately, this committee has also disallowed a few folks (realtor, historic preservationist, general contractor, city staff and me) from walking through the building to assess the mural and make recommendations about repurposing the room and marketing.

Just what is it that AIDA does, anyway? I’ve requested a Strategic Plan for their organization for years. So far, nothing but silence. How does the board progress its purpose and goals if they don’t have any?

AIDA was created as an economic development tool for the city, to work collaboratively with and strengthen city government. It certainly was not meant to be an separate, unaccountable government. I have requested that the agency supply the Council with all financial and organizational documentation necessary to get an exact picture of the agency’s true condition. I have been promised these documents by August 15th. I’ll update you as to receipt of this information. I’m sure you’re just as interested as I am to see what this group is up to.

And now, the photos:

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WORLEY MOAT, THE ‘CHICKEN ARTIST’ OF AMSTERDAM
by Peter Betz

When I read that Gloversville’s Common Council is considering once again allowing city residents to keep chickens, I immediately thought of Worley Moat, Amsterdam’s long-forgotten ‘chicken artist’. Because his story mainly belongs to Montgomery County rather than Fulton, I was almost ‘chicken’ to write about him, since, as Fulton County Historian, my general obligation is to keep my historical eggs in Fulton County’s basket. I hope ‘crossing the road’ by writing about someone who lived ‘to the other side’ of the county line won’t lay an egg with readers.

Two other recent events also brought Worley Moat to my attention. First, a local ephemera collector recently found and shared a scrap book filled with Moat’s artistic drawings of prize-winning chickens with me and second, Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane on her Facebook page recently shared photographs of some rediscovered 19th century wall murals of Mohawk Valley scenes located on the top floor of an old downtown Amsterdam building presently used by the Amsterdam AIDA organization which I and Amsterdam City Historian Rob Von Hasseln both think are probably Moat’s artistic work.

Just who was Worley Moat, why do we think he may have painted these lovely old murals, and what else did he do to cause him to be remembered? Starting a generation earlier, Worley’s father, Charles Moat, a coppersmith, immigrated to America from Hatfield, Yorkshire, England sometime in the 1850’s. According to a retrospective July 7th 1945 Amsterdam Evening Recorder article, Charles erected a brewery on Amsterdam’s Washington Street in the late 1860’s. The style of beer he brewed proved very popular with the many English émigrés working in the Sanford and other early Amsterdam factories. Charles Moat then invested in Amsterdam real estate and was president of the British-American “Sons of Albion” social club. He also served as President of the Board of Education, as a member of the Amsterdam Water Board, and as a village trustee, dying at 75 on February 11th, 1895.

Charles sold the brewery to son Walter on May 3rd 1886. Meanwhile Charles’ other son, Worley, followed a career path that seems based on his athletic and artistic abilities, plus his life-long involvement with poultry. He was first employed in the Amsterdam Daily Democrat’s Printing Department. Shifting careers, he became a member of Sanford’s rug pattern design team, probably a better outlet for his artistic abilities.

Worley’s greatest passion, however, was both raising and drawing prize-winning chickens, not surprising considering he grew up at a time in America when many very serious ‘poultry men’ engaged in breeding, cross-breeding and creating dozens of varieties of superior chicken varieties. Competitions at fairs and poultry shows, in which birds were judged via a very demanding list of criteria, were very serious business and significant prizes for breeding improved varieties were awarded. There were also a number of poultry magazines and journals promoting all this, and in these publications Worley Moat found his artistic niche as a sought-after, well-paid illustrator.

When I first heard of Worley Moat I immediately wondered where his unusual first name came from. A little research provided the answer. The NY Daily Tribune of October 1857 contained a tiny legal notice. Under the headline, “Nathan Worley, Cooking Apparatus, Plumbing and House-Heating” is found the statement, “The partnership heretofore existing between Nathan Worley and Charles Moat has been this day dissolved by mutual agreement, Nathan Worley having purchased the interest of Charles Moat, who retires from the business.” What Charles Moat did between leaving Worley & Moat in 1857 and appearing in Amsterdam circa 1867 doesn’t matter: Worley’s first name was obviously derived from his father’s former partner’s last name, probably given as a sign of affection and appreciation of Nathan Worley.

On January 28 1919, the Amsterdam Recorder published an old photograph taken in 1874. Among other early buildings shown is Moat’s Washington Street Brewery. In the foreground is a large brewery delivery wagon showing several men including Worley Moat. On June 17th 1939, it published a photograph taken in 1887 that also includes Worley, showing members of the J.D. Serviss Steamer and Hose Company, which frequently placed first against other hose companies around the state in running competitions. These were all proud, athletic young men in their absolute prime, stripped down to the bare essentials of what was then acceptable male clothing, white tights with black trunks, deadly serious about the business of “running out line and connecting nozzles” with their hose truck faster than their challengers.

Earlier on September 10 1884, the Amsterdam Daily Democrat headlined, “Victorious Once More”, declaring, “When the 6:35 train on the Central shot into the station last night, Worley Moat stood on top of the first car waving a small banner like a crazy man. In five minutes, more than 200 persons had swarmed off the train and up Main Street escorted by the Thirteenth Brigade Band to the Service Company’s house. Service Hose Company has returned victorious from a running contest for the third time within as many weeks.”

Other notices point to Worley Moat’s athletic abilities. On March 28 1930 Hugh Donlon in his Recorder column recalled, “It was only by a slender margin that Lincoln Eldredge, foreman of our composing room, lost a foot contest 45 years ago to Worley Moat, thereby depriving himself of glory and the newspaper editor who backed him of his ten dollars.” Another reference refers to Moat as “among the best oarsmen on the Mohawk River.” Yet a third notes that during July 1905, Moat and a companion, Peter Doran, lost a bet and had to walk from Fonda back to Amsterdam. He was also, of course, a member of the Amsterdam Wheelmen’s Club. Who during the 1890’s wasn’t?

Returning to our chicken saga, the earliest newspaper reference to Worley Moat appears on September 9th 1883 when he was 26 years old: he is listed as receiving First and Second Prize for his ‘Dominique’ variety leghorns at the New York State Fair.

But what connects local artist Moat with the recently-rediscovered murals painted on the walls of downtown Amsterdam’s AIDA building’s top floor? As usual, it’s just a matter of research. The connection is made with the discovery of an Amsterdam Recorder article printed April 25, 1894. “Artist Worley Moat is giving the interior of the new hall of the Kenneyetto Tribe of Redmen in the Morris Hall block a realistic appearance, now being painted to represent numerous portions of the Mohawk Valley which were so dear to the red men of many years ago,” exactly what the rediscovered murals show.

Worley Moat died prematurely aged only 51 on July 26th 1908. His passing received generous coverage in the Amsterdam Evening Recorder when he accidently fell down the stairs in his home at 131 Market Street, breaking his neck. His daughter Dolly discovered him at the bottom of the stairway in the morning. Reviewing his life, the Recorder reporter concluded, “A lover of poultry, he painted original sketches of first class birds used in leading poultry journals.” Worley, his wife and daughter are buried in Amsterdam’s Green Hill Cemetery, and no, his grave marker does not have a stone chicken carved on it.

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About twenty-five volunteers of all ages came out today to participate in the creation of a mural on the East End. The first layer of colorful paint has been applied to the bottom of the wall; Lara Kulpa will be painting the top on donated scaffolding. Textured patterns will layer on top of the base design. This is part of an effort to turn this neighborhood around by nurturing the pride that these kids have in public projects (community garden, mural, and next, a mosaic wall!) It was a great day and showing by all. Everyone was patient, well-behaved, and very helpful. Thank you, dear lord, for the beautiful weather.

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To all of the wailing and negative curmudgeons that said converting this plot of land below City Hall into a rose garden to save the retaining walls was a tremendous waste of money, this is what it looked like today.

It isn’t even in full bloom yet… and yet, it is fully magnificent with blooms.

I do hereby commit myself to making as many similar, small, significant changes to this City as I may during my time here. Peace out.

Double click on any image to enlarge.

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