COUNTY BOARD OF REPRESENTATIVES, DISTRICT 11 (unopposed)
COMMUNITY OF RESIDENCE: City of Oneonta
EDUCATION: BS in Education, Bucknell University; MS in Administration, SUNY Albany
PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: School Psychologist and Director of Special Education (OCSD)
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Hyde Hall Site Interpreter; Farmer’s Museum Dramatic Interpreter; Glimmerglobe Theater; Catskill Players Executive Committee and VP; Otsego County Democratic Committee Executive Committee; Oneonta Assembly of God.
FAMILY: Wife Abbey (married 1979), two sons: Randall (26) and Whitsun (23)
PHILOSOPHY OF GOVERNMENT: “There are some things that we can’t do unless we do them together. When we do them together, that’s called government.” Barney Frank
MAJOR ISSUES FACING OTSEGO COUNTY: Matching people to training and training to existing jobs. Preserving our awesome natural resources and landscape. Fighting back against the devastations of poverty. Building up our County human resources – and therefore quality services – after a decade of cuts.
STATEMENT: The County must begin to serve the needs of its citizens and not the political needs of its leaders. These are difficult times which require bold decisions. We need to plan carefully and thoughtfully for a short, medium and long-term future, and this process takes vision, hard work, and courage.
MY QUALITIES: Passion for democracy; work ethic; ability to collaborate; long experience and relationship with Otsego County residents from all walks of life.
EDUCATION: Wantagh High School, Wantagh, NY – 1968. BS in Ed – Bucknell University, 1972. MS in Admin – UAlbany – 1999
PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: School Psychologist, School Administrator, Historic Interpretation
COMMUNITY/POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT: Executive Committee, Otsego County Democratic Committee. Many years of Church governance and committee work, mostly in church growth. 30+ years working with families with disabled children in Oneonta and Otsego County and surrounding counties. Delegate to Democratic National Convention, 2012.
FAMILY: Wife Abbey, two sons: Randall (San Francisco) and Whitsun (Oneonta)
IN TWO OR THREE SENTENCES, EXPLAIN YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF GOVERNMENT: “There are some things that we can’t do unless we do them together. When we do them together, that’s called government.” (Congressman Barney Frank)
WHAT ARE THE THREE MAJOR ISSUES THE OTSEGO COUNTY BOARD OF REPRESENTATIVES FACES, AND HOW WOULD YOU ADDRESS THEM?
– Comprehensive Plan: Board looks at mid- and long-term planning for County: what do we want to be in the business of; prioritize our efforts; move toward greater effectiveness and efficiency in all areas, starting with highest priority issues.
– Coordinate all activities County-wide: This would probably (but not necessarily) be a County Manager, a kind of CEO for our two dozen departments and 500 employees.
– Budget: Longer-term budget development based on planning and coordination above.
WHAT QUALITIES/EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE THAT MAKES YOU THE BETTER CHOICE IN THIS RACE: Experience on the Board; 35 years working and living in Otsego County, both in the City and in many of the towns. Experience with management, budget and supervision. A passion to provide the benefits of governing to all citizens, with nobody left out.
IS THERE A STATEMENT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH VOTERS? I’ve gotten to know hundreds of families in Oneonta from all walks of life during my career. I’ve talked with them about their hopes and dreams, especially for their children, and I’ve learned about their frustrations and anxieties. I’ve spent my whole career getting to know the people of Oneonta. And I’ve met too many families in Oneonta who have been left out of the benefits of democracy. Democracy is for every last citizen, with no one left out. If I’m reelected, I’ll continue to work for all of us. Fiscal responsibility, certainly. Hard choices, certainly. But no collateral damage. No one intentionally left out.
It’s pretty clear to everyone by now that the sale of Otsego Manor in Jan. 27, 2014, was a mistake.
That was punctuated with numerous exclamation marks Wednesday, Sept. 12, when Focus CEO Joseph Zupnik and his chief financial executive, Daniel Herman, pleaded guilty before Otsego Town Justice Gary Kuch in the Fly Creek courtroom.
Under a plea agreement, Zupnik and Herman admitted to only one of the eight counts against them, one involving patient M.P., left in a chair for 41 hours over Labor Day Weekend 2016. The specifics, as detailed by the Attorney General’s Office, appear at right.
More serious, in that death resulted, may have been the count involving Robert Banta, former longtime county Soil & Water
Conservation District chairman, so admired that the district’s headquarters on Route 33 is named in his honor. Admitted to Focus, he fell twice the first night there, and died at Bassett Hospital a few days later.
Some may wish the penalties were harsher – avoiding jail time by their guilty pleas, Zupnik and Herman will be sentenced Oct. 10 to a term of community service, plus fines and expulsion from administering nursing homes that get federal Medicaid funding. Further, these criminal convictions should have nursing home owners who are inclined to cut corners to think again.
Still, should the responsibility for the Focus fiasco – the widely recognized deterioration of care for some of our county’s most vulnerable citizens – be left at that?
Retired banker Bill Dornburgh, a member of the county Health Facilities Corp. set up by the county Board of Representatives to shelter itself from attempts to block Otsego Manor’s sale, recalls telling Zupnik that the sale price – $18.5 million – was too high, that Focus could never cover its investment.
Dornburgh voted nay on the sale to Focus. So did two other members of the Health Facilities Corp. – Dr. Don Pollock, the retired Bassett physician, and Carol Kirkey, whose husband Terry passed away at what was still Otsego Manor in February 2013.
But the four others voted aye: county Reps. Kay Stuligross, Democrat, and Don Lindberg, Republican; Kim Muller, former Oneonta mayor and, until the end of this month, chair of the county Democratic Party; and Oneonta contractor Rick Eastman. They are certainly public-spirited citizens to take on a thankless job at no remuneration; nonetheless, they must take some responsibility for what turned out to be the wrong decision, predictably so. Dornburgh was right.
Was there simply no corporation or institution in our vast United States of America capable of effectively administering our county nursing home?
On May 15, 2013, the county representatives voted unanimously for the creation of the Health Facilities Corp., which allowed them to wash their hands of the 4-3 vote to sell Otsego Manor to Focus the following Jan. 27. Shouldn’t those men and women bear some responsibility for the eventual outcome, too?
Most of the county reps then have now moved on; the two most directly involved, Stuligross to retirement near Philadelphia, and Lindberg to election as Worcester town supervisor.
Likewise, Republicans Jim Powers, Pauline Koren and the late Betty Ann Schwerd have left the board, as have Democrats Rich Murphy, since passed away, and Beth Rosenthal, John Kosmer and Linda Rowinski.
Three remain in office today: Republicans Ed Frazier and Kathy Clark, and Democrat Gary Koutnik.
It’s been noted here before that the very nature of the Otsego County Board of Representatives – 14 members, elected by a couple of hundred people from individual districts, yet making decisions for all of us – shelters individual reps from accountability.
You can snub your nose at the 60,636 of us as long as you keep the few hundred neighbors in your camp.
The decision to sell the Manor affected all of us; yet no one – except, thankfully, Zupnik and Herman – have paid any price. This is one reason why a county executive is being considered: to centralize accountability, and thus, responsibility – blame AND credit.
Now, that barely exists.
Still, Frazier, Clark and Koutnik are up for reelection next year. If the electoral process is working at all in Otsego County, they should be challenged, and the challenger should ask: Who lost Otsego Manor?
Now we know, lives indeed may be at stake.
Two top executives of Focus Ventures have been arrested on eight counts involving two residents of the county’s former nursing home, Otsego Manor. (The county sold the Manor to Focus in January 2014, for $18.5 million, and Centers Health Care bought it from Focus in January for an undisclosed sum.)
Five of the counts are “endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person.” The other three are “willful violation of health laws.”
Two patients were involved. The first, identified as M.B., was a celebrated case. She was left untended in a wheelchair throughout Memorial Day Weekend 2016. Several nurses and aides faced criminal charges as a result. The second, now known to be Robert Banta, longtime chair of the Otsego County Soil & Water Conservation board; the conservation center on Route 33, Town of Middlefield, is named in his honor. He fell on June 17, 2015, the night he moved into Focus, hit his head, and died a week later.
Arrested and arraigned May 31 in Otsego Town Court in Fly Creek were
Focus CEO Joseph Zupnik and Daniel Herman, a
partner in the company.
The company that operated Focus Otsego, CCRN
Operator, was also charged.
On the one hand, there’s hope in this piece of bad news, hope that nursing-home operators can’t recklessly cut staff and not be held responsible for deadly consequences.
Two weeks before, another piece of bad news, that Centers, Focus’ successor, had unilaterally raised “private pay” rates from $320 to $510 a day, the highest in New York State – Long Island and New York City included – caused a sense of despair. (Since, Centers has rolled it back to $410.)
With federal reimbursement policies forcing public nursing homes into private hands, can nothing be done to ensure the new private owners provide satisfactory care to our most vulnerable fellow citizens?
Recently, Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, vice chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives and chairman of its Human Services Committee, wrote a letter in response to an editorial urging the county board take more responsibility for the former Otsego Manor.
Having sold the Manor, he said, the county board no longer has responsibility for what happens there. This is not to beat up on Koutnik: His opinion is widely shared among county representatives.
The Zupnik-Herman arrests prompt us to repeat our point, and expand on it.
At the very least, the county board should have a representative at every meeting of the Centers (formerly Focus) Family Council. Medicaid regulations require nursing homes that accept federal reimbursement to have such councils. It is the only opportunity for the public to be briefed and ask questions of administrators.
Our state senator and assemblymen should do the same. And certainly, Congressman John Faso, R-Kinderhook, or any Democrat who might defeat him this fall should follow suit – after all, federal reimbursement policies forced the county to sell excellent Otsego Manor to profit-powered entities.
Since, who hasn’t heard stories with dismay about the degradation of service locally?
Regardless, the Zupnik-Herman indictments are excellent news, whatever the resolution of the court case.
The indictments, by the state Attorney General’s Office, send the message loud and clear: Top executives of nursing-home corporations may be exempt from the common decency in the search for profits, but they aren’t exempt from the criminal code.
What’s needed is whistle-blowers, not just private citizens, but the officials we elected to take care of us, who have greater clout in forcing action than the rest of us.
(In this case, that might indeed have already happened; if so, bravo.)
If for nothing more than the knowledge he’s gained about Otsego County and its issues in 40-some visits over the past year, Brian Flynn is the logical
candidate for local Democrats to support in the party’s 19th Congressional District primary Tuesday, June 26. The polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m.
Absent someone actually from Otsego County – Cooperstown’s Erin Collier was an attractive entry, but it appears she got involved too late to gain sufficient traction – we need a candidate in a Hudson-Valley-heavy field who cares about Oneonta and Greater Cooperstown.
We also need a congressman who’s strategic, and Flynn has proved he is: By focusing on Otsego, plus Schoharie and Delaware, while others ignored us, he may have carved out the relatively few votes, perhaps as few as 4,500, to win in the seven-person race.
Flynn has also sought out key local folks for his campaign staff, including the brainy Leslie Berliant, who ran for county rep from the Town of Middlefield last fall, and MacGuire Benton of Cooperstown, former Otsego County Young Democrats’ president. Clark Oliver of Oneonta, Benton’s successor at the YDs, was also on the staff for a while.
And Flynn’s also courted and largely won over most of the county’s top Democrats, from county Rep. Gary Koutnik, Oneonta, the ranking Democrat on the county board, to activists Deb Marcus of Oneonta and Melinda Hardin of Cooperstown, to the potent Sustainable Otsego leadership.
(Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, referred to Jeff Beals by a cousin’s wife – no, Beals is not the mayor’s cousin – has been the odd man out in supporting the Woodstock teacher-by-way-of-the-CIA.)
Flynn, while he’s only lived fulltime in the 19th for less than two years – with wife Amy and children Bo, 14, and Heddah, 10 – he has roots, and family roots. He has owned that home in Hunter in Greene County’s ski country for the past 13 years (and bought the property 15 years ago, after a fire, and rebuilt it.) And his grandfather was a bartender and grandmother a chambermaid in Catskill hotels. The Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural Center in East Durham, on the road from Cobleskill to Catskill, is named after a great uncle.
Moreover, he’s got the energy, the brains, an engaging personality, the high-level contacts – his partner in Schlossberg:Flynn, an investment firm, is Caroline Kennedy’s husband, Ed – and the money – both he and big-firm lawyer Antonio Delgado have raised almost $1 million – to win, and this should matter to Democrats.
Whether it should matter to the rest of us remains to be seen, as Flynn and our current congressman, Albany veteran John Faso, R-Kinderhook, sharpen their focus on the issues from the end of June to November.
As we’ve noted here before, Faso would be unobjectionable in normal times; he’s done what a congressman who wants to make a difference would normally do: Get key committee posts, cleave to the party line, but break with the party when sensible, on the merits and on the politics, to do so.
Both of these candidates could
capture the middle, and thus win.
But as Nov. 6 approaches, if it appears – as historical precedence suggests it might – that the House of Representatives will be recaptured overwhelmingly by the Democrats, then a switch to Flynn might make sense.
For now, Brian Flynn, who has gotten to know Otsego County, and vice versa, is the clear and best choice for local Democrats.
A strong turnout – even better, one that clearly is the clear factor in his nomination next Tuesday – would
lock in that relationship for the
benefit of both.
News that Centers Health Care has raised the private-payer rate at the former county-owned Otsego Manor from $300 to $510 a day – $186,000 a year, the state’s highest – is almost too sad to contemplate.
Gary Koutnik, county board vice chairman and chair of the board’s Human Service Committee, reacted with the standard response: Since the once-excellent facility is privatized, what happens at Centers, nee Focus, is no longer the county board’s business.
That would not be satisfactory, except – given the Balkanized nature of the county board, 14 reps chosen from tiny constituencies – the county board can be non-responsive and get away with it.
Even given that reality, washing their collective 14 sets of hands is not satisfactory.
Within the bowels of county government, someone needs to develop expertise to do what can be done to ensure our elderly’s health needs are being met.
Right now, the only oversight at Centers is a volunteer family council.
Knowledge is power, and county government needs to assign someone to develop the knowledge to assure the least damage possible is done to the most vulnerable
Mr. and Mrs. George Clarke (Gary and Abbey Koutnik of Oneonta), inset at left, greet arrivals at today’s Mother’s Day Tea at the Hyde Hall National Historic Landmark, north of Cooperstown on Otsego Lake. Above, in the mansion’s restored drawing room, violinist Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz introduces an interlude of a Musicians of Ma’alwyck performance of sheet music found in the Hyde Hall archives from the mansion’s early years. The tea, which has become a local tradition, had attracted 150 attendees by 1:30, Executive Director Jon Maney reported. The celebration continues until 3. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Over 400 people marched from Oneonta High School to Muller Plaza this morning as they took part in the national March For Our Lives protest for tougher gun legislation. Above, Caroline Bagby, a OHS senior and recent recipient of the Women’s Trailblazer Award, delivers an impassioned speech to those gathered in the plaza. Numerous people spoke including Mayor Gary Herzig, Assembly candidate Daniel Buttermann, Abbey Koutnik and others. At right, county Representative Danny Lapin, D-City of Oneonta, holds his sign high as the crowd marches down East Street during the first leg of the march. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
She was nominated and elected temporary chair of the reorganizational meeting, presiding over the transition of the chairmanship from Kathy Clark, R-Otego, to David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield.
And she emerged from the morning’s decision-making as chair of the Administration Committee – Ways & Means, through which all resolutions must flow before getting to the floor of the monthly county board meeting.