Read the city charter: Meg Hungerford does not have the qualifications to be Oneonta city manager.
Efforts to put her in that position regardless damaged the last year of the Miller Administration, and continuing efforts to do so are preventing the implementation of a sensible city charter approved by 75 percent of the voters.
It’s past time for Mayor Gary Herzig to close the door on the Hungerford option and move on.
Instead, by forming an ad hoc committee to review the charter, and asking that the review be done before the end of the year so the current Common Council can fast-track any changes, the new
mayor risks poisoning his administration with many city voters before it’s even begun.
By all accounts, Hungerford is an excellent financial officer. But she lacks the training, experience and qualifications specified in the charter for the $120,000 position:
• One, she lives in East Meredith, 10 miles from Oneonta (and in another county, Delaware, not Otsego.)
• Two, she lacks the master’s degree in public administration or a related field. (Does the home to Hartwick and SUNY Oneonta really believe that doesn’t matter?)
• Three, she lacks the relevant professional experience.
There’s nothing the matter with not meeting the qualifications for Oneonta city manager. Many people don’t. Many brainy, happy and successful people don’t meet the qualifications for brain surgeon, or construction engineer, or ship captain; but they don’t seek do brain surgery, build skyscrapers or pilot a Viking cruise ship.
Incoming Council member Melissa Nicosia, a human-resources professional at SUNY Oneonta, was terrific at the first meeting of the ad hoc committee Tuesday, Nov. 10, in the mayor’s conference room at City Hall.
Former mayor John Nader, the committee chair, was sensibly leading five of the six members – Council member Chip Holmes was absent; Herzig said he plans to name a seventh member, but has not done so yet – through the charter, page by page.
When the page on residency came up, Council member Russ Southard, acting mayor during City Hall’s past troubled year, said: “It’s come up before that we should think about waiving that requirement.”
(Here we go again.)
But Nicosia’s rebuttal was clear: “I have a problem with a city manager making decisions that impact me, but don’t impact them because they live out of town.”
“Other people would be living by laws that the city manager executed,” Nader added, supporting Nicosia. “I respect Russ, but I don’t agree.”
Southard and fellow Council member Maureen Hennessy were inclined to substitute “life experience” – Meg, again – for credentials, but Nader, Nicosia and David W. Brenner showed a better appreciation of specific training and experience.
It’s a no brainer.
When people with fresh perspectives look at Oneonta City Hall’s dysfunctional reaction to professional government under the city charter, they’re mystified.
Implementing professional management in municipal government is common; it’s not building a rocket ship to Mars. Hundreds of towns and cities have done it successfully – the professional
manager at Oneonta, Ala., has been on the job 13 years. There’s no reason why Oneonta, N.Y., shouldn’t have similar success.
A professional city manager doesn’t just handle the finances. He or she brings training and experience, a grasp of best practices and success stories elsewhere, grantsmanship, professional
connections, problem analysis, skills in labor negotiations, an ability to deploy resources in emergencies.
Foremost, he or she has a vision of what a successful community – an optimum Oneonta – looks like, and can bring a community together behind that idea.
Yes, there’s a particularly sticky issue in Oneonta’s City Hall: The employees – not just rank and file, but department heads – rose up and threw out the last city manager.
The next city manager will have to regain control of 258 Main St. and get the city workforce focused on citizens’ needs, not internal gamesmanship.
That’s not going to be easy, and it’s hard to imagine a peer with no general management experience accomplishing it.
But there were 322,137,549 Americans as of 11:38 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11. There must be one among them capable of being Oneonta city manager – even succeeding brilliantly.
This matters to more than Oneonta: With City Hall’s city-manager troubles, the idea of hiring a county manager – needed, given the $9.2 million budget gap that came out of nowhere – sounds laughable to many otherwise sensible people.
The inevitable merger of the Town of Oneonta and the city has likewise been dealt a setback.
Only in Cooperstown, where current village trustees are self-confident, fully in control and pursuing best practices, can the idea be discussed without a smirk.
Since he was appointed mayor, Herzig has been immersed in the stifling City Hall atmosphere. Shake it off. With his appointment confirmed by the voters Tuesday, Nov. 3, he should remember he doesn’t work for city employees, but for the citizens at large and the good of the city.
There’s nothing the matter with reviewing the charter. But the ad hoc committee is not a fair representation of the stakeholders. One person from the current Council – Southard, Hennessy OR Holmes, not all three – is sufficient to reflect that perspective.
A member of the original Charter Revision Commission should be added, plus a respected member of the public, even a City Hall employee and/or department head.
Mayor Herzig should forget the eight-week deadline – 5½ weeks when you remove Thanksgiving week and Dec. 23 to the end of the year. That impossibly short timeline sends the message there’s a hidden agenda – very damaging, and perhaps true.
The city charter is about the future, not the past. The newly elected Common Council, as Melissa Nicosia exemplified the other night, is about the future, not the past.
If the current Common Council votes to change the charter to give a job to one particular individual, the new Council members, taking office Jan. 1, must immediately rescind it.
They should then proceed – calmly, prudently and with fresh eyes – with the business of city governance, including, foremost, professionalizing it.