Archive for the ‘Social & Economic Dynamics’ Category

bankruptcyI actually feel kind of stupid because it was just about  a week ago that I stuck up for The Recorder in response to someone trashing them, arguing that generally they keep their editorial opinions out of their regular articles. But soon after I said that, I stumbled upon probably the most egregious example of editorial slant that I had seen in some time in the September 18, 2013  article titled “City continues to weigh financial options.”

In that article, David Mitchell our city’s deputy controller, outlined four options for dealing with the city’s accounting problems: declaring bankruptcy, giving up city accounts to the state, hiring an outside firm to handle the accounting, or continuing on as normal, but fixing one account at a time until everything is reconciled. Mitchell specifically stated he recommended the last option. Now why he would even mention bankruptcy or giving up our accounts seems strange to me. Maybe he was just being thorough, who knows? But when asked directly if the city was in any immediate danger, he replied:

“From what I’ve seen, we should be able to meet our obligations as we go along,”

So what was the very first paragraph of this article?

“Declaring bankruptcy or surrendering the city accounts to the state have been outlined as possible options when it comes to restoring Amsterdam’s finances.”

Sure, this statement is technically correct. But it’s obvious that these options were only presented as last resort options. Isn’t it the media’s job to do at least some interpretation so that the reader understands the situation accurately? It is clear the deputy controller was not advocating bankruptcy and did not recommend it. But yet, there they are, the most sensational options, right at the top of the article.

I didn’t respond at the time, and Flippin wrote a good response to the article here.

But what prompted me to write is when I read one of the letters to the editors today bearing the headline “Eve of destruction”

It has finally happened: Amsterdam is on the brink of destruction. After all the posturing, rivalries in the council chambers, failed revitalization attempts, Amsterdam is faced with either bankruptcy or state control. At least that’s what last Wednesday’s edition of The Recorder stated

So mission accomplished! Whoever edited this story is directly responsible for this person’s completely incorrect understanding of the problem. Score one for the journalism profession!

The situation with the city’s finances is serious, but not insurmountable. The Recorder does the public no service by confusing the issue in this way. If there was ever a time we need accurate, objective coverage of city government, this is it. Frankly, I don’t think we are getting it.

In other news, I was not able to balance my checkbook today. As a result… I …….declare…..BANKRUPTCY!!!!!!!

I’ll leave you with a classic…

Mayor Thane let loose with a barrage of criticism a few days ago over an apparent decision by AIDA to cover up the mural on the third floor of the building they own on Main Street. While I have yet to see an official quote from an AIDA representative on the issue, the Recorder ran an editorial the next day stating  AIDA appears poised to go with its original plan to cover up an old painting on the second floor . It’s the right thing to do.”

I’m hoping the old saying “It’s not over until it’s over” will apply here. But here’s why I think AIDA and The Recorder have got it wrong on this.

First – Just because the mural is in disrepair and the artist is unknown, does not mean it has no value. AIDA and the people who collectively write the Recorder Editorials (Kevin McClary, Kevin Mattison and Charlie Kraebel) just don’t seem to understand the value. Now everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and they have every right to share it. But I think it’s important for Amsterdam city residents to understand the perspective the editorial writers have and how that informs their opinions.

A case in point – Charlie Kraebel wrote a nice column back on September 7th about the benefits of living in the Fulton/ Montgomery County region. He talked a lot about the natural beauty of the area – the views of the Mohawk Valley, proximity to the Adirondacks, hiking, fishing, bike riding, as well as the character of the towns and villages. What I got from his column was that he is happy to live in a spot where he is able to enjoy these things that he values on a regular basis. I think that’s a wonderful perspective and I certainly value those things about the region as well.

However, I think it’s somewhat telling when he goes on to call the areas outside of downtown Saratoga Springs a “dump”. When I read that, I thought – if he thinks the city of Saratoga Springs is a dump, what must he think about most of Amsterdam?

I wonder if the editors have ever stopped to think just why a person willingly decides to live in a densely populated city like Amsterdam or Saratoga Springs and deal with all the problems that come along with city life? Or have they thought that maybe the everyday things that people in a city value might be a little different from those who choose to live in the rural areas?

I believe that many of the people who have chosen to live in this city value living in a community that is connected and that shares a common history and culture. Besides economic reasons, why else would we choose to deal with the blight, the vandalism, the noise, etc… ?

So what does this have to do with the mural? Cultural artifacts like the mural, as well as the homes, the buildings, parks, the community organizations and events, etc – all contribute to our cultural identity. It’s not about what the material things are worth on the open market, it’s about what the history and stories behind them say about the people who created them and how that shapes the continuing story of Amsterdam as a city. The mural is valuable because of what it contributes to our identity and culture. And our culture is one of the key “quality of life” reasons I believe people put down roots in a city rather than just visit. And that concept has very big implications when it comes to either the success or failure of our city to revitalize our economy.

To put it another way – what if hypothetically a developer purchases an area of land in Broadalbin, one containing fishing streams and hiking trails, etc, and decides they are going to bulldoze the whole thing to put in a strip mall? Residents would be outraged. They chose to live where they do because of certain things they value, and a reduction in that value is a loss to them. But I personally don’t fish, I don’t go camping. What if I called the controversy “silly” and urged the developer to “get back to work.” Wouldn’t that seem like a slap in the face?

I believe a majority (a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless) of Amsterdam City residents still value our urban culture and want to preserve it. Mayor Thane has championed this cause over the years, and her re-election should be irrefutable proof that this viewpoint is held by more residents than not. I think that the Recorder editors would serve their readers better by trying to understand this concept.

Second – Yes AIDA owns the building, but that does not mean that they have a right to do whatever they want. AIDA is a public benefit organization. It has authority to conduct its own affairs, but it is accountable to the public, and to the Mayor and Council who represent them.

I argued a while back that AIDA lacks the vision, skills and experience for developing our downtown, especially when it comes to developing a small businesses culture which is an essential element. Their strength and success is in managing the Industrial Park and I think they should stick to that. Mayor Thane argued at the time that AIDA was still the best option for overall economic development. I think it’s safe to say her opinion has changed. Should AIDA proceed as planned, I think there will be political consequences, and I predict the Mayor will most likely push for some changes to the makeup of the board and I think she has every right to do so.

If all else fails, I think we should preserve the mural digitally so the artwork could be restored digitally and perhaps reproduced and displayed at the Walter Elwood museum or City Hall or other such venue. Also, if possible, the murals should be covered in a way that does not ruin them, so that potential future developers can restore them if they want.

But if there are viable investors who understand how to capitalize on the cultural value of the mural, then those options need to be seriously considered, and I still hope they can be.

grumpycatI get tired of people complaining about Amsterdam, you probably know that by now. But I also get tired of people complaining about people who complain about Amsterdam. This idea that there is “something in the water” here in or that we have such a great city except for all the ignorant people living in it, I feel is almost as counter productive as those who just harp on the city’s problems directly.

I’m afraid that too much complaining about the complainers can generate the same sense of negativity and hopelessness as the complainers themselves. So to counter this idea that somehow Amsterdam is some kind of “problem child” because it has a small but vocal group of grumpies, I offer proof from four area cities that there is just as much grumpiness and self loathing going on out there are there is here.

 

#4 Albany

I first learned the term “smallbany” from reading the ultra-hip Metroland weekly newspaper back when I worked at a music store on Central Ave in Albany. Capital cities are an elite club – there are only 50 of them in the US. When you look at Albany in comparison to some other capital cities or to the “Big City”, it seems to come up a little short in the size and culture department. It seems over time, Albany residents have noticed this and come up with the term as an expression of their displeasure.

The phrase has become such a fixture in local vocabulary that it has earned an entry into the Urban Dictionary (not that you have to do much to earn an entry, but anyway…)

smalbany
The capital of NY. So named because of its diminutive size, especially compared to New York City.

Mark: Hey, you want to head to x-gates? 
Tom: Smalbany, that’s ghetto!

Smallbany
A pejorative nickname for the capital of New York State, Albany. So called because of its diminutive size, especially compared to New York City. This spelling is preferred over smalbany, since it preserves the rhyme with ‘small’ and avoids the pronunciation AL-bany (which is, as far as most New Yorker’s are concerned, a city in southern Georgia).

“So, you’re from upstate? Where? Syracuse? Buffalo?”
“Ha, I wish! Nah, I grew up in Smallbany, where the only thing to do at night is drive to another city.”

So Smalbany/Smallbany is a real thing. There is at least one angry blog that capitalizes on the phrase.

However, I think it’s nice that if you google for the phrase, mostly it is used in the context of someone saying “I know people call it “Smalbany” but…” and then go into why they like living in Albany.

But I don’t want to spend too much time on the positives, on with the negatives!

#3 Schenectady

There was a Buzzfeed post titled “Things People from Upstate NY Love”  that made it’s way around Facebook a while back.  Coming in at #25 was “Hating on Schenectady”.

It’s not hard to find negative opinions of Schenectady. Some of my (least) favorites include this post in which people seriously think that Schenectady is on the verge of declaring martial law.

I also get a kick out of this thread where people take turns slagging on how bad Schenectady is and then when one person tries to defend the place, they get back…

“You work in the Marketing Department of the City of Schenectady, don’t you?”

Oh the dreaded “M” word!

Then you have this sincere blog written by someone experiencing buyer’s remorse in Schenectady. It seems the person has already decided to move out (or maybe not), and has started a blog about his angst over the decision. He asks readers to “keep me in Schenectady”.  It’s actually got some good pros and cons about living in the city, if you can get past the somewhat self-entitled theme.

#2  Troy

I found a treasure trove of negativity  on this Troy Record Blog called Talespin

Apparently the author has been recently suspended by the paper due to criminal allegations, however it still provides a peek into the mindset of some area residents. Some of my  (least) favorite comments include…

Troy has become the wild west .. Shooting up on the east side, as a kid there wasn’t A shooting in south Troy now it’s become the wild west although it’s not politically correct to say why these shooting and neighborhoods are destroyed we all know why land lords rent to anyone and the projects are shut down and our neighborhoods took in the undesirable,, welcome mats for the Bronx and ST JOSEPHS houses popping up on every block, we even allow persistence felons to spit in our former mayors face welcome to Troy …

And

…what is important is this city is becoming a zoo with the animals were getting from albany and the Bronx ,,public housing and sec #8 is booming in our city which is causing crime and the deterioration of the city,,WE HAVE NO MIDLE CLASS just a bunch of thugs living off the tax payers with there 6 children WAKE UP CITY COUNCIL and do something about this…

Gee, where have we heard all that before? Both of these quotes sound like they come from the same person, but you get the point!

#1 Saratoga Springs

Yes folks, the crown jewel of the capital district, the wonderful low tax rate city we all aspire to live in has it’s detractors as well.

A word of warning – although these next two sites currently come up on the first page when googling “Saratoga NY blogs”, they both contain explicit language and images. Way to stay classy Saratoga!

This blog entitled “Saratoga Springs – Home of the Wretched” makes our complainers look like amateurs. According to this blog, Saratoga has a “crime problem” that the police force is covering up, taxes are too high, and political corruption runs amok. Gee, where have we heard this before?

In all fairness, this blog called “Idiots Being Idiots” is in fact “positive” on Saratoga, they authors say they pick on it because they love it. But I have to shake my head at one of the “problems” they cite…

Is there some f#$%@ing business code out there that states you must have live music all the f#$%@ing time?  Why can’t I just go into an establishment for a drink or food without having to be subjected to someone hacking away on their guitar?

Oh to have Saratoga’s problems!

Or this complaint about a popular restaurant closing and then re-opening somewhere not in Saratoga…

Well that sadness is all over because Beverly’s is back.  The only issue is it’s not in Saratoga Springs, the new restaurant can be found at 256 Milton Ave, Ballston Spa, NY, which is Ballston Spa’s win and our loss.  But still, I’m sure it’s worth the 15 minute drive into the b***hole of Upstate NY.

And I thought Amsterdam had that distinction! I’m happy to pass it on to someone else.

So I hope all these examples leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. I know after reading them, I have a downright warm fuzzy feeling when I think of our local grumpy characters and I hope you do too!

While debating on a previous post as to how much tax rates factor into people’s home buying decisions, I thought that there must be some market research out there that would clear things up . Buying a home is one of the most important purchases of most people’s lives, so there must by some studies on what factors affect a buyer’s decision.

So after preparing myself for the possibility of having to put my foot in my mouth, I googled the interwebs for some answers. Surprisingly, I did not find too much. But here’s what I got from the summary section of a 2012 research report by the National Association of Realtors, which I would dare say is a credible source…

The quality of the neighborhood, convenience to job, and overall affordability of homes are the top three factors influencing neighborhood choice.

So there it is folks. Like a boss. Talk amongst yourselves… 😛

Reacting to some of the things I’m reading in the news today –

I think it’s useful to look at the official U.S. Dept. of Justice guidelines on the use of the AMBER alert. Here is a relevant excerpt…

AMBER plans require law enforcement to confirm an abduction prior to issuing an alert. This is essential when determining the level of risk to the child. Clearly, stranger abductions are the most dangerous for children and thus are primary to the mission of an AMBER Alert. To allow activations in the absence of significant information that an abduction has occurred could lead to abuse of the system and ultimately weaken its effectiveness.

An opinion as to whether or not an AMBER alert should have been issued for Jonathan and Paul should be based on those guidelines. Either way, I don’t blame the parents one bit for wanting the APD to use every means at their disposal, I would probably would have done the same.

AMBER alert or not,  I wonder why we can’t at least publicize area missing persons reports through local media? I had no idea that the two boys were missing until I saw the story in the paper.  Distributing such information should be easy through Facebook , web sites and email.  Would a local alert system be a good idea? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

I’m all for creating new things to do for kids in Amsterdam. It’s a challenge for all parents to keep their kids occupied during summer vacation. But, it’s not like there’s nothing to do in the city.

My kids are enjoying attending the Amsterdam Library Summer Reading Program. They have stuff to do almost every single day for free! It’s a fantastic program. And don’t forget the city pool or the numerous parks that we have.

I do get a bit annoyed when parents start blaming the city for not providing things to do for their kids, as if  it’s the government’s responsibility to keep your kid occupied. There are plenty of things that parents can do on their own, or by networking with other parents to keep their kids busy and out of trouble. My wife and I bring our kids to the various parks all the time, and we are always struck by how underutilized they seem to be. I grew up in a rural area of the Town of Amsterdam, where there really wasn’t anything to do.  Sometimes I think we forget how much potential there is in this city if we just expend a little effort.

Any other ideas that you know of for kids to do? Please share in the comments!

p.s. If you don’t mind driving 20 minutes and spending a modest fee, there are  unbelievably cool science workshops for kids every week at the Schenectady Museum.

Amsterdam endured an unprecedented amount of tragic news Friday.  At the same time as we reacted with the rest of the nation to yet another senseless double-digit massacre in Colorado, we received word of tragedy closer to home; two Amsterdam teenagers shot and killed by two assailants of the same approximate age. It was one of those days that truly makes one want to utter the phrase “What’s this world coming to?”

How to help

These are the two links that were listed on the City of Amsterdam Facebook page where you can contribute to the funeral costs of each of families.

For the family of Jonathon Dejesus
For the family of Paul Damphier

I was going to hold off on blogging this week. Political commentary on any other issue would seem awfully out of touch and insensitive right now. I didn’t know the boys or the families involved but the event has saddened and affected me as it has many in the community. There are still many unanswered questions surrounding this tragedy and it’s difficult to draw any concrete conclusions as to what this means in relation to the larger issues in our city. I thought it would best to wait and reflect, giving time for emotions to settle down.

My mind changed, however, seeing that the Amsterdam Recorder had already posted a poll on their website asking “Do you think the four murders in Amsterdam so far this year are isolated incidents or is the city becoming less safe?”  (referring to both the current incident and the double homicide on Locust Ave back in March).

It seems the answer to the question “too soon?” has already been answered with a “nope”, and thus the “discussion” has already begun.  So –  I think – better to inject some perspective at this point rather than not.

In essence, the Recorder is asking us if we think these murders are indicative of a trend or not. This same question has been looked at, debated, studied, etc in different ways over the past few years whenever crime has been in the news, but yet it has never been answered definitively.  We’ve been here before folks, remember? …

http://www.vennervox.com/safe-city
http://www.vennervox.com/fighting-crime
http://www.vennervox.com/the-times-they-are-a-changin

The discussion usually consists of people citing purely anecdotal references and ends with political cat fights and good ol’ Amsterdam bashing.  Of course, the actual statistics, which is really the only rational tool we have to determine a trend, don’t seem to faze anyone, but I’ll include them for the few that are interested.

 Year

99

00

01

02

03

04

05

06

07

08

09

10

11

12

Murders

1

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

1

0

4*

Total Violent Crimes
(Murder, rape, assaults, robberies)

40

56

50

37

24

29

71

89

80

99

95

45

28

?

Source: City-Data.com, NYSDCJS
*Technically, the crime happened in the Town of Florida, so most likely, it will not officially count in Amsterdam’s statistics.

Four murders in one year is shocking, there’s no doubt about that. But I don’t see any way possible to look at these numbers and see a trend. That doesn’t mean that we’re not at the beginning of a trend, but there’s just no way to tell at this point in time. If we have a similar number of murders (God forbid) in 2013, then maybe you have an indication of a trend.

The only other way of looking at the question rationally is to look for a related motive between to the two incidents. However, the motives behind the murders this year have yet to be determined. Drugs have been mentioned in relation to both cases, but based on what I have read, nothing has been proven.  So again, there is no solid evidence for a trend here because we don’t know if the causes of the two incidents are similar.

But by all means, let’s not wait another minute to start speculating and jumping to conclusions ! Maybe the question we should be asking is who is going to be the first to try to load their political cannon by trying to spin our outrage at this incident?

I don’t think there is anyone in Amsterdam who doesn’t realize we have problems with crime in this city. I find it hard to believe that anyone would think that they are doing some sort of service to us by pointing that out anymore. Trying to label Amsterdam as “safe” or “not safe” is a ridiculous pursuit as the question is entirely relative and subjective. We’re safer than some places, not as safe as others, that’s the long and short of it. Each individual has to make their own assessment as to whether Amsterdam is safe enough for their liking.

In the meantime, there are much better and more productive questions that should be asked. Like “what can we do as a community to intervene with our youth to instill the values that make for a stable society?” or “ how can we increase the participation level and effectiveness of our Neighborhood Watch programs?”  These questions might actually have answers which could make Amsterdam a better place to live.

If you had told me five years ago that a small but thriving arts community would exist in the Amsterdam area, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But after visiting a meeting of the Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance a while back, that’s exactly what I saw.

The group has been meeting consistently since January 2011 and reports 30 active members. There were about a dozen people attending the meeting I visited. The group represented a very diverse range of backgrounds, beliefs and artistic skills. There were writers, painters, photographers and musicians. They came from all over the region including one who travelled all the way from the Albany area. Several of the attendees brought their works, based on the month’s artistic challenge (theme) for the others to experience and discuss.

You can see and read more about the MVCA here…
http://www.facebook.com/mohawkvalley.creativealliance
http://mvcreativealliance.blogspot.com/
http://gskrocki.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/mohawk-valley-creative-alliance/

I always knew that a lot of talented, creative people lived in the area. MVCA group leaders Jessica Murray and Carol Jordan have done an excellent job of creating a focal point for bringing these folks together. Their network, no doubt, extends far beyond the 30 regular members. The success of the group gives me a lot of hope, because I believe a thriving arts community is key ingredient for reviving the culture and economy in the region. The MVCA’s stated goal is to create an arts center and to locate it within Amsterdam. As the movement grows, my hope is that it begins to attract creative people to the city from the surrounding area.

It’s understandable to me that the group would latch on to Mayor Thane’s vision of converting a building on East Main St. an arts center. But I have to ask the question… Given the MVCA’s good organization and proven track record of success, why does the city need to create a separate entity, with a director and board chosen exclusively by the Mayor?  The idea of having an arts center is a good one. If there were not an organization capable of handling such a task, then I think having a city-government run center would be the next best thing. But since we do have such an organization, I would rather see the city support this effort, rather than duplicate it. Why doesn’t the city allow the MVCA to lease (or lease to own) the building, and allow them to sublet the space to other groups as they see fit?

A government-run arts program, by definition, will be affected by politics and public opinion. That’s far from the ideal environment for a vibrant, independent arts community to grow in.