Monthly Archives: February 2011

Charlie’s War


For those not familiar with Amsterdam politics, there is an ongoing feud between an Editor of the Recorder who also moderates The Venner Vox and the creators of The Show With No Name. Clicking on the links will explain the situation.

The Show With No Name

The Venner Vox

Categories: Amsterdam, Entertainment, Media, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Chicken Canzanese


 

Once again we wake up to a heavy snowfall. We have had an unusually large amount of snow this year compared to last. It is the kind of day to just stay home and cook.  My Dad emailed a recipe yesterday for Chicken Canzanese, described as Italian comfort food.  There is usually no personal note with my Dad’s emails, just a link to something I assume he either likes or wants me to try.  I ventured out of my fortress of solitude to buy the ingredients.

You use eight bone in skin on chicken thighs and the recipe calls for garlic, fresh bay leaf, fresh sage leaves and fresh rosemary. Luckily Price Chopper had the bay leaf and sage. I still have rosemary growing from last summers herb garden brought indoors (all the other herbs died out). Red pepper flakes, black pepper and four whole cloves round out the flavors. Liquids include two cups of dry white wine, one cup of chicken broth and one tablespoon of olive oil. You also use a slab of prosciutto cut into 1/4 inch cubes.

Starting with one teaspoon of oil, brown the prosciutto then add the sliced garlic and cook until it is brown.

Remove the browned ingredients, add the remaining oil and cook the chicken thighs that you have previously peppered skin side down for eight minutes. Flip it over and cook for another five minutes.

Remove the chicken and pour off all but two tablespoons of oil, add two teaspoons of flour and cook for one minute. Slowly add the wine and chicken broth, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan reducing the volume about 1/3. Add the reserved browned garlic and prosciutto, 12 fresh sage leaves and two fresh bay leaves, four cloves and the rosemary stem (the leaves are removed and finely chopped to be added later). Add 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes.

Place the chicken back in the pan. The liquid should not cover the crispy browned skin.

Place the whole (oven proof) pan in an oven preheated to 325 degrees and cook undisturbed for 1 1/4 hours.

Remove the chicken from the pan and cook the sauce until it reduces to about 1 1/4 cups. Add two tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of lemon juice, mix in the reserved chopped rosemary and serve with pasta, potatoes or all by itself.

The full recipe can be found here:

Chicken Canzanese

Enjoy!

Categories: Cooking

Trashing the Solid Waste Ordinance


The Amsterdam Common Council passed an ordinance during their last meeting, revising the City Code Chapter 201 – Solid Waste. This controversial revision introduced by Mayor Ann Thane makes the property owner financially liable for bulk items and special refuse left on their sidewalks and collected by City workers.

1. By placing a bulk or specialty item curbside, the property owner consents to the collection of an item by the City of Amsterdam and agrees to the associated charge of collection.

2. A tenant or resident of the subject property is deemed to have authority to place bulk or specialty items curbside as the agent of the property owner.

3. Upon collection of a bulk or specialty item a bill will be sent addressed to the individual requesting the collection or if no individual made such a request then to the “resident” of the subject property, if the same is not paid within 30days, a bill will be sent to the owner of record of the subject property, if this is not paid within 30 days then the charge shall be a lien on the subject property and collected as specified in section 201-8.

Aside from being the longest run-on sentence in history, #3 refers to a requested collection that is not addressed in any other part of the ordinance. There are many ambiguities in this ordinance which make it hard to both read, interpret and I imagine to enforce. There is supposed to be a list of fees for disposal of these bulk and specialty items published in the local paper according to the ordinance.

Bulk items are identified as large household furniture and appliances, such as mattresses, chairs, refrigerators, stoves weighing more than 30 pounds, motor vehicle tires and large tree trimmings, properly bundled and capable of being lifted by two people, except recyclables.

Special refuse is listed as items that are required to be separated from the waste system and are subject to additional collection charges, such as tires and certain electronic items. A list of such items shall be promulgated by the Department of Public Works, from time to time.

The full text of the Solid Waste Ordinance including the revisions can be found here:

City Code Chapter 201 – Solid Waste

What is to keep an unscrupulous neighbor from dumping on your property? There is a change in the ordinance that makes it unlawful, the problem again is enforcement. Although the ordinance changes enforcement officials to include all housing inspectors, building inspectors, code enforcement officials, any police officer and the sanitation foreman, they haven’t been enforcing our existing codes. This ordinance encourages unorchestrated dumping as there are no schedules or time tables presented. Renters can feel free to dump knowing they will not be held liable.  Let’s face the facts here, the economy is bad and we already pay high taxes and garbage collection fees. Bulk and special refuse items should be included in those fees. Every other place I have lived, including the Town of Amsterdam, provides a scheduled Spring pick up of these items at no additional charge. If City officials want to regain a modicum of respect from residents, they should follow suit.

Our City Officials need to realize that they cannot continue to enact legislation without a solid plan for implementation and enforcement. This revised ordinance makes a bad situation worse and should be totally rewritten in a concise and uncomplicated manner.

The Common Council approved this revision without any public input. As if it was an afterthought, a public meeting is scheduled for March 1, 2011 at 7:10pm. Show up at this meeting and voice your disapproval.  Phone or email your Alderman and tell them to TRASH THE REVISION TO THE SOLID WASTE ORDINANCE!

Mayor Ann Thane (518) 841-4311 athane@amsterdamny.gov

1st Ward Alderman Joseph M. Isabel (518) 684-6260  jmisabel@verison.net

2nd Ward Alderman Julie Pierce (518) 842-4851  jpierce@amsterdamny.gov

3rd Ward Alderman Gina DeRossi (518) 842-5697  gderossi@amsterdamny.gov

4th Ward Alderman William D Wills (518) 843-4660        wdwills@ymail.com

5th Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero (518)  843-0808  rleggier@nycap.rr.com

If you are not sure of what Ward you live in, here is a Ward map.

City of Amsterdam Ward Map

Please voice your disapproval of this revision to the Solid Waste Ordinance before a couch land on your sidewalk!

Categories: Amsterdam, Law, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Go Where I’ve Bean


GWIB Coffee House and Polish Deli, located at 207 Church Street in Amsterdam, NY, was the site of this mornings taping of The Show With No Name. Owned and run by Sue Blazejewski, they really do serve the best coffee I have ever tasted.  Sue has a very engaging personality and she doesn’t miss a thing. This was my first visit to GWIB and I stopped outside the building to take some photos. Sue stepped out of the front door in an authoritative manner asked “Would you like my autograph too?” After identifying myself and stating my purpose, Sue became the most inviting host you could ask for, even posing for an impromptu portrait.

As soon as I stepped in the door of GWIB, Sue handed me a mug of the most delicious hot coffee. There was a large deli case stocked with various meats, sodas and Polish food.   The eclectic furnishings were both comfortable and interesting. The various wall hangings and bulletin board full of postcards take you on an extended road trip of which I assume inspired the name. Sue was in constant motion as she tended to the room full of customers.

The gathering of the usual suspects comprising TSWNN was center stage in the coffee house occupying a circle of upholstered armchairs. The taping was about to begin.

I will not divulge the subjects discussed as the recording will soon be posted on The Show With No Name’s website. I will say that we hear more from Sue Blazejewski on the show.

I enjoyed my visit to GWIB and put in my order for an Easter Babka and fresh Kielbasa.

Categories: Amsterdam, Cooking, Politics | Tags: , , , ,

Transparency in City Government


When Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act on July 4, 1966, it was supposed to bring an end to back door politics and make the decisions of government accessible to every  citizen. New York State Public Officers Law Article 6, Sections 84-90 governs the New York State Freedom of Information Law. The legislative declaration states as follows:

§84. Legislative declaration. The legislature hereby finds that a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions. The more open a government is with its citizenry, the greater the understanding and participation of the public in government.

As state and local government services increase and public problems become more sophisticated and complex and therefore harder to solve, and with the resultant increase in revenues and expenditures, it is incumbent upon the state and its localities to extend public accountability wherever and whenever feasible.

The people’s right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality. The legislature therefore declares that government is the public’s business and that the public, individually and collectively and represented by a free press, should have access to the records of government in accordance with the provisions of this article.

This law applies to both State and Local government agencies, the definition of which is:

…any state or municipal department, board, bureau, division, commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council, office or other governmental entity performing a governmental or proprietary function for the state or any one or more municipalities thereof, except the judiciary or the state legislature.

The NYS Committee on Open Government directed by Bob Freeman, oversees the implementation of the provisions of the NYS Freedom of Information Law.  The publication Your Right to Know contains the basics of the Freedom of Information Law with recent updates available here.

The procedure to request documents through Freedom of Information is supposed to be addressed in an official policy adopted by the City of Amsterdam Common Council. Despite receiving an advisory opinion from Bob Freeman, the City has not complied with the law.

Back door politics and censorship continues to prevail in the City of Amsterdam as evidenced by the recent denial of information to reporter Jessica Maher of The Recorder.

Attorney doesn’t respond to FOIL request

Amsterdam Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis has not complied with a Freedom of Information request filed by the Recorder. A request was filed on Feb. 7 for all written or e-mailed correspondence between Uri Kaufman and Mayor Ann Thane and Kaufman and DeCusatis from May 2009 to present. Thane submitted her correspondence on Feb. 7 but DeCusatis has yet to respond.  An e-mail to the Records Access Officer regarding compliance was forwarded to DeCusatis without response. According to the state Freedom of Information law, an agency has five business days to grant or deny access in whole or in part, or if more time is needed, to acknowledge the receipt of the request in writing. Members of the Common Council had requested the same information from DeCusatis by resolution last week, and reportedly received the correspondence on Tuesday. — Jessica Maher

Failure to respond to a FOIL request is considered a denial of that request. Upon denial, the Record Access Officer (City Clerk) is supposed to issue a reason for denial including your right to appeal, timeframe for appeal and the name of the appeal officer.  In the case of the City of Amsterdam, the Appeal Officer is Mayor Ann Thane who simply ignores any appeal sent her.

Mayor Thane in particular seems to have a problem with transparency. The Mayor regularly censors her blog on which she posts official policy statements and conducts City business, leaving only comments that support or praise her. More recently, having control of the City of Amsterdam Facebook page, again used to conduct city business, she has chosen to remove all comments except those that praise her actions.  This type of censorship is NOT becoming of the City Executive who wants to run for reelection.

When I experienced problems with the local FOIL process, I wrote to Bob Freeman and received the following advisory opinion on April 8, 2010. A copy was also presented to Mayor Thane and the Common Council for compliance.

Advisory Opinion from The Committee on Open Government

Here is the response I received from Paul Malmborg, Chairman of the Citizens Review Board who basically directed me to file an Article 78 lawsuit against the City:

Citizens Review Board Response

The people have a right to know and a right to be heard. Censorship is abhorrent to the philosophy of a free and open government. The City of Amsterdam may want to abide by the provisions of New York State Freedom of Information or they will eventually find themselves subject to an Article 78 proceeding.

Categories: Amsterdam, Law, Politics

The Via Ponte Project


Via Ponte Conceptual Overlay by Saratoga Associates

Aerial View of Amsterdam Southside Neighborhood by Google Maps

The Via Ponte project was designed by Saratoga Associates as A Guide to Rebuild Amsterdam Southside Neighborhood District and presented to the City of Amsterdam in March of 2004. The project entailed opening up the Southside waterfront with the installation of a marina and pedestrian friendly walkways. The plan calls for a neighborhood recreation center and a cultural center with an interpretive museum, art gallery and restaurant. There would also be shops and a historic canal store.

This is a great plan that also calls for adaptive reuse and waterfront access. As you can see from the images, the plan was always to demolish the larger portion of the Chalmers building, the part City Historian Robert von Hasseln has labeled as historically significant. The smaller brick structure was to be repurposed as mixed-use commercial and market rate housing (not luxury apartments).

Where are we with the Via Ponte project? Has the Kaufman saga sidetracked development? I see from the City’s updated website that we actually have a Via Ponte Planning Committee described as:

Following the guidance of the Amsterdam Comprehensive plan, the goal of this committee is to liaise with the Mayor of the City of Amsterdam and Saratoga Associates for citizen and business input on the south side Via Ponte development.

I wonder if this committee actually conducts public meetings. The chairman is Sue Phemister owner of the Amsterdam Castle that has been on the market for sale since 2008. I would love to see a concerted effort on the part of the administration to actually follow through with this plan that has the potential to increase the economy through tourism.

Categories: Amsterdam | Tags: , , , ,

A New York State of Death


Electric Chair

I took this photo of Old Sparky at Green Haven Correctional Facility in 1989 while giving a tour of the Death House to David A. Kaplan who was a senior writer for the National Law Journal. He was also a former Wall Street attorney who would also become an editor for Newsweek as well as an award winning author. I was a Correction Sergeant at the time and the Death Penalty was a political hot potato. Every time it came up for a legislative vote, we would get an onslaught of media wanting to do stories.

New York State was the first to use the electric chair as a more humane means of killing (the quintessential oxymoron).  In 1886 a three person commission was appointed one member, Dr. Alfred Southwick (dentist) recommended using electricity.  With Thomas Edison and Westinghouse battling over whether to use AC or DC current. Edison won his battle with a demonstration of the killing power of AC current on farm animals. In 1888 it became the official means of execution in New York. The first electric chair was installed in Auburn Correctional Facility and on August 6, 1890, the first inmate was executed by way of electrocution. Fifty-four more inmates would be executed in Auburn’s electric chair before it was destroyed by fire in 1929. Clinton Correctional Facility also utilized an electric chair from 1892 to 1913 to execute 26 men. The most deadly chair was installed at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in 1891 killing six hundred and fourteen men and women, with the last execution conducted in 1963.

The Sing Sing electric chair (pictured above) was moved to Green Haven Correctional Facility in 1971 as the state tried to shut down Sing Sing. Green Haven’s Death Row was located above the hospital building and consisted of a row of 16 cells with a rooftop recreation yard. Directly across from the cells stood the execution chamber, witness area and the executioners booth equipped with one way glass. The booth contained a marble panel with a series of switches, gauges, and meters. In the center of the panel was the prominent main switch. There was the traditional locked phone box that would give the final order and a wooden storage box filled with leather straps, face masks and copper skull plates. As old as the equipment was, it was tested and fully functional but no one would see it put to use at Green Haven.

As the political climate switched, electrocution was no longer the humane killing method and New York switched to lethal injection. Amsterdam native and serial killer Lemuel Smith was the only inmate ever to occupy Green Haven Death Row after being convicted of the capital crime of murdering Correction Officer Donna Payant in 1981.  Payant was the first female C.O. to be killed in the line of duty in the United States. My career in NYS Department of Correctional Services started in 1982 at Sing Sing and then Green Haven when Smith was housed on Death Row. Lemuel Smith was never executed for his crimes as New York State removed the death penalty as the ultimate punishment. June 24, 2004 New York State’s highest court declared the death penalty unconstitutional.

I have to credit David A. Kaplan for the story The Hot Seat published in the National Law Journal April 26, 1989, information from which I used  in this blog. I am glad that he mailed me a copy of the article as I am quoted in it advocating for the death penalty.

“Most of the inmates are lifers,” says Sgt Jerry Skrocki who leads tours of the Death House. “and they have nothing to fear by killing again. The chair would stand between them and us.”  So then would he pull the switch? Skrocki pauses. “That,” he says, “is another question.”

I am much older and a little wiser now and have changed my views on capital punishment. I no longer condone the taking of another life as a means of punishment. It has not been proven to be a deterrent to crime. I do believe in the right to use deadly force to defend oneself or in defense of another, but not as a punishment.

It is our humanity that inherently stands between them and us.

Categories: Law, Media, Photography, Politics | Tags: , , , ,

Downtown


I took a winter walk in downtown Amsterdam today and was pleasantly surprised to find it alive and well. The ice and high snowbanks made navigation a little tricky but it was worth the trouble. There are a few businesses surviving the winter, some doing quite well.

One business in particular I was interested in was The Book Hound on 16 East Main Street owned by fellow blogger Dan Weaver. I have been reading Dan’s blog Upstream & Downtown and really like what he has to say, so I stopped in and paid him a visit.

After introducing myself, I asked Dan about his motivation for opening a used book store. He told me that his father was very strict and wouldn’t let him watch television as a child which steered him towards books. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in English and not wanting to teach, the bookstore seemed like a natural fit. The store seems quite small from the entrance, but I discovered a variety of books in four rooms, one leading into another. I was interested in books on Amsterdam’s history, as I am on this never-ending quest to find more information on the history of my house.  Of course I had to buy The Amsterdam Postcard History Series by Gerald R. Snyder and Robert von Hasseln as well as Images of Amsterdam by Kelly Yacobucci Farquhar and Scott G. Haefner.

I found Dan to be quite informative on a variety of subjects and his store had a steady stream of business during my time there. He also does internet sales through his online site The Book Hound.

A couple of doors down from The Book Hound is Riverside Pizzeria on 10 East Main Street. They make one of the best pizzas in the city.

The Amsterdam Mall also has quite a few storefronts occupied. I stopped by The Gazette office in the mall to chat with reporter Ed Munger. I soon found out the Mall has a NO PHOTOS policy from a polite but insistent security guard who directed me to the main office. After explaining what an internet blog was and that I wasn’t with a newspaper,  I was allowed to photograph the mall as long as the photos did not contain any people or portray the mall in a negative light. The following photos were taken in the mall.

Walter Elwood Museum Doll Display

It was a nice day to visit downtown Amsterdam.

Categories: Amsterdam, Entertainment, Photography

A Chalmers Love/Hate Story


I consciously tried to ignore this issue as it was being covered in the local papers and discussed in the local blogs, but I just could not hold my tongue any longer. The issue of the Chalmers building development/demolition has grown into something quite absurd.

To make a long story short, there is a huge cement and brick structure on the banks of the Mohawk River overshadowing Amsterdam’s South Side.  The former Chalmers Mill building has been abandoned for years and is such a state of disrepair that chunks of it are literally falling into the street.

Chalmers Building from Riverlink Park

The building was scheduled for demolition as a part of the Via Ponte project to revitalize the South Side. All that was sidetracked when novice Mayor Ann Thane entertained a proposal from developer Uri Kaufman to redevelop the building into luxury apartments similar to what he accomplished in Troy with Harmony Mills. The Common Council approved a contract with Kaufman to purchase the building that had a timetable with specifics.

Not everything Uri Kaufman touches turns to gold. Kaufman has also had a series of failed projects including Victory Mills in Schuylerville, the Statler building in Buffalo and the English Station power plant on the Mill River in New Haven. Lets face it, he is in it for the money and history shows us if he can’t get construction costs covered with grants and public funding, he bails.

After a meeting and presentation from Kaufman, the public learned that he had not met the requirements of the contract and became skeptical of the project. The issue soon divided the city with the Common Council severing the contract. This should have been the end of the issue and this is where Mayor Thane, in my opinion, lost a lot of respect from her constituents when she relentlessly pursued the issue despite public outcry. The building was nominated for placement on the National Registry of Historic Places by Kaufman. The Common Council announced their disapproval through a resolution that was later vetoed by Thane. The dialog between Kaufman and Thane was captured in the form of an email conversation in which she responds with the candor of a smitten schoolgirl. At one point she even wished them (Common Council) at the bottom of the Mohawk.

The issue seemed to blow over and for months we heard nothing more from Kaufman. The building was finally set for demolition again. A bid was accepted from an outside firm with contract in place and date set. Then the city received notification that the Chalmers building was accepted for placement on the national registry. The building is now eligible for federal historic tax breaks. Soon after that notification, Uri Kaufman filed a lawsuit against the City of Amsterdam for breach of contract. Kaufman is also trying to block the demolition. Recent findings of local newsmen indicate that Thane has been in contact with Kaufman all along, some bloggers even concluding that Thane had something to do with the lawsuit. The Mayor denies any conspiracy stating that she is going along with the wish of the people to demolish the building.

A Common Council meeting tonight is scheduled to address that very question. Two Alderman will propose that all correspondence concerning this issue be made public.

As it should be.

Update: JibJab admitted a mistake with the quality of the downloaded video and has corrected it. This post now has the updated video which was meant as a political parody of the professional relationship between Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane and developer Uri Kaufman. It is just comedy relief with no malicious intent.

Categories: Amsterdam, Entertainment, Media, Politics | Tags: , , , ,

Ice Ice Baby


Yesterday’s storm left us with frozen sidewalks. Last night we received a full gamut of weather including snow, sleet, freezing rain, hail, thunder and lightning. Cleaning up the aftermath meant scraping into the ice covered snow and trying to chip away at the ice underneath. With a 34 degree temperature today, the snowbanks began to melt onto the sidewalks causing some flooding which I am sure will refreeze tonight. Because the city has no actual snow removal, we are left with huge piles of now frozen snow with no where else to put additional accumulations.

The whole legal requirement of requiring residents to clear snow from their sidewalks seems to be an exercise in futility, especially if your neighbors decided not to clear adjacent walks. There is no enforcement and the laws are a little antiquated including the penalties.

City Ordinance – Chapter 206  – Streets and Sidewalks – from 1917

Article VII Snow and Ice Removal (§ 206-23 — § 206-25)

§206-23 Clearing

Every person and corporation owning, occupying or having charge of any lands and premises within the City of Amsterdam shall keep the sidewalks, curbs and gutters fronting on or adjoining said lands and premises free and clear of snow and ice for the width and length of said sidewalks and for the length of said curbs and gutters and for a width of 18 inches from the curbstone line and shall remove the snow and ice therefrom within 12 hours after a storm depositing the same shall have ceased and before the same shall have attained a depth of 12 inches.

§206-24 Sand and Ashes

It is further ordained that where the snow and ice are so frozen or congealed that they cannot be removed without injury to the sidewalk as above provided, the owner, occupant or person in charge of said lands and premises shall, within 12 hours after said freezing and congealing, strew, cause to be strewn and keep strewn the snow and ice on said sidewalk with sand or ashes so as to make and keep the same safe for public traffic thereon.

§206-25 Penalties for Offenses

Any violation of the terms and provisions of this article shall be punishable by a fine of not less than $2 and not more than $5 or by imprisonment of not less than two days or more than five days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Article VIII  Salt and Brine (§ 206-26 — § 206-27) – from 1928

§ 206-26 Usage

No person shall put, place, scatter, throw or pour salt or brine upon the surface of any concrete pavement on any public street of the City of Amsterdam.

§ 206-27 Penalties for Offenses

Any person violating this article shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not exceeding $5 and in default of payment of such fine, may be committed to the Montgomery County Jail for a period not exceeding one day for each dollar of fine.

To sum this up, it in unlawful to use salt on the ice but I can “strew” sand and ash. If I fail to clear my sidewalk I can be fined $5 and sent to jail for 5 days. If I do clear my sidewalk but use salt or brine I can be fined $5 or go to Montgomery County Jail for 5 days. Given their latest mortality rate, I’ll pay the fine!

I can just hear the talk in the on the tier as I do my time in jail. “What are ‘ya in for?” “Not shoveling my sidewalk” I reply to the copper thief.

Does anyone know where I can get a little ash?


Categories: Amsterdam, Law, Photography | Tags: , ,

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