Public turns out at council meeting to support arts in Amsterdam

Responding to reports of a proposed resolution by Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler that would require common council approval for any mural to be painted on public property as well as comments made by Hatzenbuhler questioning the viability of the Creative Connections Arts center, members of the public took to the front lawn of City Hall on Tuesday with signs to demonstrate in support of city arts programs. They later filled the council chambers to capacity to voice their concerns to the common council.

At least nine people spoke out strongly in support of continuing the Creative Connections arts program during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Recreation Department Director Rob Spagnola criticized Hatzenbuhler directly for spending an inordinate amount of time focusing in on his department, under which the Creative Connections program is run, given that his budget only makes up a small percentage of the total city budget.

“The comments that come out of the council, not everybody on the council, mostly the alderwoman for the past nine months, they’re deplorable. And the silence by no one else calling her out, it’s as if you condone it. And I know you don’t because I talk personally with all of you,” said Spagnola.

“We can go down the list – we ruined the field at Shuttleworth Park, we plowed the field at Shuttleworth Park, Union College isn’t coming here, the drain tiles are damaged at Shuttleworth Park, the arts center costs us all kinds of money, it doesn’t pay for itself – the list is just endless…misinformation. I don’t know if it’s lies intentionally or just put out there [based] on anonymous sources…it’s just a constant nitpicking.”

Spagnola said that the city currently pays $200-$300 per month for utilities at the arts center and sometimes sends workers to the building to do maintenance or cleanup. “That’s the extent of it,” said Spagnola.

Tracy Klemish said “As a single mom of three, two who are specials needs, it’s been a challenge, to say the least, to integrate into the community. This has, over the last year, been made easier with the beatification and community involvement projects and city events that the residents are encouraged to not only take part in but are encouraged to take a helping organizational role.” Klemish said that she hopes to help develop special needs friendly arts and music classes in the future.

Klemish’s school age daughter Emily also spoke just before her mother and said, “In July 2013 my mom and I had a great day. We went to Mc Nulty [school] to help paint new murals. It was important because it was fun and helped make the city look pretty. I met new people and I felt like part of the community. Every time I go past the mural, I remember the fun time I had with my mom and my mural makes me smile.”

Rich Iwanski, who attended the protest in support of the council with a sign reading, “The mayor wants to be king and queen both at the same time” and “When the corp. counsel speaks, the mayor’s mouth starts to move,” urged the council not to “kowtow to the mayor’s strange plans,” but also suggested the council “find a way to work with the mayor.” He also spoke in support of Hatzenbuhler personally saying that she had always answered his calls and questions.

Before the last comment, Hatzenbuhler stated, “I have never stated that I wanted to see the arts center closed. That’s never been anything that I’ve said. I do not know where you got it from. I am sorry you have come here under false impression.”

Tammy Merendo spoke last and referenced the proposed resolution in regards to the mural paintings and said, “I don’t trust you…I know some of you are not big fans of the murals. So what would the chances be if this proposal went through that we’d ever have another mural and how long would it be until the arts center was closed?”

Merendo also said, “I don’t think we need the council to make the day-to-day decisions for Rob Spagnola…I think it’s micro-managing.”

The proposal was not discussed during the preceding committee meetings and was not placed on the agenda to be voted on.

Tim Becker

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