A conversation with Councilwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler: Part two

Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler during first meeting of City of Amsterdam Common Council. Photo by Daniel T. Weaver.
Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler during first meeting of City of Amsterdam Common Council. Photo by Daniel T. Weaver.

Compass. It seems the urge to serve runs deeply in you. What do you think is the reason for that?

DH. Family. The way I was brought up. My grandfather, and my dad too–my dad was involved–my dad was a baseball coach, he served on church boards, he was involved with the Boy Scouts with my brothers. Later in life, when he moved to Florida and he retired, he was involved in the golf commission of the golf club where he lives. My grandfather was involved in activities in Johnstown. And when I was with the airlines, because of my schedule, I couldn’t commit to anything, but while my daughter was growing up, I was Girl Scout cookie mom and for Spring Fling, which is a big fundraiser they had, I chaired the bake sale. I could commit only to things that didn’t take up a lot of my time. I had some flexibility, and I used it wisely.

Compass. So you think these events growing up…

DH. I think it’s instilled in you. I also served as Union Safety Representative for the flight attendants for fifteen years, and that was a volunteer position. And I took that position because it was apolitical. The politics was in Washington, not with what we were doing on the local level. When I moved here, I found [doing things] to be a good way to meet people. I was a member of the Century Club for awhile, was a member of the Amsterdam Beautification Corps. Then I got involved in local politics, and I approached Mayor Duchessi for a seat on the Master Planning Committee. I thought I had something to offer, being from out of town and having traveled. I could look at things differently. Maybe on a broader scope.

Compass. So you think that your experiences have given you a slightly different view?

DH. I think, they have given me, maybe, a broader perspective on what they do in other communities. When I lived in Charlotte–there was a small community called Davidson, North Carolina, where Davidson College is. They built a new downtown with the old fashioned buildings, with the storefronts on the first floors and residences on the second and third floors, so the owners could live above their businesses, just as they did in years gone by. And I found it fascinating because I moved up here, and our downtowns are still with us and, yes, they need to be rehabbed and brought up to code, and then you can market them. They are building new towns in the South to look like ours, and I just found that fascinating.

Compass. How are you approaching your planning for this new position as Alderwoman?

DH. The three of us incoming, the Alderpeople-elect, had a general meeting with all the department heads for introductory purposes, and either they emailed it to us or they gave us a brief presentation on their department–what was going on and what what was expected of them. With the exception of one department head, we have received a positive response from everybody. We look forward to working with them. We are also having meetings with individual department heads so we can get a better handle on those departments that may be problematic or have special issues. Like next week we will meet with the Deputy Controller to see how they are doing. We know they have serious issues there. We are also meeting with the City Engineer to discuss his overall responsibilities.

Compass. Is there a deficit in the budget?

DH. I don’t know. I can’t answer that because I haven’t seen any figures in front of me. So, I can’t tell you anything. As I said, we have a meeting next week [with the Deputy Controller], and we know things are very serious. There is a reported 1.2 million dollar shortage, and we don’t know if there is a shortage or if it was simply put in the wrong account. And with the different auditors…we’ve got one lady coming in, and all she is doing is the capital projects and reconciling those. And we have another CPA firm coming in, and they will be trying to reconcile, basically, everything else. It’s a mess. You can’t take 10-15 years’ worth of accounting and correct it overnight. It goes back at least 10 years. How much further back, we don’t know. We just have to wait and see how we are going to address it.

Compass. How does your family feel about your involvement in politics?

DH. My parents are astounding. They supported me, and they would be here if they could for the first, however, at 90 and 92 years old it is difficult for them to travel. They are in Florida. They grew up in Johnstown/Gloversville where they used to tunnel from the back porch to the street during the winters. Now, my daughter will be here on January 1st. Then she has plans back in Washington. And my husband has been very supportive. If he had it his way I’d be yelling and screaming, let’s put it that way. I am much more gentle than he is. He’s an old farmer, and he tells it like it is. He’s been behind me two hundred percent. And this next year will not be easy. I don’t foresee it being easy at all. We are going to have to make some serious financial decisions. We did get $600,000 from the Governor yesterday…

Compass. To do sewer…

DH. To do sewer and water [updates]. And we are under a state mandate from the DEC to correct that. I don’t know how much but every year there is a little bit done, and for as much as we can get a grant, that is how we have to do it. I don’t know what areas are going to be next, but I would imagine that wherever the oldest parts of the city are.

Compass. Do you have a position on the Cultural Arts Center, how it is run, its use?

DH. I think it is a great project, but I don’t think that the city should be involved in it. At some point it should be turned over to a not-for-profit entity, and let them run it. I like what it is doing. It is offering city kids a lot of opportunities that they may not have otherwise, but I just don’t think it’s something the city should be involved in. There are a lot of donations coming in, but we have to look at it…we have trash removal, we have heat in the winter, grass has to be mowed. There are still a number of things the city has to pay for to make it run. What is the cost/benefit analysis and how can we make it work for everybody?

I left the Old Peddler’s Wagon to go home and transcribe this interview. Alderwoman Hatzenbuhler left to continue her preparation for taking her place on the Amsterdam City Council. I knew which of us had the more difficult task, and it wasn’t me.

Jay Towne

Jay Towne is a resident of Amsterdam, has published six books and is the writer and director of a radio drama, Any Good Thing, that currently airs on WOPG.