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Editorial: Hey. Council. Leave those kids alone

Thursday, September 4, 2014
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Doesn't the Amsterdam Common Council have anything better to do than harass kids?

After banning streetside basketball hoops in July, the council is on to its next unwelcome incursion into positive youthful experiences.

This time, Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler has come up with a proposal to have the council regulate murals painted by local kids on city property. She says she's upset that the Recreation Department had to pay $1,000 to freshen up a mural that had begun peeling.

As a solution, the alderwoman wants city workers to notify the Common Council and get its permission every time they remove, use, paint or deface city-owned property. Other than deface property (Where did that come from?), isn't it part of city workers' jobs to maintain city property, for instance, by removing a broken fence or repainting a peeling wall? Would pruning bushes or replacing a broken window or emptying a trash bin require written permission, too?

The artwork in question — which includes such offensive displays as a big American flag at Kirk Douglas Park and owls and triangles and other such awful things — is largely the product of a local youth-advocacy group, Wishful Thinking, which provides positive experiences for kids and keeps them away from drugs and violence through public service. In the past few months, the organization has enlisted kids to host a basketball tournament to raise awareness of violence, hosted a basketball league, picked up trash around the city, cleaned up veterans' yards, hosted homework-study halls, and, oh yeah, painted colorful murals on ugly walls.

If the council has to approve every mural before the Recreation Department can authorize it, it's possible there won't be any new murals. We've all seen government in action, especially when it comes to art. Another strike against the kids.

In reality, this seems to be just another way for some council members to wrest power from the mayor, with whom they often disagree, and to exhibit some appearance of control over the city. The murals are overseen by the Rec Department, whose employees report to the mayor. Do your own math.

The one legitimate point Alderwoman Hatzenbuhler made was that this work costs money, and the council should control how money is spent. But it already does that by reviewing and approving departmental budget requests and paying department heads to oversee that spending. If the money is being wasted and/or the department heads aren't doing their jobs, the council already has power to act.

The problem with these political shenanigans, besides making council members look like control freaks, is that they sap energy and enthusiasm from legitimate community activities without fixing any real problems.

Voters should ask themselves: Is this really what we elected these people for?

 
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