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Editorial

If Not Allen Ruffles, Someone With SOME Of His Qualities

EDITORIAL

If Not Allen Ruffles,

Someone With SOME

Of His Qualities

County Judge John Lambert swears in Allen Ruffles as county treasurer on Jan. 1, 2018. Wife Amy holds the Bible. With them are their children, Mia and Cooper. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)

The question was, “Do you think THEY will let the county administrator do the job?” They, of course, being the county Board
of Representatives.

But the question misunderstands how the new county administrator job is envisioned.

Judging from discussions surrounding the new job’s creation, the county representatives aren’t looking for someone to tell them what to do. They’re looking for someone who will allow them to do what THEY want to do more efficiently.

The control of county government will remain in the hands of the 14 elected representatives, elected every two years from their districts, who are entrusted to act on their constituents’ behalf.\

Not such a bad idea.

For the past few weeks, a name has been circulating as a prospect for the county’s first administrator: Allen Ruffles, the Republican county treasurer who has just returned from a year-long assignment in East Africa with the New York State National Guard.

The position must first be advertised, candidates vetted and a vote taken. A better candidate may emerge. Regardless, he or she might benefit from at least a few Ruffles-like characteristics.

First, he had a varied background as a school teacher, insurance agent, banker (Key Bank’s former branch manager in Cooperstown), as well as a soldier, and the discipline that connotes. That should give him sympathy and understanding of a range of people.

Two, he’s a county native, with a family: wife Amy, daughter Mia and son Cooper, so he has a stake – a personal stake – in the middle- and long-term prosperity of the county. Being a native is not a requirement, but a candidate should have a plausible reason for coming here.

Third, he holds an elective office, so he would likely be sensitive to pressures county representatives feel, having to represent a varied voter base.

Fourth, he’s developed collegial relations with the county’s 20-some department heads, a group that – according to a survey county Rep. Meg Kennedy’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee conducted – is most resistant to the idea of reporting to a single boss.

That’s understandable: Most of us would prefer less supervision to more, but things are going to change. Ideally, he will develop the department heads into a team, focused on meeting the board’s directives.

Fifth, he has led preparation of two county budgets, and participated in two more as deputy to former County Treasurer Dan Crowell. It’s going to be a central function of the county administrator. Short-term, anyhow, his able deputy, Andrew Crisman, would ensure good relations with the Treasurer’s Office.

Sixth, Ruffles is not just experienced, but agreeable. Hard and soft skills, in whichever candidate is successful, is most important to ensuring the success of the new position. Put another way, building confidence, credibility and trust with all constituencies – the board, the department heads and the public.

Seventh, the county board, meeting Feb. 5, set the administrator’s salary at $100,000, considerably less than the $150,000 recommended to entice an out-of-county professional – $100,000 though, would be a nice raise for the county treasurer as he learns the new job.

That’s a lot of pluses.

Asked Monday about the chatter, county Rep. Andrew Marietta, the ranking Democrat, said he’d heard county board Chairman David Bliss mention Ruffles’ name in a meeting. “If Allen applied, it would be great,” Marietta said. “But it’s not a done deal.”

“I think a lot of Allen,” said Kennedy, whose IGA committee is handling the recruitment. “But it would be shortsighted of us to stop looking. There’s a lot to be gained by examining different candidates as they come forward.”

For instance, another potential candidate, former Cooperstown mayor Jeff Katz, has been mentioned for the job, and brings an impressive, albeit different, skill set.

“It’s going to be a county board decision,” Marietta said. Not a Republican or Democratic one.”

That’s exactly right. Still, thinking about someone like Ruffles helps focus on what qualities would help our county’s first top executive succeed.

‘Trusted Traveler’ Revocations Aside, ‘Green Light’ Bad Law

EDITORIAL

‘Trusted Traveler’

Revocations Aside,

‘Green Light’ Bad Law

The second hijacked smashes into the World Trade Center’s South Tower on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The 19 hijackers had 30 driver’s licenses from five states. Reforms that followed to increase inter-agency communications are threatened by New York State’s new “Green Light” Law, Acting Deputy Homeland Security Director Ken Cuccinelli says.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the 19 terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon, or crashed in Schwenksville, Pa., had 30 driver’s licenses among them that allowed them to gain access to and hijack the four jets.

Nineteen licenses were from Florida, eight from Virginia, one each from Arizona and Maryland, plus two from California that were issued to two “watchlisted” participants.

None were from our state’s DMV, but if such a national catastrophe were to occur again, it could be different.

Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli referenced that last Thursday, Feb. 10, in answering reporters’ questions on his department’s decision to exclude New Yorkers from four “Trusted Traveler” programs after the passage of the state’s “Green Light” Law, which prohibits state law enforcement agencies from sharing routine DMV data with immigration agencies.

The programs give pre-approved travelers and trucking companies no-wait entry in to the U.S. The decision means 80,000
New Yorkers who have applied for the status won’t be approved, and 175,000 already approved will lose their status as their five-year passes expire.

“It was embarrassing to us in Virginia, that (many) of the 9/11 terrorists used Virginia driver’s licenses to help accomplish their evil mission, and we set about to fix that, and we did fix that,” said Cuccinelli.

Cuccinelli fielded reporters’ questions on removing New Yorkers from “Trusted Traveler” eligibility.

New York is “one of the other targets of 9/11 that is walking backwards, quite intentionally, … to bar the sharing of law-enforce-
ment-relevant information like vehicle registration, matching driver’s licenses to identifications, and critically, criminal records that are kept up to date and DMV databases.”

As stated here before, the “Green Light” legislation, granting a legal document to people who are in the U.S. illegally, is illogical on its face, evident to the 62 percent of New Yorkers who opposed it in a Siena Poll.

Plus, the Democratic majority folded it into the vote on the state budget, avoiding public hearings and on-the-floor discussion where the benefits and deficits would have become clear.

The law forced county clerks who run DMV offices, like Otsego’s Kathy Sinnot Gardner, to disobey either state law or federal law, contrary to their oath of office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States AND the Constitution of the State of New York.” (Emphasis added.)

Since DMV applications are automatically forwarded to the state Board of Elections, where they are processed routinely, the “Green Light” at least gives an amber to voter fraud.

The law in place, the DMV and state Division of Criminal Justice Service then ordered local police to sign a “pledge” not to share any related information with federal agencies; obdurate police would be denied access to DMV records, essential to ensure someone stopped for speeding isn’t wanted for shooting a cop downstate.

County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr., called that “blackmail,” reported Joe Mahoney, Albany correspondent for Plattsburgh’s, Niagara Falls’ and other Upstate papers, who broke the story statewide. “I signed the agreement with displeasure because it would really affect our officers here if we were not to have access to this data,” Devlin told Mahoney.

All this just isn’t right.

Supporters of the “Green Light” Law argue that because of the vast number of illegal immigrants in New York State – in 2014 there were 4.4 million in New York State, an estimated 22 percent of the population – this is a necessary safety measure, ensuring they pass the driver’s test and have insurance.

Still, to anyone who watched the World Trade Center towers collapse, visited the chilling 911 Memorial & Museum in New York City’s financial district, or listened to Cuccinelli the other afternoon, the justification rings hollow. Should every law be repealed if it’s flouted? Should any?

The answer to illegal immigration is much larger than the “Green Light” Law, requiring well-regulated borders and likely a humane path to citizenship for otherwise law-abiding immigrants. (A massive expulsion would be a human rights disaster.) But that’s a separate discussion.

Democrats have characterized Homeland Security’s decision as a reprisal by the Trump Administration: In his State of the Nation speech the night before it came down, the president singled out California and New York State as states where “sanctuary” communities are putting the law-abiding general public at risk.

But with Monday the 10th’s announcement of action against the state of New Jersey and the county that includes Seattle, Wash., it appears to be part of a larger push-back against the whole concept of “sanctuaries” – one that’s long overdue.

In New York State, according to the Center for Immigrant Studies, the cities of New York City and Ithaca, and five counties, are sanctuaries. However, that doesn’t include Cooperstown, where a Village Board resolution from 2017 declares village police won’t cooperate with ICE investigations that may occur locally; now, it may make sense for the trustees to withdraw that ill-considered resolution.

Whether reprisal or prudent governance, the right course is clear: The “Green Light” Law should be repealed on the merits. That the state’s economy will now suffer and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers face travel delays are an added impetus for the state Legislature to do the right thing.

Instead of rethinking where we are and returning to a more sensible course, state Attorney General Letitia James, also on Monday, filed suit accusing the Trump Administration of using “our nation’s security as a political weapon.” Rather, is New York State simply risking our nation’s security to ride an ideological hobby horse?

As for the governor, he said “more than a dozen states – including red states – (have) similar laws.” He knows better. While other states grant licenses to undocumented immigrants, they didn’t include the most objectionable provision: barring cooperation with federal agencies. Washington State is considering that clause, but now may change its mind.

Contrary, it seems, to county clerks and sheriffs, the governor and attorney general are entitled to their own opinions. Neither is up for reelection in November, but the state Legislature is: 62 percent of voters should hold their representatives accountable on this issue. Turn off the “Green Light.”

Good News, Jobs Aplenty; Bad News, No Housing

EDITORIAL

Good News, Jobs Aplenty;

Bad News, No Housing

Anyone who’s paying attention around here has come to a double conclusion:

►One, pretty much every employer, big or small, has vacancies that can’t be filled.

►Two, if new employees are hired, they often can’t find a convenient, affordable place to live.
No workers. No worker housing. A double bind.
If misery loves company, then economic developer Jody Zakrevsky, CEO of Otsego Now, went to a jobs forum hosted by Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19, last week at SUNY Cobleskill, and came back with good news: All 11 counties in the 19th Congressional District are in the same boat.

“Columbia County is facing similar challenges,” said F. Michael Tucker, president/CEO of that county’s Economic Development Corp., whom Zakrevsky said had the most to tell Delgado about the challenge. In a way, it’s even moreso.

Tucker said his county’s had the lowest unemployment in the state for 22 months in a row.
Plus the biggest city, Hudson, has become a magnet for New York City folks looking for a weekend getaway. There are 4,500 second homes in that county, and the resulting gentrification is pushing home prices higher than around here.

There’s more good news, though, Tucker said: The state’s Division of Housing & Community Renewal is aware of the conundrum, and has $150 million in grants available to communities that recognize the problem.

Even more good news: Otsego County’s two largest communities, the City of Oneonta and Village of Cooperstown, have happened onto the route to the solution.

In Oneonta in particular, then-Mayor Dick Miller realized there was a hole in the Bresee’s Department Store renovation: The cost was so expensive, rents to allow a developer to make a profit would be more than most people could afford.

City Hall obtained state and federal grants and closed the gap. The resulting four-story apartment complex has been full and profitable for seven years now, and developer Chip Klugo completed the renovation of the building next door, former Stevens Hardware Store, last November. Mayor Gary Herzig, Miller’s successor, gets it, too, and is using grants to make the Lofts On Dietz, Kearney & Son’s 64 apartments and artists’ lofts, doable as well.

In Cooperstown, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch’s plate is full. The village will complete the $2.2 million last leg of a multi-year downtown upgrade this spring, and the $5.7 million Doubleday Field redo later in the year.

However, she’s looking beyond that to adopting the Oneonta model. Village Hall obtained a $1 million CDBG (community development block grant) through the Division of Housing & Community Renewal for the Cooperstown Distillery Expansion, which may be complete as soon as March (with a ribbon-cutting in May).

Once the village proves to the state it can administer CDBGs, Tillapaugh foresees applying for grants and partnering with developers on housing projects as well.

According to Tucker, you just can’t wait to be discovered: Communities need to determine what kind of projects are desirable, then seek out developers who have done similar projects elsewhere, as Miller did with Klugo, and Herzig with the Kearneys’ Lofts.

Almost inevitably, there will be some community opposition, as with the Lofts, and neighbors’ lawsuits, as with the Lofts. Resolve them if you can and move forward.

On hearing about the current conundrum – jobs you can’t fill and, if you can, no housing for the new employees – you might be tempted to get discouraged. No reason to, said Tucker:

A recent Columbia County middle-income apartment complex was finished and immediately filled.
It can happen here, too. Don’t look too far down the road. Do a project at a time: Bresee’s, Stevens, The Lofts, Springbrook’s housing in the Ford Block, above Key Bank, and then – be still beating hearts – the old (but marble-stepped) former Oneonta Hotel.

Cooperstown has done similarly with its downtown upgrades, one project after another – the rain gardens, the Pioneer Street sewerage, the sidewalks, the streetlights – eventually it gets done. Next, appropriately sited apartments.

Tucker pointed to what’s a three-legged stool: Jobs, housing – and job training, and there’s money for that, too, although much is already happening at our local ONC BOCES.

Today’s good-news screaming headline is, THERE’S PLENTY OF WORK. Check this week’s JOBS supplement, inside this edition. Once new paychecks are being cashed, things start to happen.

Are Fossil Fuels Part Of Climate-Change Answer?

EDITORIAL

Are Fossil Fuels Part

Of Climate-Change Answer

Some of you may have heard our Adirondack neighbor Bill McKibben’s NPR interview a year or two ago.

Unless all buildings in the U.S. are made energy-efficient by 2030, the war against Global Warming will be lost, he said.

The interviewer asked, is that possible? No, said McKibben, who is among the nation’s foremost
advocates of stemming greenhouse gases. In different words, McKibben is saying, we’re lost.

Too much of the discussion of the future of the earth is fear-filled and hope-less.

In reality, much research is underway not just toward creating a sustainable future, but into cleanly burning fossil fuels.

If that’s possible, we would preserve a huge investment in infrastructure that today provides 81 percent of the nation’s energy needs, and it’s portable and convenient.

Living here in Otsego County, we forget the scale of the energy challenge. But visit New York, Chicago or Miami – it’s a big, energy-guzzling world out there, friends.

Still, with fracking, the U.S. has achieved energy independence in the past decade for the first time since the end of World War II. This is desirable, but, of course, not if it destroys us.


Perhaps it doesn’t have to. So today, at the bottom of this page, we begin an occasional series, “Can Fossil Fuels Save Us?”, with a report from Stanford University of what its scientists are doing to emeliorate greenhouse effects.

Many similarly credible reports are available from research universities across the country, and the series will tap into them. And this newspaper has many credible readers that assess these inputs independently, and provide a counterbalance if necessary.

All but a tiny fringe of our fellow citizens accepts that Climate Change is real. That debate’s over. The focus is shifting to how much, how soon, and amelioration.

With Governor Cuomo proposing a $33 billion five-year green energy plan (despite the $6 billion budget), with the Otsego County Energy Task Force planning our local energy future, and with four-mile-square solar farm proposed at West Laurens (and many more to come), is it likely that renewables alone don’t need to be the whole solution?

Travel with us. Let’s not succumb to McKibben’s despair.

Both Parties Should Find Candidates Who Will  Ensure Local Successor To Seward

EDITORIAL

Both Parties Should Find

Candidates Who Will  Ensure

Local Successor To Seward

Peter Oberacker makes the case for a county administrator at a county board hearing last fall in Oneonta City Hall. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

This story’s been related in this space before: Congressman Tim Holden, a Democrat from Pennsylvania’s anthracite county, used to tell campaign crowds: “I’m the only one of 435 Congressmen who gets up every morning and says to himself, ‘What can I do for Schuylkill County today?’”

It’s also said that if you don’t appreciate what you have, you lose it.”

The vignette and the aphorism are germane today, with the prospective year-end retirement of state Sen. Jim Seward,
R-Milford, and now, with the emergence of county Rep. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, as his prospective successor – and, so far, his only prospective successor from Otsego County.

Oberacker put it well: “It’s been reassuring to have a state senator who knows us by name.”

If he knows us by name, he greets us on the street, he listens to our opinions and, when we need his help, he responds.

To Otsego County citizens, there is no greater issue in this fall’s election than to keep the 51st State Senate District represented by a local man or woman. (Wait, wait: After all, regardless of how the county votes, New York State will go for the as-yet-unnamed Democrat.)

In last week’s article on Republican Assemblyman Chris Tague’s prospective run for the 51st, it was pointed out that no mention was made of Jim Barber, the Schoharie farmer and son of former Ag & Markets Commissioner J. Roger Barber, the prospective Democratic standard bearer.

In our defense, that part of the article dealt with trying to identify in-county successors to Jim Seward.

But we’ll admit that Barber simply didn’t figure in our, granted, somewhat parochial, ruminations.

Of course, former Oneonta Mayor John Nader, now SUNY Farmingdale president, came to mind, as did the charismatic Dan Crowell, former county treasurer and a military man.

Mayors Herzig of Oneonta and Tillapaugh of Cooperstown are prospects and, even moreso, Tillapaugh’s predecessor, Jeff Katz, still in his 50s and with plenty of brains and drive.

Come on, Democrats, put your best (local) foot forward.

Regardless, Peter Oberacker is a fine prospect.

On the one hand, he’s got a down-home personality, a friendly smile and welcoming demeanor.

He’s easy for everyone to talk to, evident in his repeated election in the Town of Maryland and, now from his Maryland/Westford, Worcester/Decatur district on the county board.

On the other hand, he can operate in sophisticated circles as well, working for Fortune 500 U.S. companies and German food-processor Budenheim.

He’d be equally comfortable on the sidewalks of Edmeston and Albany’s plush Senate chambers.

Plus, he has ideas and the oomph to move them forward, evident in championing the 30-job distribution center on Schenevus’ I-88 exit.

Let’s get behind an Otsego County successor to Senator Seward.

So far, Oberacker’s the only one. Other ones may emerge. But if they don’t, he’ll do fine.

Senator Seward, Let’s Say Hasta Luego, Not Goodbye

EDITORIAL

Senator Seward, Let’s Say

Hasta Luego, Not Goodbye

He has been Otsego County’s state senator since 1986. Many of us – most of us, perhaps – have never known another one.

State Sen. James L. Seward, Otsego County son and friend. (AllOTSEGO photo)

He is everyone’s friend. If you’ve ever observed him walk down the street. Or cross a crowded restaurant on his way to a table. Or appear at a parade or fair or other public gathering. The congenial legislator can’t make it more than a few steps without someone stopping him for a greeting, a friendly word or a handshake.

This newspaper named him “Citizen of the Year” in 2013. On learning that cancer had returned last year, we realized the 2000 and 10s qualified as “The Seward Decade.” Now we must sadly acknowledge the end of “The Seward Era.”

He’s been part of the Otsego County picture, and has been for his 69 years, raised in Milford, attending Valleyview Elementary, Oneonta High School, then Hartwick College.

Commuting, he immediately began work as a legislative aide in Albany, and soon was the youngest Republican county chairman in our history. Politics is the sea he’s swum in, going back to such early ventures as organizing a countywide Methodist youth group in his teens.

Elected in 1986 at age 35, he was the youngest state senator in county history, and the first to hail from Otsego County since 1952, when Walter Stokes, laird of Cooperstown’s Woodside Hall, retired.

His fingerprints are on every major Otsego County project in the past 34 years. Think of him next time you see a game at SUNY Oneonta’s Dewar Arena, or attend a concert or gala at Foothills, or celebrate Hall of Fame Weekend events this summer at the renovated Doubleday Field.

The two Seward Summits – 2012 and 2013 – revolutionized economic development here. We’re now a contender.

Not surprising, though, it was the more personal interventions – constituent service: easing people’s interactions with a mostly faceless state government – that are dearest to his heart, he said in an interview Monday, Jan. 20, after he announced he will leave office at the end of the year.

Facing a second bout of cancer treatments, he’s handling his state Senate duties, but “giving 100 percent” to a reelection campaign leading up to Nov. 3 is just not prudent right now Looking back, he most treasures when someone would come up to him and say, “You saved my life.” As longtime chairman of the state Senate Insurance Committee, a query from the senator’s office was often sufficient for a medical insurance company to revisit the rejection of coverage and discover it was warranted after all.

Never been sick? He’s nonetheless enriched everybody’s life in the county of his birth. Thank you, senator.

But let’s say hasta luego, not farewell. A year or two of treatment, rest and recuperation, may bring you back to full strength.

Who knows what the future holds? After all, Joe Biden is 79.

With Expertise, Even Temperament, City Manager Korthauer Cracks Code

With Expertise, Even Temperament,

City Manager Korthauer Cracks Code

George L. Korthauer, Oneonta’s third city manager.

Thanks, George.

Oneonta City Manager George Korthauer – Oneonta’s first successful city manager – announced Monday, Jan. 13, that he’s heading off into a well-earned retirement.

He should go with all our thanks and best wishes.

He proved that even the City of Oneonta – feisty, argumentative, proud of its heritage, sure of its opinions – can eventually come to terms with a  professional from out of town, and benefiting from what, in this case, he had to offer.

Commenting on Korthauer’s pending Feb. 7 departure, Mayor Gary Herzig cited “a wealth of knowledge regarding municipal equipment,” which sounds like faint praise.

But Deputy Mayor David Rissberger put some meat on those bones:  Retired from 25 years as city manager in Petoskey, in Michigan’s lake-effect zone, Korthauer knew about snow removal, advising the use of more effective attachments on city snow plows, and instituting alternate-parking on some streets to ease plowing.

Use to dealing with freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, he introduced the “Pothole Killer,” developed by, yes, Patch Management Inc. of Bucks County, Pa., which has a device that pounds a specially developed aggregate into potholes, extending the life of repairs.

Most of all, though, “people in City Hall liked him,” said Rissberger.  “He was a nice guy.  He was very knowledgeable.  I think he’s gotten us over the hump of getting used to having day-to-day management.”

That speaks to it.  Low-key experience and amiability  allowed folks in City Hall to relax and, little by little, finally accept that things are going to be different.

After Mayor Dick Miller’s hard-driving administration squeezed out the first city manager, Mike Long, and after second City Manager Martin Murphy’s hard-driving personality put him at odds with too many people, Korthauer was a relief.

Oneonta was the first local governmental entity – outside public schools – to hire a professional manager, (although the Village of Cooperstown briefly tried it in the 1990s, an experience everyone there seems willing to leave forgotten.)

Since, Cooperstown revived the village administrator job, providing a contrast to Oneonta:  Village Clerk Teri Barown got the job.  It was a different job from Korthauer’s, but both had expertise.  Neither he nor she is a table-pounder.

She’s a local girl, which gave her some instant cred, but the right local person isn’t always available.

But the City of Oneonta continued to struggle.  When the County of Otsego was considering a professional manager last year, dubious onlookers pointed to the City of the Hills’ travails.

As the county now begins the search process on its first administrator, there are lessons that can be drawn from George, and Teri too.

Local is good, if the right person can be found locally.  The Oneonta job description may be over-credentialed, required an import, but the county appears to have avoided that trap.

Temperament is huge – the professional has to win over an array of constantly changing elected officials.   Expertise and experience are huge too, and Korthauer’s won him the credibility Barown was granted.

George Korthauer was 66 when hired in May 2017, is 69 now, so this wasn’t expected to be a 20-year deal.

With a house in Petoskey and grandkids in Denver, he and wife, the lively Brenda, are responding to different pulls now; you can understand why they’re ready to leave a few months before his contract expires.

The point is, his job is done.  That’s particularly the case, since he’s readied his department heads to aspire to succeed him.   Herzig expects applications from the ranks.

Mayor Miller was known to say when an initiative was nearing its end, “You have largely fulfilled your commitment.”  He likely would have said something like that to George Korthauer.

Let’s go a step further: Well done. Farewell.  And God speed.

The New Decade Will Bring Pretty Much What We Expect

2ND EDITORIAL

The New Decade Will Bring

Pretty Much What We Expect

County Rep. Meg Kennedy, in her interview on being named this newspaper’s Citizen of the Year for 2019, shared this story, which captures just the right note as we begin the new decade.

A customer pulls up to a local gas station. As the owner is filling the tank, the driver asks, “I’m moving to this town. How are the people here?”

“How are they where you come from?” came the reply.

“Great!” says the driver. “They’re friendly, cheerful, helpful, welcoming – you name it.”

“Well,” says the station owner, pausing from his labors, “I think you’ll find people around here pretty much the same.”

That afternoon, another customer pulls up. While the gas station proprietor is filling the tank, the driver asks, “I’m moving to town. How are the people around here?”

“How are they where you come from?” came the reply.

“Terrible,” says the driver. “Angry, penny-pinching gossips. No one gives anyone else a helping hand or cheerful word.”

“Well,” says the station owner, pausing from his labors, “I think you’ll find people around here pretty much the same.”

OK, New Year’s Resolution made!

2019 Full Of Oddities, But Things Can Change

EDITORIAL

2019 Full Of Oddities,

But Things Can Change

GREEN LIGHT LAW, BAIL REFORM ASTOUND

Governor Cuomo during his last visit to Otsego County, on May 22, 2014, during President Obama’s visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

Many sages over the centuries have concluded: The future has not yet been written, (if it ever is). Whatever we’re going through, this too shall pass.

You may have seen the Associated Press dispatch the other day: The Government Justice Center in Albany is suing to prevent Governor Cuomo from getting a pay raise, saying Section 7, Article XIII of the state Constitution prohibits raises during an elected official’s term.

When he was last elected in November 2018, his salary was $179,000, and has since risen to $200,000. Jan. 1, it rose to $225,000 and on Jan. 1, 2021, it will rise to $250,000.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is also receiving raises, from $151,500 in 2019 to $210,000 in 2020 and $220,000 in 2021.

Section 7, Article XIII, reads, “Each of the state officers named in this constitution shall, during his or her continuance in office, receive a compensation, to be fixed by law, which shall not be increased or diminished during the term for which he or she shall have been elected or appointed.”
Seems pretty straightforward.

The AP dispatch reports, both Cuomo and Hochul declined comment.

Because the U.S. has been governed by laws for some 250 years now, we take the rule of law for granted. That our governor – our chief magistrate – appears to be operating outside the state Constitution is troubling, but “troubling” is coming to characterize a lot of what’s coming out of Albany these days.

Take the “Green Light” Law, which, as of Dec. 14, requires county clerk’s offices that operate DMV offices, like Otsego’s, to issue New York State driver’s licenses to undocumented residents.

The explanation is that some undocument residents are driving anyway, and this at least ensures a subset of those will learn to drive to a sufficient level to obtain a license, thus making New York State’s roads safer.

But the contradiction is hard to get over: Persons in the U.S. illegally are being issued legal documents.

Further troubling, when the successful applicant goes to the pay-window computer to be guided through the payment process, at one point the question, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” appears on the screen.

If the applicant checks the “yes” box, his or her information is automatically forwarded to
the Otsego County Board of Elections.

According to Mike Henrici, the county Democratic elections commissioner, all voter registrations are then sent to Albany for verification. Plus, potential fines and jail sentences should deter fraudulent voting. Let’s hope for the best.

Even more troubling are the “justice reforms” that, as Senator Seward notes on Page A4, will allow 90 percent of people arrested to go free.

Already, the New York Post reported the other day a suspect “sucker-punched” an officer and was freed without bail. More examples will no doubt be flowing forth in the weeks ahead.

Changes in how evidence is handled – for instance, requiring suspected cocaine or meth
seized in drug arrests to be confirmed within 15 days; now, the testing can take months –
will put many suspects, some facing serious charges, back on the street, and hinder how their cases are eventually resolved, if they can even be found and brought before the bar.

Add in the possibility of not just legalization, but muscular commercialization, of marijuana, and other measures – there are worrisome clouds forming on New York State’s horizon.

This is not to start the New Year on a down beat.

Swings between reform and rebalancing are part of not just U.S. history, but functioning democracies generally. Think “Peace, Love and Woodstock,” followed by the Reagan years.

To the degree any of the reforms are an overreach, they will be eventually corrected, although perhaps not in 2020.

As Did Garretson, So Does Kennedy

EDITORIAL

As Did Garretson,

So Does Kennedy

Kindred Spirits In Problem-Solving

Back in 2006, our first Citizen of the Year, Cherry Valley Tom Garretson, showed the same coolness in problem-solving as this year’s honoree.

In a way, our Citizen of the Year designation – it will continue, of course – has come full circle.

Interviewing Meg Kennedy, this year’s designee, brought to mind Tom Garretson, the first designee, in 2006.

Throughout that stormy year, when the Cherry Valley area was torn between those who feared 24 industrial-sized windmills would degrade the town’s environment and ambience, and those who saw a boon in new tax revenues, Tom always kept his cool.

And there was a lot at stake, municipally and personally: His father-in-law, who he had succeeded that Jan. 1 as town supervisor, strongly favored the wind project.

At meeting after stormy meeting, Garretson kept order, listened intently and – as
Kennedy would have observed – not only listened, but heard.

In the end, he came down against the turbines, and led the enactment of a law to hinder them. Reunion Power of Vermont finally gave up.

What changed Tom’s mind in the end wasn’t the arguments, but it was a trip he took to Fenner, a flat, indistinct town south of Utica, where a windmill farm was already functioning.

Garretson – a farmer, as is Meg Kennedy – came back with renewed enthusiasm for his adopted hometown – the Garretsons had come from New Jersey in the 1950s; the Kennedys from Long Island a decade or so later.

Compared to Fenner, he concluded, Cherry Valley simply had too much to offer – too much to preserve. Stunning scenery, among the richest and most textured local histories in the nation, a comfortable lifestyle, a farming community enrichened by the Glimmerglass Opera’s world-class culture.

He listened, he heard, he explored, he made the right decision.

This year’s designee, the county representative from Hartwick, Milford and New Lisbon, arguably made the best decision in coming up with a first step in professionalizing Otsego County’s $120 million government – a county administrator whose mandate is to implement the will of 14 representatives who, in effect, are our neighbors.

That what’s always been a controversial discussion obtained the support of 11 of her 14 colleagues is astonishing. And this was done with no table pounding or arm-twisting, but by calm consensus building.

She described what we’re labelling “the Kennedy Method.”

You listen. You HEAR. You ask, what’s fair? Then you decide. (One other step: You collect information.) “I have to get it proved to me,” she said.

Thinking as far back to the days when mom Margaret expected her to herd her nine younger siblings, she concluded, “I could always coalesce a group.”

Up to this point, it seemed impossible that the Energy Task Force effort she’s chairing would go anywhere. Now, there’s reason to be much more optimistic about a consensus result, targeted by the end of 2020.

While Kennedy made it happen, as important, the chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives for only one term, David Bliss, allowed it to happen. That’s another unappreciated aspect of his polite, level-headed and increasingly steady leadership.

He saw her potential. He saw her willingness to work. He saw a kindred spirit and let it fly. (Nor was he absent, attending most of Kennedy’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee and joining IGA members in casting key votes.)

As with Tom Garretson, Meg Kennedy isn’t seeking to change Otsego County – nor is Dave Bliss, for that matter. The idea is, incrementally, to make things better, to create enough jobs to fill our needs; to solve problems one by one, not all right this minute; to make our communities more consistently vibrant in a quickly changing world.

Happy New Year.

Nostalgia? Why Not Live By Enduring Values Today?

EDITORIAL

Nostalgia? Why Not Live

By Enduring Values Today?

As Christmas nears, it was comforting news: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – for years, youngsters from around Otsego County rode the mechanical Christmas legend at Bresee’s Department Store in Oneonta – is in good hands.

Bresee’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer may made us nostalgic for a simpler time; but we can live the simple values of yesteryear today. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)

The venerable four-story emporium at 155 Main St. – now Klugo’s Parkview Apartments – closed in 1994. And when the building changed hands almost a decade later, the Lettis Auction House auctioned off the remaining contents on Dec. 11, 2003.

That included all of the Christmas objects and decorations, and Rudolph passed into the hands of Greg Noonan, Cherry Valley, who would make it available at Christmas for current-day youngsters to ride at various venues around the county – one year, Danny’s Main Street Market in Cooperstown; another, at the Cherry Branch Gallery in Cherry Valley.

Greg held a big auction earlier this year at his farm outside Cherry Valley, and he reports how, providentially, a local individual, so far unnamed, who is a big Rudolph fan, acquired Bresee’s mechanized reindeer.

This person, as Greg tells it, is both a collector of books and ephemera about the most famous Santa’s sleigh across the sky, we’re told, each Christmas Eve. He’s sprucing up Rudolph, even creating a new saddle to replace the one that’s had so much use.

No Rudolph feature story this year – but maybe next.

Meanwhile, relics of Bresee’s Christmas displays are still part of community life, and stories about them resurface year after year.

This year, for instance, John Pontius, Excelsior College vice president (and one of the Albany Business Review’s 10 CFOs of the Year in 2014), now retired to Oneonta, arranged for Bresee elves and doe-like seamstresses from St. James Manor & Retirement Community to be displayed in the windows of the Greater Oneonta Historical Society at Dietz and Main. (Pontius is the new GOHS president.)

You should have seen the rubbernecking.

That led to an article about Carla and Wayne Balnis, who have obtained a Bresee’s display of mechanized skaters that Jim and Katherine Catella set up for years on the lawn of their Belmont Circle home in Oneonta. The Balnises, maybe next year, maybe beyond, plan to revive the display on their Gilbert Street front lawn in the city’s Sixth Ward.

To watch passersby’s delight at Dietz and Main as the display went up, or to hear the Balnises’ enthusiasm, you have to ask yourself, what’s going on here?

There was a good piece a couple of years ago in the Atlantic, “Americans’ Quest for the Christmas of Their Childhoods,” that argues: With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, merchants discovered city dwellers had an “appetite for remembering rural life, whether or not they’d actually experienced it themselves.”

“What is today a $600 billion season industry, rooted in the anxiety about change and a yearning for a simpler world, was born,” Catherine Woodiwiss wrote.

She continued: “The nostalgia for Christmas is in part a way to subsume fears of the future” – she ticks off a number of the front-page crises of three years ago; many haven’t changed –
“in a yearning for the past.”

Yet, isn’t that life – moving from simplicity to complexity? And maybe instead of nostalgia, the Christmas spirit can reconnect us, not with traditional values, but enduring ones.
Here’s one list: kindness, patience, humility, honor, loyalty, wisdom, respect, trustworthiness, generosity, compassion, temperance, bravery, diligence, justice, frugality, fidelity and charity.

Let’s add love and friendship. And let’s replace “traditional” with “enduring.”
There’s nothing on that list that would do any of us any harm, and none we couldn’t immediately embrace and begin to pursue.

Nostalgia? Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be.

Merry Christmas.

Not John Lambert, Somebody LIKE Him

EDITORIAL

Not John Lambert,

Somebody LIKE Him

Judge Lambert also coached his son John’s team to a state championship earlier this year. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

Why does John Lambert, son of Cooperstown and now a county judge, keep coming to mind in the past few weeks?

Raised in that village, he was a good student and guard on a top CCS Redskins’ basketball team that won two regional titles in the late 1980s. He graduated from Hartwick College in 1992, and earned a J.D. from New England School of Law in 1998.

Then he came home, practiced law, and with wife Katie began raising a family. He created the firm of Lambert & Trossett, and was elected to the county bench in 2009. Anyone who sees him preside has to be impressed by his gravitas, humanity and common sense.

An outstanding citizen, native born, and there are many such sensible people among us. Start making up your own list. Great party game.

So, when it was argued during the county board Dec. 4 debate over creating a county administrator position that no one of quality could be recruited and, if he or she were, could be kept here, it rang hollow.

What about all the graduates honored annually with Clark Scholarships or help from Oneonta’s Dollars for Scholars? What about the 2,000 graduates sent forth annually from SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College?

We’re talking about thousands of young, energetic, outstanding people, smart and educated, who know the county, love the county, and might be attracted back as county administrator, thrilled to make their Otsego County a better place, now and for years to come.

Like whom? Well, not John Lambert, he’s spoken for. But someone LIKE John Lambert. Let’s keep him in mind as the process of recruiting our first county administrator moves forward.

Everyone Wants Fair Deal For Animal Shelter, County

EDITORIAL

Everyone Wants Fair Deal

For Animal Shelter, County

Drop The Threats, Negotiate An Agreement

Given successes like Zoe’s rescue (she’s seen here with SQSPCA Executive Director Stacie Haynes), the Susquehanna Animal Shelter has high community support, making it an ideal time, not to threaten unilateral action, but to negotiate support from the county board. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)

The issue’s been hanging out there for a while: What role should the Otsego County Board of Representatives play in funding the Susquehanna Animal Shelter?

Schoharie County’s contribution is $75,000 a year to its shelter. Delaware County splits $88,000 among two shelters. Until now, Otsego County has contributed nothing.

The county has been allocating $5,000 a year. It is not a donation, but a fee for services, which seems like the better way to go.

At its Nov. 26 public hearing on its 2020 county budget, county representatives were advised the Susquehanna SPCA, using cost-accounting data developed by a volunteer, Cooperstown’s Richard Sternberg, plans to “unilaterally” begin charging what it has determined its true costs are.

In a situation with a lot of moving parts, doing anything “unilaterally” is not the best way forward.

For one thing, everyone seems to agree abused animals have to be taken care of, and that county government should pay for costs incurred.

County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr., whose department out of necessity, drops animals seized in cruelty cases at the Hartwick Seminary shelter, said “the welfare of animals is both our priorities.”

County Board Chairman Dave Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, also buys into the general concept. “The board wants to take care of its responsibilities,” he said in last week’s newspaper.

So the issue isn’t that the county pay for costs incurred. It’s simply how much (and, perhaps, to whom)?

The shelter’s annual operating budget is over $700,000. Last year, with the 103 starving animals seized on that Garrattsville farm and 56 Lhasa Apsos surrendered in Milford, Sternberg estimated the county received some $70,000 worth of services.

(Remember, that’s the year-to-year “operating budget,” separate from the $3 million that’s been raised to build a 21st-century animal shelter on Route 28 at Index. Two different pots of money.)

Averaged out with Sternberg’s guidance, SQSPCA Executive Director Stacie Haynes estimated the county’s annual cost at about $40,000 a year, some 5 percent of its total expenses. That includes caring for dogs dropped off by the sheriff’s department, or when a shelter team responds to a call through the county’s 911 system.

When County Treasurer Allen Ruffles returns in January from his National Guard deployment in Djibouti, he should review those figures and come to a common understanding about the value of the services provided.

Under the state Ag & Markets Law, law enforcement – locally, mostly the sheriff’s department – is required to respond to animal-abuse complaints. When deputies remove an animal, they have to take it someplace.

The Susquehanna Animal Shelter has been the preferred option, but it doesn’t have to be.

As Bliss explains it, if the county wanted to contract for services, it would be required to go out to bid, and other shelters – Oneonta’s Superheroes in Ripped Jeans, for instance – could bid, as could individual veterinary practices. Or the county could set up its own pound.

Clearly, acting “unilaterally” may have unintended consequences all around.

The Susquehanna Animal Shelter has a lot going for it.

Under Haynes, it’s been a first-rate operation, evident most recently in bringing the heart-rending case of Zoe, the
German shepherd discovered chained last month in the Town of Exeter with a chewed-off leg and large tumor in her shoulder. Zoe was seized, treated and is now in a new home in the Butternuts Valley.

Successes like this have raised the shelter’s profile, and pet owners are aware of and likely to use its services.

People – that includes members of the county board – want to back a winner, to support excellence, so Susquehanna SPCA, in its current incarnation, is in a position of strength.

Still, it’s determine to do what it believes in. As Haynes put it in last week’s paper, “We have a moral obligation to do what we do. We’re never going to stop doing what we’re doing.”

Admirable, but it weakens the shelter’s bargaining position. It takes the county board off the hook: It can be assured, regardless, our Zoes will be taken care of regardless.

So it only makes sense to cool off the rhetoric. Get the numbers. In an $11 million local tax levy in a $120 million budget, $40,000 is smidgeon. It’s there somewhere. Still, the county board shouldn’t just give away money because somebody asks for it. Fee for service is the way to go.

Demanding will get us nowhere. Let level-headed representatives on both sides sit down, figure out what’s fair and mutually agreeable.

On County Manager, Now Hard Work Begins

EDITORIAL

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 www.AllOTSEGO.com.

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.

Kennedy, Bliss, Committee Deserve Praise

EDITORIAL

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.

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