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Otsego County’s Wheels Of Justice Grind – Virtually

Otsego County’s

Wheels Of Justice

Grind – Virtually

Judges, Lawyers Operating On Skype

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Judge Burns
D.A. Muehl

COOPERSTOWN – Even the courtroom has gone virtual in the age of COVID-19.

“If the arraignment is essential, like a felony arraignment, we’ve got Skype set up in the courtroom,” said District Attorney John Muehl. “An email gets sent around with the information, then the judge, myself and the lawyers can all be present, but nobody has to appear.”

With all cases adjourned until May 15, no one’s appeared virtually yet, but the courts want to be ready. “Arraignments are necessary proceedings,” Muehl said. “For example, if we had a domestic violence case where an order of protection had to be issued, we could arraign them.”

Otsego County’s Wheels Of Justice Grind – Virtually
Reprinted From This Week’s
Hometown Oneonta, Freeman’s Journal

Otsego County’s

Wheels Of Justice

Grind – Virtually

Judges, Lawyers Operating On Skype

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Judge Burns
D.A. Muehl

COOPERSTOWN – Even the courtroom has gone virtual in the age of COVID-19.

“If the arraignment is essential, like a felony arraignment, we’ve got Skype set up in the courtroom,” said District Attorney John Muehl. “An email gets sent around with the information, then the judge, myself and the lawyers can all be present, but nobody has to appear.”

With all cases adjourned until May 15, no one’s appeared virtually yet, but the courts want to be ready. “Arraignments are necessary proceedings,” Muehl said. “For example, if we had a domestic violence case where an order of protection had to be issued, we could arraign them.”


Rejoining The World

Rejoining The World

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

After a year of separation, Cathy Weir of Cooperstown trims her mom Elinore Sorbera’s pageboy. Now in her 90s, Mrs. Sorbera was head nurse at the county’s former Meadows Nursing Home on Route 33, predecessor to Coopers- town Center, where she resides now.

A decade ago, Kent Turner was working in the kitchen at Oneonta’s B-Side Ballroom, the popular nightspot, when he noticed a vivacious woman and her girlfriends were becoming regulars.

“We starting talking,” said Kent, and one thing led to another. “She had a heart of gold.”

Kent and Jackie fell in love.

Soon, the couple was attending Oneonta’s Community Gospel Church. For seven happy years, “she was really helpful in turning my life around,” he said.

But it wasn’t to continue.

Jackie was stricken with premature dementia in her late 50s, and she was admitted to Cooperstown Center’s Serenity Place, where her loving companion visited her regularly – until he couldn’t.

In February 2020, as COVID-19 loomed, state regulations forced Cooperstown Center to close its doors to visitors. For 13 months, not just Jackie and Kent, but the Center’s more than 150 residents were cut off from their families.

“When we had to close those doors,” said Lacey Rinker, director of nursing, “it breaks your heart.”

Cooperstown raises Ukraine flag at Village Hall

Cooperstown raises Ukraine flag at Village Hall

The Village of Cooperstown’s Board of Trustees voted last week to raise the Ukrainian flag alongside the United States flag at the entrance to Village Hall on Main Street, welcoming Ukrainian emigre Aliona Yezhova, her son, Joshua Echavarria, and village residents to a brief March 11 celebration of the people of Ukraine.

“It means so much to me and my family that we have been made to feel so welcome here,” said Ms. Yezhova, a physicans’ assistant who moved to the village from Queens, New York, with her son. Joshua, a sixth-grader at Cooperstown Central School, carried with him a hand-painted Ukrainian flag emblazoned with a peace sign at its center.

Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh and village trustees greeted the family on the steps of Village Hall, pledging their support for them, their relatives, and their fellow Ukrainians in the now-war-ravaged nation.

“Some of my family was able to escape to Moldova but brother-in-law stayed behind in Kyiv to fight in the reserves,” Ms. Yezhova. “That this village wants to fly Ukraine’s flag helps bring awareness and remind everyone that the country needs us all to be thinking of them and praying for them.”

She said she was able to communicate with some family members through Skype, but Russia’s invasion had tested the resiliency of the region’s infrastructure.

“I know it is hard for people in this country to deal with the higher gas prices but it is such an important way to support Ukraine,” she said. “Thank you to this community for all of your support.”

[Editor’s note: This week’s carries a letter from Aliona Yezhova; read that letter here:]

With Elena’s Michael, Dine Together –  Apart


With Elena’s Michael,

Dine Together –  Apart

Chef Michael prepares to deliver his roasted chicken. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – Michael Tracy, who owns Elena’s Michael Catering, doesn’t want to see anyone eating alone.

“The idea is this,” he said. “You call up five to seven of your friends, and I’ll deliver meals to all of them. Then you get online” – using Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts – “and have a virtual dinner party.”

With much of his popular catering business stymied by COVID-19 lockdowns, Tracy has turned to individual catering, serving his signature deli sandwiches and event-worthy dinner platters for takeout from his kitchen location in the Hearths a’Fire plaza on Route 23 in Southside Oneonta.

“I do a lot of catering work for the colleges,” he said. “But all of the sports teams cancelled their seasons. So when I saw that people couldn’t go out to eat or have meals with their friends, I got this idea.”

He was inspired, in part, by a “silent concert” he witnessed in 2011 while coaching at Hamilton College. “Elena and I were in line at the college observatory to look at the rings of Jupiter,” he said. “All of the sudden, we heard all these students just going crazy, and we were all looking around to see what was going on.”

In the field below, students had gathered, each with their iPod, and were dancing, shouting and singing.  “The girls behind us told us the school wouldn’t let them have a concert because the neighbors would complain about the noise,” he said.

“So all the students put the same 15 songs on their iPods, went out in the field and listened together.”

Like any good dinner party, Michael’s concept includes an appetizer – asparagus wrapped in puff pastry, sausages wrapped in bacon or signature eggplant caponata (that Sicilian ratatouille).

Then, an entrée – roasted chicken, pork tenderloin or chicken parmesan with Elena’s Italian sauce, each with roasted potatoes and a spring salad.

For dessert, a piece of Tracy’s own homemade cheesecake and Italian cookies.

“This way, you can have your appetizer and cocktails at 7, dinner at 8 and dessert at 9,” he said.
And as a bonus, no one host is stuck doing all the dishes at the end of the night.

Tracy, a former football coach, started his catering business in 2018 to maintain the legacy of his wife, the well-known Oneonta chef and pastry chef, Elena Doyle, after her death earlier that year.

Since then, he has become a fixture on the catering scene in his own right, especially with his sandwiches, which he boxes with chips and a drink for sports teams as his “coach saver” package.

But he’s still open to catering large events – from a distance. “I was asked to do 10 sandwiches for a Springbrook house,” he said.

“A few days later, I was called to do 10 meals. And then a little while later, I was asked to do 300 desserts!”

Because food, he believes, is a way of bonding with the people you love, even when you can’t be together.

“It’s socialization versus social distancing,” he said. “You can still talk to your friends and family and enjoy a good meal together. You have that in common, you can say, ‘Oh, the asparagus is really good’ and talk about what you’re all eating.”

Electorate Spoke – Now, Work Together


Electorate Spoke –

Now, Work Together

The new town attorney, Peter Hobaica, introduces himself to the Richfield Town Board. Seated from left are Larry Frigault, Rex Seamon, Supervisor Nick Palevsky and Ed Bello, Jr. (Jim Kevlin/

It was troubling to attend the Richfield Town Board’s latest meeting, on Monday, Feb. 17.

The meeting room in the Town Hall on East James Street was full, which is good – citizens participating. But what followed was less so.

Control of the Richfield Town Board shifted from 3-2 to 2-3 on Jan. 1, with the majority shifting from supporters of the town’s new comprehensive plan and zoning code to those opposing it.

That evening, the two minority members, Larry Frigault and Rex Seamon, voted against or argued with every measure raised by the new majority, Supervisor Nick Palevsky and Ed Bello Jr. (with Fred Eckler participating by Skype from Florida.)

When that happened Frigault and Seamon supporters packing the room applauded. Intimidating, to say the least.

As has been reported, the Nov. 5 town elections, which preceded the New Year’s Day transfer of authority, centered on a
disputed comprehensive master plan and resulting zoning code.

A decade ago, opposed to the Monticello Hills Wind LLC six-turbine project, neighbors in the town’s west end organized as Protect Richfield, and sued the developers. Opinion was more mixed in other parts of the town, which saw $150,000 a year as welcome property-tax relief.

When the Appellate Division, state Supreme Court, in 2015 opened the way for Monticello Hills to move forward, the neighbors refocused on getting fully involved in the committee developing the comp plan, and to enter town government on the planning, zoning and town boards, where they had achieved a 3-2 majority, (Frigault, Seamon and Seamon’s nephew Kane).

The comp plan and the zoning code that followed envisioned the town as agricultural and residential, a Protect Richfield vision that troubled other residents who, dismayed by the falling enrollment at Richfield Spring Central School, were inclined toward more proactive development.

Unsurprisingly, the plan and code Protect Richfield adherents developed blocked wind turbines within town boundaries – and, thus, the Monticello Hills Wind Farm.

Granted, there was some give on one of the most restrictive measures – prohibiting any development alongside Route 20, a major artery through the town. That clause was modified.

Still, in the face of continuing objections, Frigault-Seamons bloc then approved the zoning code, 3-2, Sept. 30, five weeks before the election.

That election turned out to be a repudiation of the Protect Richfield bloc.

Palevsky, who had been controversial when he served a decade ago, and was also the focus of some intense personal attacks, nonetheless defeated his opponent, David Simonds, a local pastor, 369 to 356.

Palevsky’s running mates romped, with newcomer Ed Bello Jr. leading the ticket with 444 votes, followed by Eckler with 405. Their opponents, incumbent Kane Seamon (343) and Jeremy Fisher (246) were well behind, indicating the Palevsky bloc had captured Richfield minds and hearts.

That should tell Frigault and Rex Seamon that, whatever their good intentions, they failed to gain support of the electorate at large. They should respect that, and allow the new majority to move its program forward, which will likely lead to the rejection of the new comp plan and zoning code, and development of a new approach.

Prior to the Nov. 5 election, people of good will urged election of the Protect Richfield bloc, saying it would bring the community together. Given the margin of victory on the town board level, that seems unlikely.

Here’s the optimum outcome. Frigault and Seamon – and the badgering attendees at the recent meeting – should accept the judgment of the electorate at the ballot box. It’s the American away, (at least it was before the 2016 national elections).

The new majority should proceed with revising the comp plan and zoning code, per instructions of the electorate, but should assemble a zoning commission that represents the whole community, including Protect Richfield.

Certainly, zoning should identify areas for development, for housing, for recreation, for protection – and even optimum areas for
producing renewable energy, while minimizing the impact on neighbors and optimizing tax benefits for all townspeople.

Fingers crossed.


Meet Area Professionals


NETWORKING – 6-7:30 p.m. Monthly networking mixer with the Young Professionals Network. B-side Ballroom, 1 Clinton Plaza Dr., Oneonta. Info,

SKYPE CLASS – 1-4 p.m. Huntington Memorial Library, 62 Chestnut St, Oneonta. Info,

COLLEGE PLANNING – 6-7:30 p.m. For Juniors, Auditorium, Cooperstown Central School, 39 Linden Ave., Cooperstown. Info,

FOMA MEETING – 7-8 p.m. Cooperstown High School Faculty Room, 39 Linden Ave., Cooperstown. Info,


From Oneonta To Fame

From Oneonta To Fame

Locally, Ibram Kendi Recalled For Honesty, A Gentle Disposition


Last year at the University of Vermont, Rogers, now Ibram Kendi and a renowned public intellectual, spoke to a packed house.

Before Ibram X. Kendi was Ibram X. Kendi, he was Ibram Rogers and he taught at SUNY Oneonta.

Kendi, a history professor and now director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, has built his academic career on the study of racism. He views racism – rather than race itself—as a defining feature of American history and argues in his writing that this history is an ongoing “battle between racists and antiracists.”

This past year has been Kendi’s moment in the spotlight. With every new book, he has risen in stature, becoming – in a span of eight years since he became Kendi – a public intellectual and media go-to for commentary on race issues.

Kendi (then Rogers) came to Oneonta in 2008 as a 26-year-old graduate student. He got a one-year teaching fellowship, a joint appointment in SUNY Oneonta’s History and Africana & Latinx Studies departments. This gave him time to finish his dissertation, said professor emeritus Kathleen O’Mara in a Skype call from her home.

At the time, O’Mara chaired the ALS Department, and she remembers hiring him. From the beginning, “his honesty rang through, because you know, you’re used to, in academia, all these people who promise you the world,” said O’Mara. “We were struck by his honesty. He didn’t budge. He was honest, he told us straight up, ‘This is where I am, this is how fast I work. You know, I find writing easy, and I will get it done in a year.’ Okay? And he did.”

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