In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
On the sixth day, he created man and woman. Tempted by a serpent in the Garden of Eden established for their happiness, they ate fruit from the Tree of Life, gaining the knowledge of good and evil. A perfect world was no more. And so mankind was banished from the Garden of Eden, for Adam – and these days, Eve – to earn a living from the sweat of his or her brow. Certainly, it’s the guiding story of Western Civilization, and there are versions of it in non-Western religions, too. Even today, many believe the Garden was an actual place, in modern-day Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Even those who don’t believe in Eden’s earthly reality recognize that sin exists – lust, greed, anger, pride and the rest – and embrace the hope of salvation, terrestrial or otherwise, for a return to Eden. The creation story resonates with everyone because it’s true, even if Eden isn’t.
This is brought to mind while researching this edition’s front-page article on “Baseball’s Mayor,” and running across how Jeff Katz described Abner Doubleday’s invention of baseball to the New York Times last year: “It’s an origin story that’s a myth. But we’re such a perfect setting for that myth. Baseball wasn’t invented here. But it should have been.” That Doubleday took a branch from the Tree of Baseball and, in a pasture behind today’s Key Bank building in downtown Cooperstown, created the National Pastime has been shown to be factually without basis. (The story’s originator, Abner Graves, died in an insane asylum.) But it’s nonetheless true that baseball represented – and represents – a national aspiration, a hope that challenges, if conquered through hard work and discipline, would bring salvation in the form of happiness and success. Cooperstown, alongside James Fenimore Cooper’s unspoiled Glimmerglass (slightly less so today), was the American Eden, repository of small-town values, of dear hearts and friendly people, from which humankind goes forth to Horatio-Alger-like heights. That Doubleday, who later fired the first shot at Fort Sumter in defense of the Union and rose to a generalship during the Civil War, probably never visited Cooperstown matters not at all. You can see why the Mills Commission embraced Abner Graves’ recollections and in 1907 declared today’s Doubleday Field the place where baseball was invented. It was a perfect setting then. And it’s still pretty good today, as anyone can see in the faces of tens of thousands of fans who will visit this weekend, many for the first time. Keepers of the myth kept the flame alive for decades before the literalists debunked it. But, in reality, the National Pastime we revere today emerged, not from some Medieval Polish game of rounders, but from a concept much like the Cooperstown of imagination.
Myths live, because we need them to.
In recent days, we’ve seen the fall from grace play out in Otsego County’s only city, Oneonta, where two years ago the promise of salvation – a shining city in the Oyaron Hill vicinity – seemed a possibility in declining Upstate New York. A savior – in the unlikely figure of a 60-something retired college president turned mayor – was going to revive its commercial energy, to reenergize its downtown and neighborhoods, to keep its young from heading east of Eden (and attract new ones), and to reinvent the City of the Hills as a hub of arts and knowledge. Mayor Dick Miller abruptly left the scene last October, and thorns and thistles quickly emerged. The acrimony evident as a Common Council cabal moved to fire a second city manager in 14 months was saddening indeed, evident in how quickly things can fall apart. But four of the eight Council members are leaving office at year’s end. A fifth is facing a challenge in the November elections. There may be hope again for municipal salvation. And a sensible individual is, so far, unopposed for mayor. (Independent petitions may be filed until Aug. 7.) That individual, Gary Herzig, who has spent a career helping the less fortunate through the Job Corps and OFO, expressed disappointment at a Common Council in tumult. But, he added, “It’s time to look forward. We have a strong slate of candidates. We have capable people in City Hall. Oneonta is going to be in good hands.” The Miller Myth lives, as do the Doubleday and Creation ones. And we can embrace them as we strive toward our personal Edens.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Yet again, Council member Mike Lynch – this time, with the help of colleague Larry Malone – has manufactured a crisis in Oneonta City Hall.
This evening, Common Council will convene in special session to act on a motion to approve a severance package for City Manager Martin Murphy. Acting Mayor Russ Southard, who confirmed Murphy Thursday morning declined a request that he resign, called the meeting.
Murphy, with a quarter-century of experience in municipal management, deserves more than 10 tumultuous months in City Hall to show what he can do. Ousting him now, the second Oneonta city manager to be pushed out in slightly over a year, would be a mistake on many levels.
From a practical standpoint, what qualified professional would want to take the job? It would evolve on an interim basis to city Finance Director Meg Hungerford, (who Lynch wanted there in the first place). But, lacking the credentials called for in the charter, she would be unable to fill the position permanently. Then what?
Don’t Fear The Facts
At 7 p.m. this evening, the Oneonta Town Board will be asked to approve spending $12,500, which will enable the release of a $50,000 state grant to study whether consolidation of the town and city into a single “Greater Oneonta” makes sense.
The study, to be conducted by the Center for Governmental Research, Rochester, would study legislative changes made in 2012 to encourage municipalities to merge when it makes sense to do so.
It is not a vote for merger. It is a vote to get the facts. The facts may show it makes sense for the town and city to remain independent. Or it may show that property taxes would drop and opportunities increase if a single larger municipality is created.
As Oneonta Common Council did last night, the Oneonta Town Board tonight should vote to spend the $12,500.
It’s about the facts. No more. The facts should be nothing to fear.
We Learn Happiness Inevitable,
But Perhaps Not Right This Minute
Editorial for The Freeman’s Journal/HOMETOWN ONEONTA
Edition of Thursday-Friday, Dec. 25-26, 2014
Not having watched Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” for a few years, it was a jolt to rediscover that the movie’s deus ex machina is his contemplation, on a bridge during a wintry storm, in his cups, his S&L on bankruptcy’s brink, just having run his car into a tree, of ending it all.
Instead, as we now remember, his guardian angel jumps in, and Stewart’s George Bailey, after rescuing Clarence – from the Latin for “clear one” – is taken on a tour of his hometown, Bedford Falls, as it would have been had he never lived.
With George’s realization of the good his one life had accomplished, the movie ends with our hero, his loving family and his appreciative community packed in the livingroom of his rambling – and repair-challenged – Victorian, singing “Auld Lang Syne.”
The message resonates at the end of this gray year in Otsego County, where many of us, updating our cell-phone contacts at year’s end, “erased” one, two or even more friends who made the decision not to go on. Their decisions, we can agree, have left us in a sadder place today than when we last contemplated the message of Christmas.
In this despond came an unexpected light: “Stay,” by poet and professor Jennifer Michael Hecht, which – after two of her friends took their lives – debunks society’s rationalizations of the individual decisions made this year that have depressed our local reality.
Three conclusions – two data proven – emerge:
• One, we know such final acts are devastating to immediate families. But Hecht shows that is statistically so: If a parent takes his or her life while a child is under 18, the chances triple the child will follow suit.
• Two, there’s a copycat effect generally: People contemplating that desperate act are more likely to follow through if someone they respect makes that choice.
• Three. We know this – George Bailey learned it – is: “You owe it to your future self to live.” However daunting the personal challenges may seem at any moment, things get better, often much better.
As we all know from personal experience, bitter disappointments, undeserved tragedies, health crises contribute to the people we become, and we emerge stronger, more thoughtful, better prepared for future setbacks, and more appreciative of the many joys that always await.
One of our correspondents tells of trying to return to Cooperstown from Edmeston in a storm last winter, only to get stuck twice on snow-covered ice halfway up that steep hill just past West Burlington.
Turning north on relatively flat Route 51 and inching through Burlington Flats and West Exeter to Richfield Springs and, eventually, home, a TED talk came on the radio. The subject, happiness.
The best research, it seems, shows that everybody has a happiness level. After a blow, no matter how harrowing, within six months we’ve returned to that golden mean. It’s more golden for some; less for others, but there you have it.
That’s a reality worth contemplating as we soldier through life’s winters – figuratively and, in the months ahead, real – (and embrace its delights.) People we love and admire surrender to their devils, and we can mourn what might have been. But whatever today’s darkness, let’s keep our eyes on that bright star ahead.
Letter To Governor: Science, Economics
Don’t Support Allowing Fracking In NY
HOMETOWN ONEONTA/The Freeman’s Journal
Edition of Thursday-Friday, Dec. 19-20
Editor’s Note: Governor Cuomo revealed Monday, Dec. 15, on WCNY TV’s “Capitol Pressroom” that a fracking decision may be forthcoming by the end of the month, prompting this letter signed by 140 members of Elected Officials to Protect New York, including 25 from Otsego County, to send this letter to the governor the following day.
What has happened – what have we learned – since 2012?
The current “health review” notwithstanding, the necessary studies have not been done and the standard of safety for all of New York has clearly not been met. There has been no additional review or analysis by the DEC concerning cumulative environmental impacts or socioeconomic costs, at least none that has been made public.
New information that is publicly available includes new concerns about direct and collateral damage from fracking, and anecdotal evidence has become empirical data. Currently the independent group Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy has cataloged more than 400 peer reviewed studies on fracking and its related activities, nearly all demonstrating harm.
The body of evidence on health impacts is significant and growing, including links to:
• high levels of ozone;
• a range of dangerous toxins in high concentrations in ambient air near fracking infrastructure, including formaldehyde and the carcinogen benzene; and
• numerous water and air pollutants (including carcinogenic radon) that pose a direct threat to human and animal health.
The list of environmental issues goes on, with significant impacts across the country, including:
• Anecdotal accounts of fouled wells became 248 confirmed of cases of water contamination, ultimately acknowledged by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
• Other states have also suffered surface and groundwater contamination; and explosions, leaks, spills, and blowouts are common.
• More data and studies reveal that well casing and integrity failures are endemic problems without a solution – meaning that a significant percentage of wells will leak gas and chemicals into groundwater and the atmosphere.
• Early concerns about seismic impacts and earthquakes, associated not just with injection wells – but with fracking itself – have been confirmed.
• Climate change has made extreme weather events and flooding more common, a disaster when combined with fracking sites.
• One of the biggest unresolved issues is how to responsibly handle the enormous quantities of toxic wastewater created along with radioactive drilling wastes. Sending this waste to Ohio’s injection wells, to New York landfills, or spreading it on roads (illegally, or under a “beneficial use determination”) is environmentally irresponsible and completely unsustainable.
A great deal of attention has been given to potential economic benefits of fracking, but time has confirmed much of the initial skepticism over promised jobs and overstated economic benefits.
• In Pennsylvania, only a fraction of the promised jobs materialized; many of them temporary and filled by out of state workers.
• Royalty payments have fallen far short of what many landowners were promised due to “creative business restructuring” by drillers.
• Serious socioeconomic impacts have been documented, among them: rising violent crime, traffic fatalities, enormous amounts of heavy truck traffic, and strain on volunteer first responders.
• Financial institutions and insurance companies have identified threats to mortgages and home insurance, potentially undermining municipal tax bases.
As we have noted before, New York State’s review of the economics of fracking is not only inadequate, but one-sided, reporting inflated potential benefits and neglecting entirely to analyze negative municipal or economic impacts.
Any review of the evidence on fracking that is truly based on science, rather than politics, must also include a hard look at the contribution of this industry to climate change. New research since 2012 gives reason to expect that fracking accelerates climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 86 times worse than carbon dioxide for the first 20 years it is in the atmosphere. Fugitive emissions of methane occur as part of the fracking process, along the pipelines, and in distribution lines under city streets. As we know that time is running out to stop the disastrous upward trend of global warming, an acknowledgement of fracking’s contribution to climate change should factor into your decision. You have made laudable initiatives to promote renewable energy, the right path forward for New York.
Allowing fracking now would clearly roll back that crucial good work.
Hundreds of health professionals, scientists, and numerous medical societies have reviewed the science, and based on that review, have asked for a firm moratorium of at least three to five years.
We strongly “second” this motion and believe anything less would be negligent.
Our call today for a firm, extended moratorium is in line with our original 2012 request to you. We need to know the real impacts to public health, the cumulative environmental impacts, and the true costs versus the benefits to our local economies. These questions, among others, remain unanswered. Furthermore, new, critical scientific studies are underway or planned; an extended moratorium allows the time for these answers to come forth.
Governor Cuomo, we acknowledge and appreciate the restraint and caution you have shown thus far.
Given your vow to protect the water and ensure the health of all New Yorkers, a longer term moratorium is the right path to take.
Fresh, Brainy Town Board
Needs Issue: Create Greater Oneonta
Editorial for The Freeman’s Journal/HOMETOWN ONEONTA
Edition of Thursday-Friday, Dec. 18-19 2014
Say you were elected to the Oneonta Town Board, determined to prevent fracking from happening in the town.
Then, you discover, there’s no natural gas under the town.
Now what? You’re bright, energetic. You get along well with your equally brainy and motivated colleagues, who find themselves in the same quandary.
That came to mind Monday evening, Dec. 15, at the discussion on town-city collaboration organized by Albert Colone and Bill Shue’s GO-EDC in the Oneonta Middle School cafeteria.
Common Council representation was spotty, although Mayor Russ Southard and Council members Bob Brzozowski and Madolyn O. Palmer were there, (plus City Manager Martin Murphy, Fire Chief Pat Pidgeon, Finance Director Meg Hungerford and other City Hall staffers.)
But the town board members – plus Town Supervisor Bob Wood, who played the evening’s central role – were there in force: David Jones, the first anti-fracker elected to the board, three years ago now, and freshmen Patty Jacob, Andrew Stammel and Trish Riddell Kent.
They were curious, attentive and, as evident in their back-and-forth after the meeting, having lots of fun working together.
This group, you quickly conclude, is a juggernaut in search of a target. (Hold that thought.)
Supervisor Wood was his usual restrained, diplomatic and cannily obscure self, but he’s been a reluctant passenger for too long on the locomotive Colone and Shue are trying to stoke anew.
As the presentations – on a town-city water and sewer district; on O-STAR, a combined sports, tourism and recreation agency, and on actual consolidation of the two municipalities into a Greater Oneonta – underscored, unity offers too many benefits to ignore (or, in Wood’s case, to parry.)
Bottom line: Greater Oneonta might save as much as $500,000 if it unified services, and might receive $2 million, $3 million, or even more in sales-tax revenues if the two municipalities became one.
One stumbling block has been the tax rate of the combined entity, down in the city, up in the town. But Shue reported, per a law passed in 2011, that can be negotiated in the consolidation agreement so that rural areas with few services pay less than urbanized neighborhoods.
Another stumbling block, allegedly, is that it would cost less for the town to build a whole new plant and distribution system to supply water to the Southside than it would for the city to run a pipe across Lettis Highway to Route 23. But consultant Fred Krone of GEMS (Grants and Essential Management Services, Utica) said that the USDA and other agencies, so sold are they on consolidation, would help offset any inequity, so (former) town ratepayers wouldn’t be subsidizing (former) city ones.
With state and federal governments so eager to reduce New York State’s 4,200 taxing jurisdictions, Krone said, any consolidation “rings a whole lot of bells with lots of agencies.”
And yet, Governor Cuomo’s CFA system, supposedly bottom-up and rational, gave another $600,000 toward the town’s go-it-alone Emmons-based water system. Go figure.
Not only is the Emmons plan dumb growth – promoting sprawl and allowing businesses to hopscotch from the Town of Oneonta/County of Otsego into the Town of Davenport/County of Delaware – the grant flies in the face of state policy, which is supposed to support “collaboration, cooperation and consolidation,” a phrase much-heard Monday night.
Politics – someone’s pulling the strings – not rationality, is at play here, with potentially devastating effects for everybody a generation hence, if not sooner. (Also, given the otherwise relatively paltry CFA grants announced in the last few days, this ill-considered project is draining the well for everyone else.)
Forget fracking. Here’s a real issue for the brainy Oneonta Town Board to tackle, with Wood or without: How to achieve “collaboration, cooperation and,” finally, “consolidation” of the two Oneontas.
What does success look like? A prosperous, well-funded Greater Oneonta, with a flourishing downtown and tidy neighborhoods, adding needed infrastructure, prudently and consistently, from the center out, rather than willy-nilly.
Oneonta Town Board members – Jones, Jacob, Stammel, Riddell Kent – don’t take our word for it. You’re fresh to the issue. Drill down. Understand it. Come to your own conclusions.
We may be wrong, but likely – very likely – you’ll embrace smart growth and work toward the greater benefit of Greater Oneonta, which – with 6,000 people working in the city and living outside it – will benefit everyone in the City of the Hills’ orbit.
To Frack (Rock)? Or Not To Frack (Hard Place)?
Editorial By Alan Chartock, Capital Connection
For The Freeman’s Journal/HOMETOWN ONEONTA
Edition of Thursday-Friday, Dec. 11-12, 2014
When politicians take money for their campaign coffers, they owe something back. That’s because there is honor among, well, politicians and lobbyists. If you see tons of money going to politicians from the real-estate industry, you’d be foolish not to think that the people who own hotels and other big buildings want something back for their bucks. As Festus Haggen used to say on Gunsmoke, “Don’t you see?”
Now everyone is waiting to see whether Governor Cuomo will allow hydrofracking in New York State. Cuomo is brilliant at both political strategy and fundraising (about $45 million for the last campaign) but he is caught up in a huge pincer movement between those who hate the idea of potentially polluting our water and further despoiling our air and those who want to make a buck from fracking.
My hero, legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, put it to Cuomo this way: “Your father was perhaps the best governor New York State ever had. And if you take the money that they want to give you for going along with fracking and injuring people for generations to come, you will go down as perhaps the worst.” Those were pretty powerful words and I suspect they left Cuomo reeling.
Fracking puts Cuomo between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t know what to do. As a result of this predicament, the governor’s top people were almost certainly told to stall. So first, the commissioner in charge of environmental conservation studied the problem to death, then transferred the ball to the health commissioner who eventually resigned and went elsewhere. It’s tough to be a medical professional of first rank and have to carry a governor’s political water.
Many people speculated that once Cuomo got through the election he would call for a modified fracking plan for New York, whereby localities that voted to allow fracking would be allowed to “Drill baby drill” under strict supervision. They suspected that the Solomon-like Cuomo would attempt to cut the baby in half. Once the cork was removed, however, the genie would be out of the bottle and fracking would become a reality in the Empire State. But not so fast – there are some intervening political realities.
Cuomo has lost many voters on the left wing of the Democratic Party. Having styled himself as a social progressive and a pro-business fiscal conservative, the governor is getting beaten up by the more progressive members of his party. Fracking is no exception.
A recent Pew poll showed that fracking is getting more and more unpopular among Democrats. So now the rock and the hard place are even closer together. After all, Cuomo got a million fewer votes in the last election than he got the time before. Many of those lost votes were those of angry Democrats who just stayed home. Since Cuomo is much smarter than I am, he’s got to understand that by accepting the money and not taking Pete Seeger’s advice against advancing fracking, he will lose even more of his natural voters.