Posts Tagged With: City of Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s World Peace and Health Organization along with the Guang Huang Mi Zong Organization met in NYS Supreme Court in Fonda this morning along with their Attorney James Melita to challenge a discriminatory property assessment from the City of Amsterdam’s previous administration. It seems the Thane administration, through City Assessor Calvin Cline, wielded their municipal power as a weapon against the local Buddhists by revoking the tax exempt status of their Temple parking lots and clergy residences. No other religious organization had their tax exempt status revoked by the Assessor.
The current situation was not the first time that Assessor Cline tried revoking the Buddhist’s tax exempt status. It happened back in 2012 when Cline revoked the tax exempt status of two of their properties. In that case, Supreme Court Judge Joseph M. Sise issued a consent judgement restoring the tax exempt status and a declaratory judgement that Cline’s assessment was “unlawful, excessive and unequal”.
Under NYS Real Property Tax Law section 420a, property owned by religious organizations used for religious purposes is tax exempt. Section 462 states that in addition, property owned by religious corporations used for clergy residential purposes is also tax exempt.
After the discriminatory treatment received from former Mayor Ann Thane and Assessor Calvin Cline, the Buddhists were delighted to hear that Mike Villa was elected Mayor this year. In fact Mayor Villa met with the Buddhists on two different occasions to discuss the situation along with Dr. Rao and Jerry Skrocki. Mayor Villa was also appalled at the treatment the Buddhists received and on July 26, 2016, through the Common Council, issued resolution #16/17-12 which states;
“RESOLVED, it is the official policy of the City of Amsterdam to comply with all laws, rules, regulations protecting against discrimination and all departments, offices, boards and commissions, officers, employees, representatives and agents of City government shall in the performance of their duties, comply with federal, state and local laws, rules, regulations and policies regarding discrimination of any kind related to race, color, religion, sex, age, marital status, national origin, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, and political orientation or affiliation.”
Unfortunately neither the Mayor or the Common Council can overrule a decision made by the City Assessor. The ONLY remedy aside from the Board of Assessment Review is to file an Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. That is exactly what the Buddhists have done and they have an excellent case with proof of discrimination. Because of the discrimination the Chinese Buddhists continue to receive, one of their own has just completed her first year of law school. Another became a registered voter in the City of Amsterdam and several others are undergoing the process of citizenship so they too can vote.
We sat most of the morning waiting for Calvin Cline to withdraw the discriminatory assessments but he is a stubborn old mule who would not concede. The judicial trial was adjourned until November of this year, giving Cline a chance to reconsider and save the taxpayers from a costly judgement. In a city that is trying to be welcoming to new people as well as new business, we must treat everyone fairly and equally under the law.
We can do better than this!
Friday, January 16th, 2015, is National Religious Freedom Day. Every year on January 16, the President of the United States issues a proclamation that marks the anniversary of Religious Freedom in the United States. The tradition commemorates the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom adopted by the Virginia General Assembly on January 16, 1786. This statute on religious freedom eventually became part of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof .”
The controversial establishment clause has been widely debated as used as political fodder since codification in 1791. Many US Supreme Court decisions were issued that further define its implementation. While the Supreme Court initially held that constitutional amendments (Bill of Rights) did not apply to state governments, the Incorporation Doctrine of 1925 reversed that opinion and held that these amendments also apply to state and local governments.
The SCOTUS decisions all support the fact that government cannot promote one religion over another or prohibit the free exercise of ANY religion.
History and current events continue to show the mix of government and religion often promotes bigotry leading to violence. Governments in the United States are prohibited by law from adopting or supporting any official religion, in fact our citizens are not required to believe in any form of religion. Although a majority of Americans are White and identify as Christian, we are neither a White or Christian nation. The US Census and Gallup polls show increasing diversity in both our ethnic and religious makeup.
In spite of this increasing diversity, religious intolerance is still alive and well in the City of Amsterdam, New York. This blogger has written many articles describing the difficulties the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization has endured locally. The Buddhists moved here from China several years ago to establish a community promoting peace and harmony while teaching a healing meditative practice, the Guang Huan Mi Zong Health Dharma. The locals didn’t quite know what to make of the WPHO, unfamiliar with their culture while questioning their religious faith. To help combat bigoted attitudes and improve health, the Buddhists began teaching both their meditative practice and Chinese culture through organized events held at both the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Grove Street and the Five Buddha Temple on East Main Street. The events are well attended by open-minded locals and were featured in this blog as well as local newspapers. The WPHO also donated video camera systems to the Amsterdam Police Department to help combat crime after several of their properties were vandalized.
The Capital District Roman Catholic Diocese sold these former catholic churches, their rectory buildings and parking lots to the WPHO. This blogger lives across the street from the Goddess of Mercy Temple and it is great to see the property, once abandoned and stripped by the catholic church, restored to full function and occupied. It is also great to have the Buddhists as neighbors.
Both former catholic churches have been religious exempt from local taxation since their inception. This year, Amsterdam Assessor Calvin Cline, not a resident of Amsterdam or Montgomery County, decided to revoke the local tax exemption for the parking lots to both the Goddess of Mercy and Five Buddha Temples as well as clergy residences in Amsterdam. Representatives from the WPHO met with the assessor to correct this obvious oversight but Cline refused to give them any information or rationale as to why he initiated this action and refused to correct it. The Buddhist organizations owning the properties, Guang Huan Mi Zong, Inc and Western Supreme Buddha Temple, Inc are 501(3)(c) corporations, who file annual update statements. The Chinese Buddhists see this action as yet another form of harassment and discrimination on the part of the assessor and the City of Amsterdam who did not revoke the tax exempt status of any other religious or charitable organization this year.
This situation reeks of religious intolerance and bigotry.
In addition to filing an appeal with the Board of Assessment Review, which meets on Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the WPHO will be filing a complaint with the NYS Division for Human Rights.
When will the City of Amsterdam stop using laws and regulations as weapons to discriminately target people?
I hope the members of the Amsterdam Board of Assessment Review, former Mayor Mario Villa, John P. Bowers, and Fran Fora do the right thing and restore these exemptions.
Mayor Ann Thane made an official statement today that the generous donation of video cameras in 2012 by the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization was “basically worthless”. What an ungrateful and unprofessional statement to make. This was a professional video surveillance system that should have been installed two years ago. The twenty camera wireless video surveillance system was donated by WPHO member Sky Deng, whose company LYD Technology USA Inc. produces the systems. Dr. Govind Rao even donated $6,000 to pay for the camera system installation. Smaller scale video systems produced by Sky Deng’s company now cover the Amsterdam Goddess of Mercy Temple and rectory, Amsterdam Five Buddha Temple and rectory, private homes owned by the WPHO in Amsterdam as well as this blogger’s residence. These camera systems all run very well. Video clips from this blogger’s surveillance system helped the APD identify vandals that damaged property on Grove Street.
The City is now scrambling to save face after an incident last week where vandals caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to a downtown hotel that was closed pending renovation.
The statement posted by Mayor Ann Thane on Facebook:
In response to the senseless destruction at the downtown hotel, please know that our police department will hunt down these criminals and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Amsterdam Police Department Chief of Police Gregory Culick informs me that the camera guy was in his office yesterday to discuss finishing installation of the cameras they had ordered (the cameras donated to us by the World Peace and Health Organization two years ago were basically worthless.) New beat patrols had been instituted about a month ago. If you are willing and able to help be the eyes and ears of the APD, please call 842-1100 for more information.
This link to my 2012 blog article describes the camera donation: Buddhists Donate Security Cameras to the City of Amsterdam
This is a link to former Gazette reporter Ed Munger’s article describing the donation: Buddhists Give Amsterdam 20 Video Cameras
Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane owes the WPHO a formal apology for that despicable statement and should accept blame for not following through with the camera installation. The Mayor keeps reminding us that she alone is responsible for the day to day operation of the city.
Mayor Ann Thane, you failed the citizens of Amsterdam!
The Basics – What’s Out There?
The Official Tourism Site for the State of New York is usually the first website people will visit to get information about a New York State destination. Looking at the regional map we would assume Amsterdam is located in the Central New York region. Clicking on the map of NY Central Region opens the tourism website for Central New York.
Montgomery County is not listed as part of the Central, or any region on the NYS region map!
On the NYS Official Tourism website, we can click on the header CITIES & TOWNS, from there we are presented with an entry box where you can type in Amsterdam. You are then presented with the following description:
What is wrong with this picture? First of all Amsterdam is listed as a town. There is a town of Amsterdam, but the site is describing the city of Amsterdam. The Noteworthy Indian Museum has been closed for some time now. The Walter Elwood Museum closed since last year’s flood. None of the underlined links are working. The majority of the locations described (Fort Johnson, Lake George, Halcyon Farm B&B, The Brown House) are neither in the town or city of Amsterdam. There is no Visitor Center or garden at Riverlink Park.
Clicking on the SEE & DO tab for Amsterdam brings up the following:
Out of the five Locations listed, only the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course is operational and in Amsterdam. The New York State Outdoorsman Hall of Fame is in Vail Mills/Broadalbin.
Clicking on the EVENTS tab gives us the following for Amsterdam:
Finally, clicking on the STAY tab brings this up:
Here we have some useful information, places to stay actually in the city and town of Amsterdam (along with a few that are not).