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What purpose does labyrinth removal serve?

I stopped by City Hall on Thursday morning to check out claims I had heard that the stones making up the labyrinth which was built by community volunteers back in 2013 on the side lawn were being removed. When I got there, I discovered that indeed, a good eighth or tenth of the stones had been dug up and were missing.

I talked with Mayor Michael Villa this morning about why the stones were being removed. He said he had instructed city workers to remove the labyrinth because “I don’t feel it belongs there.” In his view, the labyrinth does not fit the historical character of the building.

I asked him if there were any religious or conscientious reasons for removing the labyrinth and he said no. He also said that the extra amount of time it took to maintain the lawn because of the stones was also not a factor. However he did say that the time it’s taking city workers to remove the stones would be offset by a savings in maintenance time in the future.

He also said the removal of the stones had nothing to do with former mayor Ann Thane. “If former mayor] Joe Emmanuel put it in, I’d still remove it,” Villa said.

The way I see it, the issue here is not whether Villa has the authority to remove it or not. Villa acknowledged that Thane acted within her authority to allow the construction, and asserted that he is within his authority to remove it. I don’t have any argument there.

The issue, in my view, is how this action benefits the city. I find Villa’s justification rather arbitrary. It’s hard for me to see how an arrangement of stones on an otherwise unused side lawn significantly affects the historical character of the grounds. Villa says his priority is the city’s finances and blight situation. However, the removal must have been a top priority for him given that he has ordered the action during the very first week of his term as mayor.

The effect of the action, as far as I can see from the conversation on social media, has been to inflame Amsterdam’s artistic and volunteer community, especially those who volunteered their time and effort to create the labyrinth for the entire community to enjoy. To order it’s destruction without even talking with the volunteers who built it strikes me as callous.

One of the things I liked about what Villa said during his very first interview with me back in December 2014, was how he hoped to help the city work together better. He cited his experience as a former police officer and talked about how he routinely had to settle disputes and de-fuse arguments in the field. In a city with such long-held and deep divisions, I wish Villa would start using those skills in this very situation. The removal of public artwork like this was not part of his campaign platform and I hardly think that was what people who voted for him expected.

Removing the labyrinth does nothing to benefit the city. However, Villa has everything to gain by stopping the removal and reaching out to meet with the original volunteers. If Villa has a different vision for the grounds of city hall, maybe those same volunteers can be a part of the transformation. In these formative first weeks in office, Villa still has a chance to win over new allies, rather than create even more hard feelings over an issue that amounts to a personal preference.


About Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of LLC which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.

21 Responses to What purpose does labyrinth removal serve?

  1. AvatarPam Swart says:

    Well, I understand that three city employees were out today destroying the hard work of many, INCLUDING children. The outcry of many was ignored. Why couldn’t he have given those involved a chance to dismantle it ? Very sad.

  2. AvatarRick Morrison says:

    The first priorities of a corrupt administration is to expunge the vestiges of what they view as the last corrupt administration. People that are surprised by this shouldn’t be. As a candidate Mr. Villa was careful not to to outline specific plans or goals. Lets not overlook a very telling quote when asked about the appointment of his campaign manager, Pat Beck, to a position in City Hall – “To the victor go the spoils”
    It is shameful that there is such a lack of leadership in local government that the politics of retribution and pettiness rule the day. And it is at all levels. The county legislature with abstaining from voting when asked to elect their own leadership. In Gloversville a clear case of cronyism.
    A sad, sad commentary indeed.

  3. AvatarCharlie says:

    Some of the support for the dismantling of this work of volunteers is labeling the labyrinth as some sort of Satanic symbol sitting next to City Hall.

    My guess is the people who run various classes and programs, including labyrinth walks, at St. Mary’s Hospital would object to this being called Satanic.

  4. AvatarSue says:

    I’m looking forward to the historically appropriate uses he has in mind for that lawn….. And now that we know they have some time available, what other tasks can those employees take on?

  5. AvatarDonna says:

    I just think it’s all about control……I am the mayor and I make the decisions end of story. Never-ending politics!

  6. AvatarJeremy Jasper says:

    This is the beginning of his administration. Lets hope that he gets out any retribution he may feel towards the artistic community of Amsterdam through this removal so we can all move on to the more important issues.

    It is a blatent and total disrespect of a group of residents but lets put this behind us. Here is to bigger and better things to come….Lets hope he can do a good job of getting some of that money the Governor is giving to upstate communities. I know his predecessor did.

  7. AvatarGina Mintzer says:

    I am the person who actually maintained the labyrinth over the last two years since building it (wearing the white visor in the photo). The City staff mowed around the labyrinth, I mowed, weeded, etc.. the labyrinth itself. Sad to see it go. Hope Mayor Villa embraces other volunteer projects that put Amsterdam on the map, versus controversy taking precious time away from the real business of running the city.

  8. AvatarSteven says:

    I think it looked terrible and I’m glad it’s gone. It likely violated the historic preservation covenants in any case. And on top of that, it’s cultural appropriation, a pet project that would not likely outlast the dedication of its single main organizer, and a strikingly unilateral project to begin with. That a unilateral, mayoral action gets rid of it is very fitting.

  9. It left as arbitrarily as it came. Either way, it did not reflect the voice of the majority of Amsterdam’s citizens.

    • AvatarTim Becker says:

      Being that removal of the labyrinth was not even mentioned as part of Villa’s campaign, I don’t think the election results can be used as a basis for determining what the majority voice is on this particular issue. Rather, I would say the majority gave him the mandate to make this type of decision.

      • It’s not about election results. The former Mayor went about making changes to city owned property without obtaining the consent of the people or their direct representatives, the Common Council. The Recorder wrote an editorial with similar sentiments in October of 2013.

      • AvatarTim Becker says:

        OK, I understand what you meant better now. But I’m still not sure it’s possible to tell if the majority did or didn’t want the labyrinth there in the first place, or if the majority did or didn’t want it torn down either. Both made the decision based on their judgment, and there’s a backlash in both cases as well.

        I honestly hope that Villa’s term isn’t a mirror image of Thane’s. For the city’s sake, I hope that he does better, both at building consensus and pushing toward a vision we can all get behind. Easier said then done though.

  10. AvatarPatti Gile says:

    It just a direct in your face to the former mayor and the citizens of Amsterdam who contributed. Many of the stones carried messages of good will and peace that were written on them from the citizens of Amsterdam.

  11. AvatarPat Becker says:

    Perhaps the original builders could retain the stones and move the labyrinth to a better location in the Spring.

  12. Avatarrogo says:

    I visit my my mother every day going by city hall. I have never seen anyone ever there. I believe the whole labyrinth was a sham and I hope the 18 million dollar bridge doesn’t end the same

  13. AvatarPam Swart says:

    Does anyone know where the rocks ended up?

  14. AvatarMomsie says:

    All this talk of change Villa talked about and this is one of his first edicts handed down? How about something that actually affects the quality of life in the City?

  15. AvatarCharlie K. says:

    I hope the folks above don’t think I was being serious about a labyrinth being “Satanic.”
    The point I’m making is some folks call the City Hall one “Satanic” but don’t seem to mind the labyrinth healing techniques used by the city’s Roman Catholic hospital. What makes the City Hall labyrinth “Satanic?” What makes it different than the one used at St. Mary’s?

  16. AvatarArnold says:

    Looks like Villa has started off as the villain, but given that the thing wasn’t lawn mower friendly, maybe he has a point. I never saw any point to anything that makes people go round and round in circles, but now that it’s gone, people are still going round in circles about it. Maybe he’ll replace it with a square one?