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Editorial: Keep Don Rittner as county historian

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
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In tough economic times like these, governments have to look for savings anywhere they can get them. But the Schenectady County Legislature’s decision to eliminate county historian Don Rittner’s nearly $25,000-a-year job in its recently adopted budget and contract out for historian services will save relatively little — around $10,000. And considering the knowledge, passion and creativity he brings to the job, as well as the local and outside attention he brings to Schenectady and its history, it must be considered a net loss.

Rittner, like Larry Hart before him, served as both city and county historian until the city eliminated that position two years ago. But little was lost when that happened because Rittner, in his other job and on his own time, continued to do a variety of things to help and promote Schenectady. One of them was to develop the Schenectady Film Commission, which has resulted in several television and movie productions here, including a soon-to-be-released feature-length film that brought attention to the city and county and was a boon to the local economy.

This is just one example of Rittner using his research, knowledge and initiative on behalf of Schenectady. Others include helping to create a successful monthly arts night, as well as guided tours, construction of the 17-century Dutch sailing ship replica the Onrust, and preservation of more than $4 million in federal historic tax credits for Proctors during its expansion.

Contracting out Rittner’s job will still cost the county $15,000, and whoever does it — the county doesn’t know that yet — is unlikely to do it with such dedication or as well. It may not even be legal, because state law apparently requires counties to have appointed historians. Bad move.

 
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November 14, 2012
8:27 a.m.

What is stopping Mr. Rittner from retaining this position?....Larry Hart served many years without salary and not even close to what Mr. Rittner has been receiving...I can almost guarantee that there are many retired people, like Larry Hart was...to work this position with a stipend or volunteer their services....I don't know where in the world anyone thinks there is funding for this position when the city is in financial crisis...it would be great to have a job with benefits, and a salary to live off of in these times of high unemployment and great recession....and don't worry Capo Gardener will find one of his many willing people to fill the position, just as they do to sit on the various boards and committees....it is a very large party in Schenectady.

November 14, 2012
3:58 p.m.
catherine9966 says...

I'm sorry but Don Rittner did not do much as a historian for the city or the county. The things listed in the editorial have almost nothing to do with the history of the city or the county, and it's doubtful that Mr Rittner even did some of the things listed.

What monthly arts night did he start? It sure wasn't Art Night, I don't recall Mr Rittner being at any of the initial Art Night meetings. Art Night was started by Mitch Messmore. What ongoing guided tours did Mr Rittner implement? What has the Onrust done for the city or the county? And Mr Rittner certainly was not instrumental in bringing the Gosling/Cooper movie to the city - that was clearly stated in a Times Union article. Rittner knew nothing about it.

I thought the Gazette was more intelligent than this editorial reveals. Rittner is a big talker who likes to get others to do work for him, and then he takes the credit. To compare him to Larry Hart is a big horrible mistake. Mr Hart must be rolling in his grave.

Kudos to the county for this good move.

November 14, 2012
5:53 p.m.
editorial says...

For the record, writer Ben Coccio and director Derek Cianfrance have both said Rittner was instrumental in convincing "The Place Beyond the Pines" to shoot in Schenectady. The narrative was always set in the city, but there were talks about filming it elsewhere.

November 15, 2012
3:46 p.m.
gina99 says...

No one mentioned Art Nights which have nothing to do with history or art. Don Rittner was removed solely for crass politically reasons. There will be no savings. A higher paid Democratic hack will be brought in and the position made no work. Like many no work positions in the City and County. No wonder we are going bankrupt.

November 21, 2012
8:36 a.m.

SchenectadyScott ( no real name given ) says...

Mr. Rittner is a very talented individual, with great experience and should have no problem finding employment in his educated field of archeology, computer technician, or as a successful writer. With all of these incomes and royalties from his published works and consulting...he should be able to volunteer his work in this position...why is having a salary so important in this position. There are many people out there, such as Larry Hart did for many years without a salary of such means. I hope Mr. Rittner considers volunteering this work as both of these jobs he has held over the years has afforded him great opportunity and time to put into building the Onrust, Archeological digs, work as a writer, acting, interviewing for extras in movies, running the movie commission he created, Mr. Rittner has many areas to explore to make room for others to be able to put full time in these positions as historian...this should free up Mr. Rittner's time to pursue all his other occupations...

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