News of Otsego County


EDITORIAL: Pilgrims’ Energy, Ambition Lives On Today

Pilgrims’ Energy,

Ambition Lives On Today

In Custom Electronics President Mike Pentaris, the American spirit lives. ( Photo)

‘Tribute to the Entrepreneurial Spirit.” That’s what the Otsego Chamber of Commerce called its annual awards program on Nov. 12, conducted this year largely via Zoom.

That rallying call couldn’t have come at a better time, given this year’s challenges – a pandemic, a particularly divisive Presidential election, and riots in cities and challenges to the very idea of policing.

The stories the Otsego Chamber’s honorees were a tonic. Liberty lives, and a somewhat level playing field, imperfect as it may be, is still enabling success stories aplenty.
For all that, we offer Thanksgiving.

Yes, the Otsego Chamber celebration underscored that freedom, ambition, achievement and access to prosperity are alive today on our “new Promised Land,” as the Pilgrims envisioned it.

Proof it’s so was Michael Pentaris’ story: As a boy, his family lived in a shipping crate near the harbor of Larnaca, Cyprus. Recognizing her kids were smart, Michael’s mom obtained scholarships for them to the American Academy there.

A scholarship to Brescia College in Owensboro, Ky., followed, and two degrees from SUNY Binghamton. Then, a role in rescuing Graham Labs in Hobart, and guiding its acquisition by a Fortune 500 company. And then, a rise to presidency of Custom Electronics, creating ultracapacitor-maker Ioxus along the way.

In time of COVID-19, Pentaris shifted the technology in BriteShot, which enabled “Law & Order,” “Blue Bloods” and other hit TV shows and movies to be powered
on location anywhere, to AirAffair, which, in three steps, removes the virus from movie sets – any enclosed location, for that matter.

Mike Pentaris was just the beginning:

• BETTIOL DISTINGUISHED CITIZEN: State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford,
had a dream of public service that led him to the pinnacle of state decisionmaking. He had hard-working parents who believed in community service, but he’s wasn’t born with a silver spoon at hand.

• BREAKTHROUGH BUSINESS: Pathfinder Village tapped the energies of its residents, many with Down Syndrome, to create Pathfinder Produce & Mobile Market, which not only provided productive labor, but turns out vegetables and food products for needy families.

• SMALL BUSINESS OF THE YEAR: Theresa’s Emporium, which has figured out how to thrive in downtown Oneonta, on the ground floor of the former Bresee’s for the past 10 years. Despite the Great Recession of 2008 and other challenges, Theresa Cyzeski continues building her business, adding lines and pursuing opportunities.

Seward’s Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Award was created by Gene Sr., whose first business was running an ice-cream truck, and who ended up developing Southside Oneonta into the commercial strip we

Gene Bettiol

all frequent today. His son, taken by cancer in his mid-40s, was a chip off the old block, promoting the National Soccer Hall of Fame, then Foothills – anything he perceived as beneficial to the community.

What’s driving people like these today isn’t so different from what motivated the Pilgrims. Freedom to pursue their dreams brought 102 of them aboard the cramped Mayflower on a dangerous ocean voyage to New England’s shores, coming ashore 400 years ago last Saturday, Nov. 21, at today’s Provincetown, Mass., on the tip of Cape Cod.

It was “new Promised Land,” in their view, where they would be allowed to pursue their beliefs and, after a dozen years in exile and penury in Holland, to improve their economic conditions.

Before going ashore, Pilgrims and crew members signed “The Mayflower Compact,” agreeing to rules of order to ensure the survival of the fledgling community. It’s said to be the first time free people mutually agreed to a form of government.

Remarkable. Also remarkable that, with COVID-19, urban riots and a bitter presidential contest, we Americans mostly let the anniversary pass with so little notice.

Revisiting Jaci Bettiol’s assessment of her father at the time of his passing in December 2017 underscores our point: The Pilgrim spirit lives today. She called his life “inspirational.”

“He lived as if he was going to live forever; going full force each day without slowing down. No one could convince him to stop and smell the roses. There were simply too many opportunities awaiting his vision.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

EDITORIAL: Unite In Making Plan Work

Unite In Making Plan Work

Doesn’t it remind you of what happened to Hartwick College President Margaret L. Drugovich?

No sooner had she arrived in 2008 on Oyaron Hill, when the Great Recession hit.

Within a few months, the fledgling president, with no chance to build a reputation or support among staff and faculty, had to begin laying people off.

The faculty balked. Criticism abounded.

Dennis Craig
Margaret Drugovich

Drugovich did what she had to do. Things settled down. The economy eventually rebounded, and Drugovich built the sterling reputation she has today.

Fast forward to 2020 and, across the valley, SUNY Oneonta President Dennis Craig.

It’s even moreso. Drugovich had a short honeymoon. Craig parachuted into the middle of a 700-plus COVID-19 infestation, one of the worst per-capita among U.S. campuses. His predecessor had departed precipitously. The New York Times’ front page was trumpeting our woes worldwide.

Craig immediately formed a COVID-19 Rapid Response Team. In a month – almost to the day – the team reported out a 22-page, single-space,
detailed-packed plan to take on the menace.

Pretty good.

So far, some of the faculty balked. But otherwise, criticism hasn’t abounded.

Just the opposite. Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig likes the plan’s focus on the safety of his constituents. Student Association President Gabby Cesaria likes the focus on a Feb. 1 reopening; she surveyed students, and 50 percent want to return to classes.

In recent decades, SUNY Oneonta has been on the make.

President Alan Donovan, now retired and an Oneonta community leader, began the drive to push up the quality of students and scholarship.

During his successor Nancy Kleniewski’s tenure, Oneonta was often mentioned, along with Geneseo and New Paltz, as one of “SUNY’s Ivies,” if you will.

During that period, the SUNY System invested heavily in the hilltop. Tom Rathbun, the level-headed assistant vice president/facilities, was spending $30-40 million a year upgrading the campus, and it looks great. (His successor, Lachlan Squair, appears to be quite an innovator, making SUNY Oneonta an innovator in Upstate Medical’s novel “pool testing.”)

And alumnus Bill Pullman starred in “Independence Day.” You can’t get much better than that.

SUNY Oneonta dropped the ball when COVID-19 arrived. That was then; recent, but then.

This is now.

The SUNY Oneonta community must want to return to what it was, a campus on the make. With its particular COVID mess behind it, the SUNY Oneonta community should strive, as one, to be a Model of the Reopening.

With two anti-COVID vaccines coming online, with the wide local acceptance of masks and social distancing, with the high-level of community sensitivity to COVID, it can be done.

The online petition – only a fraction of the faculty, some 71 out of 500 professors and instructors, have signed it – takes on Craig and Provost Leamor Kahanov personally.

While no doubt well meaning, the petition drive seems to be the wrong instrument at this point.

That’s misguided.

Of the many issues raised, the one about sensitivity to relatives of faculty who may have pre-existing conditions resonates most. But it’s hard to believe the administration would not seek to ensure what protection it can to people under particular threat of COVID.

No doubt the key players in the campus hierarchy are as imperfect as the rest of us, but – at this critical point in SUNY Oneonta’s history – let’s all pull together behind the people who, more than ever, need wide support.

And that includes the campus community and the rest of us, the public at large.

Fight Isn’t Partisan; It’s Upstate, Downstate

Fight Isn’t Partisan;

It’s Upstate, Downstate

UNITED UPSTATE CAUCUS? Assemblypeople who could form the bi-partisan core are, from left, Otsego County’s Salka, Norwich’s Angelino, Utica’s Buttenschon, Syracuse’s Magnarelli, New Hartford’s Miller and Schoharie’s Tague.

If you’ve lived a while, how often have you heard predictions about the extinction of one party by the other?

After Richard Nixon’s rout of George McGovern in 1972 and Ronald Reagan’s two terms, the Democrats. After LBJ overwhelming Goldwater in 1964, Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection and Barack Obama in 2008, Republicans.

Only one Democrat was elected president between the end of the Civil War and Woodrow Wilson, 47 years later. Only one Republican between FDR’s and Nixon’s election, 36 years later.

Their pro-slavery stance before the Civil War ruined the Democrats. Insensitivity to suffering following the Crash of 1929 ruined the Republicans.

Hubris nemesis – today’s pride leadeth to tomorrow’s fall.

Congratulations to local supporters of the Biden-Harris ticket, some who were seen (and heard) in front of their homes at 11:45 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, hammering on pots and pans to celebrate achieving 270 electoral votes.

The nation has spoken – for now, and narrowly.

It isn’t astonishing that President Trump’s divisiveness led to his loss; and that the Blue Wave turned out to be a ripple, and challenger Joe Biden achieved such a narrow victory.

What is astonishing is the wide support for Republican candidates in centrist, moderate Otsego County.

Every local winner was Republican, from Assemblyman John Salka and Peter Oberacker, elected to state Senate, to every candidate on the ballot, except Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19. Energetic and conciliatory, even he only narrowly beat Republican Kyle Van De Water, who, from what we can tell, only visited Otsego County twice during the campaign.

The single issue that stood out amid all the verbiage was worries about the state’s bail reform. It, in effect, was the dismantling of the justice system as we know it by the Democratic majority in Albany – state senators, assemblypeople and Governor Cuomo.

Here’s a sampling of local fallout.

• Just hours after the state legislative majority folded bail reform into the 2019 state budget vote – thus avoiding the usual public hearings and, sometimes, compromise – a local man was arrested in the morning for stealing a truck. Freed without bail, he stole another truck that evening.

• A downtown merchant called OPD about a customer shoplifting. The police apprehended the man, then freed him as required. He was back shoplifting that afternoon.

• Following the rash of car break-ins in Oneonta this fall, it surfaced that one of the suspects, apprehended in September, had been arrested four times since Aug. 31 for similar petty thievery.

• Then, Oct. 19, when the first two trials since COVID-19 struck in March were scheduled to start in Otsego County Court, neither defendant showed up, District Attorney John Muehl reported in dismay – but not surprise. Charged with crack-cocaine violations, they were wandering, bail-free, amid our children, our families and our community at large.

That just scratches the surface.

Among all of this fall’s candidates, only the scrappy Salka, the Republican freshman who represents Otsego County’s three largest communities – Oneonta, Cooperstown and Richfield Springs – took the initiative in saying it loud and clear: Bail reform is lousy law.

The blatant injustices that needed correcting were mostly at New York City’s Rikers Island prison, not statewide.

He introduced a bill to repeal the reform. And candidate Oberacker, now elected successor to state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, joined him, declaring that on Day One – Jan. 1, 2021 – he will introduce companion legislation to Salka’s bill in the upper house.

Salka’s winning tally rose from 6,582 in 2018 to 7,879 on Nov. 3, an 8-percent increase, garnering him 56 percent of the Otsego County vote, compared to 41 percent for his in-county opponent. Oberacker’s margin was 61 percent to his opponent’s 39 percent.

Indeed: A Red Wave.

Bail reform is not the only bad law to come out of Albany. The Farm Bill, with its extension of overtime provisions to agriculture, will shutter innumerable farms if imposed, both Oberacker and his Democratic opponent, Jim Barber, agreed. The natural-gas prohibition. Issuing drivers’ licenses to undocumented residents. And there’s much more coming.

This election, the split was Republican-Democrat. Truly, though, the divide isn’t partisan; it’s geographical.

New York City, with 3.2 million Democrats, is lost to the GOP for now; there are only 459,008 registered Republicans there. It’s a long way back.

Upstate it’s a different story, with its 2.9 million Democrats and 2.3 million Republicans. That’s 5.2 million votes a United Upstate caucus could tap to end the city’s predations north of Yonkers, and even send a Unity candidate to the Governor’s Mansion.

With one million people leaving our Empire State in the past decade – more than from any other state –
this is essential to our future.

Salka gets it. He enlisted Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, the Utica Democrat, in his bail-reform repeal drive. He intends to reach out to Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, D-Syracuse, as well.

The county’s other Republican assemblymen – incumbents Chris Tague and Brian Miller; newcomer Joe Angelino, the former Norwich police chief, all elected – should team up with Salka in reaching across the aisle to other prospects for the United Upstate caucus, as should freshman Oberacker in the Upper House.

This could be the start of something big.

Lacking Options, Celebrate Vets In Our Hearts


Lacking Options,

Celebrate Vets In Our Hearts

It was shocking to hear the powers-that-be in veterans organizations – not locally, but regionally and statewide – have directed local posts not to commemorate the sacrifice of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines this Veterans Day.

Sure, this is the COVID-19 era, and we have to be cautious. But such commemorations are mostly held outdoors – in Oneonta, at the Veterans’ Monument in Neahwa Park; in Cooperstown at the World War I “Doughboy” Statue across Lake Street from The Otesaga – and could have been conducted with minimal threat.

It’s good to hear: The Oneonta Vets Club is moving forward regardless. With masks and social distancing, consider going there at 11 a.m. on 11-11 to provide the annual measure of respect to Armed Forces’ veterans. It’s the least we can do.

Happily for most American families, the wars being fought on our behalf for two decades now in the Middle East involved 1-2 percent of our population. COVID, however, has given us an inkling of what a nation under siege for two years in World War I and four years in World War II must have felt like.

Let’s celebrate in our hearts.

Let’s Understand History, Not Censor It

Let’s Understand History,

Not Censor It

Are we seeing a trend here?

In June, one of Cooperstown Trustee MacGuire Benton’s constituents was walking his or her dog and noticed the word “Indian” on the historical marker at Council Rock.

Expressing his or her concern with the trustee, he raised the alarum at the June Village Board meeting, and a resolution was offered to remove the offending word from all public plaques in “America’s Most Perfect Village.”

It turned out, on minimal research, that many Native Americans like to be referred to as “Indians.”

(Maybe it’s a sly dig at the hapless Columbus, who mistakenly thought he’d arrived at the Asian subcontinent instead of tiny Santo Domingo.)

The village trustees, at their next meeting, pulled a Roseanne Roseannadanna: “Oh, never mind,” they said.

Fast-forward to the Oct. 13 Oneonta Common Council meeting.

Council member Luke Murphy reports he was approached by a constituent who had been walking
his or her dog, and reported with alarm that the 1912 marker in Neahwa Park commemorating the
Sullivan-Clinton Expedition includes the word “savagery.”

Murphy, who has a degree from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies, was quoted as saying, sensibly, “My initial instinct was to remove the plaque, but that was a gut reaction. What I would like to do is to reach out to people on both sides … to see how do we address this, rather than just take it down.”

He approached the city’s Commission on Community Relations & Human Rights at its next meeting, and they told him, go for it. He is now sounding out Native Americans in the region to see what they think.

One local expert on that period – and there are several excellent ones in the county – said the councilman might want to reconsider his remarks: “Murphy said the opening clause assigns ‘savagery’ to the entire native population, declares there was no western civilization before Europeans arrived in America and falsely states there are no Haudenosaunee living in the region today.”

The words of the plaque don’t quite go that far. Go read it for yourself; it’s near the lower Main Street entrance to Neahwa Park.

You might argue the term, “savagery,” is descriptive, not pejorative, per se.

There was a lot of savagery around here in the 1700s – on the part of Colonists and Native Americans, too. Since New York State history is no longer taught in public schools, that’s probably too little understood. (Since only 1-2 percent of our national population has been fighting the wars-without-end in Iraq and Afghanistan, we probably lack a full appreciation of the savagery still being committed in our name today.)

Buzz Hesse, who explores “savagery” explicitly in a letter to the editor this week – proceed with caution; it’s not for the faint of heart – is another expert in the Revolutionary War period around here. (In 1968, as an archaeologist with the state Archaeologist’s

Office, he discovered an original Indian village in Unadilla, and documented it before it was destroyed.)
The Cherry Valley Massacre, on Nov. 11, 1778, was among the most notorious episodes of “savagery” in American, not just local, history.

On the other hand, by the time the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition was over, only a remnant of the mighty Iroquois remained, which took refuge under the walls of Fort Niagara, Upstate headquarters of their British allies.

There’s plenty of room for scholarly disputation about whys and wherefores.

Murphy himself has said the 1912 marker, donated to the fledgling City of Oneonta by the Daughters of the American Revolution, reflects a period of xenophobia, something worth exploring as we seek to understand our past – to better guide how we live in a diverse nation today and in the future.

Scholarly disputation, discussion and, perhaps, a new consensus:

That’s the way forward. As a trained historian, Murphy would be an ideal convener, (and this newspaper would be a willing sponsor).

These days, village boards and city councils tend to forget their origins. They were founded as “special assessment districts,” charged with paving streets, and providing public water, sewerage systems and other services that individual Cooperstonians and Oneontans couldn’t afford to do alone.

Deciding to censor plaques (and, later perhaps, monuments) is beyond their job descriptions. The 1912 DAR plaque provides an insight into a point in time, as in the future the “First American” mural on the Chestnut Street side of Oneonta’s Clinton Plaza will provide into the 20-aughts.

At most, Common Council – and the Cooperstown trustees and any local government – should declare a five-year moratorium on any action when these issues are brought before them. Public argumentation is hot right now. Let’s have a cooling-off period on these types of divisive action.

Who knows? In five years, or 10, there may be a new consensus, a willingness to look unstintingly at our common, all-encompassing history, and come to a new synthesis that allows Americans to again be proud of our national story and our national achievement, but in a spirit of acceptance of each other: our failings, yes, but our virtues, too.

Whoever Wins, Let’s Take The Long View


Whoever Wins, Let’s

Take The Long View

Don’t Let Nation Come Apart;

Next Election 2 Years Away

Joe Biden
Donald Trump

Not a great choice.

On the one hand, Donald John Trump, 74, the Republican incumbent, who made dramatic advances in China relations, trade, border security, Mideast peace and the economy in his first term, but whose erratic behavior, particularly in combatting COVID-19, has eroded support.

On the other hand, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., 77, the Democratic challenger, prepared for the presidency by 36 years as U.S. senator and eight as vice president, but whose frailty makes it very possible Kamala Harris, an unseasoned freshman U.S. senator, will succeed him in the next four years.

And because of their stark policy differences – on the economy, the environment and energy, taxation, all issues, really – and contrasting temperaments, most of us reading (or writing) this have made up our minds months or years ago, any endorsement seems irrelevant.

In New York State, the presidential outcome is predictable anyhow.

There are 5.8 million registered Democrats in the Empire State, compared to 2.7 million Republicans, and 159,355 independents. It’s a foregone conclusion Biden will win our 29 electoral votes.

(FYI, outside New York City, there’s more balance: 2.7 million Democrats to 2.3 million Republicans, and 362,178 independents.)

While the state’s voters, nonetheless, did elect a Republican governor, George Pataki, in 1994, 1998 and 2002, the state has supported all Democratic presidential candidates since Ronald Reagan (1980 and 1984).

So, at the presidential level, think what you might, but it’s settled: Joe Biden will win New York State’s 29 electoral votes on Nov. 3.

Then what? That’s more to the point.

There are active secession movements in California, Washington State and, in particular, Oregon. You may have seen recent reports questioning if its coastal progressive communities will accept a second Trump Administration. Meanwhile, there’s talk in the more conservative inland counties of merging into Idaho.

On the other end, segments of President Trump’s supporters are heavily armed, and the plot – foiled – to kidnap and “try” Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, indicates there’s nuttiness at each end of the spectrum.

Pick any book on the English Civil War (1642-1651). Then, as now, the problem was true believers who converted every policy disagreement into a moral conflict – good vs. evil.
Instead, let’s judge policies practically:

Do they work or don’t they? Can we expect politics, a craft dependent on compromise,
to lead us to the Promised Land?

As Nov. 3 comes and passes – subject, this year, to a perhaps weeks-long lag as absentee votes are counted and challenged – let’s remember this is only one election of many to date and many to come.

Whichever party loses the presidency, it will have another chance at it in 2024. Whichever controls the U.S. Senate and Congress, can lose it as soon as 2022.

All of us, let’s accept the outcome and continue to work toward, if not a perfect union, a more perfect union, one we can all be proud of.

ENDORSEMENT: United We Stand, With Oberacker, Dan Buttermann


United We Stand,

With Oberacker,

Dan Buttermann

This year, Otsego County faces a big challenge, and big opportunities.

Senator Seward

The threat: State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, is retiring after representing us in Albany for 34 years, where he was able to maintain Otsego County at the center of the 50th District, then the 51st District, through three redistrictings.

A Republican when the Senate was usually Republican, he partnered with our Democratic then-assemblyman, Bill Magee of Madison County, to obtain (probably more than – hurray!) our fair share in state largesse.

Regrettably, our senator is retiring at the end of the year – not because he wants to, but due to health challenges: cancer and, earlier this year, COVID. He departs with as close to universal good wishes as anyone could expect or hope for.

What now?

Opportunity One: Peter Oberacker, a successful businessman and energetic county representative from Schenevus, is seeking to succeed Seward – with the senator’s blessing – and deserves every Otsego County vote.

Peter Oberacker

Oberacker arrived in Otsego County in time to enter first grade, and is devoted to his adopted county, moving his research and marketing business home from College Station, Texas, four years ago so he could focus more intently in developing a 300-job distribution center at Interstate 88’s Exit 18. It should happen and, based in Albany, he can better apply the levers to obtain whatever state help is possible.

His opponent, Democrat Jim Barber, a prominent farmer in the Schoharie Valley, went negative last week, suggesting he knows he’s behind. His mailer suggested Oberacker has
an attendance challenge on the county board, but that’s wrong: chairing Public Works and serving on a half-dozen key committees, he has invested more time in county duties than many of his colleagues, even managing the highway department day-to-day for weeks when a past superintendent peremptorily retired.

Barber, son of a former Ag & Markets commissioner, is something of a one-issue candidate; he’d be a great Ag & Markets commissioner himself, if Richard Ball, a neighbor and relative by marriage, eventually steps aside. But for Senate, make it Oberacker.

Opportunity Two: Dan Buttermann, an Oneonta Democrat who is running again for the 121st Assembly seat against John Salka, the freshman incumbent from Madison County.

Dan Buttermann

If elected to the Democratic-majority body, Buttermann, an NYCM casualty manager (and clarinetist in the Catskill Symphony), is young enough – 36 – that he could achieve Seward-like seniority in the Democratic-dominated lower house over the next 30 years, with attendant benefits.

In an interview, Buttermann mentioned 2050 a few times – the father of three young daughters, he’s thinking long term on such issues as Climate Change, paying his way to Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps’ seminar in 2018 in L.A. He’s a knowledge-driven thinker who brought TedX mind-broadening seminars to Oneonta.

He and Oberacker, conceivably, could establish a Seward-Magee-like partnership, to the benefit of Otsego County.

To support the home team is not to criticize Salka, the scrappy and likeable incumbent with an inspiring personal story who, in the face of a large Democratic majority, is reaching beyond the Assembly to the bureaucracy to solve his district’s problems.

John Salka

On social issues such as bail reform, he may be closer to his constituents than his challenger. Will Buttermann’s support for gradually rolling back a measure that’s keeping at least petty criminals on local streets resonate sufficiently with voters?

And, given Madison County’s larger population than Otsego’s, Buttermann is not guaranteed a win from a constituency that tilts Republican. Still the Oneontan is an engaging hard worker who beat a Madison County candidate in the Democratic primary.

He can win, and an Otsego-based Oberacker-Buttermann team in Albany would only help our county’s fortunes.

In Places Like Oneonta, Town Needs Gown And Vice Versa


In Places Like Oneonta,

Town Needs Gown, Vice-Versa

Both college presidents, SUNY Oneonta’s Nancy Kleniewski and Hartwick’s Margaret Drugovich, were key members of the City of Oneonta’s DRI committee. It was formed in 2015 to figure out how best to spent $10 million provided by Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

The committee, no doubt, benefited mightily from both leaders’ wisdom, experience working within institutions and calm demeanors; no bomb-throwers there. In turn, Kleniewski and Drugovich likewise benefited, no doubt, by getting to better know the city’s movers and shakers and the key issues facing the “City of the Hills.”

The City of Oneonta and the two colleges are joined at the hip, like it or not.

When the undergrads return each fall, the city’s population doubles, from 7,000 to 14,000. Problems – let’s call them challenges – always arise, ranging from public mischief of all sorts to actual crimes, from OH Fest to blowouts in otherwise quiet neighborhoods.

In the past, an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation helped the college presidents and top city officials work through the town-gown issues.

The tip-off that something was awry with the administration of Barbara Jean Morris, who departed abruptly two weeks ago after presiding over the largest on-campus outbreak of COVID-19 in the country,
happened a week before the cataclysm.

The president was declining to meet with Mayor Gary Herzig, to his dismay. And, after City Hall cancelled nighttime bus rides back and forth to campus, the Student Activities Office went ahead and leased buses through another company.

Bad omens.

When COVID exploded on campus after one particular party on opening weekend, Aug. 21-23, it was too late to build bridges.

When infections topped 100 on a single night the next weekend, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras stepped in and, in effect, assumed Morris’ decision-making authority until her resignation “to seek other opportunities,” submitted quietly 10 days before the Wednesday, Oct. 14, press conference announcing her successor, SUNY Purchase Interim President Dennis Craig.

SUNY Purchase may have dodged the bullet by happenstance: SUNY Oneonta opened a week earlier, seven days when “pool testing” – of 20 students’ saliva at once – quickly expanded so health officials could identify outbreaks sooner and drill down to “patient one” more quickly. Still, success is success:

Malatras credited Craig’s leadership with limiting campus infections to 25; astonishing, when you
think of what happened here.

Dr. Morris was likeable, at first blush dynamic, with a record of some success. Her formulation of a 13-word mission statement was brilliant: “We nurture a community where students grow intellectually, thrive socially and live purposefully.” It’s possible to mourn and, still, try to understand what happened.

Regrettably but necessarily, a college president faces many demands – from the faculty and staff, implementing SUNY-wide policies, maintaining buildings and grounds, law enforcement, relations with local state legislators and community leaders. It goes on and on.

Students and pedagogy are the fun part, but most of a college president’s duties aren’t fun.

It also might be that Morris didn’t understand COVID virulence, that she trusted 19-year-olds too much, that she didn’t realize that student care needed to take a back seat to public health – for days or weeks or months.

A telling indicator, perhaps, was her concern, expressed at a town-gown “Control Room” meeting, about the negative psychological impact on tender students of HAZMAT-suited EMTS knocking on dorm doors in the middle of the night to escort young people to isolation dorms.

Sympathy is fine, but a potentially life-and-death situation called for sterner stuff.

Things got away from Dr. Morris, and there was no one on her side apart from a loyal and admiring inner circle.

(It’s worth noting again that, where President Drugovich realized a successful response to COVID could be a life-and-death matter for Hartwick, the SUNY campus didn’t have to worry: Empire State taxpayers would continue funding SUNY, come what might.

(Hartwick kept total infestations to 21, or 2.9 percent of SUNY-O’s number, even though its enrollment is 25 percent of the larger school’s total.)

For the good of all, let’s, as a community, get behind President Craig, and give him all the support we can to help him duplicate his Purchase success here.

A final thought: When Barbara Jean Morris was recruited, her “two-fer” status – she was a woman and a Native American – was heralded.

By all means, hire whomever of whatever background. But chairman Patrick Brown and the College Council shouldn’t have stars in their eyes, distorted, if you will, by PC prerogatives.

They have a responsibility – to the campus and the Oneonta community; (City Hall alone is losing
$1 million in revenue per semester): Whoever succeeds Dr. Morris must be focused enough, tough enough, realistic enough, experienced enough to truly understand the daunting requirements of a college president’s job, and temperamentally able to handle them.

Getting that under control will allow the focus to return to raising the campus’ quality and reputation, which is what it’s all about.

Let’s Stick With It: We’re Beating COVID-19


Let’s Stick With It:

We’re Beating COVID-19

COVID-19 numbers are rising again nationally, but we’re zigging as the nation zags.

As this edition went to press Tuesday, Oct. 13, SUNY Oneonta had not reported a single COVID case in the previous five days.

This, in an institution that had 100 infestations in one night at the end of August. Since infections there totaled 712, and they closed the campus until after Thanksgiving.

So zero-zero-zero-zero-zero is particularly welcome news.

Hartwick College, across the valley, reported no cases last week, and only a single one in the last couple of days.

Likewise, the county Health Department is reporting four infections in five days, an average of less than one a day, although a hospitalization, reported Tuesday, was the first in weeks.

Of course, our county has a relatively small population of 61,000 souls, but let’s give ourselves credit.

It’s the rare person you run into who isn’t wearing a mask or practicing social distancing. Establishments are enforcing “No Mask, No Service,” and both Oneonta and Cooperstown have toughened laws in the face of the pandemic threat.

Happily, the fellow who spray-painted black “X’s” on the “Mask on Main” signs at the edge of the Business District has been charged. But it just goes to show, not everybody’s bought in.

Who isn’t in favor of freedom? But there’s such a thing as common sense, too. And let’s remember, wearing a mask protects the people we run into more than ourselves. Do we need a law to be caring
of others?

Let’s stay the course. It’s paying off. Let’s breathe easier – and stick with it.

Can Sanctuary Energy Be Channeled Into Reform?


Can Sanctuary Energy

Be Channeled Into Reform?

In 2017, you may remember, the Village of Cooperstown dipping its toe in the “sanctuary” pond.

The Village Board passed a resolution telling the federal government it could not depend on the cooperation of Cooperstown police if ICE – U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement – were to launch a local raid.

Happily, ICE was occupied with real hot-spots and the resolution sort of faded away.

Now, another idea is on the table: A “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” presumably where the state’s SAFE Act, toughest in the nation, it’s said, won’t be enforced.

Last week, outdoor columnist and county Rep. Rick Brockway, R-West Laurens, on behalf of the 2AS organization, presented petitions with 3,925 signatures to the county Board of Representatives, asking it to reject any law that is “constitutionally repugnant.”

Appropriately, county Board Chairman Dave Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, deftly assigned the measure to a committee – Public Safety & Legal Affairs, chaired by Dan Wilber, R-Burlington – where it will stay for a while.

Curiously, some folks who were enthusiastic about the first “sanctuary” have no enthusiasm for the second.

Which gets to the nub of the whole “sanctuary” concept.

First, there’s a practical point.

In the first case, did anyone – the trustees foremost – want Cooperstown, getaway from the hustle and hubbub of city life, to become a magnet for illegal residents and a center of immigration conflict?

Likewise, does anyone really want to see a gun on every hip?

Second, there’s the rule of law.

If you don’t like something, there’s a process to change it. Perfection is probably off the table, so any reform in any area would be imperfect in some other way.

So it is with the SAFE Act.

Here’s a modest proposal. Perhaps Wilber’s committee and the 2AS can identify two or three of the most egregious elements in the SAFE Act, and make common cause with other counties to reform the reform.

Most of the complaints about the SAFE Act, it seems, have to do with a too-complicated process, inconvenience and expense. Can’t that be tinkered with?

Can the ferment generated by my-way-or-the-highway sanctuary movements – guns, immigration or whatever – be channeled in to sensible, incremental reform?

That would be the American Way, at least as we used to consider it.

County Treasurer Has Way Out Of Crunch

County Treasurer Ruffles

Has Way Out Of Crunch

At 194 Main St., Cooperstown, the seat of Otsego County government, there’s been wailing and gnashing of teeth since COVID-19 arrived six months ago.

Revenues dried up. Fifty-nine jobs were chopped. The county board waited fearfully as state and federal mandarins declined to pay back money spent on mandated programs in 2019. The county reps pondered raising taxes above the 2 percent state cap, political hari kari.

County Treasurer Allen Ruffles cut through all that in a preliminary budget he presented to the county board’s Budget Committee Thursday, Oct. 1.

It balances. It provides cash flow. And it won’t raise taxes.

In consultation with county board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, and Budget Committee chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, Milford, New Lisbon; Ruffles prepared a budget that:

• One, squeezes the prospective 2021 deficit from $13.5 million to $5.4 million; he cut wherever he could.

• Two, he’ll borrow $4 million at a historically low interest rate – 1.0043 percent – due in 12-24 years.

• Three, Highway Superintendent Rich Brimmer’s crews will get as much road work done as early next summer as possible, freeing up $6.7 million in CHIPS money, road funding that is still flowing from Albany.

He’ll use the $1.0043 percent loan money to pay for road-repair supplies, and pay it back whenever. And he’ll use the $6.7 million to pay short-term bills on everything else.

With a little luck, a vaccine and new treatments will wrestle COVID-19 to the ground in the next few months. Blessed tourists will return in 2021 – hosanna! – and sales tax and bed tax coffers will overflow. Happy days will be here again.

If the COVID threat continues for 5-6 years, we’re all sunk anyhow. But, chin up, America. That’s unlikely to happen.

As the sign at Schneider’s Bakery says, “This Too Shall Pass.” That’s as good a prediction as any.

The Ruffles budget is a preliminary spending plan county treasurers are required to submit to Albany by mid-November.

Bliss, Kennedy and the Budget Committee appear to like the Ruffles formula. So, right now, Ruffles’ formula may carry the day. The result: stable taxes, cash flow to get through ’21, and low-interest debt to pay when the economy rebounds.

Well done, Allen. Why not?

Barown Set Standard For County Municipalities

Barown Set Standard

For County Municipalities

With Teri Barown, the Village of Cooperstown got professional management right.

In 11 years as village clerk, Barown earned the confidence of numerous village boards, of Democratic and Republican trustees alike.

When the Katz Administration launched a $10 million redevelopment of the downtown – the Tillapaugh Administration continued it – it soon became clear grantsmanship was too time-consuming for an unpaid part-time board.

With NYCOM’s blessing, Barown was promoted from clerk to administrator. A busy, drama-free, five-year period of accomplishment followed.

Just before Teri was promoted, the City of Oneonta lost its first city administrator. Over the next four years, it lost two more.

So what lessons might be drawn from Teri Barown’s successful tenure?

• One, she was a known quality.

No surprises, and that lesson’s been learned. Looking toward a new Oneonta city manager, City Personnel Director Katie Böttger’s and City Engineer Greg Mattice’s names have been mentioned. At the county, Treasurer Allen Ruffles is in play.

• Two, flexibility in hiring matters.

In addition to having a gem already on staff, the Village Board saved tens of thousands of dollars by promoting Barown and giving her a raise from $55,000 to $70,000 (with incremental bumps since then.) Common Council has paid well over $110,000 and up just to start. Teri didn’t have an MPA, as required in Oneonta’s City Charter; but she got things done.

• Three, she respects (and likes) people.

Asked what advice she has for her successor, she said “maintain an openness.” To trustees, she said, “Hire someone who can handle the duties, and work with the staff that’s here. We have excellent staff here.”

She called village clerk and, then, administrator, “dream jobs,” where she could serve a community of people she had known since girlhood.

• She was a good employee, excellent really.

Former Mayor Jeff Katz said: “She cared, but it was more than that. She’s emotionally invested in her job and the wellbeing of the village. Whatever was thrown her way, she
did it gladly and she did it well. She’s tenacious that way.”

That’s an employee everybody wants.

• She could handle politics.

While she was administrator, the Village Boards contained all Democrats. ‘Nuff said. Politics connects people with government; don’t cut that connection.

County board chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, and Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, have been coming to similar conclusions.

In effect, hire the right person – someone with commitment, experience and people skills –
and let them do their job.

EDITORIAL Let’s Make 2020, ‘Year Of The Cooperstownians’


Let’s Make 2020, ‘Year

Of The Cooperstownians’

It’s Time For Trustees To Ask:

What Can We Do For YOU?

First, congratulations to Democrat Mac Benton and Republican Mary-Margaret Robbins for a hard-fought campaign for Cooperstown Village Board.

Mac won, but both he and Mary-Margaret showed a lot of class – he in victory; she in defeat – after the Tuesday, Sept. 29, tallying showed he garnered 343 votes to her 308.

He said her strong challenge will “make me a better trustee.” She praised the people of Cooperstown, those who supported her and those who were active in supporting Mac, as representative of the community’s spirit.

The front page of the March 17, 2011, Freeman’s Journal shows trustees, from left, Jeff Katz, Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and Walter Franck at a victory party hosted by village Democratic then-chairman Richard Abbate. Behind Tillapaugh is her
husband, Gary Kuch.

In looking back over past Cooperstown Election Nights, that Freeman’s Journal front page from Thursday, March 17, 2011 – at right – showed up. It signaled the start of nine years of Democratic domination of the Cooperstown Village Board, which will now continue.

That picture in that front page’s upper left shows Jacob Miller dancing with mom Nancy at the 2011 Cooperstown Cotillion at The Otesaga, where Cooperstown 13-year-olds annually show off newly gained ballroom dancing skills.

Since, Jacob graduated from CCS, graduated from Harvard, and is now an assistant coach with the University of Georgia’s football team.

That’s how long it’s been since Democrats and Republicans balance each other on the Village Board.

That year, Democrats Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, now mayor, was elected to the Village Board, along with newcomers Walter Franck and Jim Dean. Trustee Jeff Katz was reelected to the board. After a year of Democrats bedeviling the only Republican on the board, Mayor Joe Booan, Katz was elected mayor.

Those have been nine years of huge accomplishment for the Village of Cooperstown, fueled by the enactment of on-street paid parking, which generate $400,000 in new money a year for village government.

A decaying downtown has been fully repaired – sewerage replaced, streets and sidewalks redone, new street lamps, benches and $4,000 trash receptacles (they can be locked during the Parade of Legends each Induction Weekend) installed.

Pioneer Park at Main and Pioneer has a brick surface, a slightly elevated bandstand, water cooler, bike racks, new furniture.

The $5.5 million redo of Doubleday Field and the parking lot, completed this summer, is world class, appropriate for the world-class attraction. If you haven’t visited it yet, do yourself a favor: Make the drive to Cooperstown on one of the remaining fall weekends.

Among many, credit goes in particular to the hard-driving, determined Chicagoan Jeff Katz, mayor for six years, and such committed trustees as Tillapaugh, Cindy Falk, Lou Allstadt and several others. Now Mayor Tillapaugh is an able successor to Katz, smart, steady, disciplined, an elegant ambassador for “America’s Most Perfect Village.”

There’s much that these people – and Cooperstown’s citizens at large – can reflect on with pride.

Cooperstown’s Village Hall has been under one-party control for nine years.

While the Democratic bloc remains in control, it can only be learned that something was learned from this hard-fought campaign.

In the long ago League of Women Voters’ forum in this year’s race – March 7; the March 18 election was delayed until a couple of weeks ago by the COVID-19 threat – Robbins suggested the “Year of Cooperstownians,” 12 months when the Village Board focuses on making Cooperstown a more pleasant place to live.

Two incidents led to Mary-Margaret Robbins’ candidacy.

• One, the Village Board, without consulting, sought to impose diagonal parking on lower Pioneer Street, unaware or uncaring that cars entering and exiting would shine their brights into neighbors living rooms, plus adding congestion to the neighborhood.

• Two, one of those infur-iating blinking stop signs was installed at Lake and Fair streets, blinking all night long into a neighbor’s bedroom.

Despite the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, the Democrate bloc should take Robbins’ advice to heart.

The Village Board has a lot of ideas, but has it asked citizens lately, what do you want us to do next?

It might be instructive.

EDITORIAL Was Polling Place Big Enough?


Was Polling Place Big Enough?

In a tiny village of 1,800 people, should voters, many of retirement age, have to wait in in the rain for a half-hour to vote? Certainly, no.

And yet that was the case Tuesday, Sept. 29, as voters lined up to exercise their franchise at the Cooperstown fire hall on Chestnut Street.

It may have been turnout, given the high interest in breaking the tie in the Mary-Margaret Robbins/Mac Benton race for village trustee.

It may have been the necessary inconvenience of social distancing.

Still, the space wasn’t big enough. The village should explore alternatives – maybe St. Mary’s Church Hall, maybe the high school auditorium, maybe wherever.
It shouldn’t happen again.

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.

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