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Archive for the ‘revitalization’ Category

I was recently fortunate enough to greet NYCOM members, state representatives and staff at our Legislative Priorities Meeting in Albany. It’s always a thrill for me to be with my compatriots. I am inspired by their resilience, fortified by their ingenuity, and buttressed by our combined numbers. We represent of 12 million souls. We are STRONG.
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This is important because we, at the local government level, are under siege.

Local governments are being blamed for the skyrocketing tax burden in NYS. This leaves most of us incredulous. We skimp, we save, we slash and we’ve shared for decades to bring our budgets in at the bare minimum and yet, the finger of adversity points at us, the leaders at the local level, and demands that we do more, that we some how wring more out of our already depleted departments and smile as we do so. March in step! Tow the line! Chant the rhetoric that plays so easily to the masses.

Well, that’s not our job.

Our job, as mayors and elected officials, is to provide services and opportunities to our residents as effectively and mindfully as we can. We may have been elected into the political sphere but our jobs are grounded in the daily operations of our municipalities. We are intimately familiar with each potholed street, water main break, sewage overflow, rusty swing set, graffitied wall, abandoned home, lumbering shell of factory, and neighborhood of need. Our everyday existence is one of problem solving, hand holding and sometimes even baby sitting. And we do this all at very little cost.

So, we feel a real sting when these accusations are made. We are proud of our prudent spending and constant self-assessments. That “shared service” is being presented to us as a “new” concept is ludicrous. We invented it.

We must counter the narrative that local governments are spendthrifts with the truth.

The facts show that local governments are the most effective and responsive governments in the world. In NYS, most manage to stay within the recently levied tax cap/freeze and still provide much needed services to our constituents. Unfortunately, this structure is not sustainable. We cannot freeze revenues when our costs go up, sometimes by double-digit percentages.

The inherent financial dysfunction in this state cannot be addressed by squeezing the life out the hearts of cities, town, and villages. We cannot cut our way to prosperity.

Unless we cut our costs.

This is where we must speak with one voice, the voice of 12 million of the 19 million voices in NYS. We have “needs”, not “wants.”

We NEED the quick response of our state representatives to provide the tangible mandate relief promised to us. NYCOM has presented real analysis and workable relief solutions for years, shedding light on answers that skirt controversy while being thoughtful and innovative.

As the most neglected entities in state budgets, local governments NEED meaningful investment in municipal infrastructure so that our communities can sustain safe and heathy environments and support future growth. We NEED a long-awaited increase to our AIM and CHIPS allocations.

We have behaved so well for years, waiting with our empty bowls, but it is time to insistently and in unison voice our needs for “more, sir.”

Finally, this is the message that the state needs to hear: don’t make us the enemy. Be our heroes! Working collaboratively should be a readily attainable goal for all of us, not just for those of us with local zip codes. We must set aside political alliances and work together across the state to overcome the adversity we face. We must work together with urgency and creativity so that local communities thrive.

Ultimately, local governments are not the problem, we are the solution. Rebirth of this state will happen along our beautiful main streets and waterfronts, in our schools and in our historic neighborhoods.

I am certain that the future of this state is one that will be prosperous. The question is, how long will it take? I believe, like the Governor, that it can be sooner than later if we ALL pull together in one direction.

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Dear Rick:

It seems to me that you asked Mr. Villa and me to list our priorities, not to debate.

My priorities are as follows:

1. Financial stability/accountability, 2. Economic Development, and 3. Quality of Life.

Much of the success of this administration falls under these broad themes and our work in the coming years will continue along these lines. The following list is not all-inclusive but I hope the readers get a sense of the scope of work I propose.

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FINANCIAL STABILITY
and ACCOUNTABILITY:

• Craft a fiscally conservative budget that sustains operations and invests in improved performance. Make sure every dollar spent is necessary and effectively allocated.
• Continue the implementation of the 2014 Corrective Action Plan scripted by the Controller, Corporation Counsel, the former Council and I. Ensure that resources are allocated to the Department of Finance to adequately track, reconcile and report all financial transactions.
• Pursue grants to augment the $27M in funding for capital improvements, equipment and transformative projects that we have received over the past seven years.
• Share services creatively: I offered a list of 34 initiatives to the County that can benefit us by cutting costs, increasing efficiencies and, sometimes, produce much-needed revenue.
• Explore new services that will generate revenue to offset property taxes.

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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:
• Expand water distribution to surrounding municipalities.
• Expand the Edson Street Industrial Park.
• Continue the redevelopment of our waterfront and downtown areas. Relocate trains station to urban core: create multi-modal transportation hub with commercial and banquet space.
• Repurpose industrial sites into multi-use commercial spaces, low tech incubators, or residential units.
• Continue to nurture partnerships with economic development entities (MCBDC, AIDA, CEDD, URA, CEG), our regional development partners on the MVREDC (I serve on the executive committee), state agencies and surrounding municipalities (our relationship with Schenectady is flourishing.)
• Capitalize on our location along the Thruway, Rail and River. The year 2017 will mark the 200th Anniversary of the Erie Canalway which will be an ideal time to showcase the new Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook.
• Build the Recreation Center to attract visitors from across the Northeast.
• Revamp our promotional materials and website to publicize opportunities in our community.

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QUALITY OF LIFE:
• Continue strategic infrastructure improvements (roads, water/sewer/storm distribution systems). Allocate necessary resources to our newly created Landbank.
• Fight blight through code enforcement, demolition, and targeted neighborhood revitalization strategies. Share code enforcement information and best practices with surrounding municipalities via the new software module we are creating with CTG and neighboring cities.
• Grow citizen engagement programs, e.g. neighborhood watch/beautification efforts, community gardens, citywide clean ups, etc.
• Support public safety departments adequately.
• Continue to offer recreational opportunities to youth and families at the Bacon Recreation Center and Creative Connections Arts Center, e.g. summer camps, free swimming lessons and transportation to city pool, after-school tutoring, sports tournaments, 4H club memberships, public arts projects, etc.
• Grow citywide celebratory events such as Spring Fling, National Night Out and Homecoming.
• Provide continued support for the downtown merchants, Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation, Library, Inman Center and the new Farmers’ Market.
• Continue to foster partnerships with the GASD, FMCC, SMH, W1shfu1Th1nk1ng, Centro Civico, churches and other not-for-profits to nurture body, mind and spirit.
• Continue to improve our municipal golf course, parks, playgrounds and monuments.
• Continue to promote historic preservation of our heritage properties.
• Re-engage community in master planning.

Again, there’s much more to this than I have listed here, but carving out a vibrant future for our city demands great thought, budgeting, planning and many, many hands.

One would think that, given the complexity of this job and extreme needs of this city, any candidate would have given considerable thought to priorities before announcing a run for office.

It’s been four and a half months since Mr. Villa announced. He hasn’t come up with any priorities in all of this time? THAT fact speaks for itself.

My motto:
“Be content to act, and leave the talking to others.”
~ Baltasar Gracián, translated from Spanish

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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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My commentary at the Wilmington Senior Center Lifetime Achievement Awards Celebration, Peg Tigue: 2014 Recipient of the David G. Menser Award.

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Good evening.

Thank you to the Wilmington Senior Center for allowing me a few moments to speak on behalf of a woman I love very much and, more importantly, to participate in a celebration of her lifetime of service to our community, state and nation. Please note the specifics of this service in the biography in your program because I am going to tackle this on a more personal level.

I am so proud of my mother.

Of course I am. We are all proud of our mothers!

Please, everyone raise a glass to the woman that brought you into this world, for the job of mother is not an easy one from the birth of a child until the job is done.

To mothers!

That said, I will tell you that my mother is of a special cut. She is smart, funny, infinitely energetic (which a few of you may have noticed) and she is as determined as she is elegant.

For all of you fans of astrology, my mother is a classic Taurus and unwaveringly displays the characteristics of her sign. If she puts her head down and starts pawing the ground, you’d better hope you’re not wearing red.

She has a sharp business sense and an undeniable capacity for organization. She thinks fast and acts accordingly. She is a natural-born leader.

She commands respect with her intellect, immense grace and smile. I think people would be surprised to know that she is somewhat shy but adheres to a philosophy we both share when having to enter a crowded room or difficult negotiation. We both mutter these words like a prayer before taking on such tasks:

“Put on your big girl panties and just DO it.”

And DO IT she does, whether it’s running a family business, building a tall ship, hunting down funding for a national museum or revitalizing a neighborhood.

My mother ceases on a dream and inspires others to do the same.

This is such an extraordinary quality, and a quality that I know her lifetime friend, Dave Menser, recognized and cherished. I’m sure he’s here today, raising a glass in toast and smiling with the angels. Right, Edie?

Again, I am so proud of my mother for all of these things and so much more, because my mother is a vastly complicated woman and I, like many others, have benefited from her gifts. I have especially received the gift of her strength.

My mother has experienced incomprehensible pain and loss and has risen from her difficulties, becoming one of the truly strongest souls I will ever know.

Her finest gift is this: I, and my brothers and sisters, have been given her love and devotion for all of these years. We are forever blessed.

So, without further ado, it is my distinct honor to be present for this award recognizing the exceptional achievements of my mother, Margaret Ann Tigue.

I can think of no one that is more deserving. I love you, Mom.

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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

_______________________________________________
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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So, God looked down at the City of Amsterdam and saw that we had amassed close to 200 volunteers for our litter pick up and decided to hold off on the rain as we had requested in our prayers. He turned off the faucet before dawn which gave the ground just enough time to be be manageable for our legions. Folks spread out in all directions and have gathered what may be our biggest load to date (we’ll find out on Monday when it is weighed at the transfer station.)

I’d like to thank the many individuals and organizations that came out strong for this day of service: St. Mary’s Healthcare, City of Amsterdam Democrats, Liberty, the Amsterdam Housing Authority, the Mental Health Association, Centro Civico, Target, AHS Track Team and W1shfu1 Th1nk1ng. This effort was a tremendous success from RT5W, Northampton, Union Street, to Locust Av, Kellog St, Church St, Grove St Slope, and East Main to the South Side, as well as all points in between!

The following are shots of the day.

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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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Goals achieved: 250+ volunteers, 500 bags of litter and refuse off of our streets and public areas. Tremendous cooperation from area businesses and not-for-profits, as well as individuals and families from every neighborhood. Amazing.

I’m so proud of this community.

Thank you so much to everyone that helped make this a success. I’ll update with particulars at a later date (SMH, Centro Civico, Century Club, Red Cross, Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, etc.) but right now, I’m going to rest!

You guys are the BEST.

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WHAT DO YOU VALUE?
For the past year, the GASD, City of Amsterdam, various not-for-profit organizations and committed individuals have collaborated to meet the needs of our youth-at-risk that are dealing with circumstances of poverty, neglect and/or isolation. This community partnering began in response to a terrible tragedy last summer – the murder of two boys by two other boys, all under the age of 16. The pained outcry from our constituency for more attention to the needs of young people was immediate and persistent. The resulting action taken can only be considered revolutionary.
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Through the combined efforts of those mentioned above, a Community Action Group has formed to offer constructive, creative and healthy opportunities for our youth. We have opened a recreation center focused on athletics and wellness, and an arts center promoting self-expression through dance, theater, music, literature and the visual arts. Most importantly, confident, new leaders in their 20’s have emerged to mentor students and advocate for increased investment in these ventures.

The importance of physical education in this scenario cannot be overly emphasized when we are trying to inspire our youngest and neediest residents. Many of these children deal with weight issues, struggle to work in team settings, and must learn to work with authority figures. Sports are a natural conduit to these learned attributes. Your support will be instrumental in providing access to programs, activities and services that are so vital to reaching our common goals.

THE CITY BUDGET
We need your support for our Department of Recreation requests in this year’s budget. We are asking to increase the position of Assistant to the Recreation Director to full-time. She coordinates activities at the centers and goes after financial support for these initiatives. In under a year, she has brought in $25,000 in revenues for programming, equipment and building improvements, all for 20 hrs/wk and $10,000/yr.

She’s developed a new recreation website and FB page, a comprehensive calendar for recreational events, a weekly email blast to over 2,000 individuals, and facilitates events like the Hosner 5K Run. This summer, we are planning a Summer Break-out Event featuring Radio Disney, a Summer Wellness Program with SMH, and Summer Camp Activities at the centers. Imagine what she could do in 40 hours?!

The Recreation Director works tirelessly and is the driving force behind the ALL of the scenarios described above, and MUCH MORE. He is asking that his salary be raised to be commensurate with that of other department heads. This is an investment in our future.

WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT!
If you value the changes we are making for the betterment of our community, we need you to VOICE YOUR SUPPORT! Call the aldermen, write letters to the editor and come to Council meetings to speak your mind!

Joseph M. Isabel ~ 1st Ward Alderperson (518) 684-6260
Valerie Beekman ~ 2nd Ward Alderperson (518) 842-1430
Gina DeRossi ~ 3rd Ward Alderperson (518) 842-5697
David J. Dybas ~ 4th Ward Alderperson (518) 842-5865
Richard Leggiero ~ 5th Ward Alderperson City Hall (518) 843-0808

These people need to hear from residents that support quality of life improvements and are optimistic about what we’ve been doing.

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The following is a bit of back and forth between our Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas and me concerning the upcoming budget. It is illustrative of the conceptual differences that exist between us. I do not believe we are “throwing money” at “pie in the sky.” We are making a small investment in the future.

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On 3/12/13 1:17 PM,
“David Dybas” wrote:

Dear Mayor,

Attached you will find a listing pertaining to salaries as published in the
preliminary budget 03 /05/13. Please provide a written response for
each of the items as indicated by page number and amount. All of he
amounts for 2013/2014 appear to be exhorbitant, WAY WAY out of
line! Your earliest response will serve to speed my further CHOPPING
an bring a more realistic amounts forward. Thank you.

D J J D

From: Ann M. Thane
Sent: Tue 3/12/2013 6:37 PM
Subject: Re: 2013/2014 prelim bud

Dear Dave,

I will review your suggestions, and agree that there are raises that exceed negotiated parameters that should be discussed, but will also caution that some of the positions/salaries that have been suggested are to increase departmental efficiencies and realize the positive change that I have been striving for these many years.

Our job is not merely to cut; our job is to conservatively budget and still deliver services to the best of our abilities.

This community wants change. We want and need increased oversight of DPW crews and better functionality in the Controller’s office. Complaints concerning code enforcement make up the lion’s share of calls to my office; we have the opportunity to finally staff sufficiently. The Recreation Supervisor performs far and above his title and his assistant has already brought in twice the revenue we are paying her now. We are proposing these changes to these positions/salaries to meet the needs and expectations of our constituents. We have done so responsibly and with great deliberation.

We will never see change unless we invest in change. A.

On 3/13/13 1:24 PM, “David Dybas” wrote:

Dear Mayor,

Thank you for your response. I whole heatedly agree the community wants change!!!!!!
The change the community most definitely wants is LOWER CITY TAXES AND LOWER
USER FEES—so my constituency is expressing to me. Please provide all the Common
Counsel members any of the studies that have taken place “to increase departmental
efficiencies” that the Department Heads, yourself included, have conducted to support
the conjecture being put forth. Also, please explain how this was done “responsibly
and with great deliberation”, in that, to my knowledge, no Common Council members
were asked for their inputs to achieve these lofty goals.

My past experiences have taught me many things, First, and still foremost, is most
changes DO NOT HAPPEN BY THROWING MONEY at the challenges. In fact
just the opposite occurs, i.e., you spend more, get less than anticipated, the challenge
does not go away and end up angering the rest of the work force and the people
who are continually asked to “foot the bill”

Hard learning has taught me that in the long haul cutting dollars, cutting staff, working
more efficiently (not harder) by REMAINING staff and giving the CONSTITUENCY
what it wants is the better formula. You may not make very many friends with the
work force, but, then again they are the work force and need to be attuned to the
reality of the financial condition of the City. Oh by the way, I’m still trying to
determine just what that may be given the condition of its finances over the past
5 1/2 to 6 years and involvement of prior elected officials. So just perhaps you can
“merely cut” to implement CHANGE, said CHANGE needing to have taken place
years ago. Always a pleasure to respond “positively” to “pie in the sky”.

D J J D

From: Office of the Mayor
Date: Mon, 18 Mar 2013 14:56:04 -0400
To: David Dybas , Joseph Isabel , Valerie Beekman , Gina DeRossi , Richard Leggiero , Gerry DeCusatis , Ann Thane
Conversation: 2013/2014 prelim bud
Subject: Re: 2013/2014 prelim bud

Dave,

The budget we have proposed is conservative and responsible. People want stable taxes, which we have delivered for the past 5 years. We have never exceeded our tax caps and have been enormously controlled in our spending or dependence on fund balance. We have negotiated new revenue sources, made many changes that have resulted in significant savings, and continue to look for ways to keep our costs under control. We have also been able to forge ahead with projects and staffing that impact our delivery of service in positive ways.

It is not the operational budget that inflates our budget – it is health care and pensions. Our department heads have been very attentive to their budgets and have submitted requests that are quite moderate.

Per our conversation, increasing departmental efficiencies has been an ongoing pursuit from the start of my administration and has been the topic of countless hours of discussion with department heads. Additional hours have been spent researching and studying best practices across the state and nation. We are doing what we may to proactively address the needs of our constituency.

I have requests in writing to this council and past councils as to suggestions they would make to better this system. As an example, I send the following correspondence. As you see, I invited this council from the start to articulate their goals and work collaboratively with me. I have continually extended an invitation to actively participate in this government. Dave, you should know this better than anyone.

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“From: Ann M. Thane [mailto:athane@nycap.rr.com]
Sent: Mon 12/26/2011 12:58 PM
Subject: goals

Hi y’all,

I must start drafting the State of the City speech and would like your input. I’d like to announce three goals that the council will work on for its term. Will you please give me your thoughts on what you’d like to focus on in the next two years? Please consider goals that are necessary, measurable and achievable. I believe articulating these goals will help us to work collaboratively to meet the needs of our community.

If you would please think this over for the next few days and get back to me by Friday, I’d appreciate it. Thanks, A.

Ann M. Thane
athane@nycap.rr.com

“When you are through changing, you are through.” ~ Bruce Barton

On 12/27/11 8:47 AM, “Gina DeRossi” wrote:

Mayor,

I can say that my number one goal is to get as much of the water/sewer infrastructure in the city fixed as possible. I know this will most likely need to be done via grants, but it is top priority as far as I am concerned (outside of public safety and such, which I think already is doing a great job).

Thanks,
Gina

On 12/27/11 10:45 AM, “Ann M. Thane” wrote:

Gina, This is a fine goal. We may break this down into measurable achievements:

Complete water/sewer improvements on Market Street Hill;
Develop a schedule of hydrant repair for the new year;
Apply for additional grants;
Make necessary repairs to Tecler water tank;
Progress I/I identification and repairs as stipulated in grant;
Make repairs to Florida Avenue Bridge causing siphoning problem;
GIS map all city structures (hydrants, valves, lines, etc. – requires funding source);
Assess equipment needs;
Develop long-range plans for assessment, improvements and funding.

I believe the rest of the Council would be in agreement with this goal. If there are other finer points you’d like to add to the list above, please do. Please don’t be shy about suggesting a few more goals. I hope there is more response by your fellow aldermen to this request for proposals. Some issues you may want to consider:

Progress demolitions of blighted properties, including Esquire property at the Mohasco site;
Develop long-range property management initiative (for foreclosed-on properties, city-owned properties, vacant lots, etc.) targeting neighborhood revitalization;
Change budget procedure to be more expeditious;
Review Charter, make necessary changes;
Rework the Common Council Rules of Order and committee structure;
Revisit Comprehensive Plan (requires funding).

I look forward to hearing from all of you.

Thank you for your input, A.”

I have repeatedly invited and welcomed the counsel of the aldermen. To suggest that this administration has functioned any differently perpetuates an offensive myth.

As far as specific staffing requests, the Deputy Controller has asked for a stipend to pay college interns to help out in the Finance Department. He has contacted Elmira and Siena Colleges and it looks like they will have students available to participate in this program.

The Housing Inspector position is being increased from a part-time to full-time position. Again, code complaints are the most frequently made complaints to my office. This increase in hours is to respond to that need. This would take us from 2-1/2 inspectors to three. Given the work of the department, this is a reasonable request.

The General Supervisor position is to oversee crews and projects across the city, to ensure that work is being done as assigned, and to address discipline problems. We have discussed this structural change for years, again in response to complaints lodged about departmental operations.

The Recreation Director works far and above his title, handling vacant and dilapidated property maintenance, overgrown vegetation and garbage, overseeing the new recreation centers, coordinating team sports, and attends to all public areas around the city. He works more hours than we pay him for and is one of our most valuable employees. His salary should be commensurate with what we pay other department heads.

The Recreation Assistant’s position would be moving to full-time status. In the few short months that Ms. Cushing has been in place for an annual salary of $10,000, she has brought in $20,000 worth of revenue, has taken over city promotional activities on social media sites, emails 2,000 people a city activity update every week, is coordinating programming and events for students and families, and has networked with local media outlets across the region. The small investment for this position pays off exponentially for the city.

I support the new positions and salary increases cited above because I want to see this city progress. A “cutting” strategy does nothing to promote a vibrant future. It maintains the status quo, which seems to be unpopular on any given morning on the local call-in radio show. As well, it does not seem that these same complainers have any articulated solution to our problems but to call day after day with the same negative mantra. I believe we deserve better and am willing to invest with that end in mind.

I hope that the council understands this vision we are pursuing for a better community and responds with the resources necessary to realize success.

If nothing changes, nothing changes.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

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Good evening, members of the Common Council, fellow elected and appointed officials, members of the City workforce and, most importantly, residents and friends of the City of Amsterdam. It is an honor and privilege to present my sixth State of the City address. It is my charge to inform you of the successes and challenges of 2012, and likewise as we look ahead to the coming year.

I’d like to tell you a story about speech writing. For me, I must have quiet and time to research my subject matter and come up with a structure for this discourse.

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I spent the better part of the weekend in my office, culling through a year’s worth of notes (anyone who knows me, knows I am never without my notebook.) At one point, my husband was good enough to drop off a couple of bottles of my favorite beverage, Vanilla Pear Seltzer, and spent some time meandering around my office and City Hall. This brought about a short discussion concerning all of the significant changes that we’ve made to the space since I had taken office. Of course, while looking over the various photos of my family, neither one of us could believe the changes in our children since 2008. These years stole my small children away and left in their place beautiful, accomplished, young adults ready to make their own ways in the world.

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The office and building have undergone huge changes. Walls have been painted; furniture, curtains, and carpets replaced; light fixtures upgraded; storm windows installed; asbestos removed and pipes re-wrapped; cabinets and closets repurposed; new offices and public spaces, including the infamous rose garden, created; as well as the leaking roof secured. The changes have impacted staff morale and the perception of important visitors to our seat of government. As “they” say, image is everything.

But there is still so much more to do. The building is over 100-years old and will need continued love and maintenance to realize its true potential. As many of you that own an older home realize, we will never be done.

So it is for this city.

It is important that we understand that the work of revitalizing an older, rustbelt city is a painstaking and continuous process. It is truly a labor of love.

In thinking about the drivers of this process over the past months and years, I have identified three areas of significance: Priorities, People and Promises.

PRIORITIES
Amsterdam has been proactive in establishing its priorities in its Comprehensive Plan of 2003, and since that time, has been nimble in responding to evolving need and challenges. We should be quite proud that we have been progressive in this regard.

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The year, 2012, was a year of great promise, furious activity and extreme heartbreak. New faces graced the Common Council Chamber bringing a new dynamic of respect and collaboration; heavy construction projects of all varieties changed our familiar landscape; and violent acts of unbridled ferocity shook us to our core. Everything about 2012 touched upon our priorities as a community and as human beings.

Sadly, government will never be the sole solution to the problems of our community, but we will always be mindful of our purpose: to provide much needed services paid for with your hard-earned tax dollars.

It’s been my observation that some folks are uncertain as to where these mysterious tax dollars go. They pay for your clean water, sewage disposal, garbage removal, fire protection, street and park maintenance, snow plowing, code enforcement, bus transportation, crime prevention, emergency response, records management, property assessment, legal counsel, financial management and employees to staff each and every department. City government is a $30 million dollar business manned by over 200 people. It is highly complex and is amazingly responsive, given its vast responsibilities.

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Its effectiveness can be seen in our rapid recovery from the devastating storms of 2011. In under a year, most property had been restored and new projects started. We have finished a complete overhaul of fire hydrants, valves, water and sewer lines, streets, and curbing in the Market Street Hill neighborhood, which had been the scene of horrific fires in 2009. If you recall, there was not enough water to adequately confront the fires because of corroded lines. Since that time, we have been systematically addressing critically compromised areas across the city and are now down to the last ten hydrants in need of replacement out of almost 1000.

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Our accomplishments have been many and, as we have all probably noted, this was a big year for construction. It was difficult to get from one section of the city to another without crossing the path of a backhoe, crane, dump truck or burly men in fluorescent vests and hard hats. Streets in every ward were resurfaced, most visibly on Prospect Street in front of the Clock Tower and on Bunn Street at the Middle School. The State made visible progress along West Main Street and around the Public Safety Building in its planned traffic re-patterning project. Assistance from city crews was seen on Market Street as they prepared over forty structures, manholes, catch basins and storm drains, for work that will resume in the Spring.

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The City demolished 39 abandoned structures this year, bringing the elimination of dangerous properties to a total of 84 over the past five years. We also completed the very large demolition of the Chalmers Building and finished Bridge Street with the addition of a parking lot that holds 45 cars for visitors and area businesses. We are actively seeking proposals for redevelopment of the Chalmers property, as it will be the centerpiece to our waterfront and downtown revitalization efforts. Its reuse is as exciting as any new beginning and we will not settle for any project that does not present a dramatic best use for this very valuable asset.

Across the river from that site, the State has produced an economic impact study of the train station relocation and estimates the project’s effect will be an extraordinary $45 million dollars to the benefit of city coffers. Coupled with Riverlink Park, the connection to downtown, the planned Pedestrian Bridge and new Riverwalk to Guy Park Manor, our waterfront will have the potential to draw hundreds of thousands of tourists a year. The Mohawk River will once again spur our rebirth as a vibrant upstate destination.

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Most of last year’s projects that I had just mentioned had been paid for with grants from State and Federal sources. The City has been the very fortunate recipient of over $4 million dollars for various capital projects, transportation needs, crime prevention, property rehabilitation and private enterprise support thanks to the efforts of staff like URA Director and Grant Writer Nick Zabawsky, AIDA Director Jody Zakrevsky, as well as Transportation Director Cheryl Scott. Our success has also been due to our strong presence in planning for regional growth as part of the Governor’s Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council. This partnership has inspired new affiliations between six diverse counties that sit squarely at the center of the State of New York. Of note, several private entities, including St. Mary’s Healthcare, Mohawk Fabrics and Embassy Millworks, received funding to purchase additional equipment and expand operations.

Of course, all of this talk of grants and money leads us to another top priority for our city: financial stability. Careful stewardship of our taxpayer’s dollars is a primary responsibility of any governing body, and this administration has been aggressively proactive in this regard. Here in the City of Amsterdam, we have been extremely cautious with our budgeting and have been able to meet the constraints of a state-mandated 2% property tax cap. We’ve reworked our water rates so that the cost of our system is more equitably shared, generating additional revenues in the tens of thousands of dollars. Our conservative approach to financial management in combination with our substantial efforts to revitalize our community have protected our A3 ratings from both Standard & Poors and Moody’s, ensuring that we will be able to borrow money at a favorable rate and save hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest over time.

Sadly, our new Controller Ron Wierzbicki passed away after just one year in office, but because of his attention to his duties, we have instituted measures to address bank reconciliation, capital project tracking, and staff training to complete the transition to the new accounting software. The Council has wisely hired consultants to assist in these ventures and has taken action to put a Deputy Controller in place, a position that is unaffected by the election cycle, to bring necessary expertise and institutional memory to the department.

Please, may we take a moment of silence to remember our friend, Ron.

While Ron’s passing was not expected, he passed after devoting seventy-five years of his life to the city he loved and his family that he held so dear. While his death is undoubtedly painful to those closest to him, we cannot begin to fathom the depth of despair of the families that suffered the loss of their loved ones in appalling acts of violence this year.

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In all of my years living in the City of Amsterdam, I cannot remember crimes that were so senseless or violent as the murders that took place on Locust Avenue in the Spring or in the fields of the Town of Florida this Summer. Parents lost children, children lost parents, families were shattered, and our community was instantly plummeted into an environment of shock and grief. It was the darkest time in our collective memory.

May we please have a moment of silence for the families and friends that have been so ravaged by these tragedies?

The passage of time allows us to reflect on what has happened because of these crimes. As awful as these occurrences have been, they have not been delivered without gifts. We must also note the tremendous outpouring of compassion for those that had suffered so terribly and the resulting activism that has marked our response as a community.

PEOPLE
These four murders launched the largest gang investigation ever conducted in this City to halt a growing problem. Because of these crimes, emerging drug dealing and gang activity was crushed and 22 arrests made. The information developed from the investigation opened intelligence pathways for the Amsterdam Police Department that will ensure Amsterdam does not become a “gang city” in the future.

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These crimes fostered new growth of our neighborhood associations, focused on resident engagement and crime prevention. We now have 14 watch groups comprised of approximately 100 vigilant individuals flourishing in all corners of the city.

Given that incidents of violence have captured the attention of our nation, the actions we have taken to protect our way of life here are as timely as the sunrise.

Now, when we look back at this terrible chapter in our history, we will remember the hundreds of individuals that came out in prayer, in peace, and in force to take control of the destiny of this community. Our reaction was strong and immediate. Working with volunteers from across every walk of life, the City, the Greater Amsterdam School District, St. Mary’s Health Care, Centro Civico, CASA, Catholic Charities, United Way, and various state agencies have strengthened their bonds to creatively address the needs of our young people.

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A particularly heartening result of these tragedies has been the emergence of new, young leaders in our community, only in their early-20’s, willing to throw their all into rescuing others from a path that poverty or neglect may precipitate. These volunteers, in partnership with the City and GASD, have established a safe haven for children and families on the Bacon Elementary School Campus. Calling their alliance “Wishful Thinking”, these young men and women offer one-on-one mentoring and shine a light of hope and inspiration for those that follow in their footsteps. Their legendary 3-on-3 basketball tournament at Veteran’s Field raised thousands of dollars for youth programming and they are now sponsoring weights training and league basketball at the school.

This extraordinary willingness to help one’s neighbors, however, is not new to our community. Volunteerism is the hallmark of our community. Every day, residents come to the aid of others through their involvement with churches, sports teams, and not-for-profit social and cultural organizations. We support our hospital, library, museum, marching band, veterans, seniors, small children, the sick and the unfortunate. We sponsor graffiti paint outs, massive litter clean-ups (in four years, residents have picked up over 12 tons of carelessly discarded trash), and countless small fundraisers for every imaginable cause.

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Thanks to volunteers, we had our Second Annual Spring Fling in May that attracted approximately 5,000 people to our Main Street and they facilitated our Winter Mixer in December. Volunteers coordinated swimming lessons for 150 children-in-need in July (sponsored by Hero-Beechnut), National Night Out in August, and concerts at Riverlink Park all summer long. Volunteers have launched a new Arts Center on our East End, and provided the homeless of our community safe shelter over these cold winter months. They donated our new Veteran’s Memorial at Veterans Field and saved City Hall from abandonment. Light Up the Sky and the Kristy Pollock Memorial Light Display serve as celebratory destinations during the season of giving while raising thousands of dollars for their beneficiaries.

It is not uncommon to hear the same names associated with many of these activities: Baranello, Becker, Brownell, Clough, Dickerson, Falso, Fedullo, Gavry, Georgia, Hetrick, Lisciki, Lyford, Maroto, Mihalek, Morgan, Naple, Peninger, Selbert, Serano, Smith and Von Hasseln. These folks, and many, many more, religiously show up time after time at any number of functions or affairs to plan, set up rooms, man tables, lend a hand and hoist the weight of need upon their shoulders. I am deeply honored to know these fine people and thank our generous friends for their incredible efforts.

They are responsible for the bright promise of our future.

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PROMISE
In recognition of the value provided by our marvelous volunteers, Amsterdam will join 155 other communities across the country in the “Cities of Service” initiative. Members of this coalition share resources, such as comprehensive service plans and coordinated strategies that match volunteers and established community partners to areas of greatest local need. Members also qualify for various leadership grants through the program. Amsterdam’s established history of volunteerism allows us to proudly accept this designation to showcase the benefit our residents receive at the hands of volunteers.

We thrive from our partnerships with others, on a personal level and as a municipality.

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In that vein, we will continue to strengthen our commitment to the students of our community through our governmental relationship with the school district. I propose that we explore joining the America’s Promise Alliance “Grad Nation” campaign. Grad Nation is a large and growing movement of dedicated individuals, organizations and communities working together to end America’s dropout crisis. A high school diploma is an important step in preparing a young person to live an independent, secure and happy life and to contribute as part of an educated, innovative workforce.

The Grad Nation program is interesting for several reasons: 1. Many of the initiatives being put forth are already being championed by the district; 2. It points out that responsibility for graduation rates cannot solely fall to the school district – community plays a deciding role in getting students to that goal; 3. There are grants for programming, informational materials, and tools to show measurable improvement; and 4. With the burgeoning partnership between the City, GASD, SMH, Centro Civico and other community organizations, we may have an opportunity to enhance what we are currently achieving. I look forward to discussions with the school district about this exciting prospect.

We will continue to partner on projects at a municipal and regional level.

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We will nurture our relationship with Schenectady as colleagues in the newly designated Capital District Landbank. It is our intent to restore the integrity of our communities by, again, combining resources to remove dilapidated structures and redevelop abandoned properties. Our efforts will open the door for our communities to reclaim, reinvest in and rebuild our neighborhoods.

It is crucial that the City foreclose on tax-delinquent properties in the coming months in anticipation of the work that will be done via the Landbank.

I expect the coming months to be as busy as the past sixty months. We will continue to press for our fortunes as part of the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council. We will strive to bring new business to our downtown through the efforts of our new Community and Economic Development Department Director, Robert Von Hasseln. Mr. Von Hasseln is also hard at work to land a project for the Mohasco site and heavily involved in planning for waterfront and neighborhood revitalization through Brownfield opportunity funding. We will work with the State on traffic re-patterning and the train station relocation. We will investigate bringing the Waste Water Treatment digesters back on line and hydroelectric generation on the Chuctanunda Creek. We will hunt down storm/sewer connections and remedy them to avoid costly fines from the state, as well as demolish another sixteen unsafe structures.

We will consistently provide services in unpredictable times.

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As a city, we can be enormously proud of our course. In times when the world has been pummeled by economic instability, political discord and uncertainty, we have maintained a steady keel. This is thanks in great part to the planning we have done in the past, charting a map to the future through our Comprehensive Plan of 2003. It is now time to revisit the document, to set new goals for the coming decade. It is this foresight that keeps us on target and allows us to tap into various streams of funding from state and federal sources.

I’d like to close this speech by once again thanking the many people, both inside and outside of the governmental process, that make peace and charity a priority in their everyday lives. As Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, NJ points out,

“We will achieve great things if we continue to understand that the destiny of our city is shaped by citizens who counter the weight of apathy and complacency with courage and conviction.

This is the lesson I have learned from my friends here in Amsterdam, and is the lesson I wish to pass on to my children. Thank you all for this enormous gift.

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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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More to do, but here’s today’s latest update to the mural.

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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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“Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.”
– Dan Rather

Major construction continues on Market Street in preparation for modifications to traffic signaling along the corridor. The roadway will be resurfaced from Prospect Street to the northern city line, which entails moving and/or repairing over 40 structures such as telephone poles, manholes and catch basins. These photos show the changes begun at the entrance of VanDyke at RT30.

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