News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.


Libby Cudmore

Staff writer for AllOTSEGO, as well as Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and Hometown Oneonta newspapers, serving the Otsego County region of Upstate New York, the #1 source of local news in its region.
Organizers Cancel 2020 Polar Bear Jump

Organizers Cancel

2020 Polar Bear Jump

Wyatt Waters, son of event organizer Brenda and Jamie Waters made not one, but two belly-flopping runs during this year’s Polar Bear Jump. Though the 2020 jump has been cancelled,the 25th annual jump has been rescheduled for February 2021. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

MILFORD – The Goodyear Lake Polar Bears will have to wait another year for the plunge.

“We regret to inform all of our loyal supporters that the 25th annual Goodyear Lake Polar Bear Jump has been canceled due to a recent motor vehicle accident involving Brenda and Jamie Waters,” she wrote on the group’s Facebook page Tuesday evening. “Goody, The Waters Family and all of our dedicated volunteers will miss the brave and loyal jumpers this year.”

But it’s not the end – Brenda said the 25th anniversary jump will return next year.

The annual event, which attracts more than 200 to plunge into ice-covered Goodyear Lake every
February, has raised over $1 million, donated for children struggling with chronic illnesses.

Though she and her husband, Jamie, did their first polar bear jump in the St. Lawrence Seaway, they soon brought the idea home, with their first jump in 1997.

“I told him, ‘We don’t need to drive up there, we have cold water here!’” said Brenda. “We wanted to raise money for our church, so we did it ourselves.”

The next year, they added a local girl, Carlie Barry, then 3, who had cancer. “We just added recipients and jumpers every year.”

There were 11 jumpers the first year, and this year, nearly 300 brave souls took the plunge and raised more than $130,000, a record amount, for 16 recipients.

“I don’t know where they get that selfless courage,” said Brenda. “It’s crazy.”

They also do fundraising drives for the event that don’t require a bathing suit and a strong constitution, including the annual Chinese Auction at the Milford Central School, as well as fundraisers through the local schools.

“One hundred percent of the funds raised go to our recipients,” said Brenda. “I love to say that.”

However, the Waterses have come up with a way to continue fundraising for the recipients who have been selected. In January, there will be a contest to design a “No Fear” shirt, and the winning design will be printed on shirts and given to donors who give $100 or more.

They’ll also be hosting a songwriting contest, where local choral groups will compete to be in a Five Star Subaru commercial and participate in a song with up-and-coming country star Rylee Lum, the 12-year-old singer from Gilbertsville.

“People keep coming up to me with all these creative ideas,” she said. “And I want to encourage people to step up and come up with their own fundraisers. We want to keep people interested during this ‘skip year.’”
And the Waterses will also use the time to reorganize their website, including documenting the charity’s history, past recipients and more.

“I hand out cards whenever I travel, but then people tell me they can’t get on the site,” she said. “I want to get our history out there, pictures from the previous jumps and all the articles that have been written about us.”

The website,, will also have updates on events, contests and more.

“We look forward to seeing you again on Feb. 20, 2021,” she said.

Rare Woman Plow Driver Fights Ezekiel

Rare Woman Plow

Driver Fights Ezekiel

One tired Angela Christman leans against her plow at the end of her first shift. (James Cummings/

By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to

ONEONTA – In the darkness of 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, Angela Christman, South Kortright, got the call she’d been waiting for: Tonight she’d plow the streets of Oneonta.

And she would be the first woman in recent memory – perhaps ever – to do so for the city’s Department of Public Works.

“I was excited and nervous at the same time,” she said. “Nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, having never done it before.”

As the snow piled up overnight, she got up at 1:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 2, to start her West End and River Street route.

“They go over the route and let you know which streets to plow,” she said. “I knew how to plow. It’s not hard. All I needed to know was where to put the snow. But it’s different in all areas.”

With a storm that brought a total of 11 inches of snow to the city, it was the perfect opportunity for Christman to learn the ropes. “It gave me more practice,” she said. “After I did it the first time, I felt accomplished.”

There were some challenges with this storm, however. What was initially expected to be purely snowfall, ended up being a mixture of sleet and rain, followed by snow.

“A first low pressure system came all the way from the Northwest to the Northeast,” said Dave Mattice, Oneonta-based National Weather Service observer. “A layer of warm air was trapped above cold air, which was enough to cause sleet and freezing rain that kept the snow at bay, then a secondary low pulled moisture off of the ocean to create more snow. It was a big storm in terms of the area covered.”

All schools in the county were closed, including both colleges, and OPT bus service was suspended in the evening. Emergencies were declared in the village of Cooperstown and Milford, but not countywide or in the City of Oneonta.

“The challenge of this storm was that it was long-lasting, over 48 hours,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “While the number of inches is not the largest, it’s one of the longest.”

It could have been worse; the Capital Region received more than 2 feet of snow, prompting an emergency declaration from the Governor’s office.

And with just 10 employees at the Oneonta DPW trained to plow over 40 miles of roads, managing this storm presented some challenges.

“Because it’s drawn out and it’s a long storm, some people put a full 24 hours in,” said DPW Superintendent John Williams. “When they went home, we lost three plow routes. People have to pick up the slack, so they take double routes. The rain also made it difficult because you’re putting salt down, only to plow it off. It’s a vicious cycle,” he said.

But Christman, a 12-year Army veteran who had salted roads before, was up to the task. “Some of it was difficult because of the ice. It will slow you down. It’s not hard, you just have to go slow and pay attention. There’s kids and people shoveling all over the place. You have to be careful,” she said.

The DPW team had to work diligently over the course of two days to keep up with the precipitation. “The crew comes together and does what they need to do to clear the roads and keep people safe,” said Williams.

On County Manager, Now Hard Work Begins


On County Manager,

Now Hard Work Begins

By the time you read this, it’s very likely Otsego County will have created a job of county administrator, joining all but a handful of counties around New York State.

Heading into the Wednesday, Dec. 4, monthly meeting of the county Board of Representatives, the momentum to professionalize government was clear.

Six of the seven Democrats were firmly in favor, plus two Republican leaders – chairman David Bliss and Schenevus’ Peter Oberacker.

Add in Meg Kennedy, the Hartwick Conservative who chaired the committee that firmed up the idea, and it’s a go and then some.

The final tally may include that seventh Democrat,
and perhaps two of the other four Republicans. Only Republicans Ed Frazier and Kathy Clark have been outspokenly against the idea that it takes a pro to administer a $120 million operation.

That said, the nays – Frazier, in particular – have raised cautionary issues in two Letters to the Editor published on

One, it’s a big job. Two, a manageable expense – salary and benefits are expected to cost $150,000 a year – can get out of control.

Greene County, Frazier reported, “realizing one person couldn’t fulfill all the requirements of the position, … hired a deputy. There, annual spending for the office is now in excess of $350K.”

He concludes, “We have a lot of other line items in the budget that we could spend $350K on.” (Among them, perhaps $40,00-70,000 in costs being absorbed by the Susquehanna SPCA; but that’s for another day.)

Still, the consensus grew behind hiring a county manager as county reps recognized there’s too much to do, and much of it is too complicated for 14 non-expert citizens to accomplish at one monthly meeting and a half-dozen committee meetings in between.

It’s OK if you don’t want – or need – to do anything. But the Energy Task Force, a crisis in rural ambulance service, a complex (and, it’s hoped, cost-effective) renovation of county buildings, a possible new multi-entity highway garage, a stubborn (but, thankfully, not too big) homeless problem, changing tech needs, not to mention day-to-day administration.

It’s a lot; that’s hardly all.

To avoid mushrooming costs – that’s the county board’s job going forward: to prevent empire-building.
Accepting the county manager can’t do EVERYTHING is essential to his/her success. That means recognizing all things aren’t equal and setting priorities.

Further, there’s a lot of staff, brainpower and energy in place now, in 24 department heads and their deputies, in the Planning Department in particular, in the clerk of the board’s office, etc., that can be repurposed or “tasked” as necessary.

Not easy, but possible. It’s impossible now.

Attention will now shift to finding the right guy/gal.

Happily, at chairman Bliss’ insistence, the job description is wide enough to ensure a deep field of candidates.

If an MPA, fine. But brains, experience, healthy ambition, diplomacy (in dealing up to 14 bosses and down to department heads) are essential qualities.

If the vote goes as anticipated here, it’s only the beginning.

BENNETT: On Arms, Will Enough Ever Be Enough

We’re All In This Together

On Arms, Will Enough

Ever Be Enough?

Larry Bennett

The 2020 proposed U.S. military budget is $737 billion. When is enough, enough?

This is 37 percent of the $1.7 trillion military spending for all the world. It is more than the next 13 nations combined (numbers in billions): China ($224), Saudi Arabia ($70), India ($55), Germany ($49), UK ($49), Japan ($47), Russia ($44), France ($40), South Korea ($38), Brazil ($29), Italy ($29), Australia ($26) and Canada ($21). Only two of those nations are adversaries.

The $737 billion is but one part of the entire U.S. budget of $4.75 trillion – comprising discretionary spending, mandatory spending, and interest payments – but defense discretionary spending is 15 percent of the entire budget and half of all discretionary spending. There is an additional amount of mandatory VA and military benefits spending of some $200 billion. That’s almost $1 trillion, over 20 percent of the total budget.

Here’s what we have for our money:

• We have rough parity in deployed nuclear weapons: 2,200 for us and our allies, vs. 1,780 cumulative for Russia, China and North Korea. Few doubt ours are the most technically advanced and capable, though with nuclear weapons that seems a useless distinction. If only 5 percent of them were exploded, then the entire human race ¬– not just the combatants – would suffer horrible consequences.

• We have 13,000 U.S. aircraft vs. Russia and China’s combined 7,000. Other western and allied nations add 12,000 more to our side, so we have 25,000 vs. 7,000. Again, there is little doubt ours are the most capable.

• We have 10 nuclear-powered supercarriers, two more being built, and more planned. The Russians and Chinese each have one. Ours are supported by a massive fleet of offensive and other vessels. Russia’s fleet has heavily deteriorated since the demise of the USSR, and China’s fleet is a fledgling.

• We have 70+ submarines, all nuclear powered, classified as either ballistic missile, guided missile or attack submarines. Each of the 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile subs can deliver up to 192 nuclear warheads.

The firepower is unimaginable, and in fact half of all U.S. nuclear weapons are on
these 14 virtually undetectable submarines. No other submarine force is remotely as lethal as ours.

• We have the world’s third largest land force with 1.3 million active troops and another 865,000 in reserve. We also have a global presence unlike any other nation, with about 200,000 active troops deployed in more than 170 countries. China’s land forces are around 2 million, but again ours are advanced and capable. We fall behind in the number of tanks, having 6,200 while China has 13,000 and Russia 21,000. But many of those Russian and Chinese tanks are there to deter each other.

The U.S. competitively spent the USSR into economic collapse in the ‘80s. Russia no longer poses a substantial conventional threat to Western Europe and NATO. Its weak economy is highly dependent on resource extraction, not manufacturing.

In dealings with China, the U.S. has focused on economic competition, not military competition. We have a mixed record but it is advantageous to both nations to maintain peaceful competition and not sink into a cold war, let alone a hot war.

Then there is North Korea, which could be utterly destroyed by one Ohio-class submarine. Other threats include Iran, but it has huge internal struggles, no patron nation, and hard choices to make. Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are quagmires we can’t fix, and they pose no direct threat to the U.S. Finally, those nations bordering Israel pose no unsurmountable threat to Israel, at least by conventional means.

It seems physical terrorism and cyber terrorism are the biggest existential threats to the U.S., yet we spend enormous resources elsewhere. Our trillion-dollar defense spending offers unassailable military security but skimps on other forms of security. That missing security can be realized by reallocating hundreds of military billions to expanded healthcare, to better education, to improved infrastructure, and to fighting climate change.

We already have enough weaponry to fight off the entire world. Enough is enough.

Larry Bennett, recently retired Brewery Ommegang creative director who is active in local causes, lives in East Merideth.

BOUND VOLUMES: Dec. 5, 2019


Dec. 5, 2019


Robbery – On the night of Thursday last, the shoe shop of Mr. Stephen Gregory, of this Village, was forcibly entered and robbed of stock and shoes to the amount of at least $250. Suspicion has rested upon John Gardner, who was, late in the evening, seen lurking about town, and had formerly been familiar in the shop. He is a short, thick-set fellow, of dark complexion, with remarkably large eyebrows,
his countenance being indelibly stamped with villainy, and has been a sailor. Several persons have been in pursuit, but as yet no trace of the property can be found.

December 6, 1819


Excerpts from an essay on Naturalization. “The root of native Americanism is selfishness. Its creed is ‘I, myself.’ It knows nothing of the great principle of doing unto others as you would be done unto. It never heard of the great hypothesis – for if you love them which love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Exclusion is at the foundation of Nativism and is therefore repugnant to Christianity, and to the inherent and inalienable rights with which man is endowed by his Creator, and upon which rests the grand theory of all American institutions. The sincere Abolitionist erects a political creed which vindicates human rights in the broadest latitude. It admits no distinctions of persons or of country – no, not even of the most marked distinction which nature has put upon humanity – complexion.

December 2, 1844


Court Proceedings: The County Court and Sessions commenced a term on Monday, Judge Sturges presiding. The Grand Jury was called and sworn, and E.R. Thurber, Esq., appointed foreman. The business in the Sessions was then taken up, and the indictments pending against Samuel Milson and Samuel Ludlam for selling liquor without license were called. The court held the indictments invalid on the ground that the offence was not an indictable one. The law provides a penalty of $50 for each offence, and imprisonment for non-payment of the penalty.

December 9, 1869


A Brutal Game – The football game for the championship of Washington, D.C. between Georgetown University and the Columbia Athletic Club was witnessed by 7,000 people. The slugging was continuous until in the second half both teams with their substitutes, engaged in a general fight, which the police had to stop. Georgetown had the worst of the casualties, five of the team being disabled. Three men were carried from the field on the shoulders of their comrades in the first fifteen minutes of play. Bahen, quarterback of Columbia, had a broken shoulder bone, and Carmody, captain and halfback of Georgetown, had his collar bone broken and knee wrenched.
Two Harvard men were knocked senseless in the game with Pennsylvania. The week before the papers published the death of two young men, from the effects of playing football. Bernard Feeter, the student of Fairfield Seminary, who went crazy after a game in which he was seriously injured about the head is receiving careful attention at the Utica insane asylum. As a result of the defeat of the University of California by the Stanford football team, “Brick” Whitehouse of the Stanfords was probably mortally shot by Alexander Loughborough, a law student at the University of California. And, this is the sort of sport indulged in and patronized by 7,000 men and women in the nation’s capital, there on the day set apart by solemn proclamation by the President of the United States for “Thanksgiving to God as a Nation.”

December 6, 1894


More than 700 farmers of Otsego County with their wives and families attended the annual Farm Bureau meeting at the Oneonta Theatre last Thursday. Perhaps the most startling talk of the meeting was that given by Dr. Ruby Green Smith, assistant state leader of Home Economics agents. She declared that wives of farmers of today are “modern slaves.” Her statement was based on a survey of 1,427 farmers’ homes in New York. “Their working day ends,” said Dr. Smith, “16 to 18 hours after it begins. They are the only individuals who earn an income but do not receive it. The hired girl on the farm has become nearly extinct. But nevertheless, the housewife and helpmeet of the farmer is expected to do all the housework, and provide for the temporal needs of the household, and to aid in the caring for poultry, dairy cattle and the garden. While modern implements are provided for the farm work, ordinary household conveniences found in city households are lacking. The city housewife has running water. Many farm wives must carry water from a well.

December 10, 1919


Marine Private First Class Bennett O. Potter, Jr., son of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett O. Potter of Cooperstown, R.D. 5, has recently returned to the United States after 29 months overseas. He has been reclassified and reassigned at a Marine Corps base in this country, and was granted a furlough. A member of the First Marine Division, Pvt. Potter last saw action at Pelelieu, Palau Islands, Pacific. His unit was awarded the Presidential Citation. He is a graduate of Cooperstown High School and joined the Marines in January 1942.

December 6, 1944


A Cooperstown engineer’s invention is now on the Moon as part of the scientific laboratory left behind by the Apollo XII astronauts. A flexural pivot, a type of frictionless oscillating bearing, invented by Henry Troeger of this village plays a vital role in the operation of the seismometer left by astronauts to measure shock waves from the lunar surface.
The pivot is part of a gimbal system that supports the seismometer and allows it to regain a level position after a shock has been registered. Mr. Troeger joined Bendix in 1941 and is currently the Manager for Advance Design for Utica’s Bendix Fluid Power Division. He resides with his family on Lake Road near Cooperstown.

December 3, 1969



Dec. 6, 2019


Miscellaneous: There are to be ten executions for murder in the United States during December.
The very latest style of boot has the toe turned up like an old-fashioned skate.
The gay young people of Henderson, Kentucky eat peanuts in church.
“Bugmaster General” is the popular name for the state entomologist in Illinois.
Mr. Fiske, of the Galveston Bulletin, has been shot at 23 times in three years.
“Ned” a modest young man in Buffalo, has been courting 14 young ladies at once, and has got himself into trouble in consequence.
Nineteen miles of sewers have been built this year at Chicago. The total length of sewers is now 130 miles.
A Hartford man, thinking he smelt gas in his rooms, lighted a match to see about it. He was found in the street immediately afterwards, all ablaze. A policeman kindly rolled him in the gutter and put him out.

December 1869


The Hudson River and New York Central railroads have been consolidated under the new name of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company. The roads have for some time been practically one concern with Vanderbilt and his friends controlling a majority of the stock in both. The change will have no effect either on their business or arrangements. That the ultimate result of the amalgamation will, however, be damaging to the public there can be little doubt. It virtually throws the power of those vast corporations into fewer hands, thus enabling them to use with better effect their lobbying influences, in procuring special legislation.

December 1894


Local: W.H. Koch, D. & H. Road Master left last evening accompanied by his daughter Dorothea, for Carbondale, Pennsylvania, where the latter will have the pleasure of attending the concert given by Fritz Kreisler, the distinguished violinist in the Town Hall at Scranton. Miss Dorothea is a violinist of unusual talent for a child of her years.
James Young, a small boy residing at 26 London Avenue, Oneonta, was struck by the River Street bus while playing last evening near the corner of Main and River Streets. As a result of the accident he is confined to his home suffering from a broken leg. It appears that the lad was playing with some other children on the corner and without looking dashed into the street and hit the side of the bus, falling down as the rear wheel passed over his leg. The boy was taken to his home and was attended by Dr. Brinkman, who found the right thigh bone had been broken and the left leg bruised. His condition is not considered serious.

December 1919


A new Super Market opens today at 37-39 Broad Street. Market Basket Corporation of Geneva, New York has added Oneonta to its group of more than 250 stores, largely located in New York State. The company recently took an extended lease on the former Broad Street garage, owned by J.A. Dewar. Extensive alterations and renovations have been made. The front of the first floor has been transformed into an attractive store, with a green and white color scheme, with storage space for surplus stock at the rear.
Arrangements have been made with Mettress Crandall for parking for an hour at the rear of the Twentieth Century Restaurant for customers of the market. The market is of the self-service type with groceries and packaged goods conveniently displayed with prices so shoppers may buy in a
hurry or select at their leisure as they wish. Four exits, each equipped with a calculating
register have been provided for service without delay.

December 1939


Oneonta High School graduate Mark May has been named as an “Honorable Mention” on the Associated Press All-America football team. May, a 6’5”, 280-pound junior at Pitt, was one of the honorable mention offensive tackles. He is the man the University of Pittsburgh’s offensive line was built around this season as he anchored the right side. May got his first start in the Gator Bowl in 1977 as a freshman and has been a mainstay ever since. He is also the biggest lineman in the history of Pitt football. “He has played extremely well for us and I would be very disappointed if he doesn’t develop into one of the best, if not the best offensive lineman in the country by the time he’s a senior,” Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill said recently in evaluating May.

December 1979


Hillary Rodham Clinton attacked New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s policy of arresting people who sleep on the street and pledged, if elected, to secure federal funding for affordable housing and mental-illness treatment.
“Criminalizing the homeless with mass arrests for those whose only offense is that they have no home is wrong. Locking people up for a day will not take a single homeless person off the street. It will not make a mentally ill person who should be in an institution any better. It will not find a job for a responsible person who is willing to work.” Clinton’s audience of 85 black ministers interrupted her talk repeatedly with strong applause. Giuliani, who was in Houston Texas, defended the policy.
“We do more for homelessness than the city has ever done before. The only people who get arrested are wanted for crimes, or have committed a crime.”

December 1999


New York lawmakers rejected a bill Wednesday that would have made their state the sixth to allow gay marriage, stunning advocates who weathered a similar decision by Maine voters just last month. The New York measure needed 32 votes to pass and failed by a wider-than-expected margin, falling eight votes short in a 24-38 decision by the state Senate. The Assembly had earlier approved the bill, and Governor
Patterson, perhaps the bill’s strongest advocate, had pledged to sign it. After the vote, Paterson called Wednesday one of his saddest days in 20 years of public service. He criticized senators who he said support gay marriage but “didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to vote for it.” During debate, Senator
Ruben Diaz, a conservative Republican from the Bronx led the opposition.

December 2009

Kennedy, Bliss, Committee Deserve Praise


Kennedy, Bliss,

Committee Deserve Praise

Who gets the praise for professionalizing Otsego County government?

Foremost, probably county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick.

The idea caught fire with her, evident in her close questioning of SUNY New Paltz Vice President Gerry Benjamin, keynoter at “County Manager v. County Executive,” a forum on the idea Dec. 14, 2017, at Springbrook’s new community center.

In the months that followed, she became the first local county representative ever recruited to New York
State Association of Counties’ board, and tapped her new connections – Executive Director Steve Acquario and his network – in two years of study by her Intergovernmental Affairs Committee that led up to this week’s vote.

She did the heavy-lifting, but the concept would have gone nowhere without the consensus-building chairman, David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, who took the helm in January 2018, just as Kennedy’s effort began. Bliss has smoothed the way for a lot of progress, with this effort potentially foremost among them.

Kennedy’s IGA committee members: from the majority Republicans, Schenevus’ Peter Oberacker;
from the Democrats, Fly Creek’s Andrew Marietta, Gilbertsville’s Michele Farwell and Oneonta’s Liz Shannon. They attended a second monthly meeting 20 months in a row, absorbing the expertise Kennedy brought before them. They were sold.

Some credit should go Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, an Administration Committee member who little doubt votes nay. He engaged in the issue, and – as the grain of sand in the oyster – his challenges no doubt made the resulting concept stronger.

Of course, none of this happened overnight. Kay Stuligross, now retired outside Philadelphia, marshalled a League of Women Voters’ push for a county manager in the 1990s. That motivated her to run for the county board, where she served admirably for more than a decade.

The great Dave Brenner, former county board chairman, then Oneonta mayor, is also a scholar, and he prepared an exhaustive study in 2008 on the county board’s behalf that endorsed the county manager idea.

At the time, the board was particularly divided – Otego Rep. Ron Feldstein had cobble together a Democrat-dominated majority by enticing Worcester Republican Don Lindberg to accept the chairmanship.

Everyone was furious at everyone else, and Brenner sagely advised bringing a county manager into that turmoil would guarantee failure. Wait for a better day, he said, and so we have.

This has focused on praise, but some will look to blame the very same innovators. Praise – and hope – are more apt today. But the county representatives are embarked on a meaningful and – word of the year – potentially fraught experiment.

Surefootedly, Bliss, Kennedy et al can make it work, but success isn’t inevitable. Prudence, limits, economy, restraint, diplomacy are qualities needed in the months ahead.

Common Council OKs $20 Million Budget

Common Council

OKs $20 Million Budget

By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to

Mayor Herzig

ONEONTA – It’s unanimous. The $20 million budget for 2020 has passed.

The Oneonta Common Council voted tonight on the city’s 2020 budget and approved it unanimously.

Two weeks ago, the council met to discuss the initial proposal for the $20 million budget for 2020, which had included two full-time firefighting positions, a 10 percent sewer rate increase, and a 2.5 percent property tax increase.

After that proposal was largely rejected by the Common Council and the Mayor, they asked City Manager George Korthauer to adjust it.

The initial budget proposal had a $500,000 increase in payroll, including union costs and benefits for city workers.

Korthauer worked with Director of Finance Virginia Lee to bring that down to $250,000 by cutting several positions, including a full-time firefighter slot. “We’re trying to be very conservative,” said Lee. “The list is very long. It’s a constant review.”

To ensure that the fire department isn’t lacking, the new budget includes several part-time positions. In total, there are five new positions in the city that include public work such as street and infrastructure, as well as a new code enforcement position.

“Infrastructure has a life,” said Korthauer. “This Oneonta group is very talented. They handle maintenance and construction.”

“The city’s team is just wonderful,” added Lee.

Yet another expense in the initial proposal was a 10% sewer rate increase. This would cover the maintenance of pipes, operation of the wastewater treatment plant, and repairs to the sewer system.

The current plant, which is at least 40 years old, needs work. “It’s like a well-oiled machine,” said Korthauer. “We need to bring it back up to its original design.”

That cost would equate to a minor increase in water bills, but the common council expressed concern that this would weigh too heavily on city residents. “Cumulatively, it’s an impact on people,” said Russ Southard, 6th ward.

Korthauer was able to lower the sewer rate to 5 percent by putting off certain renovation projects until the following year.

The total of additional costs initially equaled as much as a 2.5 percent increase in city property tax, which Herzig and the council insisted be lowered. “I don’t want to see a 2.5 percent tax increase,” said Melissa Nicosia, 2nd ward.

Korthauer and Lee were able to lower the tax rate to 1.75 percent by cutting positions and lowering sewer costs, but also due to a new law passed earlier this year that requires out-of-state online retailers to collect sales tax on purchases.

A percentage of the corresponding tax dollars (anticipated to be 12.5 percent) ends up in Otsego County in the form of tax revenue, which allows the city to make budget adjustments without a burden on taxpayers. “We’ve never used a tax levy in the history of the city,” said Korthauer.

Mayor Gary Herzig also expressed his concerns for the city charter. “Our charter short-changes the people of the city. It needs to be addressed,” he said.

The current charter requires that the city manager present the budget proposal one week before the council is required to vote on it. “The council should be given more than a week. The budget is complex. It’s 150 pages long and not self-explanatory,” he said. “Give the council members three weeks to review the budget, not one.”

Additionally, the mayor would like to see a change in council voting. Currently, any change to the budget requires a supermajority of 6/8 council members. “One person’s opinion carries more weight than the majority…to me that is wrong,” he said. He hopes to address the charter starting in January.

Santa Arrives At Renovated Pioneer Park

Santa Arrives At

Renovated Pioneer Park

Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch welcomes Santa and Mrs. Claus to Pioneer Park Friday, Nov. 29, where $165,000 in renovations had just been completed. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

When Santa arrived at his Cooperstown cottage on Friday, Nov. 29, he arrived at the brand-new Pioneer Park.

“The last design I could find was from 1965,” said Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch. “There haven’t been a ton of changes since then.”

In 2018, the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce kiosk was updated with a touch screen, and a bike rack and bike repair station were built as part of the $2 million federal grant Transportation Enhancement Program.

But because the park is considered an “urban park,” Tillapaugh said, applications for funding direct upgrades to the space were ignored.

“It doesn’t have a swimming pool or anything,” she said. “So it wasn’t a priority for the state parks department.”

In all, the redesign cost $165,000, and went to bid in June. “When I was chair of the (village) Parks Committee, I built up a reserve of funds,” said Tillapaugh. “This year, we put the remainder of the balance into the budget.”

Michael Haas, Delta Engineering, Endwell, was selected as the architect. “He designed the Lucy B. Hamilton Amphitheater at The Fenimore Art Museum,” she said. “He had done urban parks in Corning as well, so we were very familiar with his work.”

The work began Labor Day weekend – “We never do any work in the summer season,” said Tillapaugh – with Kevin Green of Epic Landscaping doing the work.

“Everything had to be done by Nov. 8,” she said. “That would give us time to clean up and for the 4Cs to decorate for Santa’s arrival.”

And Santa was a big consideration for the design of the park. “We consulted with The 4Cs,” – the Cooperstown Community Christmas Committee – “And we made sure they were in the loop as we did the design.”

Santa’s Cottage, once at the front of the park, has been moved towards the back to allow for more space in the park for the line to form. “Before the move, people would line up on the sidewalk,” she said. “It allows for better flow and for the whole park to function better.”

There is also a ramp to the new stage, which allows greater accessibility to Santa’s Cottage, and a hidden PVC pipe that allows them to set the tree up with ease. “Before, we were just digging a hole and putting the tree in there, then covering it up with dirt when we were done,” she said. “People would trip over it, so now, there’s a manhole cover.”

The stage is also a new addition, proposed in 2018. “Before, we just had blue flagstone space that musicians would set up,” she said. “So we built a stage with a ramp and more outlets for our Music on Main programming.”

And the park will also host a Keith Haring-style mural next summer, in conjunction with an exhibit of the late artist’s work at The Fenimore.

New plant beds with granite borders were installed, and new plants to fill them. “We planted two birches, and we have a London Planetree that we will plant in the spring,” she said.

A water fountain with a bottle fill station was placed in the park with a temporary concrete pad, but has been removed for the winter and will be replaced in the spring with permanent brick pavers.

“It’s not just about Santa,” she said. “The whole park is greatly improved.”


Beloved Mechanical Skaters May Return

From Macy’s to 6th Ward

Beloved Mechanical

Skaters May Return

A pair of mechanical figure skaters have traveled from Macy’s to Bresee’s to the Catellas lawn, and may soon appear at the Balnis’ home in the Sixth Ward. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Carla and Wayne Balnis hope to reconstruct the skaters’ rink at their Gilbert Street
property in the Sixth Ward.

ONEONTA – On their first date, Wayne Balnis introduced his girlfriend (and future wife), Carla Palmer, to a family tradition.

“He took me to see the skaters on the Catellas’ lawn on Belmont Circle,” she said. “And there’d be a line of cars behind us, waiting to see them.”

“My dad took me when I was a kid,” said Wayne.

Part of former Bresee’s Department Store Christmastime window displays, Kathleen Catella said she and her husband, Jim, obtained the mechanical figure skaters in the 1950s.

Each Christmas season, the couple set them up on their lawn, since delighting generations of Oneonta-area visitors.

“I had one young man come up to me in the grocery store and tell me his parents had taken him to see the skaters,” Kathleen said. “In high school, he took his girlfriend. And later, he proposed to her in front of them!”

“They bring back so many happy memories for so many people.”

According to the couple’s son Tim, his parents stopped doing the display in 1995, and the skaters were packed away. His dad, City Hall recreation director and Catella Park namesake, passed away in 2006.
Now, Wayne and Carla, friends of Tim, hope to carry on the tradition at their Sixth Ward home. “I always bugged him about those figure skaters,” said Carla. “Finally, he called me up and he said, ‘Mom’s ready.’”

“It’s time to bring them back,” said Kathleen.

Carla sat down with Kathleen and explained her intentions: to bring the skaters back into the public eye.

“It was like an interview,” said the younger woman. “I told her how committed we were to getting them going again. She didn’t even want any money for them. She just wanted people to see them.”

Aside from a few broken fingertips, the mechanical skaters are in good condition, but the base they skated on was accidentally destroyed when construction workers took down the outbuilding where it was being stored.

The Balnises are looking for someone to redesign the rotating track and the mechanism to make them “skate.”

Each figure is on tires that allows them to bounce off walls and each other and, in the process, spin.

Kathleen doesn’t think the skaters originated locally, but were originally among Macy’s famed window displays in New York City, before the local department store bought them.

“I don’t know how Jim got them,” said his wife. “He just came up with the idea that we should have them!”

So every year, at the start of Advent, the skaters would go out on the Catellas’ lawn. “My husband and the kids would build a structure around them to keep the snow and rain off them, and we’d put on music for them to skate to,” she said. “There would be a line of cars waiting to see them.”

“It wasn’t Christmas without the skaters,” said son Tim.

The father’s secretary, Alice, made new costumes for them. “They had jingle bells in the skirt that would ring,” said Kathleen. “It’s those little details that made the kids smile.”

The Catellas’ display was one of several on Belmont Circle.

“There was a farmer who lived there and farmed outside of town, and a carpenter on the block too,”

Kathleen said. “The carpenter built a living Nativity, and the farmer brought cows, sheep, goats and a donkey named Sassafras, with mannequins as Mary, Joseph and Jesus. The kids would wait for him to roll up the canvas every day, and then he would let them ride on Sassafras.”

By next year, Wayne and Carla are hoping to bring that same Christmas spirit to Gilbert Street.

“We know a few people who might be able to make a new base,” she said. “But we’re reaching out to anyone who might be able to help.”

“I’d be delighted to see it again,” said Kathleen. “I’ll bring my kids, grandkids and great-grandkids to see it.”

MATHISEN: Memoir Takes Us To 911 Bombing


Takes Us To 911 Bombing

Don Mathisen

Editor’s Note: Don Mathisen, retired to Oneonta after a career as a reporter for WNYC, New York City’s NPR station and other outlets, published “A Broadcaster’s Life” last month, primarily for his children and grandchildren, but a few copies are available at The Green Toad Bookstore, 198 Main St.

I ran for my life as the South Tower fell. I was just a few hundred feet away, standing in a crowd of people, many of whom had escaped from the building. Now we were all running for our lives, burning debris falling all around us.

The smoke and dust was washing over in waves, getting thicker and thicker. A woman tumbled to the ground in the mad rush to escape. A man helped her up as she kicked off high heals. Now she was running bare foot on the pavement thick with soot, busted glass and soon, her blood. The woman got cuts on her feet but kept running.

Sprinting east on Liberty Street, south on Broadway, east again on Wall Street the crowd was directed into a basement by custodians who worked at Two Wall Street, an office tower that now provided temporary safety to the panicked herd. The building has five sub-cellars. The custodians ushered the fleeing people first into the lowest level. As that basement level filled with refugees from the developing disaster, custodians began directing survivors to the next level up. I was parked on the third sub-cellar, about 30 feet below the street.

At that point I took out my cassette tape machine and microphone and began recording interviews with people who had escaped from Two World Trade.

Roberto di Matteo was on an upper floor of Two World Trade Center when the first plane struck.

“I felt a bad shudder on the whole building. I stepped out of my office and I heard one of the traders on the trading floor yell that a plane had hit One World Trade. So, immediately everyone started to evacuate the building. We just went straight for the stairs. We walked down the stairs and got to the lobby on the street level.”

Di Matteo and his co-workers disregarded announcements by building security personnel who urged occupants to shelter in place. Ignoring authorities’ advice probably saved their lives. In fairness, officials had no way of knowing a second plane was taking aim at Two World Trade.

“After looking outside, all we could see was a big mess, there was debris everywhere. It looked like pieces of a plane were on fire. It really was an ugly mess out there. Then we felt the second impact, it must have been the second plane that hit Two World Trade. After that everybody just started to panic, everybody started looking for the quickest way out. Everybody started to scream once they felt the second impact.”

Di Matteo made it safely out of Two World Trade Center’s lobby. He was standing on the street nearby when the building fell down.

“I was looking up at the top of Two World Trade, about to walk away, when the building collapsed. And again, everybody reacted with screams and looked for places to take shelter.”

Soon dust, smoke and the smell of death began to fill our subterranean refuge. The custodians were assuring us that the building was safe. It was not on fire. They said they had gone to the roof to check for fire. They said smoke was entering the building from outside via the ventilation system. They were working on a solution to the problem.

I believed those brave men who rose as leaders of this panicked crowd. However, I needed to get out of the building. I wanted to see what was happening at Ground Zero. I had a story
to report. I walked up the stairs looking for a way out of Two Wall Street. I found a door, walked out into a surreal world of dust, smoke and destruction. I found chaos, confusion, death and wreckage all around.

I watched a man die while an Orthodox Greek Bishop prayed over him. The prayers failed to stop the victim from writhing in pain on the lobby floor of Stuyvesant High School, an emergency triage center hastily commandeered after students fled to safety.

Only death brought stillness to his body.

Here are transcripts from my on-the-scene radio broadcasts.

“I saw the impact of the second plane hitting the South Tower. While I was looking up, there was a loud bang, it was an earsplitting crack followed by a fireball coming out of the north face of the building. There was a great deal of smoke and debris falling. People started to run, screaming and shrieking. A few people fell on the street, no one was trampled, as folks helped them get up.”

Then the course of history was altered.

“I saw the South Tower collapse. There was a rumble and a banging, pancaking noise. The top of the tower started to lean toward the northeast. There was so much debris and dust flying around. I was in a large group of people, at first we thought we were safe, but it quickly became apparent that we were not.”

Almost 3,000 people died that day, most of them killed in the Twin Towers. On the streets surrounding the World Trade Center, survivors and bystanders were fearful, but for the most part they remained in control.

ATWELL: On Thanksgiving, Remembering Blue

Front Porch Perspective

On Thanksgiving,

Remembering Blue

Jim Atwell

Four years ago on a snowy winter day, Dr. Fran Fassett came to our house and released our good old Blue from his failed body. It was amazingly peaceful, even blessed time.

Anne and I had had Blue for about 10 years. He was a rescue dog who’d been picked up along Route 88 near Oneonta. Thank God, he was brought to our own animal shelter. A friend on staff there contacted Anne; she knew we’d recently lost our dear old Zach.

From the get-go, we knew we had a challenge on our hands. Blue was perhaps 6, a lean, muscular dog with great strength and stamina. And no wonder. Though between Blue and his forebears, a number of gentler breeds had entered his bloodline, he was at heart still a Catahoula Spotted Leopard Dog. That breed was developed in the Louisiana swampland – to hunt wild boar.

The dogs were trained to work in packs of three, with two grappling with a boar’s back hocks while the third (who’d perhaps drawn the short straw) went for the snout, There, and in spite of long, slashing tusks, the dog struggled to hang on till the human hunters arrived at the fray.

I’m guessing that Blue’s ancestors were mostly back-hock dogs. The snout-grabbers likely didn’t last to do much begetting.

It’s to Anne’s enormous credit that Blue transmuted from a strong young dog wracked by separation anxiety to a gentle-hearted hound loved by hundreds around here.

That first stage, though, took a great toll on the two of us – and on our Fly Creek house. If we both left the place at the same time, Blue panicked and damned near tore apart the downstairs, trying to get outside. Mind you, he wasn’t trying to escape; he was trying to get to us. He was ours, we were his, and he wasn’t going to be alone in the world again.

Of course he was not a perfect pet. Deep in him there still lurked a stealthy hunter, an opportunist who watched for chances to snatch at food. In our absence, he once pried open the freezer’s door and wiped out an entire two-pound frozen pork roast – thinking of it, I guess, as a sort of porksicle, he chomped his way through the whole thing, plastic wrap and all. It was a boneless roast, and the only evidence he left behind was the freezer door, slightly ajar, and, of course, the missing roast.

After that, we tried a child-proof lock on the freezer; that was child’s play to Blue. Finally we thwarted him with a hasp and a padlock.

As noted, plastic wrap was no deterrent to Blue. Once, for a charity sale, we’d baked and individually wrapped 18 large chocolate brownies and, in cosmic madness, left them on a tray on the kitchen counter. We came home to find Blue, tail wagging and all innocence, sitting on the floor next to the empty tray.
Anne and I rushed him to the vet, since all that plastic, tangled in the gut, could have been the end of him.

Later, Dr. Fassett’s assistant told us of her part in saving him. Rubber-gloved, poor girl had had to pick through a bombshell laxative’s explosion, using chopsticks to separate and count those eighteen large squares of bemired plastic.

With a sly grin, she’d offered to return them to us, proof that all systems were now clear. We demurred.

Blue had come to love his new home in Cooperstown, and last summer, as an elderly dog, he enjoyed afternoons on our Delaware Street front porch, greeting passing neighbors who stopped by to visit. He became a celebrity with local children, whose comment on first petting him was always the same: “He’s so soft!” And indeed he was.

By early that March, however, Blue had weakened greatly. On the morning of the 9th, it was evident that he could barely keep on his feet, and he hadn’t eaten for a couple of days. And, for the first time, he seemed unable to wag his tail.

I had had a half-dozen Quaker friends coming for a meeting at our house that afternoon at 2. They were still there when Dr. Fassett arrived. The Friends sat quietly, holding us all in the Light as Anne and I knelt by Blue.

Before the vet arrived, and as we had sat in silent prayer, Blue had dragged himself up from his place by the back door and limped around the circle of us, saying goodbye, I’m sure. He knew all those Friends, and each patted him and scratched his ears. Then he asked to go out the back door.

Down to the yard he went and slowly walked the circular furrow we’d kept open for him in the deep snow. When he got back to the steps, he looked up at me steadily for a long minute, and then turned to make a final circuit of his yard. Satisfied, I guess, that he was leaving all in order, he labored up the steps and lay down on his bed. That’s when the vet arrived, another old friend, to put him gently at ease.

What a fine dog he was, and what a blessed companion to both of us! We two will always be grateful for the gift he was. And for his joyful, unqualified love.

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown

FLEISHER: Trust Science On Climate Change

Trust Science On

Climate Change

To the Editor:

Science reveals the truth about many things and can be trusted. It explains things we take for granted, such as why the seasons change, why flowers blossom in the spring and leaves fall at the end of summer, and even why water runs downhill. Indeed, science explains much of what we see in our daily surroundings – it can be trusted.

We tend to take it for granted because they are within our normal daily realm. All of these are obvious parts of the “balance of nature.” Within the science community this is what is known as “systems in equilibrium,” where everything depends on everything else to stay balanced. When the balance is upset, the system reacts and adjusts to the change. That’s how science works and a balance is maintained.

The same can be said of polluting the atmosphere.

Because our global society pumps pollutants into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the atmosphere adjusts, which is what contributes to the documented trend of rapid climate warming currently in progress. These changes involve forces of energy that we are just beginning to understand and are difficult to accurately gauge, such as how a warming climate influences ocean temperatures and the well documented currents that move through the oceans like a conveyor belt.

To complicate matters, the non-scientist may hear different opinions from different science sources.

What is the lay-person to do – who to believe? One obvious tipoff is that scientists who accepted funding from energy companies are much more likely to offer an opinion less objective than others. This is certainly the case for scientists who deny any anthropomorphic influence on climate change. Once again, money talks.

I think we are beyond our ability to completely stop what has already been initiated, but it can be altered. To change the energy momentum of the atmosphere and oceans will require centuries, not decades.

That’s how long it will take to stop or reverse the warming in progress.

However, if we don’t try to reduce the warming the outcome will apply even greater stress on the global society. We must try even if our efforts appear ineffective to start. We all recognize areas impacted by extended draughts, excessive heat waves, more intense storms and the incessant upward creep of sea level.

All of which are examples of the “system” adjusting to climate change. The system is the environment we live in and experience every day.

All of this is within the realm of science. So, why then are elected officials, including the White House ignoring science? If they would acknowledge science and dwell less on satisfying big money donors, our local and global society would benefit. Without responsible leadership there is little hope to reduce the devastating effects within the foreseeable future.

Let’s face it. There will never be a time when fossil fuels won’t be an essential energy source. After all, airplanes will never be powered by “green energy.” No serious scientist thinks our global society will ever stop using some fossil fuels. But, that’s not the point. We should be working toward reducing our dependence on fossil fuels by vigorously developing alternate energy sources now. I doubt if anyone seriously thinks Green Energy will replace all other resources.

Climate change, along with all of its ramifications (and there are many) is causing serious stress within our global society. We can trust science to reduce the impact of these stresses and help find solutions to protect and preserve the quality of our living environment. This is the time of year to be thankful for our blessings, including reliable science.

A concerned scientist
Town of Milford

Pop-Ups Will Help Pep Up Southside Mall

Pop-Ups Will Help

Pep Up Southside Mall

Cathy Verrelli puts a festive apron on Martin the giraffe outside of Theresa’s Emporium
Pop-Up shop at the Southside Mall. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE• Special to

ONEONTA – There’s only one place you can get board games, maple syrup, artisan jewelry and a new tattoo – Southside Mall.

“We’re a small mall, but what we have is a large shopping experience,” said Luisa Montanti, Southside Mall general manager.

Starting Black Friday, the mall welcomed 16 artisans and local food producers to set up tables to sell their wares, including Caribou Creek Knives, Rusted Root Metals and more.

The tables will be at the mall every weekend throughout December, offering a variety of gifts.

“Caribou Creek has all these hand-crafted knives and decorative blades, including ones for hunting and cutting meat, or even cutting salad,” said Montanti. “And I bought myself a fancy bracelet from Lynn Price, that makes all this jewelry out of antique buttons. It’s all one-of-a-kind, and that’s what I love about it.”

The idea of bringing in tables at Christmas grew out of the mall’s annual Craft & Vendor Fair. “The artisans always say what a great weekend they have here,” said the manager. “And what’s great is that they’re all unique, so we’re not duplicating shops we already have. There really is something for everyone.”

To launch the Christmas season, dancing mice from Decker School of Ballet made an appearance Saturday, Nov. 30.

And, of course, Santa Claus, available for visits and photos, will visit from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday until Dec. 23.

Also new this season is Luncheons & Dragons, a game store that relocated from the West End, now in the former FYE storefront.

“I was really impressed at just how large a selection of games they have and that they’re so knowledgeable about board games,” she said. “And they also have tables where you can sit down and play a game, or join one that’s already in progress. Their philosophy is that they wanted to create a space where people could congregate.”

Another staple, Black Tree Books, has re-opened under new ownership, and, for the person who already has everything, Something Wicked Tattoo will open this week.

Several local Christmas pop-up stores are returning, including Theresa’s Emporium, in the old Etc., Etc. storefront, the Go Calendar, Games & Toys kiosk, and Fire & Thunder Trading.

“Fire & Thunder has one of the largest selections of Native American jewelry and textiles,” Montanti said. “The owner tours trade shows all year, and then comes to the mall every year at the holidays because he has a great following. People look for him.”

Though the holidays are generally the strongest time for retailers, Montanti said store managers are reporting that sales have been up throughout the whole year.

“So many of them have come to me and said how great their gains have been,” she said. “I’d say it’s anywhere between 12-30 percent for the year. The mall is seeing a huge success, and I think other stores want to be a part of that.”

IN MEMORIAM: Bertha I. Smith, 97; Opened Home to Children

IN MEMORIAM: Bertha I. Smith, 97;

Opened Home to Many Children

MORRIS – Bertha Irene Smith, 97, who opened a home daycare and served as a foster mother, passed away at her home in Morris on November 26, 2019. During her last days she had the comfort and support of her loving family at her side.

Bertha was the daughter of Herman and Genieve Comino, of Town of Maryland. She married Leroy Smith, also of Maryland, on March 29, 1942. Together they had eight children.

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