Archive for October, 2013

If a religious leader wrote an article for the paper during an election season stating that their religion was the “only answer” and then implied that not all candidates were as strong believers of the faith as others, I have no doubt there would be a public outcry admonishing this leader to keep religion out of politics. Beyond that, it wouldn’t be surprising if the IRS and ACLU trained their sights on the leader’s organization as a result.

So does anyone else think it’s inappropriate for FMCC President Dustin Swanger to essentially do the exact same thing? In his article published on October 26th in the Amsterdam Recorder, he asserts that the “only answer” for economic growth is through “regional thinking/cooperation” (aka consolidation) and then all but asks us to vote for those who subscribe to that ideology. Of course he carefully hedges and stops short of endorsing any specific candidates, but overall, the message is clear: vote for the “true believers”.

Non-profit organizations risk their tax-exempt status when they endorse political candidates. I’m not sure if FMCC is technically subject to the same restriction. But the college president is a taxpayer-funded, non-elected position. I think Swanger comes very close to overstepping his bounds by using his position (and the visibility that position gives him) to promote a political point of view.

Make no mistake, the latest article from Swanger does not use the term “consolidation” however the idea of combining all localities into a single regional government has been clearly articulated and advocated for in past articles. He’s just using different terminology now.

And also make no mistake that just like all other consolidation proponents, Swanger has yet to show any solid plan or actual numbers that might indicate that municipal consolidation would deliver any tax relief, help restore our downtowns, or revive our economy.  The small scale consolidation plans that I have seen that do work, fall apart once you take out the financial handouts from NY State which is our tax money that is apparently being held in reserve for communities who consolidate.  Consolidation proponents have yet to show how their ideas do anything other than replace more accountable, small governments, with less accountable, big government.

I would definitely recommend that readers take a look at Swanger’s take on the role of community colleges in local politics. He presents a lot of ideas that I think are both good and essential. I think that local colleges providing leadership in the area of economic development is a great idea. But what baffles me is how Swanger’s narrative in the local paper over the years seems contradictory to the ideals he espouses in his thesis.

He affirms that small and medium-sized businesses are essential to revitalizing the economy, but promotes “regional cooperation” which primarily benefits big businesses as the “only answer”.

He talks about the importance of livable communities and neighborhoods and the importance of building up a “sense of community” but then proposes that towns, villages and cities are somehow archaic ideas that need to be done away with.

He talks about community planning as a “resurgence of order” but fails to address how reliance on big businesses (like the type that Mike Mullis works with) have disrupted that order over the past decades.

He quotes from “Rise of The Creative Class” by Richard Florida, which focuses on the ability of cities to attract creative professionals as a key economic driver, but on the other hand would discourage local cities like Johnstown, Gloversville and Amsterdam from trying to do this on their own.

Finally, let’s call this article out for what it most likely is – a recommendation against voting for Johnstown mayoral candidate Michael Julius who has been outspokenly resistant to the idea of consolidation between the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville.

And that’s kinda funny because in my view Johnstown is one of the best examples in the Fulton/Montgomery area of the type of livable community that Swanger claims to be in favor of. Is it any wonder that city residents and leaders might want to preserve that?

I have to say, the interviews of the various candidates for common council that have appeared so far in the local media have been nearly to useless to me. I have no doubt the editorial response to the recent State Audit will be scathing. But when it comes to the candidate’s interviews, I’m reading softball answers to softball questions. Amsterdam’s financial difficulties have been well known for years now and have been underscored by the recent release of the State Audit. But I’ve read precious few details about how any of the candidates plan to cut expenses or raise revenue. Whether online or in print, I’m hearing a lot of rhetoric, vague ideas and finger pointing, but no solid proposals.

Please note, I’ve revised the table I had here before based on the advice from some of my commentors. I’ve posted the new table with an explanation here.
The pie charts are still good though!

The fact is the city has outspent it’s revenues in every fiscal year since 2000. Here’s the stats compiled from the NY State Controller’s website

Over the past 12 years, on average the city has overspent by 3.2 million dollars per year.

I think voters need to task our local leaders with a simple and achievable  target that will get us back on track financially. I think that target should be to reduce expenditures and/or increase revenues by a total of at least $4M (or by about 11% of 2011’s expenditures) per year.

We’ve only got about a week left before the elections, but I believe that candidates (as well as the Mayor) need to provide some solid answers to the $4M question. Where do we cut? And where do we find new revenue? How do we bridge that $4M gap? Here’s the pie charts that show where the money comes from and where it gets spent. Tell me where we should slice or where we can increase…

City Expenses 2011
City Expenses 2011
City Revenues 2011
City Revenues 2011

It’s not like the data isn’t out there for candidates to do their homework. The current budget is available online. The state controller’s office also has a wealth of stats that document our finances over the years (h/t to Flippin for guiding me to this resource). You can also view the finances of every other city in NY for comparison.

I understand politicians don’t like to stake specific objectives – lest they be held accountable if they fail to reach them. But frankly, I don’t think we should continue to accept that.

Stipulation: I don’t accept a candidate pointing out a few minor expenses and then claiming “it all adds up.” If you’re sure it all adds up, show your math. Then I’ll believe you.

If you agree, feel free to share this challenge with your favorite (or least favorite) candidate.

banksy1

        banksy2

A painting by world renowned graffiti artist Banksy was discovered early yesterday morning on the back wall of the AIDA owned building on Main St in Amsterdam. The discovery quickly set off yet another raging debate on whether colorful paintings have value or not.

“I don’t really know anything about arts and culture,” explained one member of AIDA, the organization charged with building the economic future of the city “I hear some people like this Banksy guy but I don’t see it.”

Banksy is known for covertly putting thought-provoking stenciled artwork on public and private property. Although his work is technically “graffiti” and illegal, his work has achieved national notoriety.

AIDA officials are reportedly debating whether to paint over the artwork or try to accommodate public calls for preservation.

“This issue is stupid,” asserted one local newspaper editor, “and I’ll write as many editorials as it takes until everyone agrees it’s stupid as well.”

Other residents expressed concern about how the controversy is perceived in the wider region.

“When communities fight to save art or history, or what not, I think it just looks bad to outsiders,” explained one nervous resident, “I think any type of debate scares people off. They don’t have debates in other cities, do they? I can just picture them all looking at us… and laughing at us… JUDGING US!!!”

“The public should not have a say in this,” added another resident in regards to the building owned by a public benefit corporation.

Some residents, while appreciative of the artwork, questioned Banksy’s choice to paint a cheerleader.

“Of all the things Banksy could have painted, why did he choose a cheerleader?” questioned another resident. “Cheerleaders glorify sports teams. I am not a fan of sports teams!”

Others took a different approach.

“The whole building should be torn down,” suggested another resident, “If you tear down one building, two will grow up in its place. That’s just how nature works.”

AIDA officials, not known for their sensitivity to the idea that arts, culture and history are integral parts of downtown revitalization, indicated they are inclined to cover up the painting, unless a certified professional can determine what the work might fetch at auction.

“That’s the only way to know something’s value,” stated another AIDA official, “is by how much you can sell it for. Not by how much people might enjoy looking at it.”

Stay tuned to this blog for more infallibly objective coverage as the situation develops.

I do not mean to offend anyone with these jokes (at least not too much), and I hope no one takes them personally. Happy Friday!

I’ll take today’s editorial in the Recorder as an admission that their previous editorial stance that the general public has “no say” in any of AIDA’s decisions was in error. Because obviously if the public should have a say in what plastic statues the Mayor buys with money that she has complete authority to spend, then why wouldn’t they also have a say in something far more important, such as how a public benefit corporation handles historic preservation? I have no doubt that once the editors realize this inconsistency, they will issue some sort of well thought out explanation or even a retraction, rather than take personal offense  and dig themselves even further into their entrenched position. Right.