Common Council Special Meeting Unites City Hall, Residents

Common Council Agrees

To Work Through Issues

Third Ward council member Dave Rissberger, right, listens as City Manager Martin Murphy invites city workers to talk with him in his office.
Third Ward council member Dave Rissberger, right, listens as City Manager Martin Murphy invites city workers to talk with him in his office. (Ian Austin/


ONEONTA –  When City Manager Martin Murphy read The Daily Star on Wednesday, April 22, he was surprised to see that Council Member Mike Lynch, Fourth Ward, was quoted as saying that he had conversations with city workers who felt “either that they’re not getting the respect they deserve or they feel that they have no voice.”

It was news to him.  “Until recently, I was not aware of concerns by city employees,” he said.  “None were brought to my attention.”

But the message of the special Common Council meeting held early this morning was clear: The council supported Murphy, and that City Hall and the people of Oneonta need to work together.

“The last couple days have been humbling,” said Council member Chip Holmes, Eighth Ward.  “This is one of those glass half full moments – we can go forward or we can stumble.”

“Mr. Murphy is extremely capable, talented and fit for the job,” said Maureen Hennessy, First Ward.  “Communication is key, and I’m sure we can all work on that.”

Tom Pondofino, supervisor of the city's water and sewer department, broke the worker's "silent protest" to air concerns about management
Tom Pondofino, supervisor of the city’s water and sewer department, broke the worker’s “silent protest” to air concerns about management

And many in the city stood with them.  “No one likes change,” said Laurie Zimniewicz, a member of the original Charter Revision Commission that crafted a city manager form of governor for Oneonta. “But no one should be disrespected.  Our city needs to figure this out; we need to get together and make this work.”

Council member Mike Lynch, Fourth Ward, whose comments to The Daily Star regarding the proposed 360 review of City Manager Martin Murphy ignited the firestorm, was not present.  “He spoke for all of us about things that had never been discussed,” said Holmes.

On Tuesday, April 21, in a mid-session executive session, Council voted unanimously to move forward with the 360 Review that Larry Malone, Second Ward, compiled based on the review similar to the one Robert McEvoy, a public service professor at SUNY Albany who specializes in local government management, gave former City Manager Mike Long.

“It’s intended to be developmental, not headhunting,” said Malone. “When Dick Miller was president of Hartwick College, he insisted on a 360 review in his first six months so he could get feedback.”

The review, he clarified, would also include a goals assessment of Murphy.  “I think it’s premature to do a 360 review,” said Dave Rissberger, Third Ward.  “But I would support using it as a litmus test so we can move forward.”

Though the city workers had sat in silent protest over the last two meetings, this morning, some spoke up.  “The city manager has been here six months and I’ve interacted with him twice,” said Tom Pondofino, supervisor of Water and Sewer.  “Nobody knows him.  I’m not saying he needs to pat me on the back, but I do expect him to give us his expectations of us and hear our expectations of him.”

To this, Martin clarified his “open-door policy.”  “I invite all of you to come to my office and express your concerns to me,” he said. “We’ll work through them. But if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  And I want everybody to be a part of the solution.

He agreed to go on a ride-along with Sgt. Branden Collison on Saturday night, during the after-hours of OH-Fest. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

Mayor Russ Southard said that the council will discuss a new time frame for the review.  At Tuesday’s meeting, the plan was to being the 360 review, with the goal assessments, “within the next month,” but today, he said it was more likely to begin mid-summer.  “We want to let the process have some effect,” he said.  “We have a real gem here, it just needs to be polished.”

But adjustments will take time, the council agreed. “Let’s not forget that six months ago, we lost Dick Miller,” said Holmes, choking up.  “It’s still a process that we’re all working through.”

“Communication is key,” said Hennessy.  “I hope we can all move forward from this wound.”