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An embarrassing display at City Hall

Thursday, February 07, 2013 - Updated: 5:29 PM

Those who attended or tuned in to Tuesday's Amsterdam Common Council meeting were treated to a conduct display unbecoming of elected officials.

Actually, it was conduct unbecoming of a kindergarten class.

At any level of government, there will always be discussion and disagreements over a variety of issues, and sometimes those talks will get heated. Amsterdam's city government is not immune to it.

However, at any public meeting, there needs to be a high level of professionalism and order. Most of the folks sitting at the table were elected to represent the people of the Rug City and these leaders should hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior.

While political shenanigans and a circus-like atmosphere aren't new to the Common Council chambers, lawmakers have largely behaved themselves during the past year. Meetings have been orderly, personal attacks have been kept to a minimum, and the mayor and council have acted like the professionals they're supposed to be.

That all unraveled Tuesday night.

At issue was a basic maintenance agreement for the new Creative Connections Arts Center at East Main Street and Vrooman Avenue. While there are legitimate concerns and questions about whether the city has properly budgeted to pay for the upkeep of the building, or whether even opening the center was handled through the proper channels, the discussion was marred by childish behavior and general buffoonery.

We saw Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis take on the role of official timekeeper during the public comments section of the meeting, which doesn't even come close to what his role should be. Then again, he hasn't understood -- or even cared about -- what the corporation counsel's job is so that didn't come as a surprise.

Then we had Mayor Ann Thane shouting down public speaker Diane Hatzenbuhler, telling her she had a minute left before taking up half that allotted time and then audibly counting down Hatzenbuhler's final 10 seconds as the James Street resident tried to finish her thoughts. Granted, Hatzenbuhler's facts are often questionable and have been disproved several times over, but as a city resident she has every right to address her local government.

Public comment -- as the mayor herself often likes to point out -- is not a time for a back-and-forth debate between the government and the gallery. It's for the people to speak their minds and participate in the process. If someone wants to refute Hatzenbuhler's comments or offer up some other kind of rebuttal, they can wait their turn.

To Thane's credit, she did regain some semblance of order during the segment by eventually threatening to have the police chief eject unruly participants, but the fact remains that it should have never reached that point.

The tomfoolery didn't end there. Much of the discussion around the table was dominated by 4th Ward Alderman David Dybas' constant interruptions and attempts to out-shout his colleagues. Then we saw 1st Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel take a cheap shot at 2nd Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman, who fired back with her own heated comments before making a show of donating her council salary to the center's upkeep. Meanwhile, 5th Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero just sat there unless a comment was made about the bocce courts on the South Side, which at times appears to be his only priority. In fact, the only one Tuesday who seemed to remember that she was a professional was 3rd Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi.

Behavior like the kind exhibited Tuesday night is unacceptable and an embarrassment to the city of Amsterdam. Those holding public office should know better. And if they don't, lawmakers should be called on it every time it happens.

All public meetings need to have some sort of order and decorum. The rules are in place not only to keep meetings running smoothly, but to foster reasonable debate and make it easier to conduct public business.

Grandstanding, shouting down other people, personal attacks and general bedlam have no place inside City Hall, and we hope ridiculous displays like the ones shown Tuesday don't become the norm.


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