In his first week in office, Amsterdam Mayor Mike Villa has ordered the destruction of a stone labyrinth built outside City Hall by community volunteers under former mayor Ann Thane.
The move has those who built it and other supporters demanding an explanation.
Villa said Thursday that the deconstruction began Monday or Tuesday. He said City Hall maintenance staff is removing the stones at a leisurely pace between other jobs.
When asked for a reason, Villa first responded, “Do I need one?”
“My feelings are this is a historical building,” he said when pressed. “It was left to the city of Amsterdam, it was entrusted to us, and it’s just my personal feelings that I don’t think it’s the proper place for it. That’s my opinion, others may have a different opinion. But since I’m in charge of the grounds now, it’s something I prefer not to have.”
The labyrinth was a series of concentric circles on a lawn of City Hall, 56 feet in diameter, formed by rocks taken out of the Mohawk River by 30 to 40 volunteers about three years ago. It was listed on the World Wide Labyrinth Locator website.
Such labyrinths are made to promote meditation, peace and healing.
Barbara Neznek, one of the volunteers who worked on the labyrinth, said for many it represented community pride.
“That’s actually one of the reasons I got involved in the city,” she said. “The labyrinth, the community garden — it just looked like things were moving in kind of a nice direction.”
Neznek, who volunteers with the Creative Connections Arts Center, said the labyrinth contained rocks painted by kids in the city’s struggling East End, as well as by 4H club members, local students and others.
The labyrinth’s designer and founder, Gina Mintzer, has taken care of it for the past three years, mowing the grass and keeping weeds under control.
“This was Gina’s gift to the city,” Neznek said. “Her son had grown up and she was moving to Albany and she just wanted to leave Amsterdam with something nice.”
Mintzer said she was never contacted by City Hall about the dismantling of the labyrinth. She found out Wednesday evening when she began getting texts from friends saying they had seen city employees “ripping the rocks out of the ground.”
“I was basically heartbroken,” she said. “My first thought was ‘Wow, wouldn’t somebody have bigger things to think about in the first days of their job?’ ”
Tackling the labyrinth was not Villa’s first act as mayor. At a meeting just after taking the oath of office Jan. 1, he and the City Council eliminated the $45,000 position of community and economic development director, split the position of city attorney into corporation counsel and labor relations counsel, and agreed to hire a financial consultant to straighten out the city’s troubled bookkeeping.
Amid some talk of a demonstration to save the labyrinth, Mintzer said she would not be participating or intervening in Villa’s decision.
“I don’t want to match anger with anger,” she said. “He’s the mayor. I was just a citizen. What can I do?”
Former mayor Ann Thane, who often championed public art projects such as the painting of street median posts as Minion characters, said she was struggling to make sense of the decision.
“I just don’t understand why,” she said. “I hope the community expresses their love for this installation and supports that it stay. We want to build Amsterdam up, we don’t want to tear it down.”
Villa, a Republican and son of former mayor Mario Villa, defeated Democrat Thane by nearly 1,000 votes in November. Thane had served as mayor since 2007.
In more than 100 comments on a Facebook post by Thane on Wednesday, people called the destruction of the labyrinth “shameful,” “petty and ridiculous” and “a sign of things to come.”
Villa said he had not seen the comments nor heard any reaction to the move.
“I don’t pay attention to Facebook,” he said. “I didn’t when I ran and I don’t pay attention to it now. I don’t run the mayor’s office from Facebook. If someone wants to see me, my door’s always open.”