Casey Croucher/Recorder staff A group of Tuesday's protestors at City Hall.
By CASEY CROUCHER
Recorder News Staff
Approximately 40 people gathered at City Hall Tuesday night to protest a resolution the Amsterdam Common Council never discussed or voted upon.
The resolution, unofficially drafted by 4th Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuh-ler, stated that in the past, city-owned property has been "removed, used [and] painted" without the knowledge or consent of the council.
She wanted to resolve the issue by only allowing city employees to "use, remove, paint [or] deface" property with the council's consent.
In an email to aldermen from Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis, he stated the resolution "appears to be an attempt to direct city employees in their day-to-day actions," which is an executive power belonging to the mayor.
When members of the public caught wind of the resolution, some thought it meant the Creative Connections Art Center on East Main Street was in jeopardy of being shut down and the activities involved with the art center would not be allowed. Several organized a peaceful protest, which manifested in a group of city residents standing in front of City Hall Tuesday night, holding homemade signs, many of which emphasized an appreciation for art.
Inside council chambers during 45 minutes of public comment, several residents went to the podium and spoke out against the resolution.
"From murals, to park rehabs, park fests to Spring Fling and lastly the Creative Connections Art Center on the East End, there is much to be involved in and even more to be proud of in Amsterdam," resident Tracey Klemish said. "I am so proud of all the city residents who come out week after week, month after month to show we are here, we care, we're watching the council and we want to be involved. Please don't cut us out. Without this opportunity for families like mine, we would be isolated from this community."
"I have to come to the council to get permission on whether or not we can paint something red or blue or green?" Recreation Department director Robert Spagnola said. "All weekend long I was at football scrimmages and people kept saying our murals are spectacular. I was in Philadelphia and it's covered in murals there -- we should have more. It's so divisive when you look out there and see the people from the art center, you think they have an agenda? They work with kids, there's no agenda. The agenda is to make the city a better place to live, and we all do it in our own heart. We can't go on like this. We're driving people away."
Other residents also stepped up to the podium to give the council and mayor constructive criticism on how to govern the city.
"When we come together we make positive things happen, we always do," John Sumpter said. "When we're fighting amongst each other, making frivolous laws and other things, we're a joke everywhere we go. We're a joke in the paper, we're a joke in the media, we're a joke on the radio. We all look like jokes. Our mayor, the council -- we all look like jokes and it needs to stop."
"You were elected by each of your constituents in each of your wards and all they expect from you is for you to do the job they expect you to do," Richard Iwanski said. "And one of the jobs they don't want you to do is kowtow to the mayor and her strange plans. You have to be your own person, you have to be strong and you have to work together. I would suggest you work with the mayor because working means that two people have to meet in the middle, and I understand up until now there hasn't been a middle. You're going to have to learn to work together."
"I came here tonight with a list of what I want to know," Donna Dickerson said, "but after sitting through your meeting, I decided I don't want to speak my list. I want to tell you all to grow up. Every single one of you."
After public comment, Hatzenbuhler told the crowd that she is not against the art center.
"I have never stated that I wanted to see the art center closed," she said. "That has never been anything that I have said. I do not know where you got it from. I'm very sorry that you have come here by your false impression, but I have never stated that I wanted to see the art center closed."
First Ward Alderman Edward Russo and 2nd Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman both commented on how they support the art center.
"I am 100 percent for Wishful Thinking and the art center," Russo said. "I see all the faces here -- all the kids and support. I see it."
"You all know I'm for you," Beekman told the crowd. "When it comes to the young people in this community I want to see them succeed. After raising children of my own I want to see other children succeed also. I know the council might not always agree but I know we want to see our young people succeed."
The resolution was not on Tuesday's agenda and was never addressed during the meeting.
After the meeting adjourned, Hatzenbuhler said the resolution would not be addressed any time soon. It will be brought up again in committee at some point.
"I never said I wanted to close the art center, that's never been an issue," she said. "Do I think we need to sit down at some point in time and discuss where the murals are going to go? Yes. From the standpoint that they're not just going to be plastered all over. There has to be planning, and I think it's fair to say they have to come up with ideas on where they want murals to go. It's the taxpayers' property and the taxpayers, through their representatives, should have the opportunity to determine where they're going to go."
She said the recent repainting of the American flag mural at Kirk Douglas Park sparked the resolution because the cost of labor and paint totaled $1,000. She's worried the city will be forced to repaint the mural every two years, costing the city $1,000 each time.
"That is time and money," she said. "It's not being addressed. Just because there's money doesn't mean it has to be spent. We have to look at everything."