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Editorial

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.

Conductor Search: What A Treat, Opportunity

EDITORIAL

Conductor Search:

What A Treat, Opportunity

Now, THAT’S marketing – in the nicest possible light.

On learning its venerable founding conductor, Chuck Schneider, was retiring after 46 years, The Catskill Symphony Orchestra Governing Board could have simply advertised for a new one, sorted the resumes, interviewed top prospects and made a decision.

Instead of handling matters in-house, the search committee threw open the decision-making to the public; not exclusively, of course, but it encouraged attendees at three concerts this fall – and the musicians, too – to fill out questionnaires assessing each candidates’ strengths.

And what a lesson for veteran concertgoers and newcomers alike, to see three conductors from different parts of the globe – Silas Huff, who rose through conducting the 44th U.S. Army Band, Carolyn Watson from Australia (now in Kansas), and Maciej Zoltowski from Poland – perform widely varying programs in markedly different styles.

“The biggest surprise is: we got 73 applicants – nationally and internationally,” said Laurie Zimniewicz, search committee chair. “We were like, wow.”

So, as you can imagine, all three have terrific credentials. Google them.


The conductors designed their own programs and invited in soloists, and each evening was at times gripping, even for the not-so-aficionados/experts among we audience members.

Huff began with Strauss, which swept audience members onto their feet, and ended with Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” another crowd pleaser. He was the most engaging in his remarks from the podium.
Watson was precise, intense, all energy.

Her selections were the most edgy, beginning with Higdon’s percussion-heavy “Fanfare Ritmico.” But if you were surprised at the outset, you were captured by the end.

Zoltowski was Tchaikovsky heavy – two of the three pieces. But what Tchaikovsky! The audience was rapt as pianist Alex McDonald, brought in from Texas, accompanied the CSO on Piano Concerto #1 – an emotional highpoint of the season, for sure.

To see three different conductors at their trade – one each in September, October and November – was a
rare opportunity around here, and mind-expanding.

It was satisfying to learn how the community responded: Attendance grew over the three concerts; subscriptions grew. Doing well by doing good. Nice.

The Search Committee won’t make the final decision, but will present an assessment Dec.10 to the CSO Governing Board, including graphs depicting how the audience and the CSO musicians rated the three.

The plan is to give the most weight to the musicians’ inputs. “Without a happy orchestra, we won’t have an orchestra,” she said, and she has a point.

Still, there’s more to that.

Will a conductor’s taste in music help fill the house? Will he or she be able to reach out to all constituencies – the musicians, yes, but also audiences, the board and, if the institution is to grow and prosper, the community?

Will the conductor be able to think like an executive, to strategize, to identify opportunities and chart the future? And, in doing so, to productively collaborate with CSO President Diane Williams, the Governing Board and Executive Director Thomas Wolfe.

In short, the Governing Board may be guided by others’ perspectives, but in the end, it must make its own decision.

In part, that decision will be with an eye to the future: How to attract a younger audience. As a side benefit, conductor candidates have provided a rich list of ideas on how to do this, Zimniewicz said.

The Catskill Symphony Orchestra, based in Oneonta, was founded in 1973. That’s almost half a century ago. It can be taken for granted. But it shouldn’t be.

At a time when major cities are losing their orchestras, ours continues to thrive. If you haven’t partaken, this is a good time to put a toe in the water.

The conductor should be chosen around the first of the year and will direct the CSO’s annual Cabaret Concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14, in SUNY Oneonta’s Dewar Arena. You’ll be glad you did.

Citizens, Cooperstown Needs You To Run For Village Board

EDITORIAL

Citizens, Cooperstown

Needs You To Run For

Village Trustee Position

Bernie Viek, supported by Lake Street neighbors, raises concerns about a blinking light at the Sept. 23 Cooperstown trustees meeting. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)

Bernie Viek’s testimony nailed it.

In the past few months, the Cooperstown Village Board’s default response to any traffic issue has been, put up a blinking light. After a driver rolled his car through the boat ramp at the end of Fair Street April 11 and drowned, suddenly a blinking red light appeared at Fair and Lake streets.

At the Sept. 23 trustees’ meeting, Viek, attending with a crowd of perturbed neighbors, reported the light was blinking, blinking, blinking all night long on his bedroom wall.

Plus, because of the nature of the drowning – the first ever at the site – a blinking light wouldn’t have saved a life.
No doubt neighbors of other blinking lights – at Susquehanna and Beaver, at Delaware and Walnut, at Glen Avenue, Lake Street and the village’s south end – have similar complaints.

Why would the village trustees start putting up these signs without any notice or public discussion?

Because they can.

After almost a decade of uncontested village elections, can you blame the trustees for concluding they can do pretty much what they want?

Bernie Viek’s dilemma – responding to his concern, the blinking light was removed – is just one of many indications the Village Board no longer believes it needs to build a consensus before it acts.

Outpourings of public angst in the past year underscore this.

The blinkers, for sure. Plans for an apartment house backing up to Pine Boulevard, one of the village’s finest streets. A provision in the proposed zoning code, removed after public outcry, to allow conversion of single-family homes into dormitories. The proposed Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskins Robbins store, now withdrawn, at a problematic site overlooked in the zoning redo.

The unanimous vote to fly the Pride Flag next June on the community flagpole has remained under the radar – speaking out is too easily misunderstood in today’s climate. But the Vets’ Club unwillingness to be used as a foil – it rejected Trustee Richard Sternberg’s proposal to fly the POW/MIA flag on the flagpole this month – suggests an unease.

Also, by rejecting Village Attorney Martin Tillapaugh’s recommendation to go easy – the trustees can approve any flag they want, he said, the problem comes when the KKK submits an application – the village trustees put all taxpayers in jeopardy.

Why? Because they could. Since there hasn’t been a check at the ballot box for local Democratic Party dominance for almost a decade now, they can get away with it.

Maybe that’s coming to an end.

The county Republican chairman, Vince Casale, said he is already lining up a slate for the mid-March village elections. This is good; the village Republican Party collapsed in 2012 after GOP Mayor Joe Booan opened discussions to merge village police into the county Sheriff’s Department.

Now, that was accountability.

Because of national divisiveness manifest locally, many Democrats might be unwilling to vote Republican. But there are other ways to provide choice: Individual citizens need only collect 50 signatures (shoot for 100; you’ll be challenged) to get on the ballot. Call Village Administrator Teri Barown, who oversees village elections,
at 547-2411 for instructions.

The Democratic caucus at the end of January routinely rubber-stamps pre-selected candidates, but that doesn’t have to be: Any registered party member can have a couple friends propose and second his or her nomination, and force a contest.

Further, former trustee Lou Allstadt sought both Republican and Democratic endorsements at the party caucuses, signaling both his independence, and an interest in serving all of us, R, D or small “I”.

Contested elections are not a radical idea. They’re a good thing, the basis of the world’s greatest Democracy. Jousting between parties – Judge Cooper’s Federalists and Jedediah Peck’s Jeffersonians – dates back to the very founding of the village in 1807.

Plus, Democrats who have controlled the Village Board since 2020 have blind spots that call out for attention, foremost the decline of the business district. Mid-afternoons from January through March, downtown is a ghost town. It wasn’t that way even a half-decade ago, much less a decade ago.

While the City of Oneonta has been a successful partner in the redevelopment of Bresee’s Department Store and Stevens’ Hardware into first-rate apartments, and now the recruitment of Kearney & Son Development to construct the exciting Lofts on Dietz project, the Village Board here has actively resisted such initiatives.

The Village Board needs, one, to join the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce at the highest membership level, and, two, collaborate with merchants and chamber members to ensure vigorous and constant downtown promotion programs.

Further, instead of breaking up stately homes into apartments and more modest homes into dorms – a formula for neighborhood deterioration – the Village Board needs to partner with Bassett Hospital and developers to build affordable housing hospital employees say they want.

That could be outside the village – word is circulating about a Phoenix Mills Road project, next to Centers – or at convenient but appropriate sites in or around downtown. (For heavens’ sake, protect and enhance the neighborhoods!)

This is no criticism of Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, who is an exceptional representative for the village. She is focused, as she should be – there’s a lot out there – on finishing up the ambitious public works projects now underway, including the 100th anniversary renovations of historic Doubleday Field. In the end, though, she’s the leader.

Trustee Joe Membrino, who with wife Martha moved here from Washington D.C. in 2013 on his retirement as a BIA attorney, is a trustee in the Lou Allstadt mold – experienced in high councils, widely knowledgeable, level-headed, and no push-over. He was appointed to fill out Tillapaugh’s trustee term when she was elected mayor.

The third Village Board member up for reelection, Macguire Benton, is a work in progress. His declaration during the Pride Flag debate that, if people disagree with him, they should run for Village Board, dramatized the arrogance that requires remedy at the ballot box.

Nominated by the Democrats when Allstadt retired, he ran unopposed last March and gained a seat with only 114 votes, the bottom of the ticket.

This week, he took to Facebook to encourage people not to contribute to the Salvation Army Kettle Drive, sure to alienate other constituents unnecessarily.

As a freshman, he should be trying to figure out who his constituents are and what they want – and don’t want – from Village Hall. A strong challenge would be a great education for him, as well as a tonic for the Village Board in general.

Friends, all that’s required is for citizens to be citizens. If you care about preserving Cooperstown, playing to its strengths and increasing its liveability, run. Not angrily, not to settle scores or push parochial issues, but to participate in guiding “America’s Most Perfect Village” into the future.

Remember, it’s “most perfect,” not perfect. There’s work to be done.

From All, Best Wishes For A Speedy Recovery

EDITORIAL

From All, Best Wishes

For A Speedy Recovery

$10 MILLION MAN: State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, is flanked by, from left, MVREDC chairman Robert Geer, Empire State Development Corp. President Howard Zemsky, Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig and Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson, when the City of Oneonta was named the first DRI community on July 20, 2016. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

Editor’s Note: This editorial is reprinted from this week’s editions of Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal, on newsstands now.

The news that state Sen. Jim Seward’s cancer is back – his office issued a press release Wednesday, Nov. 6 – brings two immediate reactions.

One, fingers crossed. Advances in cancer-fighting research can mean five years, 10 years – and more – of active living. Everyone’s got a story of a happy outcome.

Two, reflections immediately come to mind on the ongoing Seward Era of Otsego County politics. It’s been a charmed one, and to reflect on it underscores how his recovery will be good news for all of us.

Just think about this decade, the State Sen. Jim Seward Decade, if you will.

You Can Read County Manager Job Description

WHO MIGHT BE COUNTY MANAGER?

You Can Read County

Manager Job Description

Editor’s Note: Here are the qualifications for a county manager the Otsego County board was scheduled to consider Wednesday, Nov. 6.

►Section 3. Appointment and Term of Office

The County Administrator shall be appointed by the Board of Representatives and shall serve a term of three years at the pleasure of the Board of Representatives.
In the event of a vacancy in office, the County Board of Representatives shall appoint a person to fill the
position for the remainder of the unexpired term.

The County Administrator shall be reviewed annually by the Board of Representatives, or a committee
designated by them.

►Section 4. Qualifications

At the time of appointment the County Administrator shall possess the following qualifications:
1. Graduation from a regionally accredited or New York State registered college or university with a Master’s Degree in Business or Public Administration or a related field and six (6) years of professional experience in the field of public administration; OR

2. Graduation from a regionally accredited or New York State registered college or university with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business or Public Administration or a related field and eight (8) years of professional experience in the field of public or business administration.

3. The appointee need not be a resident of Otsego County at the time of appointment but shall become
so within sixty days of the date of appointment and remain so during his or her term of office.
Failure to become a resident or to remain a resident shall be cause for dismissal by the Otsego County Board of Representatives.

4. The Board of Representatives shall appoint on the basis of these qualifications and on the basis of additional qualifications that the Board of Representatives may establish from time to time.

Reps Ready To Balance Credentials, Experience

EDITORIAL

Reps Ready To Balance

Credentials, Experience

As the City of Oneonta has demonstrated, moving to a city manager – or county manager, the issue of the day – can be “fraught.”

(That’s the word of the day – or year – all of a sudden, every reporter is finding every situation “fraught,” filled with possibilities for undesirable outcomes.  It’s the “Where’s the Beef?” of 2019.)

Wednesday, Nov. 6, the Otsego County Board of Representatives, after almost two years of study, was scheduled to vote on a job description and resolution to create the job. The resolution would set a public hearing for the next meeting, Dec. 4, and at that point the county reps could vote.

Before then, county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Mount Vision, who has championed the effort as chair of both key committees, Intergovernmental Affairs and Administration, said two public information meetings will brief citizens on the innovation and allow discussion and input.

The county board chair, David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, supports creating the county-manager job, but said he wants to make sure the job description is non-specific enough to give the county reps a big enough talent pool and flexibility in picking the right person.

As it happens, two local examples exist that allow lessons to be drawn.

In Oneonta, the city Charter Revision Commission that met in 2009-10 was determined to prevent the hiring of a “good ol’ boy” from the local power structure for the job.

So the job description specifically requires an MPA – a master’s in public administration – which narrowed the talent pool, and may have contributed to the failure of the first two city managers, before the position was stabilized under George Korthauer, a veteran administrator from Petoskey, Mich., who’s been able to pretty much avoid controversy in his two years on the job.

It’s been argued the MPA provision prevented executives like Joe Forgiano, then-retiring executive vice president at MeadWestvaco, Sidney, from being considered. (It’s unclear if he was ever asked if he was interested.)

But you can think of other eminent Oneontans, people like retired SUNY Oneonta president Alan Donovan or former mayor John Nader, who, lacking an MPA, might have stepped in nonetheless and performed superbly.

Then there’s Village of Cooperstown, where Teri Barown was seamlessly promoted from village clerk, and has been effectively operating since with nary a ripple.

The village administrator position had been created in the 1990s, but never filled. And in September 2016, recognizing more day-to-day oversight was required with downtown projects multiplying, Mayor Jeff Katz and the trustees simply promoted her.

It’s worked out great, (plus the village saved some money). Barown knew the trustees, knew what they wanted and what they would resist. She is knowledgeable, diplomatic, with a fine-tuned sense of customer service.

No problemo – not a one.

With such lessons to draw on, Chairman Bliss brings a commonsense outlook to the county manager job description.

Crafted with the help of NYSAC, the state Association of Counties, it’s not surprising the MPA provision is included, and others as well. That’s the sea NYSAC swims in.

But a range of work experience combined with a range of credentials appears to tilt toward the Cooperstown model rather than the Oneonta one.

That’s good, because too much narrow-gauged professionalism can also, little by little, squeeze out democracy.

School superintendents are a case in point: For instance, every school board resolution begins with “on the recommendation of the superintendent of schools,” as if boards of education can do nothing that their hired manager doesn’t suggest or endorse.

Given the requirement that superintendents implement ever more precise and far-ranging law and regulation, even they lack much leeway in determining what local schools teach and how.

And remember, 30 years ago, when voters could reject school budgets and spending would
actually be cut. Today, schools are required to provide so much of what goes on in schools, local boards of education can only cut things like the basketball team, which nobody wants.

You don’t need to go to Washington D.C. to find Donald Trump’s “deep state.” It’s alive and well at 89 Washington St., Albany, the state Department of Education, and in every school district in the state.

Also to watch for: Oneonta’s city manager system – to give him credit, Korthauer’s professional, low-key approach has settled things down – seems to have sapped Common Council’s motivation; committee meetings are routinely cancelled due to lack of a quorum, and it’s been months since any Council member has proposed a notable initiative. (Maybe the new cadre elected Tuesday, Nov. 5, will change that.)

The advantage of the existing county board is that it’s close to the people, and responsive … although not always as efficient as it might be.

It’s that inefficiency – Vice Chairman Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, mentioned expensive change orders on county jail renovations that keep surprising the county reps. A county manager, presumably, would put a better chain of command in place.

Kennedy, who is learning about statewide networking after recently joining NYSAC’s board, hopes the county manager will be able to seek out best practices and novel initiatives statewide to help fix local problems – with our challenged rural emergency squads, for instance.

Following the Teri Barown model, is there someone already at the county who could step up to the job, MPA or not? Karen Sullivan, the planning director who ends up in charge of much of county innovation, would certainly be a contender (although she says she doesn’t want what, at least at the beginning, will be a daunting job.)

Acting Treasurer Alan Crisman, IT Director (and Milford village mayor) Brian Pokorny, Personnel Director Penny Gentile, even current Clerk of the Board Carol McGovern come to mind as promising prospects after a sufficiently rigorous interview process. Working for an MPA while on the job might be a sensible requirement.

Bliss and county Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, a former vice chair, are also concerned about mission creep. A county manager, budgeted at $150,000 a year, might conclude he or she needs a deputy, then secretarial help, and before you know it we’re up to $250,000.

Bliss is determined stay on top of that. After all, the county already has $116 million worth of brain- and firepower. That should be enough.

At base, the world’s a complicated place – and that goes for local government as anywhere else. The right amount of expertise and executive ambition could serve the county well.

It’s not a slam dunk, no guarantees; but Coach Bliss understands the vagaries involved in playing the game. And to listen to him, we can hope for, not a NYSAC cookie-cutter solution, but one that can pursue local opportunities while reducing local challenges.

The point, in the end, is a happier, more efficient Otsego County.

Early Voting Begins In County, And With It, New Opportunities

EDITORIAL

Early Voting Begins

In County, And With

It, New Opportunities

“Anything that allows more people to exercise the right to vote is important,” said Mike Henrici, the county’s Democratic elections commissioner after the first weekend of early voting in Otsego County.

Maybe.

Early voting has been around for 30 years – Texas was first – and today 38 states open the polls in advance of Election Day, which this year is Nov. 5.  New York was the 38th state and, as elsewhere in the state, polls opened at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at the county’s Meadows Office Complex in the Town of Middlefield.

Day One, 50 people voted – the first historic ballot was cast by Kathy Chase, Cooperstown. Day Two, 42, and by noon Monday, Day Three, 34.  At that rate, perhaps 400-500 ballots will be cast by Sunday, Nov. 3.  There will then be a two-day hiatus, and polls will be open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Election Day.

Chase, who plans to be in Colorado visiting her son on Nov. 5, and thus wouldn’t have been able to vote, said, “If it increases voter turnout, then it’s a good thing.”

Yes, but that seems not to have happened nationwide, although early voting has risen from 7 percent of voters in the early 1990s to 17.3 percent, a U.S. Election Assistance Commission statistic reported in a recent column by Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission member in the Washington Times.  That doesn’t include absentee ballots.

However, studies out of American University and the University of Wisconsin concluded states with early voting found turnout dropped 3-4 percent, he recounted.

One theory is that, with one Election Day, campaigns mount an intensive effort to get out the vote; having to do so over two weeks – or as much as 45 days in some states – saps the undertaking.

But what about in Otsego County, when you’re talking about very small numbers, particularly this year, when only county and town offices, and three state Supreme Court slots, are on the ballot.

Take the Town of Richfield, where the motivated Protect Richfield neighbors went to court, lost, then took control of the Comprehensive Plan revision to achieve their goal: banning wind turbines from the jurisdiction.

If Protect Richfield organized to drive a dozen house-bound supporters to the polls every day of 10-day early voting, the 120 votes might very likely swing the election in their favor.

Same in the county board’s District 3 (Laurens-Otego), where Democratic organizers put on a push in the June 25 primary to garner 30 write-in votes to win the Independent line for their candidate, Caitlin Ogden. Despite Republican Rick Brockway having his name printed on the Independent ballot line, he garnered only four votes.

When we’re talking that few numbers, it doesn’t take much to tilt the game board.

Don’t kid yourself that couldn’t be happening.  The other day, the county Democratic Committee sent out a tightly packed schedule of envelope stuffing and phone banking.  The OCDC is energized.

Whether Republicans are caught flat-footed remains to be seen.

Last year, Democrat Antonio Delgado raised $9 million to wrest the 19th District congressional seat from incumbent Republican John Faso, who raised a mere $4 million, according to OpenSecrets.org, the Center for Responsive Politics’ home page.

With that kind of money at his disposal, you can see what kind of hay Delgado’s 2019 campaign can in the 10-day early-voting period, when Delgado will be running for reelection.

Ironically, given Democratic support of taking big money out of politics, early voting “increases the already skyrocketing cost of political campaigns,” wrote Spakovsky, who now is at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“When so many citizens vote early, any candidate who limits spending on voter mobilization to the last few days before Election Day (instead of engaging in expensive turnout efforts during the entire early voting period) will be at a serious disadvantage,” the column said.

There are other issues.

Spakovsky pointed out that in the 2016 Presidential campaign, early voting began in three states even before Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had completed their debates.

After early votes are cast, candidates can die.  Scandals can erupt.

In 2016, Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican and presidential candidate, dropped out a week before the Arizona primary and still received 70,000 votes, many of them early ones.

A CNN analyst pointed out John Kasich came in fourth, behind Rubio by only 6,000 votes. The Ohio governor had been beaten by “Rubio’s ghost.”

If Kasich had continued as a viable alternative to Donald Trump, who knows what our nation’s political landscape would have been today.

In conclusion, Spakovsky mourns the “damage to civic cohesiveness” gained by everyone voting on a single day.

In Cooperstown, for instance, gathering at the Rotary Club’s pancake breakfast at the vets’ club after casting your ballot is as much a part of Election Day as standing in line at St. Mary’s Parish Hall.

Candidates are there.  Republicans and Democrats shake hands.  There’s a feeling of civic cohesion, if not unity on all the issues.

“Given the costs, particularly its tendency to lower turnout, early voting is a ‘reform’ that states should consider undoing,” said the former FEC commissioner.

An unalloyed good?  It seems not.

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