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MEMORIAL DAY 2015
May 25, 2015

Hello all and thank you for being here on a day that is not only a holiday but a holy day to those of us that are touched by the deep, searing meaning of this ceremony.

There are few occasions that I feel more honored to speak about as Mayor. I am called upon once a year to voice the anguish and gratitude our city feels, for so many of our families have experienced loss that is inexplicably sad.

Walls of granite across the land are etched with the names of young men and women that have given their lives – their promise and their futures – to our community and nation. The inscriptions are distantly cold, and can never speak to the marvelous lives that once coursed with flushed faces, laughter and intention.

The thought of this enormous loss is so daunting.

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The concrete finality of such loss breaks my heart and silences my muse. Waves of conflicts have washed over our nation, each surge pulling away those we love like glittering specks of sand tossed into the mirth of motion and then gone to a vast emptiness.

This reality overwhelms me every year. I think of mothers and fathers fearfully sending these children off to the military with pride and a sense of powerlessness that must be so difficult, but is nothing compared to the few that receive a knock on the door revealing a crisp, uniformed officer delivering news that ends all hope.

I die a little bit knowing each name on a memorial comes with a similar pronouncement and aftermath.

So, every year, I struggle for words. I stew for days with thoughts of patriotism, service, community and the terror that is bound up in the essence of this day. I think of our blessed way of life in the United States of America – of our abundance, joy and freedom and feel quite lost. I worry that I cannot adequately express our communal feelings…
So, I will start with our proud soldiers. It is because of our military that we are afforded peace. We are afforded personal freedoms and ease that allows us to actually ignore the privileges that others are fighting and dying for around the globe. We have access to food, healthcare and education. We can vote, or not. We can eat well, or not. We can thrive, or not. We can worship God or the devil or a light bulb, or not. We can even work or not, though I truly believe most people would prefer to earn a living than accept a handout. Americans are inherently noble people.

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I mulled this all over while at a bonfire the night before last. My friends and family gathered in a circle as warm as the pyre that drew us to its heat. A cooler of cold beer opened and closed while young children ran outside the ring of chairs. Young adults, so recently boys and girls, laughed lightly and courted in the flickering shadows of the periphery. We seated parents looked on with amusement and nostalgia, and then would gaze into the mysterious living thing that fire is.

We watched as logs were tossed into the coals and a burst of embers would explode into the night to drift upward and disappear into the black. Our heads tilted back on our chairs as we fixed our eyes on the speckled canopy of darkness.

I thought each hot, orange ember must certainly take its place amongst its far sisters, the stars, transported from this temporal reality to the sparkling realm of timeless light. I like to think that these tiny fragments that grace the sky are the ever-present evidence of the beauty of souls that are lost to us. Souls dance their way to the stars like embers and in the 300 years that we have been a sovereign nation, 1.1 million soldiers have filled the night sky.

For me, a woman of a certain age and temperament that does NOT believe in the devil or the omnipotent power of a light bulb, God has given us these stars as a sign that there is order, permanence and meaning in our lives that surpasses the inexplicable tragedies of this existence.

And I think it must be this faith that sustains us through violence, poverty and war. It must be this faith that gives young men courage to break away from the comforts of home. It must be faith that allows a mother a final kiss before deployment and it MUST be faith that gives a husband, wife or child the strength to bear a triangular flag beside a casket, the white stars on a field of blue held as closely as breath and tears.

These were my fireside thoughts the other night. I expressed them tearfully to my friend, John. We both stared in silence at the flames and then he turned to me and said, “Ann, it’s all true. This is so horribly sad. But there is this too: each soldier had given meaning to his or her life. They have served our country with dignity. They tried to carry democracy to a world that thirsts for our way of life. They went with selfless obedience to keep our county safe and free. The meaning of their lives is as vast and great as the sky above us.”

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We both went silent again. I think we both were crying. John is so right.

Please remember the gift of each one of those stars when you pledge allegiance to our flag and when staring quietly up at a haunted, star-filled sky. That magnificent sky is filled with love.

Thank you to the fine veterans that have served and to those that are still active today.

Thank you again to the Veteran’s Commission for organizing this event again, as you do every year. Amsterdam is grateful for your continuous advocacy on behalf of those that have served our country so well. And lastly, thank you to God, for planting us all in the soil of this great nation where such freedom and sacrifice may be reverently celebrated.

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

All:

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

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

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

G DeCusatis

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

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

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

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

Susan Alibozek, City Clerk
City of Amsterdam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need the state to cap our costs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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