News of Otsego County

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



Sterling Legacy Suggest: Are City Managers Needed


Sterling Mayor’ Legacy Suggest:

Are City Managers Needed?

Maybe it’s apocryphal, but the story’s told of a former mayor of Oneonta who, elected decades ago, discovered some department heads were taking hour-and-a-half lunches to work out at a local gym.

The mayor gave everybody raises, at the same time advising the department heads: Game over, be back at your desks in an hour.

That worked for six months, then the particular department heads starting slipping, the story goes, and soon things were back to how they’d been at the outset.

If true, that underscores the need for a boss, on site, every day at City Hall – and at every other business, for that matter. The buck needs to stop somewhere.

That said, the City of Oneonta’s experience with the current city-manager system of government – next year it will be in place a decade – just hasn’t worked out as hoped.

So that Mayor Gary Herzig is again suggesting revisiting how City Hall governs itself – and
it’s effectiveness in general – is worthwhile, and timely.

The idea of an executive director, implementing mayoral and Common Council policies, makes sense. Pairing that job with, for instance, finance director (or the most apt department head) makes further sense.

As it happens, the third city manager in a decade, George Korthauer, retired last February, just a month before COVID-19 arrived, requiring extraordinary leadership, which Herzig provided – to no one’s surprise, really, given his almost four-year track record.

It’s the Curse of Competence – a job expands to the talents of the person holding it. (Or shrinks.) Even a city charter like Oneonta’s, calling for a “weak mayor” form of government, can’t keep a good person down.

Meanwhile, the Village of Cooperstown also professionalized its government, creating a village
administrator, but leaving the elected mayor and board of trustees assisted, but fully in charge.

Over the years, City Hall has been blessed with many such good persons. Or maybe it’s an Oneonta thing; the city is welcoming to newcomers and comfortable for natives.

There never seems to be a shortage of qualified people, wanting to give back.

It’s not just Herzig; there’s been a succession of capable mayors.

The mourned Dick Miller, a former corporate executive and Hartwick College president; John Nader, now SUNY Farmingdale president; Kim Muller, a SUNY administrator; the venerable David Brenner, a SUNY associate vice president and author, who also chaired the county Board of Representatives.

The trail of talent goes back to the 1960s, when Sam Nader, now 101, set the mold, gaining a statewide reputation for acumen, and bringing a New York Yankees farm team to Damaschke Field.

It can’t be an accident.

By contrast, the three city managers to date just didn’t catch fire. Mayor Herzig is right in concluding it’s time to at least review, and perhaps rethink, a well-intended undertaking that fell short of its goal.

Putting artificial limitations on talented local people, smart, experienced, ambitious about their native or adopted community, must be a mistake.

One caveat: The current city charter was a hard sell, but – in the end – the deal was clinched. On Nov. 7, 2010, 76.08 percent of voters approved it, 1,177 cast aye ballots to the nays’ 370.

A new charter revision effort must earn credibility. The new document must be likewise sold to the public, as the last one was. If it indeed corrects flaws in the 2011 document – as it can and should – that shouldn’t be a heavy lift.

If it includes major changes, Oneonta citizens must be convinced they are indeed improvements. Then, put to a vote, the revised charter passed, and establish a firm foundation for a future that may very well be better guided by leading citizens.

EDITORIAL: Turmoil At Bassett, But It’s Good Turmoil. And It Can’t Be Avoided


Turmoil At Bassett,

But It’s Good Turmoil.

And It Can’t Be Avoided

Intriguing news is filtering out of the vicinity of One Atwell Road, Cooperstown, as Dr. Tommy Ibrahim, new Bassett Healthcare Network president/CEO, takes hold.

Some people are leaving, voluntarily or not, which is common in this kind of transition. But there’s a particularly intriguing addition: A tech guy, Michael Thompson, VP/systems improvement, recruited from Integris, Ibrahim’s former employer, based in Oklahoma City.

Last week’s announcement described his job this way: “Michael will partner with administrative and medical staff leadership to develop and implement a strategic-performance improvement plan for all hospitals across the Bassett Healthcare Network.”

That dovetails with Dr. Ibrahim’s vision, as he described it in an introductory interview on his arrival in mid-July.

Integris’ nine hospitals were silos, vertically organized – president, vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, department heads, etc. His idea was to organize hospitals by specialties – radiologists, cardiac specialists, dermatologists, etc. – horizontally.

Aggregating the power of expertise: You can see how effective that would be, at Integris, sure, but also at Bassett, in concentrating the expertise scattered between Cooperstown, Fox in Oneonta, O’Connor in Delhi, Cobleskill Regional Hospital, Little Falls, and the Bassett Network’s dozens of other facilities.

At Integris, Ibrahim told the Daily Oklahoman a year ago, “Our strategy to becoming one of the nation’s five top medical systems starts with building an infrastructure around data analytics. Our central theme remains quality and patient safety, around which we track many matrices.”

Data, matrices (measurements), quality. It’s going to be exacting, intense. At Integris, “teams systemwide meet every morning to gather, quickly identify and rectify issues, and rally around providing the best patient care possible,” the Oklahoman reported.

To do this, Ibrahim needs people around him to effectively implement; in other words, to get the
right things done right, and quickly.

To do this, he needs his own team.

It seems, that’s where we’re heading.

Departures so far include Dr. Steven Heneghan, the Network’s chief medical officer, announced a month ago. Two or three other key players – unannounced, but you’d know them – as of last Friday. It’s being said top Bassett executives who want to remain in their positions must reapply, but that couldn’t be immediately confirmed this week.

Can it be helped? Probably not, nor should it be.

The former Oneonta mayor, Dick Miller, served on the Fox board, and used to say it’s generally accepted that, for a modern hospital system to succeed, it has to draw on a population of 1.2 million; Bassett’s eight counties add up to 600,000.

It should go without saying, but can’t be said enough: For the good of Otsego County, in particular, it’s important that Bassett – a font of jobs and brainpower, a facility essential to quality economic development – orbits around Cooperstown, rather than Utica, Albany, Binghamton or, heavens, Sayre. Pa. That means adding to and further developing exceptional expertise already in house –
obviously, there’s never enough of that – attracting more patients, and continuing to expand as
opportunities arise.

In his departing interview, Dr. Bill Streck, Ibrahim’s predecessor, who retired in 2014 but was brought back in 2018 when his successor resigned, was asked what went wrong in the interim.

Nothing specific, Streck said, just a loss of “institutional momen-tum.” That, he continued, can be a fatal sin.

Dr. Tommy Ibrahim, 39, has brains, a successful track record, youthful energy, and a vision of where we should go. He sold that vision to the Bassett board, which was looking for a future. He needs

HIS team to take him there, and us. That’s going to take some short-term pain. And that’s OK.

Final quote from the Oklahoman:  “I think Integris” – substitute Bassett – “can absolutely compete with the likes of the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins and the Cleveland Clinic.”

Without ambitious goals, we aren’t going to get there, or anywhere. Ibrahim needs his team’s support, and everyone’s, to get there.

Public, Private Colleges Both Must Thrive

Public, Private Colleges

Both Must Thrive

It’s been reported that SUNY Oneonta’s volunteer quarantining was a SUNY-wide policy.

If so, then we can expected similar COVID explosions at Cobleskill, Delhi, Binghamton and across the 64-campus system, unless the campuses can quickly apply SUNY Oneonta’s new regimen of 100-percent testing and a two-week hiatus.

Throughout the pandemic threat, there have been calls for uniform policies and instruction from Washington D.C. (or the CDC in Atlanta), so a nation of 320 million people can proceed lock-step against a common foe.

That’s fine, but there’s a downside: If some central authority gets it wrong, then we all get it wrong. New York State got it wrong – it was a fiasco, but Governor Cuomo led us out of it – allowing other states to learn and adapt, albeit not perfectly.

There’s another reason for Hartwick College’s rigor vis a vis SUNY Oneonta’s fuzzier focus. President Margaret L. Drugovich undoubtedly understood that, if Hartwick didn’t get it right, there might be no Hartwick.

Within the SUNY system, there’s a different understanding: There will be hard times, there will be cuts, but the big bureaucracy will continue churning along. Thanks, taxpayers.

SUNY Oneonta had to get it sorta right. Hartwick had to get it perfectly right.

What does this tell us?

Nationally, we need diversity among the states to come up with solutions. With COVID-19, we need a diversity of institutions of higher learning to ensure a diversity of solutions (and diversity of thought, for that matter, but that’s for another day.)

Excelsior Scholarships, the SUNY system’s free tuition for children of families with incomes of less than $125,000, have put many of Upstate’s fine private colleges at a competitive disadvantage that will erode their effectiveness over time, maybe even their ability to exist.

Yes, Cornell, RPI, Colgate, Niagara, RIT, Hamiltion, Union and, yes, Hartwick, are already feeling the pinch. Earlier this year, supportive alumni pulled Aurora from the brink.

When we eventually get to the New Normal, part of it should be a revisiting of Excelsior Program to ensure an equal playing field. First, all students should have some skin in the game. Second, the state

Legislature should make sure tuition aid is equitably spread across the board, to SUNY colleges and private institutions alike.

The SUNY Oneonta fiasco (227 cases at presstime) – and, fingers crossed, Hartwick College’s relative success to date (two cases) – underscore: e pluribus victoria.

Let’s Stay Flexible, Collaborate, Decide To Move Forward

Let’s Stay Flexible,

Collaborate, Decide

To Move Forward

20-20 hindsight is easy but…

Aug. 21-23 was critical. That was the first weekend back for SUNY Oneonta’s 6,500 students. For Hartwick College 1,200; but, as it turns out, that was less impactful.

For Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig and Common Council, the focus had been on bars and gatherings on Main Street, but that turned out to be under control.

Yes, there were students there, but the heightened public concern, and tavern keepers’ wariness about losing their licenses, plus state regulations preventing people from actually standing at the bar, avoided the COVID-19 petri dish that downtown might have been.

It turns out, a better focus would have been off-campus festivities – several “large parties,” as SUNY
Chancellor Jim Malatras put it, where a handful of students passed the infection to other students who went back to campus and passed it on to others, 245 as of Tuesday, Sept. 1. Kapow!

In addition to patrolling downtown, city police were supposed to be patrolling for large parties. According to Police Chief Dave Brenner, a cruiser responded to a single party, and issued a noise complaint.

With 20-20 hindsight, there you have it.

On the SUNY campus, the policy was to ask incoming students to self-quarantine for seven days, and those coming from “hot-spot” states to quarantine for 14. Dreamin’, as was underscored by the course of events since then.

In contrast, Hartwick College insisted students get tests in advance to prove they were clean, and tested them again when they arrived on campus, and will continue to do so.

That SUNY Oneonta had to test all its students on an emergency basis AFTER 105 cases erupted on the Saturday of Weekend Two – underscores that Hartwick’s approach was better.

It’s nice, perhaps, that the first default of SUNY Oneonta’s administration was to trust students to be dependable – but we’re in a pandemic, folks. Nice doesn’t do it.

At the time, the SUNY Student Association’s opting out of City Hall’s ban on nighttime buses between the campuses and the downtown seemed like a bad idea. Since, the SA’s contract with Hale

Transportation of Clinton was abruptly cancelled.

On his Sunday, Aug. 30, press conference at SUNY Oneonta, Chancellor Malatras also announced a high-ranking official, Hank Bennett. the SUNY system’s deputy director of operations, has been deployed from Albany to advise the local campus’ administration.

It’s a shame it had to come to that, but there it is.

The good news is, as of this writing, at least, there have been infections, but not all are active. It seems young people are more at-risk than originally thought, but not as much as older citizens.

This may change by the time you read this, but by press time no one had been hospitalized, and it was expected all SUNY students would be tested.

We’ve learned collaboration is better than not, that tough decisions are necessary, that there’s no substitute to dusting ourselves off and moving forward.

After Malatras raised the alarm, Governor Cuomo dispatched a virus-testing SWAT team to the City of the Hills, which set up testing sites Wednesday, Sept. 2, at Foothills, the Oneonta Armory and
St. James Episcopal Church.

For now, in Oneonta, you can get tested; so, get tested. That allows contact tracing, quarantining and, eventually, let’s expect and anticipate, an end to this unhappy episode and a return to whatever the

New Normal may be.

SUNY Oneonta, City Hall: Patch Up Relationship


SUNY Oneonta,

City Hall: Patch

Up Relationship

President, Mayor Divided,

Particularly On Bus Issue

With luck and care, the SUNY Oneonta community will soon be enjoying fall colors on a busy campus. (SUNY Oneonta photo)

This is a time for unity against an implacable foe.

Five months into the COVID-19 threat, it’s hard to see the future clearly. There have been worldwide epidemics before, but not since the Flu Pandemic of 1919, and not in a world so interconnected by travel and commerce. A vaccine will eventually  surface, but how soon, and how quickly would it become widely available?

Still, while not uniform across the country or the world, the progress to control the disease in our Empire State has been astonishing. Governor Cuomo has been almost giddy at his daily briefings over the past week, reporting an infection rate of less than 1 percent for a 10th day in a row.

Just weeks after filling mass graves, 100 bodies at a time, in New York City, our governor can say to us: “I congratulate New Yorkers for doing what people said couldn’t be done.”

Here in Otsego County, now is the time to again do what some people say can’t be done:
Reabsorb 8,000 college students, overnight doubling the number of people in our county’s population center, the City of Oneonta.

There are no guarantees, but Hartwick College’s regimen is reassuring. Students must be tested for COVID-19 before arriving on campus this weekend, and must be tested again before classes begin the following Monday. Students are required to live on campus, so its 1,200 scholars can more easily be kept at a distance from the city at large.

SUNY Oneonta has also put together an impressive plan to keep COVID-19 at bay, including seven- and 14-day self-quarantines for arriving students.

Some individual initiatives are particularly impressive: Safety Officer Lachlan Squair’s innovative waste-water testing, in collaboration with Cornell and SU, and CGP’s Erik Stengler – he’s actually a science professor – ensuring social distancing at the Otsego Lake-side campus, have surfaced in the past few days.

Undoubtedly there are many more heroes of the moment, if you will, at SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick too.

SUNY, however, presents a particular challenge. It has 6,500 students, four times Hartwick’s. Half of them live off campus, and will be going back and forth daily.

So it was troubling to learn this week that Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig and the SUNY administration aren’t in total amity heading into one of the most important weeks of 131 years of town-gown relations.

It’s a shame the SUNY Oneonta administration couldn’t fully collaborate in circulating the mayor’s letter of welcome – and of caution – to its students, as Hartwick did. According to Herzig, College President Barbara Jean Morris thought there was too much of an “us-vs-them” tone, but a neutral reading of the letter – it is reprinted on page A4 – doesn’t support that.

Hartwick College is awaiting the return of its students this weekend. (Hartwick College photo)

Likewise, Hartwick College and Hillside Commons agreed with City Hall’s plan to suspend evening shuttle-bus routes from the campuses into the city, but SUNY couldn’t bring itself to do so.

Finally, it appeared the mayor hadn’t been fully briefed on SUNY’s testing plans – waste-water testing, the college health center’s role, and an “opting in” to Upstate Medical’s services – as he should have been.

We are where we are. Those decisions have been made, (although the shuttle-bus alternative should be monitored and revisited, if advisable.)

What’s most important is for Mayor Herzig and President Morris to sit down, immediately, and revisit what’s happened to their relationship, and establish – or reestablish – a level of trust, cooperation and open communications as we enter an uncharted and imponderable future.

Given what’s already happened at UNC, that relationship is going to be important to everyone living in Oneonta and Otsego County at large, given how our local economy – and thus our lives and livelihoods – is dependent on thriving colleges, and functioning ones.

Freshman County Rep Shows Guts, Consistency


Freshman County Rep

Shows Guts, Consistency

Let’s give credit where it’s due.

Clark Oliver

In our May 29 edition, County Rep. Clark Oliver of Oneonta was tweaked in this space, along with his fellow Democrats who voted against 59 layoffs without offering an alternative.

They ducked a hard decision, thus losing credibility with their colleagues, it was argued.

Last Wednesday, Aug. 5, the county board was considering a measure to set aside New York State’s 2-percent property tax cap – yes, something that’s bound to be unpopular with a majority of voters.

(As County Attorney Ellen Coccoma explained, the idea isn’t to necessarily go beyond the cap but, if forced to do so, to avoid penalties that would be imposed unless the cap is lifted in advance.)

The county board’s leader, Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, as appropriate, put the measure on the table, but it required a second.

Who stepped forward? One of the county board’s junior members, Clark Oliver, District 11 (Oneonta Wards 1 and 2). He explained, “If we don’t raise property taxes, we’ll just have to think about cutting crucial services.”

The board as a whole will now have to act on the tax-cap question at its September meeting on the 2nd.

Oliver’s decision to provide the second is in line with his arguments against the layoffs: That people being laid off will be hurt, and also citizens at large who require county services.

In this space, we support the layoffs as necessary, but – as always – we respect – in fact, welcome – people’s opinions to think otherwise.

Last week, Clark Oliver stepped up and made a tough decision that was in line with his previously expressed opinions. Guts and consistency. Not bad for a freshman – or a
veteran, for that matter.

Extremism Threatens George Floyd’s Legacy


Extremism Threatens

George Floyd’s Legacy

In our nation and county, we have a moment of opportunity.

George Floyd’s death – and, in particular, the graphic video, 8 minutes and 46 seconds of it – caused every American of good will, black, white, Hispanic, even, yes, Indians, to say, enough is enough.

The mechanisms of reform are starting to turn on the question of the moment: How do we retool our police departments so it, finally, once and for all, won’t happen again? How do we retreat from the militarization of local, state and national law enforcement set in motion on Sept. 11, 2001, after terrorists brought the Twin Towers to the ground before every American’s very eyes?

At the state level, Governor Cuomo has ordered every local government with one of the state’s
500 police forces to review records for the past 10 years and “reinvent and modernize police strategies and programs” – BY APRIL 1! This is what’s called, not a wish, not a study, not a forum, but an action plan.

Subjects to be studied include use of force, crowd management, community policing, addressing “implicit bias,” de-escalation training, community-based outreach, citizen-complaint
procedures, and more.

County Rep. Dan Wilber, who chairs the Public Safety & Legislative Affairs Committee, Oneonta Common Council, at Mayor Herzig’s initiative, and the Cooperstown Village Board are already moving to meet the governor’s deadline.

Potentially, this will be George Floyd’s legacy. Let’s not threaten it.

It isn’t guaranteed.

The biggest threat to accomplishing Cuomo’s mandate and George Floyd’s legacy – at base, to create a more perfect union – is extremism and its silly stepchild, overreach.

Extremism? How about Black Lives Matter’s Hawk Newsome, who said the other day: “If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down the system and replace it.” That’s
going to work out well.

Silly overreach? Last week’s action by the Cooperstown Village Board to remove the word “Indian”
from Historic Markers qualifies – and, presumably, eventually from such icons as the “Indian Hunter” in Lakefront Park.

It turns out, though, the word “Indian” is unobjectionable, even preferred, by many Indians themselves, local experts tell us. Some Indians specifically reject the alternative “Native Americans,” noting their ancestors crossed the Bering Strait – “Beringia” – from Asia 15,000 years before Amerigo Vespucci was born in 1454.

Let’s keep our eye on the ball.

The point is, there are “sensitive” experts out there – as compared to the “insensitive” rest of us, as characterized by Trustee MacGuire Benton – who would be contemptuous of the Village Board’s initiative, first raised by Benton and turned into a resolution by Trustee Richard Sternberg.

Thankfully, after knowledgeable instruction, Sternberg said he intends to at least revise his resolution to allow a period of study before approaching the state Education Department and asking for our local monuments to be defaced.

Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch now says that resolutions, like this one, shouldn’t be sprung on the Village Board at the 11th hour of a late-night meeting, as this one was. She’s considering asking that resolution be included in the packet trustees receive on the Friday before their Monday meetings, so they aren’t ambushed.

Look, folks, all of us have undergone severe personal challenges, going on four months now.

Some of us, or family and friends, have been stricken by coronavirus. Many of us have seen our livelihoods challenged. Most of us have been confined, for better or for worse. And all of us have been inconvenienced.

Then, just as things appeared to be improving – maybe, it turns out, in New York State; but in much of the rest of the nation, no – a match was thrown into a bucket of gasoline in Minneapolis, dramatizing a grievous flaw in OUR American society that can no longer go unaddressed.

In both crises – the pandemic and the protests – there has been extremism and overreach, and
they are eroding the consensus that will allow us to get anything out of this mess.

Again, let’s stay focused.

As we enter the Fourth of July weekend, let’s vow to stick to the business of being can-do Americans,
and get both crises behind us, to affirm our American system, that we don’t burn books, and
can read what we want. That we don’t deface monuments over ideology. That we remove statues by due process, not mob rule.

That we can burn flags if we want to – even our revered Stars & Stripes.
Except for very narrow exceptions – shouting fire in a crowded theater – we can say and write what we want. If we can stand the scolds, we can use whatever words we want. And certainly, we can think what we wish, as long as we don’t act on our felonious ruminations.

Let’s treasure these Constitutional guarantees. They’re called freedoms. And looking at most of the world, they’re American freedoms. Let’s cherish them. Let’s learn to appreciate them by practicing them – this Independence Day and going forward.

IN APPRECIATION: Giles Russell, Good Citizen


Giles Russell, Good Citizen

Giles Russell

Giles Russell was the kind of citizen – active, engaged, sure-footed in the projects he undertook – that any community would welcome and cherish.

“Giles was a very hardworking, very caring – I can’t think of anyone who cared more for the village than Giles; and a lot of people care about the village,” said Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk.

To Cooperstown’s gain, he and wife Jane chose “America’s Most Perfect Village” as their new home in 1989 as he prepared for his retirement in 1991 from an engineering career at IBM. They precisely duplicated a traditional saltbox (with all the modern amenities) in the Cooper Park neighborhood.

Soon, he was on the Village Board, then served as village administrator. He was a long-time member of the Library Board, determined firm up the finances of the often-strapped institution into a district library, with an almost guaranteed annual levy from the Cooperstown Central School District. He chaired the Tree Committee during its initial collaboration with Cornell in preparing a tree master plan that the village still follows today.

His influence reached to Oneonta and beyond through his participation in the Executive Service Corps.
Former Mayor Wendell Tripp remembers he gave a lot to the village and, being an engineer, “in a very precise way.” Heading the Village Board’s street committee, Giles and then Streets Superintendent Carter Coleman walked every sidewalk to determine which needed replacement or repair, said Tripp.

He could surprise, too. When the Fenimore hosted a Grandma Moses exhibit in 2006, it turned out that Giles, raised in Eagle Bridge, knew the family and had many telling anecdotes to share.

Behind a kindly and courteous mien was an analytical mind, a combination that allowed him to subtlely instruct without offense. When communities everywhere have citizens like Giles, they’re valued, as he was valued here.

– Jim Kevlin

In Nation Under Duress, A Verb To Live By


In Nation Under Duress,

A Verb To Live By

Socially distanced appropriately, Cooperstown village trustees join Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, center, at the Pride Flag, unfurled at 22 Main on Tuesday, June 1. From left are Joe Membrino, Richard Sternberg, Jeanne Dewey, MacGuire Benton, Jim Dean and Cindy Falk. (Jim Kevlin/

The verb, “to accept.”

The verb became action at 8:30 a.m. Monday, June 1, when Public Works Director Mitch Hotaling climbed a ladder and hung the Pride Flag on Cooperstown Village Hall.

When the Village Board, with some rancor, voted last July to fly the flag during Gay Pride Month, trustees couldn’t know how the verb, “to accept,” might resonate today after three months of pandemic and a week of riots.

To begin, let’s activate the verb to accept the people we know who are gay: beloved brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins, childhood friends.

And more: Let’s accept they should be honored, even celebrated. It’s time.

“We” sounds majoritarian. It is. It is time for the country at large to accept this minority, and be enriched by it, as the majority has accepted so many others over our 250-year history and continues to do today.

Let’s go further. Let’s accept that violence settles nothing.

Arguably, the 1967 burning of American cities ripped apart the Civil Rights coalition of the 1960s and set back the cause 20 years. Fury creates fury; it’s no win.

Let’s accept that militarizing American police forces after 9/11 – “civilians” is what officers call the rest of us – was a mistake from its beginning in the shadow of the burning Twin Towers. Let’s ramp it back.
Locally, we’ve seen the bad as we walked past armored cars and flak-jacketed officers en route to the Hall of Fame’s Induction.

And we’ve seen the good: Last Sunday, Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner assigned no officer when 500 people rallied peacefully for justice in Oneonta’s Muller Plaza. He trusted them.
Community policing, that’s called, a partnership between police and people.

Let’s accept it.

Yes, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, we’ve read how Minneapolis’ police union sheltered members from responsibility. Let’s accept reform is needed there, too.

Let’s accept that our nation’s vast wealth – the envy of the world – hasn’t been sufficiently shared.

Locally, Schenevus’ unified joy at the prospect of a 300-job distribution center dramatized the yearning for good jobs here, as in black neighborhoods like the one where George Floyd was killed.

In the Trump Administration’s peace plan for Israel and Palestine, multi-national companies agreed to build plants in Palestine, where unemployment is as high as 43 percent in Gaza. Why not in disadvantaged American neighborhoods?

Let’s accept that economic stability stabilizes families, and neighborhoods and communities. Stable communities require less policing, fewer opportunities
for the Officer Chauvins of the world to do their damage.

Let’s accept vibrant American capitalism as a font of opportunity and wealth, the modern outlet for ambition and the pioneering spirit. And tax it appropriately for the benefit of all.

Let’s accept that our Constitutional system generally works – or, as Churchill said, better than any other – and that the current administration happened because government had lost touch with its constituents.

If we don’t like the result, that can be allayed, perhaps as soon as Nov. 3 or no later than Nov. 5, 2024, and reforms made along the way.

Let’s accept the arc of history bends toward justice. The American story, flawed as any other nation’s,
proves it.

Amid all this, let’s accept flying the Pride Flag each June. Since we all have gay friends and relatives, it shouldn’t be divisive at all. Mayor Gary Herzig has said he doesn’t object to it in Oneonta – so, draft a resolution.

Let’s accept we may not fly enough flags: Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Parkway is lined with 90, one for every nation that has contributed any significant number of today’s Philadelphians.

Let’s accept the American canon: freedom, justice, the right to pursue Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. For everyone. And let’s use verb, “to accept,” to advance it.

Action Needed, And Responsible Majority Acted


Action Needed,

And Responsible

Majority Acted


Preparing to vote on 59 layoffs Wednesday, May 20, are, from left, top row, Chairman
Dave Bliss and Vice Chair Meg Kennedy; County Reps. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla; and Andrew Stammel, D-Town of Oneonta. Second row, Michele Farwell, D-Morris; Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta; Rick Brockway, R-Laurens; Dan Wilber, R-Burlington. Third row, Andrew Marietta, D-Fly Creek; Jill Basile, D-Oneonta; Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, and Adrienne Martini, D-Oneonta. Bottom row, Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, attended but had departed. (Screenshot from Facebook Live meeting)

Sometimes things have to be done. Imperatives, they’re called.

Such is the regrettable layoff of 59 county workers, a decision made May 20, a week ago Wednesday, by the Otsego County Board of Representatives. The layoffs go into effect Monday, June 8, the day county government is allowed to reopen.

The vote was 9-4-1, with the nays all Democrats: a veteran county rep, Andrew Stammell, Town of Oneonta, who should have known better, and three newcomers, second-term Michele Farwell, Morris, ditto, and newcomers Jill Basile and Clark Oliver, who are, well, newcomers facing probably the toughest decision they will make in their tenures.

Danny Lapin, also an Oneonta Democrat, had to leave halfway through the meeting – he was moderating a long-scheduled OCCA panel on adapting to a post-COVID-19 world. Asked, however, he said he would have voted nay, too. “I share the same concerns as Representatives Stammel and Farwell” – that the cuts made aren’t the best possible.

In listening to last week’s debate, and talking with county board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, and the vice chairman, Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, the cuts were made after an exhaustive review. Department heads were asked for guidance. Kennedy’s Administration Committee met for several hours Wednesday, May 13, then for five hours Friday, May 15, to make the final decision.

All board members were welcome at these meetings, and all were emailed voluminous information and data that were the basis for the decisions, said Bliss.

He added that many of the layoffs are people who were determined “non-essential” – a terrible term – and thus were prohibited from working anyway. Also, they will be laid off in time to partake of “enhanced” unemployment, an extra $600 a week. (A separate editorial, perhaps.)

Plus, the CSEA, at first obdurate, has since agreed to additional sweeteners from the county board: Those laid off may return with their seniority and vacation time intact, and can choose to pay and stay on the county medical insurance through the end of the year. Civil Service Law requires none of this, Personnel Officer Penny Gentile told the board.

All in all, that’s a pretty sweet layoff, if any layoff can be.

“When you’re talking about the solvency of the county,” said Bliss, “you’ve got to do what’s right.” Not to edit him, but they – the county reps – have to do the best they can, with the expectation any decision this complicated – paring 10 percent of a 500-person staff in two dozen departments – won’t be perfect.

As county Rep. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, said, quoting Teddy Roosevelt: “Sometimes the right decision and the hardest decision are the same.”

Here are a couple of ways to analyze the nay votes.

One, the Republicans, in alliance with the one Conservative, control the county board, and there’s a responsibility that comes with control. They were elected to, and arguably they made the best decision they could, after an open and inclusive process.

And it’s not over: There are more tough decisions ahead.

Two, through bipartisanship. That, along with “transparency,” are two terms that often emerge between Democratic lips. This was a time for bipartisanship.

It’s interesting that two Democrats – Andrew Marietta, Cooperstown/Town of Otsego,  and Adrienne Martini, City of Oneonta – serve on the Admin Committee, went through the many hours of deliberations, and voted twice in favor of the layoffs, once in committee, then on the 20th.

County Rep. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, then called for those who voted nay to come up with an alternate list, if they can do better. That’s fine in theory; but, frankly, the county board’s procedures were followed in getting to the 9-4-1 vote. It should stand, and likely will.

“We have to do everything we can to bring these who lost their jobs back,” said Lapin. By not making the tough decision, he, Stammel, Farwell, Basile and Oliver will have little leverage to accomplish that.

The decision will be made by those who took a deep breath and did what they had to.

Actually, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles has an idea that’s more interesting: Use this opportunity to review county government top to bottom, to see where efficiencies can be put in place.

For instance, bill paying and hiring is done across multiple departments. Why not centralize
those activities, bills in the Treasurer’s Office, hiring and personnel administration in a new Human Resources Department.

That would be the best of all worlds: Making layoffs as painless as possible, and streamlining county government so those who do return will reenter a leaner, more effective and efficient organization.

Everyone’s adapting to the “new normal,” and it isn’t going to be 100 percent comfortable for anyone.

Build On DMCOC’s Smart Marketing


Every Business Should Build

On DMCOC’s Smart Marketing

It’s been hard to approximate layoffs. Business owners don’t want to announce them, and the monthly figures seem so theoretical.

Bassett Healthcare Network, people figure – and have heard anecdotally from time to time – has certainly furloughed and cut back hours after closing two floors and halting elective surgeries while coronavirus was considered a pending local emergency. But it doesn’t want to brag about it either.

So the county Board of Representatives plans to lay off 59 people – 50.5 FT equivalents, 10 percent of its payroll for $1 million in savings, and hardly enough – was a bracing bucket of cold water.

So were state Sen. Jim Seward’s declarations over the past few weeks that a depended-upon safety net, the state Department of Labor, is inaccessible. No one’s answering the phone and constituents, after days of trying, have been calling the senator’s office in tears. He wants answers, and action.
We need to focus, people.

In an interview the other day, the able Cassandra Harrington, executive director of Destination Marketing Corp. of Otsego County (too long a name) or DMCOC (meaningless acronym) had some scary numbers to share.

In 2018, she said, tourism brought $206 million to Otsego County, of which $101 million was spent employing people in a total of 3,426 jobs. Those jobs aren’t there this summer.
Happily, Destination Marketing has an action plan: It is rolling out a summer marketing promotion on June 1, looking to draw people here from a 150-mile radius.

Before we all throw up our hands in horror: The idea is to attract people, hopefully a lot of them, to kayak (with a loved one who has been equally exposed, or not exposed). And go to our airy beaches. And

Ride bicycles – one person per bike. And hike our lovely trails – 6 feet apart, of course.
Social distancing is easy in the Great Outdoors.

After July 1, when the Hall of Fame and other attractions very likely will have reopened
(The Clark Sports Center is looking to open that day), the marketing plan will shift to attractions, (paced to ensure the local institutions are not overcrowded.)

In the fall, the marketing will shift to foliage.

All of this makes sense, in line with the two-word imperative: REOPEN SAFELY. Both words matter equally; each must be done.

Two things:

One, are Destination Marketing’s promotions being sufficiently financed?

The county’s contribution to DMCOC is based on last year’s sales- and bed-tax revenues. We know the county’s broke, but it should take a flinty-eyed look at cost-benefit before it considers cutting here.

Another source of revenue is the Partners’ Program – partners being individual hotels, restaurants and attractions. They also are strapped, some less so, and they should participate if they can.

How about our local private foundations? Perhaps they can help ensure marketing efforts are fully funded.

People, some anyhow, are reluctant to accept the fact Otsego County is a tourist economy. That fact is going to be dramatically emphasized in the months ahead.

Two, local business must do what they can to serve, and thus profit from the people lured here by DMCOC’s marketing campaigns.

Maybe restaurants can make box lunches for bicyclists or picnickers. Maybe stores can set up sidewalk displays (enabled by municipalities.) Otsego County Chamber President Barbara Ann Heegan said Oneonta City Hall is considering allowing all restaurants to do sidewalk cafes.

Nice, airy and safe idea.

Individual businesses know better how to do so for themselves. It’s important they do so.

We’re all in a fix. But it’s not a fix that’s going to last forever.

Maybe the weather will slow the coronavirus. Maybe a vaccine will be developed over the fall or winter or sooner. Maybe immunity will become widespread. Pandemics eventually end, some more happily than others.

The point is, as we flattened the curve, let’s now do what we can to soften the economic pain.

For Good Of All, Hope Marty Patton Right


For Good Of All,

Hope Marty Patton Right

It may turn out Marty Patton made the right call, delaying opening of his Cooperstown All Star Village, the youth baseball tournament camp in West Oneonta, in hopes of salvaging at least some of the 2020 season.

Things are happening so quickly.

With this week’s Glimmerglass Fest cancellation, pretty much all of the major summer activities have been cancelled or delayed – mostly notably, of course, Derek Jeter’s July 26 Induction and the 2020 season of Patton’s competitor, Cooperstown Dreams Park.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus threat seems to be easing day to day, from New York City to Otsego County where, for now, there’s almost nothing left.

Patton’s strategy – cancelling the first week in June during the first week in May, etc. – may allow him to salvage two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, maybe more. He is emphatic, as every sensible person should be, that safety will guide any final decision.

Given where were are, it’s possible COVID-19 may be just an unhappy memory locally in a few weeks.

The pacing factor for Patton is where his teams are coming from: Detroit and Houston and Tucson and wherever the disease’s arrival came later.

When and where are questions Patton’s struggling with, as he should be. Let’s hope facts break his way, for the benefit of all of us.

War Not Over, But Let’s Take Victory Lap


COVID-19 War Not Over,

But Let’s Take Victory Lap

Let’s take a victory lap.

As of Monday, May 4, the coronavirus threat in Otsego County had been reduced to one case. One case in the whole county.

It’s a battle won, not the war.

Testing for the coronavirus identified 62 positive infections once symptoms appeared, through the Bassett Hospital hotline (547-5555) and other means. In all likelihood, though, there is still coronavirus in our neighborhoods.

Testing for antigens, which is expected to ramp up in the days ahead – soon, in local pharmacies. It will identify people who have been exposed to COVID-19, have it in their bloodstreams, but may not have infected anyone else.

Further, no county is an island, as much as we might wish it to be. People are driving up from New York City, the national center of the epidemic – many fewer than would have been if Induction 2020, Cooperstown Dreams Park and the Glimmerglass Festival hadn’t been cancelled – but still, some.

Some people, it’s said, are renting now-vacant Dreams Park families’ accommodations, seeking to shelter their families from the disease’s Ground Zero. Who can blame them?

According to an order from county Board Chairman David Bliss, they are required to report their arrival to the county Department of Health and to go into a 14-day quarantine. But it’s unlikely everybody is doing so.

Yes, it’s not over.

Still, we – look in the mirror; look around you to see who’s within sight – all of us, have participated in this success, in reducing 62 cases (and, potentially, rising) to one.

We’ve sheltered at home. We’ve washed our hands and used hand-sanitizer.

We’re wearing masks. We’re staying 6 feet away from each other.

We’ve avoided congregating outside our families. We’ve cancelled all major local events, from the Otsego Chamber of Commerce’s spring gala, to the Greater Oneonta Historical Society’s annual dinner, to all sporting events and high school graduations – you name it. All churches and social clubs are in abeyance.

We’ve sacrificed, for the good of all.

County government sprang into action, beginning with Bliss’ emergency declaration, a day after
President Trump’s and Governor Cuomo’s, to enable quick implementation of state and national orders.

In addition to a COVID-19 task force, chaired by County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, sub-task forces for economic development (DMOC’s Cassandra Harrington, chair) and health (Bassett’s Diane Johnson) were spun off.

Individual initiative played a part: Oneonta City Councilman Mark Drnek comes to mind. His, which evolved into, has been adopted by the City of Oneonta’s Economic Development Task Force, appointed by Mayor Gary Herzig.

Our elected officials – the county board, the Cooperstown village trustees, our school boards in Oneonta, Cooperstown and across the county – have been on it, strategizing, cutting, with more to come –
to ensure an unprecedented challenge doesn’t become an unprecedented fiasco.

In the front ranks, we should be thankful to county Public Health Department and its director, Heidi Bond, for reducing 62 confirmed cases of coronavirus to a single one. These unsung heroes have enforced the quarantines, and ensured those under quarantined are tended and kept in place.

Of course, this has been a 24-7 undertaking for Bassett Hospital and Fox Hospital, on the job unstintingly since March 13 – 54 days as of Wednesday, May 6.

This represents a lot of individual dedication and institutional muscle.

OK. Down to one. Breathe deeply. The signs are good. But challenges remain. Foremost, remember, that one neighbor of ours who is still suffering. It’s not over yet.

Given the bludgeoning New York City has taken, it’s to be expected that Governor Cuomo – he’s performed superbly in this crisis – is moving forward so cautiously.

But human beings are human beings – communal animals, energetic, crying and laughing, jostling
each other, pushing ever forward – and won’t be constrained beyond what’s reasonable.

All of this shall pass, preferably sooner, but at some point regardless.

Still, we citizens of Otsego County can be proud today.

First Cooperstown Election Was A Wild One


First Cooperstown Village

Election Was A Wild One

Illustrations inn Alan Taylor’s “William Cooper’s Town” including, upper right, Cooper’s Otsego
Manor, where Victor Salvatore’s James Fenimore Cooper statue is today, and, upper left, Elihu Phinney, Otsego
Herald publisher, a friend of Cooper’s who became a bitter political foe.

Editor’s Note: The uncertainly surrounding this year’s village elections locally and throughout New York State, now scheduled six months late on Sept. 15, brought to mind the tumult surrounding Cooperstown’s first village elections, recounted in Alan Taylor’s “William Cooper’s Town,” which won a 1996 Pulitzer Prize.

The (state) Legislature (in 1807) was considering two rival petitions to incorporate the
village at the foot of Lake Otsego. Incorporation would provide Cooperstown with a government
distinct from Otsego Township.

Ostensibly the rival petitions disputed the official name for the incorporated village (formation of an aqueduct company was also at issue): in one, (Cooperstown’s founder, Judge William) Cooper and the village Federalists sought to retain the name Cooperstown, while the other championed by (Otsego Herald publisher) Elihu Phinney and his new Republican friends, favored “Otsego Village” in order to dishonor the judge.

…The judge spent much of March in Albany haunting the Assembly lobby to press for passage of his bill. Instead, on April 3, the day after Phinney openly endorsed (gubernatorial candidate Daniel) Tompkins in the Otsego Herald, the state Legislature passed a bill incorporating Otsego Village and empowering Phinney and four associates to establish their aqueduct company.

Wounded by the theft of his village, William Cooper plunged into the campaign of 1807 with a vengeance. It became his personal mission to punish Phinney and the (ascendant Democratic Republicans) by helping to defeat their candidate for governor.

Flushed with victory, Phinney and his associates aggressively moved to implement the new government for Otsego Village. The May 14 issue of the Otsego Herald announced Tompkins’ sweeping victory and
summoned the villagers to meet at the courthouse on Tuesday, May 19, to elect five trustees.

But Phinney and Metcalf underestimated the resiliency and the anger of the Federalists, who were still a solid majority in the village, if no longer in the county at large.

On the 19th, the Federalist majority packed the courthouse and elected five trustees favored by William Cooper. Four days later the village Federalists reconvened at Maj. Joseph Griffin’s Red Lion Tavern.

They instructed the new trustees not to act until the legislature amended the incorporation and restored the name Cooperstown.

…Enraged by Phinney’s betrayal, Cooper urged his neighbors to cancel their subscriptions to the Otsego Herald, and he launched an effort to bring another, solidly Federalist newspaper into the village. In late 1808, the Cooperstown Federalists established their own newspaper, misnamed The Impartial Observer, (renamed The Freeman’s Journal in 1817.)

…The Federalists briefly obtained a majority in the state legislatire and, in June 1812, pushed through a bill reincorporating the village as Cooperstown.”

Turn On Porch Light For Hometown Heroes


Turn On Porch Light

For Hometown Heroes

In New York City, folks are leaning out their windows beating on pots and pans at 7 each evening, an appreciative salute to the First Responders in our latest national trial: Healthcare workers, from ambulance drivers to surgeons, and everybody in between.

In more sedate Cooperstown, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch had an appropriate alternative: the Porch Lights for Support campaign.

(Thankfully: lawnmowers will be roaring soon enough.)

The idea is for residents to turn on their porch lights each evening so, when our local heroes drive home from Bassett Hospital, they do so through a continuous salute of lights.

Some folks immediately warmed up to the idea, and the tributes are in evidence evenings in Baseball Mecca, but not yet the unbroken line signalling the message: Thank you.

A parade of firetrucks, organized by two fire chiefs, Cooperstown’s Jim Tallman and Fly Creek’s Chris Vuolo and the county’s assistant emergency coordinator, Victor Jones, passed by the Bassett campus the other evening in a salute to our First Responders. Great stuff.

But anyone, and everyone, can get in the swing of things, not just in Cooperstown: Maybe the idea will catch on throughout the county.

At a time like this, a cavalcade of lights through all our communities would be a morale booster for all of us.

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