News of Otsego County

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



County Avoids ‘Reactive, Emotional’ Measures Here


County Avoids ‘Reactive,

Emotional’ Measures Here

Visitors Asked To Take Sensible

Steps To Protect Themselves, Us

By now you’ve heard about Rhode Island: Last Friday, it had state police stopping cars with New York license plates at the state line, and instructing passengers they must self-quarantine for 14 days if they planned to stay in Ocean State.

The next day, National Guard troops went door to door in coastal areas, advising any Empire Staters who
had gotten out of Dodge, NY, of the quarantine.

The New York Post highlighted Rhode Island’s measures against Empire Staters.

“I want to be crystal clear about this: If you’re coming to Rhode Island from New York, you are ordered into quarantine … More than half of the cases of coronavirus in America are in New York,” Gov. Gina Raimondo told the New York Post.

The other day, our friend (and columnist) Adrian Kuzminski forwarded a Washington Post article headlined: “A plea from rural America: Urban COVID-19 refugees, please stay home,” by David Yamamoto, county commissioner of Tillamook County, Ore.

“Thousands of urban visitors descended on our villages, with cars lined up for miles on highways to the coast. Once here, the out-of-towners swarmed our grocery stores and cleared the shelves,” he wrote.

He added later, “Near Mammoth Lakes, Calif., the tensions between locals and outsiders have gotten so bad that one of the county supervisors said recently she’s worried that ‘someone is going to get shot’.”

And, “This past week, the White House coronavirus task force asked everyone who’s recently left New York City to self-quarantine for 14 days after new infections started appearing in the Hamptons and other popular refuges in the area. The spread has made Long Island locals so angry that one suggested small-town residents should “blow up the bridges.”

By contrast, “Safer at Home,” a statement – see Page A4 – from the Otsego County Coronavirus Task Force released by county Board Chair Dave Bliss over the weekend, is mild, as befits our local situation. After all, many of the “out of towners” around here have been part-time residents – summers, holidays and weekends – for decades. They’re part of the picture.

A couple of the suggestions are fine, but probably unenforceable: How would landlords and hotel/motel operators ensure their tenants are “following Governor Cuomo’s, President Trump’s and the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines”?

Likewise, to require people traveling into the area to advise the county Health Department is undoubtedly admissible under the state of emergency, but how can we be sure they get the message and know who to call? The Health Department is a pretty busy place these days, and getting through the switchboard there isn’t always easy.

That said, the crux of the statement is solid: When you get to town, self-quarantine for 14 days. If fever, coughing and shortness of breath occur, call a doctor, or the Bassett hotline, 607-547-5555.

It’s hard to believe, but 14 days passed last Saturday, March 28, since Bliss declared the county a state of emergency to smooth out local implementation of state and national emergencies declared the day before.

Anyone who has punctiliously followed the recommendations – self-isolate, monitor members of the household, keep strangers at a 6-foot distance, wash hands frequently and use hand sanitizer – are largely out of danger, as long as he or she continues to follow the recommendations.

But with state Sen. Jim Seward and his wife, Cindy, both coming down with coronavirus in the past few days, vigilance – as Bliss underscored – can’t be overemphasized.

The sad passing of our first neighbor, Brenda Utter, 56, of Morris on Thursday, March 26, is a case in point: Five days before, said her husband Phillip, she was fine. He’s tested positive, even though he has none of the symptoms.
We regular folks can’t be 100 percent sure of anything.

The good news is as of Tuesday morning, the New York Times was following the worst-case scenario in predicting 100,000 to 200,000 deaths.
A Wall Street Journal editorial, following the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, using the so-called Murray model, was estimating 81,114 deaths over the next four months, “with 95 percent confidence that the number would be between 38,242 and 162,106.”

So we’re not out of the woods yet, although there are signs things are turning around: New York State’s infections are growing, but the infection rate is dropping.

So there’s no reason to lose our heads.

In the New York Post, Governor Cuomo called Raimundo’s actions “reactionary” and unconstitutional, saying he’d sue Rhode Island if the policy isn’t rescinded but believed they could “work it out.”

“I understand the goal … but there’s a point of absurdity, and I think what Rhode Island did is at that point of absurdity,” said Cuomo. “We have to keep the ideas and the policies we implement positive rather than reactionary and emotional.”

“Reactionary and emotional,” that’s what’s most to be avoided. And the local Coronavirus Task Force’s statement clearly does that. As it seems in most every step the task force has taken to date, there’s reason for Otsego County to look to the future with expectations of hard time, but confidence things will get better, perhaps sooner than later.

Job One, Beat Coronavirus; Job Two, Limit The Harm


Job One, Beat Coronavirus;

Job Two, Limit The Harm

Governor Cuomo tells CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Sunday, March 22: “The lesson was loud and clear. Do everything you can as soon as you can, and that’s exactly what we’ve done here in New York.”

As a community, we face two tasks.

Job One is to tackle the coronavirus threat.

As evident in closing schools and colleges, local governments and business, in our adherence to “social distancing,” and in Bassett Hospital’s pro-active agenda, there is community-wide commitment to that.

Governor Cuomo, who has been at his best since the crisis loomed, put it well Sunday, March 22, in his interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “In New York, we have already closed every valve that we can close. We learned from China. We learned from South Korea, and Italy.

“The lesson was loud and clear. Do everything you can as soon as you can, and that’s exactly what we’ve done here in New York. I can’t do anything else. I’m at zero non-essential workers. You can’t go below zero. So we have everything off.

“Now, we keep testing. We keep tracking the positives. Isolate the positives. Slow the spread. Increase the hospital capacity and in the meantime, get the darn masks and ventilators and the PPE equipment.”
In Otsego County, as in New York State at large, let’s continue doing all we can do.

Job Two is to limit the long-term damage.

With the welcome news that Italy’s epidemic is beginning to dip, we can be assured that the coronavirus will dissipate.
So, foremost, let’s not act precipitously.

Last week, Governor Cuomo estimated New York State’s challenge would peak in 45 days, in early May. If he’s right, that’s well before the summer season arrives here with Memorial Day Weekend.

The Hall of Fame’s decision to cancel the Classic Weekend in mid-May is defensible. That would be cutting it a little fine.

Cooperstown Dreams Park cancelling its 2020 season is premature, particularly given the economic impact – which, in the end, means impact on people: on retirees who depend on renting their homes, on business people dependent on the summer season, and on our foremost institutions and their employees, dependent on tourist visitations.

In short, pretty much everyone.

Cooperstown All-Star Village in West Oneonta has adopted a better model – “The Patton Plan,” if you will.

Owner Marty Patton is moving forward incrementally. Depending on how the challenge looks in early May, All-Star Village may or may not cancel its first week, June 5-11. The second week in May, the decision will be made whether to cancel the second week of youth-baseball tournaments, June 12-18. And so on.

Variations on “The Patton Plan” are no doubt being considered by The Fenimore and Farmers’ museums, Glimmerglass Opera, and the Hall itself as it looks ahead to July 26 and the prospective record-breaking induction of Derek Jeter.

Act if you must, but not immediately. All is not lost.

Running off county-by-county numbers on “The Coronavirus Economic Impact,” the New York State Association of
Counties (NYSAC), is estimating Otsego County’s government stands to lose $1,968,867 in sales-tax revenues alone, equivalent to about 20 percent of the tax levy.

That translates into $49,221,682 in lost sales – gasoline, restaurants, souvenirs – and doesn’t count lost occupancy tax on hotels and lodging, also substantial.

Apply the multiplier of 3 as money moves through the local economy, and that loss – even without lodging – would translate into $150 million, or $2,500 for every man, woman and child in the county.

That’s NYSAC’s “mild scenario.”

Job One is Job One – saving lives.

Let’s adhere to Governor Cuomo’s regimen, and give our healthcare community – the doctors, nurses and hospital staff, who are emerging as the heroes of this crisis – all the support we can.

But let’s look ahead to the job that awaits, and – with patience, prudence – minimize the long-term impact of a short-term crisis on the county that we love.

Rah, Team! Beat Coronavirus!


Rah, Team!

Beat Coronavirus!

There’s been a lot of great reporting, nationally, regionally and from local newspapers and TV, but this one was particularly helpful in helping we Otsego County folks sort out the crisis we find ourselves in.

The Wall Street Journal over the weekend contrasted how South Korea and Italy responded to the corona-virus arrival “South Korea’s known infections are now stabilizing at about 8,000, whereas Italy’s are rising relentlessly past 17,000,” reported Timothy W. Martin from Seoul and Marcus Walker from Rome. As of last Friday, there were 67 deaths in South Korea; Italy’s tally was 1,266, “far higher.”

Part of this is cultural.

Confucianism gives the state a freer hand “to intrude in people’s lives,” Tufts Professor Lee Sung-yoon was quoted saying. It puts “the good of the nation above individualism.”

It’s another story in “easygoing Italy.” The World Health Organization’s Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist, said, “There’s a premium in the individualistic Western mind to be defiant.”

In the U.S., of course, both human traits are evident, from the current Presidential campaign to our local neighbors: glorification of liberty on one hand, concerns about government control on the other.

The other part was practicality, allied with forceful action.

Tracing the initial infestation to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the government quickly tested all 100,000 church members, and is now conducting 15,000 tests daily, with diagnoses within six hours.

Italy has 20,000 more people, and is only carrying out 3,000 tests a day.

Here’s the very good news.

South Korea “accepted” by mid-February that Coronavirus had arrived. With its full-court press, the infestation peaked on Feb. 29.

That means, Coronavirus (COVID-19) is beatable. It’s still early for us: The first case in the U.S. was identified only on March 5.
President Trump’s declaration Friday of a National Emergency, following Governor Cuomo’s declaration the weekend before and county board Chairman Dave Bliss’s subsequent one, are essential steps in the right direction.

Widespread closures – locally and everywhere else – that followed over the weekend signal the message has been heard.

The widely distributed graphic that accompanies this editorial illustrates the current challenge: If Coronavirus spikes (the red part), medical facilities will be overwhelmed. If the curve can be flattened (the blue part), Coronavirus can be handled more routinely. Managed away, if you will.

Perhaps that can’t happen as quickly as in South Korea. The U.S. has 320 million people to South Korea’s 51 million, and spread over a much larger area.

While we get there, let’s handle the temporary restrictions as we generally have, with calm and a sense of responsibility to our neighbors, and the nation at large.

Locally, it was particularly heartening to hear from Bassett Healthcare President/CEO Bill Streck at that Friday, March 13, press conference: A team has been in place in the Cooperstown hospital since mid-January, only two weeks after China notified the WHO of the Wuhan outbreak, preparing for an eventuality that is now a reality.

Well done.

Let’s not be Pollyannas, but let’s look ahead with confidence that this too shall pass – sooner or later. Preferably sooner.

Your Favorite Business Needs YOU To Survive

Your Favorite Business

Needs YOU To Survive

Sure, local governments and school districts can close their doors and send thousands of employees home Friday, March 13 – tax revenues will ensure they get paid.

Private enterprise is different. Your favorite diner or restaurant. That lively boutique or gift shop. They need your continuing support – in many cases, to simply survive.

Same goes for local institutions we rely on. The Catskill Symphony Orchestra had to cancel its Cabaret Concert Saturday, March 14, at SUNY’s Dewar Arena. Last year, that concert raised $47,000. Helios Care delayed its March 29 Epicurean Festival to the fall, forgoing $70,000 for now.

Click on the “Coronavirus Cancellations” icon on, and you’ll feel wistful not only about the fun delayed, but the support lost by our many cultural institutions.

If no one’s moving around, buying things or doing things, it won’t be long before our local economy will begin shedding staff. It’s simply addition and subtraction, P&L.

So, as individuals, let’s do what we can. Order takeout from local restaurants. Don’t wait to up your memberships to local institutions and organizations. Stay 6 feet away from the nearest fellow shopper, but don’t abandon local business to

It matters. Even for the longterm health of our schools.

Mary Margaret Will Put People Back In Picture


Mary Margaret

Will Put People

Back In Picture

Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns was a breath of fresh air at the Thursday, March 5, League of Women Voters’ debate for Cooperstown Village Board candidates.

Village voters should open the windows Wednesday, March 18, and let that fresh air in. Polls are open noon – 9 p.m. at the fire hall.

Candidate Robbins Sohn made a plea for saving the downtown as “Heart of the Village.” ( photo)

“They never should have allowed CVS to leave Main Street!” she declared, and cut to the heart of an issue close to the heart of all Cooperstown folks: The precipitous decline of the downtown since, within a few months in 2017, both CVS and the full-service General Store closed their doors.

Yes, you can say: It’s a free country. But did anyone from the Village Board even approach CVS higher-ups to plead for the salvation of the heart of the village for the people who live here? Plus, given the number of businesses that have been turned away over the years, it rings hollow that Village Hall could have done nothing.

The newcomer nailed it: What is the Village Board – with her on it, let’s hope – going to do to bring life back to the downtown?
Canajoharie is a case in point. A half-dozen years ago, state grants allowed façade improvements and new signage throughout the downtown. New restaurants opened – briefly.

Drive through that village today, and you’ll find even more empty storefronts than before the revitalization started. As base, the beautification of downtown Canajoharie accomplished nothing, because the underlying economics hadn’t changed.

The loss of the downtown anchors begs the question: Will we complete $10-million-plus on Main Street improvements only to
realize there’s no viable downtown left, except for one four-day weekend?

Over the course of the evening, did anyone else get the nagging sense: What about the rest of us?

Milo Stewart, himself a former trustee, pointed out the village’s mini-plow is used to clear snow at corners and around hydrants, then is driven down the middle of the street to avoid actually helping out shoppers and merchants.

There needs to be “a level of personal responsibility,” said incumbent MacGuire Benton.

“Everything we do is for the residents,” said Joe Membrino, the other incumbent.

Robbins nailed it: “If we’re going to burn the gas, we might as well burn it for the people.”

She pointed out other villages – Cherry Valley, for instance – plow sidewalks, and others still have municipal garbage pickup. We haven’t had those kinds of conversations since Mayor Joe Booan left office eight years ago.

The evening ended with a poignant cry.

Mary Marx – you may have seen the handmade woolen wear she vends weekly at The Cooperstown Farmers’ Market – pointed out that for the past two years, Pioneer Alley has been closed off during Hall of Fame Weekend.

That’s caused the market to be cancelled on the busiest weekend of the year, losing vendors hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

“Can you help us?” she asked.

Membrino said it’s “a tough problem. Barriers are up for crowd control. There are also layers of security far beyond our jurisdiction.”

Benton, while “a big supporter” of the market, said “some things just aren’t feasible.”
(Question: Village Hall has a seat or two at the table with Homeland Security and the rest of the planners as Hall of Fame Weekend has been turned into an armed camp. Have any of our village trustees ever pushed back?)
Again, Robbins nailed it: “I love ideas. Main Street is cleared off. There’s a huge space in the middle of Main Street. The farmers’ market would be amazing in the middle of Main Street.”
Incumbents, on the dais and in the audience, likewise found that impossible.

Here’s another (probably impossible) idea: Villagers have endured six years of constant construction. It’s astonishing how much has been done. Much credit is due to Mayors Tillapaugh and Katz, and trustees.

But it’s time for a deep breath.

How about a “Year of the Cooperstownian,” if you will? For 12 months, leave everybody alone, with no new blinking lights, intrusive parking innovations, ideological diktats from Village Hall on how “we all” think (or should) about this and that. Better, how about rolling all of that back?

It was mentioned that since paid parking, there has been no tax increase. Let’s hope not: It equals 20 per cent of the tax levy. How about a tax cut? In short, can the Village Board, for just one year, focus on making Cooperstown a more pleasant place to live?

And, yes, all the brainpower on the Village Board, can figure out how to revive Main Street. Let’s do it.

Person by person, it IS a great Village Board, hindered by group think, a common result of monopoly. Here’s a chance to shake it up.

Vote for Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns. Judging from the debate, she’ll try – on people’s behalf.

And, once in a while, she’ll win – and so might the rest of us.

Membrino Adeptly Fills Key Role: Finance Chair


Membrino Adeptly Fills

Key Role: Finance Chair


Interviewing the three candidates, it was quickly clear: Three exceptional people – and exceptional in different ways – are running for Cooperstown Village Board.

Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns is a trained and organized pharmacist, a wife and mother, and someone with an inspiring personal story: enduring misdiagnosed Lyme disease and emerging victorious from a heart transplant.

Joe Membrino is a semi-retired D.C. lawyer with a specialty in Indian affairs, who is still working on behalf of the Oneida Nation. He’s experienced, steady and inspired by the sense of stewardship he’s found in village government. Great qualifications and temperament.

MacGuire “Mac” Benton, 22, is the youngest trustee in village history, already field-tested as a campaign organizer for a Congressional and a state Senate campaign. He’s smart, he wants the job and he’s endearing. His election is “the greatest honor of my young life.”

Cooperstown is lucky. Unfortunately, all three can’t be elected to the two vacant seats.

Robbins’ pledge to refocus on what her constituents want – hallelujah! – makes her election essential, given the repeated citizen outcries of the past year. It’s time for the Village Board to change course.

In only a year, Membrino – Mayor Tillapaugh quickly elevated him to Finance Committee chair – is playing a critical role as guardian of the village’s financial health. And it’s in extremely good health, he can show.

March 18, vote Robbins and Membrino. If defeated, be assured, Mac Benton will be – and should be – back.

Consider Joining Good Samaritans


Inspired By 5 Heroes At Fire Scene,

Consider Joining Good Samaritans

What’s happened in the past week is another opportunity to be impressed about the brave men and women who respond, in dark of night and bright of day, any hour, any day, when fires and accidents happen in Otsego County.

Training and experience have made mishaps so rare, we forget – certainly the public, but volunteers and ambulance squad members, too – that every fire call and crash creates danger. These hundreds of people are, happily, rarely injured seriously – although sprains and cuts and minor burns are routine.
Yet every call creates an opportunity for injury.

Such a rare call came at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, when firefighters from Middlefield, Cooperstown, Westford, Cherry Valley and Milford responded routinely, without a second thought, to what turned out to be a raging fire in the hamlet of Middlefield.

Springfield and Mount Vision stood by. But if they – if any of the 29 volunteer departments in Otsego County – had been summoned, they likewise would have responded without hesitation.
The scene was daunting – but not beyond the experience of the seasoned volunteers: A two-story barn, in flames. Water tanks were quickly filled from nearby Cherry Valley Creek, and the firefighters deployed around the burning structure. They knew what they needed to do – and they did it.

Then, the unexpected. “There was an explosion, a ball of white fire,” said Cooperstown First Assistant Fire Chief Mike Malloy. “These guys didn’t have anywhere to go.” They were simply engulfed. The barn, it seems, was being used as a garage.

Malloy supposes the fireball was created by the explosion of an acetylene tank. Then a second explosion, then “three, four, five, six,” he’s unsure how many.

As we know now, five fire-fighters were injured, including Cooperstown’s Fire Chief Jim Tallman, a youthful 42-year member of the department. John Sears and Ryan Smith, two Middlefield firefighters, were likewise transported to Bassett Hospital.

So were Scott Monington, an officer at the Otsego County Correctional Facility, and Jon Roach, a patient-care tech at Bassett, but they were quickly transferred to the burn unit at Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse, where they would spend the next four days.

Then, what joy and affection erupted Sunday afternoon when Scott and Jon were transported back to town by two of their CVFD colleagues and greeted by a parade of fire trucks outside the Clark Sports Center.

Transported over Murphy Hill to the scene of their travails, the recovering men were greeted again by grateful firefighters and neighbors at Middlefield hamlet’s four corners.

It must have taken a while to get that together? Not so.

The idea had come to mind Saturday evening. The county’s Emergency Services deputy director, Victor Jones, suggested it to Glen Falk, the Cooperstown department’s vice president, and they immediately implemented.

They sent out an invitation to all departments that had been at the scene. They came, joined by others, Fly Creek and Hartwick among them.

Dispatched to Syracuse, Emergency Squad Capt. Eric Pierce and EMT Joel Bostwick shaved their heads in solidarity with the two injured men.

It was an inspiring afternoon.

The community, of course, responded, as it always does. accounts quickly raised $20,000 to ensure Scott and Jon get through this with no out-of-pocket medical expenses. Further fundraisers are planned.

Financially, the departments are well supported by the towns they serve. State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and other legislators have sought out state money when necessary for an engine or ambulance – even a new building. In Cooperstown, Jane Forbes Clark is a well-known benefactress of the department.
What’s lagging is people like the injured men who arrived to a heroes welcome, and the men and women who greeted the returning heroes.

Every fire company in Otsego County can’t fully fill its ranks. Yes, there are reasons – commuting patterns, outmigration, and more – but those reasons don’t apply to everyone. This is a good time for all of us to rethink our availability. Follow the link at the top of Page A4, and volunteer if you can.

The term “hero” is devalued by overuse. But Scott Monington and Jon Roach certainly qualify.
They didn’t expect to be injured last Wednesday night. But they were and they took it. And it’s not too much to say every man and woman at the scene, while not expecting to be injured, accepted that they might be. That’s a hero. Individuals putting themselves at risk for friends, neighbors – and for people they don’t know. Special people indeed.

Of course, the words of Fred Lemister, the first among equals, at last month’s reception honoring the 9,400 calls he responded to over a 48-year career, echoed.

“You are a unique breed, people,” said Fred. “Don’t ever forget that. You are different. Fortunately different. You are not like most people, and be thankful for that.

“Life is a gift, people,” he continued. “And we need to give back for that gift. You people here have given back for that gift.

I look upon you as being Good Samaritans, as helping other people in need without any thought of reward. “You are indeed doing God’s work.” Yes, they are. Join them. You won’t be sorry.

Cooperstown, Oneonta Face Common Problem

Cooperstown, Oneonta

Face Common Problem

That the aristocratic Village of Cooperstown and funky City of Oneonta are so different adds texture and richness to the experience of living in Otsego County.

Different as they may be, it turns out they are united by the same challenge: Both lack sufficient housing to thrive.

Cooperstown’s school and downtown are suffering from a declining population. Oneonta’s colleges and institutions attract young professionals, but many have to commute from afar.

Thinking people understand it: More housing is needed. Still, community opposition and lawsuits have stymied development in both places.

Housing doesn’t mean despoilment. In Oneonta, does market-rate housing have to include a dozen units for residents in rehab? In Cooperstown, do apartment complexes need to be jammed into streets lined with elegant homes?

Yes, build we must. For two views from the trenches, look below, to columns by consultant Alan Cleinman, who envisions Oneonta as a community of high-paid, low-maintenance “knowledge workers,” and Tim Hayes the SUNY Oneonta development officer and brainy president of the Cooperstown Central school board.

Electorate Spoke – Now, Work Together


Electorate Spoke –

Now, Work Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fingers crossed.

If Not Allen Ruffles, Someone With SOME Of His Qualities


If Not Allen Ruffles,

Someone With SOME

Of His Qualities

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

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

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

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

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

Not such a bad idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a lot of pluses.

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

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

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

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

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

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


‘Trusted Traveler’

Revocations Aside,

‘Green Light’ Bad Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All this just isn’t right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good News, Jobs Aplenty; Bad News, No Housing


Good News, Jobs Aplenty;

Bad News, No Housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Fossil Fuels Part Of Climate-Change Answer?


Are Fossil Fuels Part

Of Climate-Change Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Both Parties Should Find

Candidates Who Will  Ensure

Local Successor To Seward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regardless, Peter Oberacker is a fine prospect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Senator Seward, Let’s Say

Hasta Luego, Not Goodbye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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