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images of a woman

The following is the speech I gave (well, with tremendous artistic license… I actually wandered quite a bit!) at the Nathan Littauer HealthLink “Images of a Woman” event on July 31, 2019:

Good afternoon! I am Ann Thane.

I want to Thank Nathan Littauer for allowing me to share on such a juicy topic! Images of a woman… just think about the images that come to your mind when we think about women. 

I especially want to thank my Sista, Tammy Merendo, for this opportunity. Really, she’s the one that inspires me every day (and we talk every day) with her strength, her no-nonsense approach, artistry, humor, and of course, the swearing. We are both very good at swearing (in private, of course). I’m sure we’re the only two in this room guilty of this unfortunate choice!

SO, back to the juice! Women! Like all of us here “of a certain age”, we’ve lived several different lives over our time on earth, each decade, so different from the one before… from our clothes and hair, to jobs and locations, partners, people, food…

who here eats the same way you did as a 20 year old? 

Everything is just so different about every ten years or so. Our mental and emotional challenges change, and so do the heroes, or more to point today, the heroines.

Because as women, we are sisters on a sacred level and we have all experienced this special connection… sometimes in the line at the grocery store, or in the ladies room on the thruway… I have a very nice relationship with the women at the coffee stop I make every morning, yet we know very little about each other.

We share in this immensely complex thing labeled “female” and have common hungers that are expressed in many ways over the years. 

One thing is clear: we are born hungry from the moment we come kicking and screaming into this world. We are born hungry for touch and for attention, and this hunger for human connection is a steady stream that runs through our lives for all of our lives, whether it is satisfied or not. This desire to “be complete” carries us into the most baffling and rewarding searches of our lives. 

I have been extraordinarily blessed to have always had incredible female guides, mentors and friends at each stage of this journey. Over the next few minutes, I’ll walk you through the distinct stages of my life in the hope that you too recognize your similar experiences. For me, these women are proof of the existence of a higher power that is active, not distant, in my life. My belief system includes faith in a God or a Goddess or whatever is out there that will send who and what I need, when I need them.

Because I mentioned the word Goddess, I’m throwing in this shot of my mother’s mother, Marion Tigue, because she was a primary influencer in my life. ❤ I look like her and smell like her, and if I get really outrageously lucky, I’ll be at least half as good as her. She still whispers to me when I need her.

Thankfully, I’ve had very few times when I didn’t have two to three closest friends, usually girlfriends, that get my vibe: they are curious, creative, sensitive, and always funny. I come from people that love to laugh and this trait has carried us through some of our toughest times.

This includes the two wonderful sisters I was born with, Lisa and Marybeth, and my sister-in-law Betsy. They’re all incredibly kind, supportive and the perfect combination of whacky that has worked magic in my life.

SO, without belaboring this, I had a happy childhood. I was the first born to young newly-weds, followed rapidly by four more living children and two miscarriages.

My parents were loving and in love.

This is my dad. I’m about ten here. He was my whole world, really. I love my mother and always will, but my father and I were very alike and he treated me as both a father and an equal. 

This is my mother as a young woman. She was voted May Queen in 1954 at the University of Delaware and she was way prettier than Jackie O. They were a beautiful, white, professional, suburban couple that were the envy of their peers.

In the early sixties, they moved to a sprawling home in an affluent Catholic neighborhood on the outskirts of Wilmington, DE, and this is where I met my childhood soulmate, Patty Delate.

From the moment we met, we grew into each other like vines on a trellis. Patty is the fifth child in a family of thirteen. She was a pretty, athletic blond and one year older than me. I was small, skinny, homely, and shy, and mercilessly bullied by kids at school. She was smart, hysterically funny, mischievous, and spiritual, even as a child. We were both raised in the Catholic faith, but she “got it”, ya know? I alway wondered how she had been born with such an innate knowledge of spirit, and why I never felt that understanding.

Now, after all of these years and watching her through the magic that is FaceBook, I think she is just a very old soul, fine and strong, kind and selfless, doing the work she is meant to perform in this physical realm. She lives on the Alaskan coast and is a Nurse Practitioner and Wholistic Healer. She also travels often to the Democratic Republic of Congo to share her heart with people-in-need. 

I blame her for my love of chocolate (we made many, many excursions to an old-time candy shop up the hill from us), for my inclination to share all my thoughts and worldly goods openly with all friends, and am grateful that she fearlessly taught me to cook and bake.

She’s the one that taught me to explore and worship the beauty of the forest and the creeks. When we were together in the woods, we were transported to another realm of tadpoles, tree tops, raspberry bushes, and crayfish tucked in muddy crevices while we balanced on rocks above the water, crouched and contained.

She was my first true love.

I remember it being odd when we grew apart once we went to different schools and then she moved away to take up her journey through time.

Yet, there were others in the woods when I was a child. My cousins, Joan and Jane, lived just two blocks from me, and I spent wondrous amounts of time running down wooded paths and through back yards to get to them. It was great for us kids, but our parents lived and worked a little too closely together, in the family pharmacy business. The adults were ravenously, though not overtly, competitive. 

This came from their complicated dynamic. Basically, a set of sisters married a set of brothers. My mother was beautiful and favored by her father; my aunt was accomplished and favored by her dad. This was good and bad. The hunger for parental approval drove both my mother and aunt to be successful businesswomen and celebrated public servants. They taught my generation to love our communities, to volunteer, and to not just speak up politically, but to lead. 

All of my generation have inherited or been impacted by a family disease that continues to snake its way through our line.

Quick skip back to my dad, my daddy, my movie star handsome father. He loved being a husband and father.

We came first in everything, until we didn’t. There came a time that he couldn’t control his hunger for the serpent that is alcohol. It eventually took his life and he died by his own hand at the age of 42.

That was horrible. 

I was 17 and just starting my menstrual cycle, so I was also half out of my mind…and my first real boyfriend had just broken up with me… it was really, really terrible,

but suddenly, it was five years later.

I survived. Somewhat damaged and wobbly, but alive. In that time, I had two more serious relationships, and met my husband, Peter, at college. At that time, I was tall, thin and pretty (I thank my parents to the day for my braces) but I didn’t know I was pretty. I look back at photos of this time and don’t recognize that girl. 

Anyway, at that time, I was a bit out of control and a lot lost, but I stuck with Pete through it all. That is not the whole truth. He is my rock. He’s the one that stuck with me through pain and chaos. As did the next group of women that came into my life at a critical juncture.

Tracy (Bjork) Thompson and Jeanne Reeder were my roommates in college. After 40 years they are still my closest friends, though they both live on the West Coast. I see Tracy every few years and it has been about 20 years since I last saw Jeanne. Since the beginning, our connection has been immediate and intense. Back then, we were hungry to be grown up but still cool, to find our nest and our purpose. We were crazy thin and ate poorly. I remember big bottles of cheap german wine and lots of obnoxiously loud music.

Tracy is beautiful and confident and Jeanne is etherial and certain. They came to me at the perfect time, just starting out in life, when you make the friendships that will last a lifetime.

I learned from them that I could be open, intellectual, artistic and accepted. We indulged our new appetites for debate, living independently, and excess. Soon after they graduated, they left excess behind. I had a harder time of it.

These women have loved me through depression, dishonesty, addiction and distance. I deeply love them both to this day.

It was in my twenties that I realized I had a unique artistic voice. This was not quite in keeping with the realistic approach to drawing taught at the University of Delaware and left me insecure about my expressive technique. I look back at my work from the time and see that it is probably some of the best of my life, even though I had no confidence in my work at that time. 

This is the story of my life!

I will forever being seeking the effortless nature of my line then, and I have forgotten how I achieved some of the effects I achieved with paint. These are some images from that time. Obviously, in my 20’s I was obsessed with sexuality. You’ll see in a minute that I’m a kid at heart and my interest in the female form has not diminished, though now my rendered women have personalities and intent.

I met my in-laws in my twenties too. In this regard, I may be the luckiest woman in the world. My husband’s parents were loving and accepting of me from the very first time I met them. And my mother-in-law, Dottie, showed me maternal love that was completely patient, generous and stable. She was a FABULOUS baker. We all know baking is an art. She had “it”!

Bang.

Suddenly another ten years passed and I had moved, first to NJ to pursue my husband and a job, and then to Amsterdam, NY to become a wife and new mother. I think the thirties are the hardest decade to navigate. We grapple with balance between our needs and others, with new bills, uncertainty about the future, and the first failings of our bodies. Our first grey appears, along with the weight. We jealously watch folks that haven’t paired off still dressing up, going out, moving up in the job, and enjoying the unfettered life. 

Of course, this is not the experience of the single on the other end, but that’s another person’s life. Maybe next year’s speaker!

And you should pity me. I had to go through my thirties in the 80’s! The “80’s” is really another way of saying big bad hair, too much makeup, gigantic man-like garments, and music I’ve never made friends with. My apologies that had the time of your life in the 80’s. Rock on. This is just my experience and I lived a good portion of this period in New Jersey. Nuff said.

At the same time, you begin to move fully into adulthood. The hunger to be a great parent never leaves you. It is also an appetite that can never be sated and in time, we must all learn the hard lessons, some small, some catastrophic.  

I was a graphic artist by this time of my life, which sounds creative but is anything but. It is a competitive field that pays little and any really innovative work is eliminated by clients in the first round. We had moved upstate to be closer to the Thanes. They had retired in the Catskills, an hour from our house in Amsterdam. My husband worked in the construction field and I freelanced in Albany while juggling two little children. Thank goodness for the creation of the personal computer! This allowed me to work from home with the kids at my ankles. We didn’t have much, but never went without. 

And we always had wonderful meals, because I love to cook. It is a calling that is very similar to my drawing. Often, when I take a break from drawing or other mediums, I’ll jump to the kitchen. Food is colorful, fragrant, and delicious. 

In my early thirties, I made lavish meals to hide that fact that I was struggling with my drinking. I gained 70 pounds and was so self conscious, I didn’t want to leave my house. I certainly didn’t want to be seen in a bathing suit and there are few photos of me at this time.

I also realized that my compulsion for food was every bit a strong my desire to drink. This would start the sea-sawing up and down of my weight for the next couple of decades, but I could justify my sins because my cooking was spectacular. The disease of addiction is so insidious. Thank goodness, my mother-in-law was there, always with open arms and gentle, thoughtful encouragement, like I was her own blood. 

And just like that, I was pitched into the next phase of my life. God, to be 40 again physically is my dream! I was healthy and confident enough to feel all “growed-up”, but still vibrant enough to feel young, sexy and alive. My recovery work had introduced me to a growing circle of friends that knew everything about me, and loved me to a better life. I lost weight and began to truly enjoy my life by using the gifts God had given me for others.

I landed in the Walter Elwood Museum, first on the board and then as its Director. My children were in elementary school. I was active with the PTA, the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation, and the local Democratic Party. 

While at the museum, I had the honor of taking over operations from Mary Margaret Gage, the denizen and keeper of city history and the quirky collection of 20,000 objects, assembled over the last century. She was another angel sent to guide me. 

The museum was her passion and reason for living. In a careful dance, she passed off the position to me with grace and restraint. And this is why: we loved each other. Mary Margaret was known to be difficult and direct, a formidable and fierce protector of her trove. I was scared to death of her. 

So I prayed. I prayed everyday to love her. No matter what she did, I would love her, and try to understand her. She must have been praying at the same time, because we came together and started to build a future for the museum in unison, until circumstance took her to Florida to live out her remaining years with her kids. Mary Margaret instilled in me the same passionate feelings about those collections that she had. She also demonstrated humble, anonymous service to others win her thoughts and actions. The Mary Margaret that I knew gave selflessly to her friends and organizations in our community. She has a special affection for children that may have surprised some. She never backed down from a confrontation, but would hold someone in a hard stare for several minutes until she unnerved them. She totally rocked! 

My second museum angel was MaryAnn Tomlinson. She was president of the board for most of my seven years. She listened to me whine and cry, and would then assure me that we could bring about the rebirth of a new organization to sustain the museum.

And we did it, with many other terrific women that are still giving to the museum and other organizations today: Barb Neznek and Diane Smith were on my board. They still play prominent roles in their communities, and you may know Barb through Healthlink.

The museum taught me so much and I loved that job. Everyday, I discovered a new, charming object with an exotic origin or story. I put all of my creative impulses into developing a new mission and vision, crafting policies, hosting events, marketing, rehabbing faded exhibits and bringing out forgotten surprises from the attic. I never thought there’d be another job that could top that one. 

Never say never. Ha!

Anyway, the famous Amsterdamian south-sider Virginia Whelly brought me onto the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation board in the year 2,000, when I was 43 years old. A walking bridge from the parking facility over the railroad to an empty lot on the Mohawk River was all that existed of the park that we see in this slide. Did anyone attend the concert on Saturday night? Over 2,000 people were present. There’s some nice symmetry in that. 

Outside of the guy I sleep next to every night, a few folks in Amsterdam really stand out for the lessons they taught me. Virginia, of course, with Doug Nadler, Paul Parillo, Paul Gavry, and so importantly, Paul Tonko. They really are the ones that understood what revitalizing the waterfront could do for Amsterdam. Little did I know, this would lead to a twenty-year commitment to this redevelopment and thousands of hours of pushing for one thing or another. 

This heady time taught me that I had personal power to bring about change in my community. That’s a HUGE lesson. All of a sudden, I noticed that there were only a very few number of people doing everything, and that every board featured the same faces. Any of you do volunteer work? Am I right? 

And don’t those little PTA, library and sports team boards get political?! Whoa! I think several years on a committee or board should be a mandated qualification to run for any elected position. Lord knows there’s the need and maybe some of these people could learn how to work toward a common goal before spending our tax dollars.

My forties did not inspire a hunger in me for power as much as a realization that power lies in the hands of a very few. This realization jettisoned me into the next phase of my life with perfect preparation for the nonsense and wonder that is politics.

Bethany Schumann McGhee and I found one another in this arena and fought the good fight for about 15 years. It’s at this time in my life that I began to realize most news anchors, teachers, nurses and some of my friends were quite a bit younger than I.

My kids attended school with children from a family up the hill and we all became very close. I would be remiss to not talk a minute about Mary DeCusatis.

Kind and outwardly social, but intensely private too, we recognized our similarities quickly. We’re even born on the same day. Mary provided a haven for my children when I was trying to kickstart a career. She created a lovely home, with sumptuous meals and late-night board games. She shared her extensive knowledge of the city’s people and made all of us feel safe and protected. I’d end up working side-by-side with her husband (and another best friend, even if he’s not a girl) in city government for eight years.

Because by the time I was in my mid-fifties, I was Mayor of the City of Amsterdam and heavy again! But THIS was the best job I’d ever had in my life. It was endlessly stressful and challenging, but so incredibly rewarding.

I think my advantage as a woman mayor was how unfamiliar it was to my opponents; they just did not know how to communicate, much less collaborate, with a woman. The funny thing is that, I was serene most of the time, until the end of my second term. By that time, they had called out the guns on my council and the nuts called the radio stations everyday to complain about things they didn’t really understand. Politics can get so ridiculous, which is tragic because we must have government to manage our communal needs. 

And this is what that did too me.

Until I decided to take my life back.

As one can expect, it gets a little lonely in that office now and then. Thank goodness I fell into managing with extremely talented employees that were willing to work collaboratively.

We facilitated the biggest capital improvements to Amsterdam in 60 years, many that are still progressing today. I’m very proud of my record, but it only happened because God gave me the best team and volunteers. The following is just a smattering of significant projects and public art I championed during my time in office. You’ve already seen the waterfront park, but there is so much more!.

Nothing shows you who your friends are more than politics. It was at this time that God also sent me a hive of women to show me what it really means to be communal, and they are still my friends now.

They are persistent, kind, expressive and giving. They live lives of joy and small victories, magnificent plans, monumental sacrifice and challenge. They do this while making pottery or wreathes and beating a drum. They build community gardens, work countless fundraisers, and shepherded a group of children from the east end for years.

They will be there for you if you are painting a hydrant or managing the aftermath of a 500-year flood. They grapple with personal tragedies, illness and loss, while handing out candy to children at a Halloween event.

I’m going to flip through photos of these friends; Barb and Diane I’ve already mentioned but there is also Kari, Sherri, and Suzanna. Most importantly, there was Tammy Merendo, and once again in my life, I was a solidly connected to someone as if we were hardwired. 

Tammy Merendo is my Sista; my chosen sister. She has made me hungry again to live fully, unencumbered by my preconceptions or insecurities about myself that bob up to the surface now and then. She’s so amazing and I can barely believe that I would be so lucky to have the support of someone so fierce and sound.

And crazy like me. We all need that small bit of kooky in our bestie, right? We are crazy in the way of picking up the phone and calling at the same time, or being drawn to the same item in an auction. We love jewelry, folk art, great food and indulging all of our senses. She is the girlfriends that understands my mother issues and my most recent healthy diet attempt. She’s the girlfriend that has promised to help me transport and bury a body.

Just kidding.

Not really!

And here I am in my early 60’s, totally freaked out like a teenager in more ways than one. My body is unfamiliar again, I’m a bit unsettled and new challenges keep showing on the menu.

About 5 years ago, I decided to finally shift my eating habits to foods that were mostly unprocessed and as close to raw as I can get off a menu. I’ve stopped eating most meat because I intuitively think there is something wrong with it. It’s just not right that a chicken breast is the size of a turkey breast now. I think the meat is making us all big. 

But what do I know. I just eat a lot of vegetables & greens, nuts, sweet potatoes, and humus, and have discovered that I love to cook diverse dishes from all over the world. I went through a smoothie kick and have kept 50 pounds at bay for five years.

I feel good. I think I look good, but I’m still on the receiving end of the lesson game. My kids are stumbling their way to adulthood. They’re both doing really well. My son is an engineer that does some travel around the country for his job and my daughter is a nurse at Mt. Sinai in NYC. They both are really smart and have their own puzzles to work out. Hopefully, we’ve provided them enough in the way of guidance that their journey will be less painful, but in the end, we all must crawl before we walk into our full being.

My mother is 85. She lives independently, is vibrant and healthy for her age, and is a driving force for neighborhood revitalization in Wilmington, DE. My siblings and I are trying to manage planning from afar, though one brother lives close by and is her touchstone for the family. Again, this is uncharted territory.

I work a very good job for the State, but I hope one day I’ll be able to go full on as an artist. I’m so pleased to be asked today to speak at this particular event because I feel like this is an important time for women and I have come into my voice as an activist and an artist. My images are confrontational in their nudity and I like to play with traditional themes.

I find that expressing myself artistically is not a choice; it is what I have been born to do, just like some people have a talent for car mechanics or baking. Whatever that higher power is out there channels through me via the arts.

My current collaged illustrations express the beauty of the female form, psychology and sexuality. I portray singular subjects that give voice to my own struggles with aging, dignity, grief, vanity and power. We are all flawed and we are all fabulous. I am interested in commonly shared emotions of women, as these reflect the gravity and complexity of the feminine experience. 

I think the female perspective is particularly timely given what has been going on in the political sphere both nationally and globally. We watch decisions being made that will impact the environment, health, social justice, and individual freedoms for generations to come. The world has become so divided. 

I think it is time for women to come forward. Every one of us has scars and deficiencies. We have born and raised children. We have provided for our families and our communities. As incomplete as any one of us may be, when we come together, we are whole. I wish that this were the case in Albany and Washington, but also in every municipal chamber and board room. It’s gonna take more women. Because what we have is that sacred connection as mothers, and healers and leaders, to the power that exists in any room where women share space.

We know what it is to be female. We know how it feels to whisper excitedly about a first kiss or to watch the skin on our arms go slack and spotted. We know what it is to be underpaid, tapped out and under appreciated.

But because we are women, we naturally a drawn to nurture, to problem-solve, and to persist. We are drawn to each other for shoulders to cry on or to stand. 

So, I hope that today as I’ve walked you through some of the stages of my life, you’ve been able to touch on memories of people, places and important events that make such a rich and decadent stew. And I hope that you take care of yourself, that you eat and sleep well, that you take classes and have your vitals checked at HealthLink, and that you whisper your dreams to your sisters, so that those dreams will come true.

It’s been a pleasure to be with you today. Hang in there, Sistas!

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Hello world.

Keep your eyes peeled. I’m up to new tricks.

Check out my page at:  www.thaneartwork.com.

Ciao…

but for the curious, the past many years are archived here.

Ann Thane 2019

The illusive Ann Thane, 2019. lol

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Still-NOREVISED:
All, an error in my calculations was brought to my attention. Therefore, I withdraw my objection to the elimination of marketing funds, as this will take the budget over the prescribed tax cap. However, I point out again that this cut would be unnecessary had the council taken the ambulance service in-house. My revised veto is as follows:

OBJECTION TO BUDGET MODIFICATIONS • Resolution #14/15-241
In order to protect the interests of the taxpayers of the City of Amsterdam, I am objecting on this date, June 9th, 2015, to the following modifications to the proposed budget contained in the adoption resolution #14/15-241.

In general, the budget I proposed contained accurate and realistic estimates of revenues and expenses. It is unfortunate that the Common Council has decided to forgo the city ambulance proposal and thereby increase the tax burden on our property owners. In-house ambulance services have been proven beneficial to municipalities across the state in the way of hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue unrelated to property taxes or utility fees.

The modifications made by the Common Council substantially underestimate expenses for the city’s health insurance program and numerous other areas. The problem with doing this is that the “cuts” are not real; the costs that many of these items estimate are not entirely under the control of the city. The net result will be a significant deficit across all operating funds at the end of the fiscal year, while simultaneously damaging the ability of city staff to provide services.

I would object to all of these modifications if I had the votes to support my objections. Instead, I will only object to certain items that will lessen the negative financial impact of this budget in the hope that the Common Council will reconsider its actions. These objections are also constrained by the various tax caps.

OBJECTIONS:
1. Item 37 – Remove an additional $100,000 from the health insurance appropriation.
Removal of this modification will reduce the amount of the year-end deficit that will be caused by the underestimating of this expense. Again, this harkens to my prior veto of Resolution 240 citing the “practice of the County Board of Supervisors that earned negative comments during a recent audit. The OSC noted that the supervisors had adopted budgets that were structurally unsound, “The County’s declining financial condition is the result of poor budgeting and financial management practices, and the board’s failure to develop and use long-term financial plans”.” I reiterate, we should not make the same mistake here.

2. The amendment to increase the transfer from the Water Fund to the General Fund by $40,000 sponsored by Alderman Barone.
Removal of this amendment will prevent the loss of taxing power under the 2% annual tax cap. Retaining flexibility under this cap is important, as it will allow future administrations to more easily comply with the state-mandated cap and secure the associated compliance checks for our residents. It is particularly concerning that this action was taken so swiftly, without proper justification, analysis or thought, after lengthy discussion about the negative impact the loss of taxing power has on our taxpayers. Please refer to the OSC citation in reference to Item 37.

It is my hope that the Council will recognize my restraint in crafting this veto and that they will concede these few points to better serve our taxpayers.

In light of the aforementioned points, I hereby veto this budget resolution.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

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once again, no.

OBJECTION TO BUDGET MODIFICATIONS • Resolution #14/15-241

In order to protect the interests of the taxpayers of the City of Amsterdam, I am objecting on this date, June 8th, 2015, to the following modifications to the proposed budget contained in the adoption resolution #14/15-241.

noIn general, the budget I proposed contained accurate and realistic estimates of revenues and expenses. It is unfortunate that the Common Council has decided to forgo the city ambulance proposal and thereby increase the tax burden on our property owners. In-house ambulance services have been proven beneficial to municipalities across the state in the way of hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue unrelated to property taxes or utility fees.

The modifications made by the Common Council substantially underestimate expenses for the city’s health insurance program and numerous other areas. The problem with doing this is that the “cuts” are not real; the costs that many of these items estimate are not entirely under the control of the city. The net result will be a significant deficit across all operating funds at the end of the fiscal year, while simultaneously damaging the ability of city staff to provide services.

I would object to all of these modifications if I had the votes to support my objections. Instead, I will only object to certain items that will lessen the negative financial impact of this budget in the hope that the Common Council will reconsider its actions. These objections are also constrained by the various tax caps.

OBJECTIONS:
1. Item 37 – Remove an additional $100,000 from the health insurance appropriation.
Removal of this modification will reduce the amount of the year-end deficit that will be caused by the underestimating of this expense. Again, this harkens to my prior veto of Resolution 240 citing the “practice of the County Board of Supervisors that earned negative comments during a recent audit. The OSC noted that the supervisors had adopted budgets that were structurally unsound, “The County’s declining financial condition is the result of poor budgeting and financial management practices, and the board’s failure to develop and use long-term financial plans“.” I reiterate, we should not make the same mistake here.

2. The amendment to increase the transfer from the Water Fund to the General Fund by $40,000 sponsored by Alderman Barone.
Removal of this amendment will prevent the loss of taxing power under the 2% annual tax cap. Retaining flexibility under this cap is important, as it will allow future administrations to more easily comply with the state-mandated cap and secure the associated compliance checks for our residents. It is particularly concerning that this action was taken so swiftly, without proper justification, analysis or thought, after lengthy discussion about the negative impact the loss of taxing power has on our taxpayers. Please refer to the OSC citation in reference to Item 37.

3. Item 27 – Reduce Mayor’s Marketing Lines by $30,000.
The funds expended under this line will help promote the soon-to-be completed Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, update the City’s website, and otherwise improve the image of the City of Amsterdam. It is necessary to adequately market the positive aspects of our community to change undesirable perceptions about our municipality. Ultimately, this will increase outside investment in the City and alleviate many of the stresses cause by the current climate of disinvestment in real property. Failure to fund these efforts is shortsighted and detrimental to the future of the City.

It is my hope that the Council will recognize my restraint in crafting this veto and that they will concede these few points to better serve our taxpayers.

In light of the aforementioned points, I hereby veto this budget resolution.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

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News_No
VETO STATEMENT • Resolution #14/15-239
I am vetoing this resolution on this date, June 5th, 2015.

I take issue with this resolution for several reasons:

1. Just as was the case with Resolution #14/15-226 (consent), this current resolution was introduced without prior public discussion by the Council in any committee.

2. Just as was the case with Resolution #14/15-226 (consent), this current resolution ignores the recommendations of the Golf Commission, a body that the Council had supposedly given complete control of course management.

3. Just as was the case with Resolution #14/15-226 (consent), this Council has not done any analysis as to what impact the action will have on the Golf Course Budget or City Operational Budget nor have they suggested how this anticipated revenue might be recouped in other ways.

4. Just as was the case with Resolution #14/15-226 (consent) and given that the Golf Course Budget must be made whole by tapping the General fund, this action will further negatively impact our city and its taxpayers.

In light of the aforementioned points, I hereby veto this resolution.

VETO STATEMENT • Resolution #14/15-240
I am vetoing this resolution on this date, June 5th, 2015.

1. The resolution cites “a difficult financial outlook” and that the “taxpayers are continually asked to bear the burden for balancing the city budget.” These conditions exist in every municipality and do not form the basis to ask the state to make an exception to the law that prohibits using sewer fund revenue for general fund purposes. The reality is that the City of Amsterdam operates at 39% of its constitutionally imposed taxing limit and that this budget and the last budget were adopted with property tax decreases.

2. Though the city’s financial records have been inaccurate, the identified accounting problems are being straightened out and the city does not appear to have a poor financial outlook.

3. This Council was presented a budget that was balanced through the inclusion of a new revenue source (city-run ambulance service). This proposal would have removed tax burden from our taxpayers. The Council has chosen to ignore this option.

4. The Council has proposed a shift of money from the Sewer Fund without specifying the amount needed or why it is necessary, given that they have adopted a proposed budget without this transfer.

5. This proposed transfer appears to be intended as a short-term solution to funding recurring costs. This was a practice of the County Board of Supervisors that earned negative comments in its 2013 audit. The OSC noted that the supervisors had adopted budgets that were structurally unsound, “The County’s declining financial condition is the result of poor budgeting and financial management practices, and the board’s failure to develop and use long-term financial plans”. We should not make the same mistakes here.

6. I have spoken with our financial advisors and have been informed that transferring fund balance from the Sewer Fund to support the General Fund may have a detrimental impact on the city’s credit rating, putting us at risk for a rating downgrade, which would then needlessly increase the cost of borrowing in the future.

7. There are critical repairs that must be made to the Waste Water System (treatment plant, pump stations, and distribution lines) that may require drawing from our established reserves. Further, it would be wise to accumulate Sewer Fund balance to defray future capital costs while there are significant high volume users on the system.

8. The Common Council sought state legislative action without discussing this with my office or staff. To approach the State without the counsel of staff or the Mayor is inappropriate. Clearly, it demonstrates an unwillingness to work collaboratively with this administration.

In light of the aforementioned points, I hereby veto this resolution.

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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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tooth and nail

In response to a recent letter from the Fourth Ward Alderwoman regarding the Recreation Department, the fact that the city DOES track every financial transaction is getting lost. We have a purchasing policy that demands quotes or RFP’s, purchase orders, invoices and the council’s consent by resolution for payment. The controller signs off on every purchase order ensuring that funds are properly allocated and that lines are not over drawn. The Fourth Ward Alderwoman audits these purchase orders and invoices. She sponsors the resolution that authorizes us to pay our bills or receive earmarked donations. Why DOESN’T she know where every penny is going? Is she telling us that for the past nine and a half months, she hasn’t understood what she was looking at?
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If the Alderwoman wants the reporting mechanism changed (which the Recreation Director and Controller have both agreed to) she should work collaboratively with staff and the rest of the council to develop a format so that she may digest this information.

The Recreation Director and Controller, as am I, are more than willing to help. Further, if she cannot understand the budget we can set time aside to discuss this privately in a respectful way.

It is concerning that there is continued discourse about recreation department contributions as though there has been obfuscation or fraud, when every single donation is accepted through resolution and tracked by the controllers office. Donations that are earmarked for a particular purpose are ONLY used for that purpose. We are very careful about that so that the future may hold more in the way of sponsorships or contributions. The intimation that there is a lack of accountability is FALSE.

Other problems arise when the Fourth Ward Alderwoman asks for inconsequential information (i.e., the name of all teams that played in the parks for the past five years, the dates they played, and who they played.) or she asks our Recreation Director for the utility cost of each park. He DOES NOT handle this. He does not request utility funding, track invoices or issue payments. The Controller does and the Fourth Ward Alderwoman has repeatedly been told that fact.

My biggest concern is that in all of the drama regarding this small department, murals, the Mayor’s car, or basketball, I still do not see a plan to address the REAL issues or problems in the city… blight, public safety, and growth. These escapades set us all out chasing our tails instead of leading responsible change.

It’s been over nine months. What is the Fourth Ward Alderwoman’s plan? How will she and the council address our problems in a reasonable way? They must stop chasing rumor and innuendo and, instead, look for best practices and work collaboratively. Vilification of staff that has effectively been at this for years is deplorable. Why wasn’t exactitude at the golf course necessary earlier this year? The Transportation Fund is expecting a shortfall that could be as much as $100K. Where’s the outrage? Recreation is hardly a sliver of the budget and all is accounted for. How about finding out staff goals and figuring out ways to support them? What about infrastructure improvements? Needed demolitions? Equipment purchases? Should we put off all investment indefinitely and wish our problems away?

In six years, with the cooperation of past councils, we strategically changed our city in so many ways for the better. I see this process has stalled. Indeed, there now seems to be a willingness to fight tooth and nail for the status quo. It’s a shame. We should take advantage of the rest of this term to develop at least a couple goals and bring them to fruition. As I had indicated in my last letter to the editor, I hope opportunity, not discord, will become the focus of our council.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

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