Well, unfortunately I wasn’t able to listen to the debate live on the radio the other day. I’m going to try to catch the re-broadcast this Sunday at 12 noon. But for now, I’m reading accounts from the Mohawk Valley Independent and The Recorder and here are some of my initial opinions and impressions.
Selling City Hall
The quote that struck me the most was Joe Emanuele’s response to the issue of whether to sell the Sanford Mansion and move City Hall to another location –
“For the right price, anything is worth selling”
I wish I could have heard the tone of voice with which he said this. Because if he said it with a smile or in a “Groucho Marx” voice or something, maybe I could write it off as flippancy. But if it was said with a straight face, what does that say about the candidate’s integrity? Emanuele followed up by saying he does not think it’s the “right time” to move City Hall, but this wording clearly leaves the door open to the possibility in the future. If Emanuele believes “anything” is worth selling, then if he is elected, should we also expect him to auction off other public assets like our parks and other public lands to the highest bidder? Being willing to sell off “anything” at the right price is not the mark of a savvy business person. Rather, it indicates that he does not understand the value of our history and culture, and how that relates to the overall ability of Amsterdam to attract new home owners and businesses. I think Ann Thane gave the right response by saying “There is no right price we can put on our heritage,”
Budget and Finances
Emanuele claimed to have left the city with a 3 million dollar fund balance, as compared to a current reported 600K balance. Thane countered by saying that the 3 million dollar figure was inaccurate as it did not reflect a 500K accounting error and 800K in taxes that were not collected. So far I have not heard anyone refute Thane’s assertions. Emanuele said “”I think the fund balance is a show of strength to a budget.” All things being equal, I might agree with this sentiment. Except that the economic climate in 2007 when Emanuele stepped down was vastly different from what we have experienced from 2008 until today. These graphs clearly show how cities all over the nation began to experience extreme difficulties as the economy began to collapse in 2008. Given the reports of many cities now facing bankruptcy, I think we are fortunate, all things considered, to even have a fund balance right now.
Citing fund balance numbers misses the point. If you took a peek at my own checkbook, depending on what date you looked at the balance, and depending on when I get paid and when the bills are due, you might come to the conclusion that I was either filthy rich or dirt poor. It seems to me that this is similar to what is happening here. What matters more to me is how each candidate is going to hold down expenses and generate new income.
Emanuele points to pay increases for unionized city employees as one place that he would cut. This is one area where I agree. For taxpayers to give pay raises to union members while the rest of the population is enduring layoffs, pay cuts and loss of benefits, is simply not fair. Deferring raises could have saved the city approximately 300K1.
Thane pointed to the 700K savings on health insurance that was found during her administration and also mentioned shared services as way to save costs going further. Emanuele, I believe, has mentioned shared services as well.
For ideas on income, Emanuele sites our water supply as our “greatest asset”. I agree that expanding our water supply to surrounding areas is a logical move, and Thane also includes this idea in her platform. However, this seems to be about all the revenue ideas Emanuele has. To me, the water supply is just one of our assets, with the most important being our neighborhoods and community. Thane has consistently supported a wide-ranging, comprehensive plan for marketing our community to attract new home owners and businesses in order to improve our revenue and that is what I believe is the best route rather than betting all our money on a single horse.
Marketing & Business Development
In response to the question as to whether the mayor should be responsible for marketing, Emanuele said he believes “the city needs a manager not a marketer.” It’s hard for me to understand why he thinks these two roles are mutually exclusive. Quite simply, we need a mayor who does both. Thane responded by explaining how she personally had to take over the marketing effort because of the elimination of her confidential aide. This is an issue all to itself, but I found it strange that she did not address the larger issue, which is not so much whether the mayor should be responsible for marketing, but rather if the city should be responsible for it’s own marketing, as opposed to allowing the county to take the lead in this area.
Regardless, I know full well that Thane supports city marketing, and that Emanuele does not. To me, this is a crucial issue because it relates to the larger question as to whether Amsterdam moves forward as an independent city with it’s own identity and economy or not. Right now, the city competes with other areas for tax dollars. I’m a capitalist. I think competition is a good thing. It’s very strange for me to hear other Republicans state otherwise. Healthy competition doesn’t mean we have to play dirty or run interference (like Johnstown did with the Walmart deal). It just means that Amsterdam needs to take the initiative rather than waiting around for someone else to do it. Frankly, given how Montgomery County has slashed their funding for the MCIDA, I really don’t think that putting our marketing eggs in the county basket is such a smart option.
There are few more areas to cover, but I will leave them for another post in a few days, hopefully after I’ve had a chance to listen to the debate for myself.
1 “City may ask unions to defer pay increases” – Jessica Maher, Amsterdam Recorder, April 09, 2010