Posts Tagged With: joe isabel

Amsterdam Spends Wisely


According to the Amsterdam City Charter, the Budget Review Board consists of the Mayor, five Alderman and City Controller who each have a deciding vote. The preliminary budget is supposed to be prepared by the Controller after the department heads have each submitted their proposed budget requests. March 1, 2013, is the date the working tentative budget should be presented and May 1, 2013, is the date the Budget Review Board is to adopt a final budget.

Since this writer has kept track (about five years), the budget review process has never gone smoothly. I never understood why the City of Amsterdam Controller, an elected position, had a vote on  city budget matters or the Mayor either for that matter. The legislative body of government (Alderman) was formed for that purpose while the executive (Mayor) approved or vetoed legislation.

This year’s budget negotiation is without a Controller. The City of Amsterdam’s last Controller, Ron Wierzbecki, died in December and the Common Council decided to continue without appointing an interim. Instead they chose to create a Deputy Controller, an appointed position to serve in that capacity. An experienced accountant, David Mitchell was hired to the $75,000, 6 year post. Things seem to be going smoothly since he took over the reins but I’m sure he still has some catching up to do.

The City of Amsterdam Budget Review Board met on Tuesday, April 23, 2013, to hear budget presentations from City Department heads. This year’s Budget Review Board consists of Mayor Ann Thane, 1st Ward Alderman Joe Isabel, 2nd Ward Alderman Valerie Beekman, 3rd Ward Alderman Gina DeRossi, 4th Ward Alderman Dave Dybas, 5th Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero, Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis and Deputy Controller David Mitchell. Legally the Deputy Controller and Corporation Counsel have no vote on the city budget. Corporation Counsel DeCusatis certainly had his say in both preparing the budget and active negotiations. It seems he has stepped in the role of  Controller.  In fact, the preliminary budget was prepared by Thane and DeCusatis who took it upon themselves to add items and even new employees to the department head budgets without their consent. This revealed itself as the department heads each presented their budgets last night.

Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course Maintenance Supervisor Jim Derrick

Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course Maintenance Supervisor Jim Derrick

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Mayor Ann Thane, Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis, Alderman Valerie Beekman, Alderman Gina Derossi, Alderman Joe Isabel

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DeCuasatis, Beekman, DeRossi, Isabel

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Jim Derrick, Golf Commission Chairman Mike Bucciferro

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Amsterdam City Engineer Richard Miller

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Rick Morrison reporting live from the budget hearing

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Ann Thane, Gerard DeCusatis

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Deputy Controller David Mitchell, Alderman Richard Leggiero, Alderman Dave Dybas

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DPW General Foreman Ray Halgas

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Transportation Director Cheryl Scott

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Recreation Director Rob Spagnola

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Recorder Reporter Rebecca Webster

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Rebecca Webster

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Mitchell, Leggiero, Dybas

Director of Community and Economic Development Robert von Hasseln

Director of Community and Economic Development Robert von Hasseln

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Rob von Hasseln

Placed in the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course budget was a cart fee of $2.00 per cart applicable to everyone driving a cart on the course. The Review Board decided to remove that fee with Alderman Beekman stating it was unfair for those that own carts housed at the course who already pay cart storage and membership fees. There was a discussion about hiring a general manager for the course next year but that was not figured in their budget for this season.

City Engineer Richard Miller argued for increased hours for his secretary from 30 to 35 hours a week. That request was approved pending a Civil Service agreement.

DPW General Foreman Ray Halgas found a newly created supervisor position in his budget that Mayor Thane admitted she placed there. The Mayor wanted the position to keep an eye on crews and people who tend to take too long during breaks. She stated her office constantly receives calls that DPW crews are hanging out at Stewarts or other convenience stores for extended periods of time. This new employee position was voted down by the Budget Review Board.  Halgas seemed a bit uneasy about the Montgomery Otsego Schoharie Solid Waste Management agreement scheduled to end this time next year with no current negotiation pending for a replacement or new contract.  Alderman Dybas congratulated Halgas for finally getting both street sweepers working. Halgas stated a new sweeper will arrive this year, describing problems he has had maintaining the older sweepers.

Transportation Director Cheryl Scott presented her budget with an irregularity noticed in last year’s electric bill that the Deputy Controller stated he would help work out. As an aside, Alderman Isabel turned to the media table of reporters to state the Transportation Budget requires a taxpayer subsidy amounting to $326,000 per year to run. Low cost transportation is provided around the City of Amsterdam, to County Offices in Fonda, To Fulton-Montgomery Community College as well as daily trips to Albany, NY.

Recreation Director Rob Spagnola has taken on added responsibilities this year with the establishment the Beacon School Recreation Center and the Creative Connections Art Center. With help from a part-time Recreation Assistant, programming was created for both the young and old. The addition of Union College Baseball to Shuttleworth Park will bring astro turf paving. Spagnola asked for a salary increase for himself and full-time hours for his assistant stating he was the oldest tenured Director who loves his job and has never asked for a salary increase before. The Recreation budget also included a $10,000 revolving fund to help defray costs of programming, with the understanding that the money would be replenished from programming services rendered. His requests were unanimously approved by the Board.

Director of Community and Economic Development Rob von Hasseln completed his first year in the new position, giving a status report of developments. He reiterated that while still performing the City Historian job, he no longer receives the $5,000 stipend. Von Hasseln also stated that he saves the City money by not accepting the health insurance as he already has health insurance through his US Army retirement. Von Hasseln was also responsible for helping to create and sell the revolving fund for recreation services. Thanks Rob!

While this three-hour Budget Review Board meeting was only one of many, it does seem things are running better than earlier years. Only time (tax and utility bills) will tell.

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

Story about a Debate


This is a story about Amsterdam’s mayoral debate held October 25, 2011, in the conference room of Riverfront Center.  With questions and answers covered extensively in the local media and many tuned in to the live broadcast, this story is about what you didn’t hear.

The Recorder sponsored mayoral debate was a disappointment.  Nothing was gained in terms of useful information about the candidates that had not already been revealed.  The canned questions posed by Recorder Editor Charlie Kraebel did not reflect what the actual voting public wanted to ask, instead were crafted by editorial staff of the Recorder, none of who live or vote in the City of Amsterdam.

The structure of the planned event leaked to the public weeks ago as described in my blog here.

This information irked Recorder Editor Charlie Kraebel who attempted to dispel the information in Tim Becker’s blog Pars Nova here.

The event was exactly as described before. Only the two candidates appearing on the ballot were allowed to take part.  Questions were limited to Recorder staff only.  The event was not open to the public, but limited to 20 invitees each from the participating candidates. It was broadcast live by WCSS.

I attempted to get an invite to cover the event early in the process to no avail.  I made a last-minute appeal on the WCSS Facebook page to get a seat at the debate.  About 5:30PM yesterday, 4th Ward Alderman candidate Diane Hatzenbuhler knocked on my door informing me that I had a seat because of a cancellation, that I should get to Riverfront Center at 6pm.

Arriving at the WCSS station, I saw Charlie and Rebecca chatting inside.  Kraebel glanced in my direction through the glass and then executed an eye roll towards Rebecca.  I ducked my head in the room and asked if this is where the debate was to be held. I was told it was in the conference room just down the hall and did not start until 7PM.

Arriving at the empty conference room, I saw some tables set up at the far end of the room with 40 chairs lined up in front of them, only filling up half of the room.  A newly employed security guard stood at the entrance.  WCSS employee and 1st Ward Alderman Joe Isabel walked by. I asked him about the cancellation and was told he has no say in who attends; it was up to the Recorder staff.

The security guard was handed a list of invited guests and was told to only admit people on the list and the press.  She was specifically told that the man in the plaid shirt (me) was not a member of the press. I was not alone in my predicament as others who were told to come as replacements were also left out.

The candidates soon appeared, each with their political posse.  It seemed as if the entire staff from the Recorder attended.  When it was clear that the 40 seats were not filled, those of us waiting were allowed in.

Recorder Publisher Kevin McClary introduced the event, reading from a prepared speech on his iPad he never made eye contact with the audience.  He is much smaller in stature and demeanor than I anticipated from the limited contact I have had with him through emails.  In sharp contrast, the physical appearance of the Recorder’s light-hearted humorist and Executive Editor Kevin Mattison is larger than his words.

The space agreed to by Recorder and WCSS staff was just not suited for a debate.  Although there was enough amplification, it was difficult to see the candidate’s faces. The two candidates sat behind a table at the same level as the audience. Some elevation would have helped. A good part of communication is taking in visual clues from facial expressions. This is one reason people are often misunderstood in blogs.  Personally I am much more adept with photography and visual communication than the written word, but most of you already know that.

The two candidates answered questions posed by Kraebel who sat at an adjoining table next to Rebecca who represented WCSS but remained silent during the debate.

Kraebel was robotic in posing the questions and never really probed deep enough.

Joe Emanuele has a poker face.  Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and red power tie with pumpkin, he answered the questions calmly with very little hand gesturing.  He did not react when confronted or criticized.  Thane dressed in a tweed business suit with modest jewelry and toned down makeup. Thane’s facial expressions while Emanuele spoke were very telling as she often smirked mockingly at the audience.  When speaking, Thane frequently gestures with hands and arms flailing, at times self-consciously pulling her arms down to her sides. Thane tends to be very emotional when speaking in public, sometimes choking up as if about to cry. I have noticed this behavior in past speeches and was clear during her final statement.  If you have never tried it, public speaking can be very difficult.

There was applause at different points in the debate for both candidates.

The one redeeming factor of this debate is that we heard Joe Emanuele answer questions about his candidacy. Other than his first mayoral announcement that I recorded here, we have not heard much from this candidate.

The third mayoral candidate who was not invited by the Recorder to take part in the debate is William D. Wills.  Not supported by either major political party, write-in mayoral candidate Wills was given equal time by WCSS and went on the air immediately after the conclusion of the Recorder’s debate, to answer the same questions posed to the other two candidates.  With the support of his wife and daughters present during the broadcast, Wills entertained each question read to him by his daughter.

While I feel that Wills is the best choice for Mayor of Amsterdam, he may have hurt his chances with his off and on again campaign and refusal to accept campaign contributions from political parties. He was the only candidate to answer questions I posed to all three.  Those questions and his answers can be found here.

It is no secret that I openly support write-in candidate William D. Wills for Mayor. While I appreciate the fact that an attempt was made by the Recorder to present Amsterdam with a mayoral debate, I cannot get past the fact that Wills was excluded.

The last Mayoral debate held on November 6, 2007, did include a write-in candidate not supported by a major political party.  I would also liked to have heard answers to some questions posed by some actual residents of the City of Amsterdam.

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

City Administrators Respond to Locked Gate


My blog entry from yesterday describing the cancellation of the Riverfront Park Phase II dedication scheduled for today, also brought to light the continuing problem of access to Riverlink Park.  Since 2007, citizens have complained about locked gates preventing access through the pedestrian walkway that links the parking lot of Riverfront Center with Riverlink Park.

The following inquiry was sent to the Amsterdam Common Council:

From: Gerald Skrocki

Subject: Riverlink Park

Date: October 13, 2011 5:30:51 PM EDT

I went down to Riverlink Park to take some foliage photos today around 11AM. I got as far as the walkway gate only to find it chained and padlocked.

Why am I denied access to a city park? Who has the key to the gate?

Jerry Skrocki

To date I have received the following three responses from Amsterdam Common Council members.

From: William D. Wills

Subject: RE: Riverlink Park

Date: October 13, 2011 5:47:17 PM EDT

One of the quotes of mine that the Mayor is fond of is from Will Rodgers:

“Denial is not just the name of a river.”

From: Joseph M. Isabel

Subject: RE: Riverlink Park

Date: October 13, 2011 9:54:26 PM EDT

Gerald,

It used to be locked at night by the police. Sometimes it was left locked and the police had to be called.  Lately it has been left open. I really don’t know what the current policy is.

I think Rob from recreation could tell us. I will try to talk with him.  I don’t know if there is a city employee down there anymore.

Alderman-Joe

From: Ann M. Thane

Subject: Re: Riverlink Park

Date: October 14, 2011 11:16:43 AM EDT

The APD will ensure that the gate is opened in the morning and closed in at night. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. A.

Mayor Ann M. Thane, City of Amsterdam

This is an example of how effective communication can resolve issues.  My confidence in the process is temporarily restored.

I want to thank everyone who took the time to look into this issue and respond to my inquiry. A special shout out to Daily Gazette Reporter Ed Munger for contributing background information.

Update: Photo taken October 14, 2011, 1:30pm

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

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