News of Otsego County


This week’s editorial

Editorial: The inevitable stadium

The nation’s football audience was legitimately incredulous several weeks ago when the NFL’s random rules denied the Bills offense a chance at the ball in its overtime loss – in a championship game, no less – to the Kansas City Chiefs.

It’s a fair wager that New York sports fans took it particularly hard, as “our team” had a shot at the Super Bowl and then lost it in the closing seconds thanks to the reality of league rules and a lousy decision that left 13 seconds on the clock.

The Bills have gone from beloved state hero to goat (that’s goat as in ‘Charlie Brown-type goat,’ not the Tom Brady ‘Greatest Of All Time’ GOAT) in the last week, though, given Governor Kathy Hochul’s deal with the team and

Reasons to be Cheerful

Reasons to be Cheerful

Editorial: March 31, 2022

In the beautiful 1979 movie “Being There,” Peter Sellers portrays a gentle and illiterate gardener who implausibly becomes a national sensation in a world gone wrong amid deep recession and winter malaise. A talk show host asks him for his outlook on the nation’s economic future. He pauses for a moment and says, “In the garden, growth has its seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

Spring is coming. Amid worldwide havoc, and thanks to the generosity of the good people of Otsego County, there are reasons to be cheerful. Look no further than the outpouring of local support for the people of Ukraine.

The Rusty Bison ran out of spaghetti and meatballs at its March 23 pay-what-you-will event and raised more than $5,000 to send directly to Poland to help Ukrainian refugees with clothes, food, shelter, and finding jobs; the restaurant owners look to raise more on April 1 at 6 p.m. with an Open Mic and Dance Party at The Telegraph School in Cherry Valley.

Students in Edmeston Central School raided their piggy banks to raise nearly $4,000 to partner with the Village’s Rotary Club to support Ukraine.

The Susquehanna Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals raised more than $10,000 – double its goal – on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a group with “boots on the ground” in Ukraine and Poland. SQSPCA’a indefatigable Stacie Haynes said “people are risking their lives right now to ensure animals left in shelters are cared for and pets are transported with families to safety.” So important.

Ukraine’s flag flies over Village Hall in Cooperstown and the Village welcomed Aliona Yezhova and her son to raise awareness; Ms. Yezhova continues her efforts to raise donations of money and goods to send home to help her fellow Ukrainians.

Your generosity goes beyond help for Ukraine, of course — we note, for example, the students at Milford Central also emptied their pockets in a change challenge to raise money for Super Heroes in Ripped Jeans; the Leatherstocking Credit Union waived its coin-counter fees to the Milford and Edmeston schools to maximize the students’ contributions. Lenten food drives. The Lions’ Club teaming up with Otsego 2000 to help connect people to fresh food at the Farmers’ Market in Cooperstown.

The danger inherent to publishing a list like that is that we’re bound to omit the good works of other people and groups who are working just as fervently, so — we apologize in advance for not naming all of you but are just as grateful for your ongoing selflessness.

Otsego County’s traditions of local, regional, and international philanthropy take root in Edward Clark’s deep devotion to the region that continues today through the Scriven and Clark foundations. We’re rooted, too, in our own devotion to the fundamental threads that make every village, town, and city unique yet united.

Spring is coming. Major League Baseball ended its lockout and Opening Day is here. The covers are just about to come off the parking meters. Pretty soon, we’ll all be sweeping the pollen off our windshields instead of scraping off the ice.

In the garden, growth has its seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.

Editorial: Time to move on

Time to move on

Editorial: March 24, 2022

Cooperstown Junior/Senior High School Principal Karl O’Leary’s March 18 dismissal seems abrupt. New York’s voluminous education law and its attendant rules and regulations, however, abide no impetuous action when it comes to personnel matters. Save for a handful of egregious situations, the Cooperstown Central School Board of Education and its sibling boards across the state are bound by strict legal procedure that demands any allegation of misconduct or malfeasance be addressed with the greatest of care, detail, and discretion. This takes time; a frustrating amount of time.

This newspaper has reported and editorialized for the past few months on concerns students and parents raised to the CCS Board with regard to someone they called “a member of the administration” – a person they could not name in accordance with some of those procedural rules of engagement. We heard but did not report plenty of off-the-record stories — some corroborated, others dismissed – so there’s no doubt school district parents, teachers, and students have been abuzz for months.

The public’s natural curiosity notwithstanding, Mr. O’Leary’s seemingly sudden dismissal will do nothing to end conjecture or lift salient fact out from underneath the weight of legal limitation. It will, however, take decisive and highly visible steps forward in a process that can have only one goal: the quality of education in Cooperstown Central School.

Speaking to The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta after Mr. O’Leary’s dismissal, Superintendent of Schools Sarah Spross called the district’s seven-member, all-volunteer Board of Education “uniquely committed to its focus on quality education.” Quality education can’t happen in an atmosphere rife with tension and rumor.

The district, then, had to follow – and will continue to follow – a process that for many can be painstakingly slow and difficult to measure. We recognize the difficulty and commend the board and administration for taking the difficult steps that seem to have been necessary in the case at hand.

The only direction is forward. We think it pointless to look back if it’s for the sole purpose in second-guessing decisions that this Board or others before it had rendered in a hiring process. Hindsight works only when it helps restore broken relationships or heal any damage that might’ve been done along the way.

We are confident the Superintendent and her administrative team – along with the Board of Education – have a clear picture of what has been. They’ve heard from eloquent and passionate students about their concerns with “a member of the administration.” They’ve heard from parents concerned about the atmosphere in the school.

We are confident, too, those creating, collaborating on, and implementing school policy have a positive and sustainable roadmap for the district’s future and a focus on quality education. We are encouraged by the anti-bullying and anti-discrimination presentations about which we reported two weeks ago – cheered even more so by the student and faculty response to those sessions. We are encouraged by last week’s decision.

All of this is a burst of activity in a short period of time that sends an important signal to students, teachers, and parents that their voices have been heard and those responsible for questionable behavior will be brought to account – be they student, teacher, or administrator.

These steps don’t erase the past, but they help clear the path to move forward.

Editorial: ‘Justice involved’ requires judicial discretion

‘Justice involved’ demands judicial discretion

Editorial: March 17, 2022 – yes, there is a trade journal for all things marijuana – reports Otsego County as one of three north of New York City with more than 75 percent of its localities opting in to allowing retail pot dispensaries within their borders. And whether those jurisdictions opted in actively through an affirmative vote or passively – as Cooperstown’s Board of Trustees did when they completely took a walk on voting up or down on the touchy issue – they’re bound by the regulations New York’s Office of Cannabis Management issued last week.

We report this week on the details of those regulations, including the requirement that for the as-yet initial batch of licenses, at least one person in the application must be “justice involved.” In this case, that’s the term for someone convicted of a pot-related offense prior to March 31, 2021, when the state Legislature and then-Governor Cuomo legalized recreational pot with the “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.” A licensee also is eligible if he or she had a family member convicted of a pot-related offense prior to that same date. The language of that law awards one-half of all adult-use licenses to “social and economic equity applicants.”

We support its good intention – historically, New York’s drug laws had a disproportionate, punishing impact on minority communities, one so steep that even the Republican state legislators who pushed them into law back in the early 1970s returned to Albany two decades later as private citizens to lobby hard, and successfully, to undo them.

We’d like to think that the “justice involved” layaside for retail licenses, then, would go to those who felt that disproportionate punishment the most – say, perhaps, the now-adult who got sent up for

Taking on the bullies: An editorial

Taking on the bullies

Editorial: March 10, 2022


You have to start somewhere.

We will admit to some heavy-duty skepticism when this newspaper received a press release last week announcing three days of anti-bullying assemblies and break-out sessions at Cooperstown Central School. It all sounded rather gimmicky – “a student empowerment and empathy activation team” calling itself “Sweethearts & Heroes” and co-founded by a Cooperstown High alum, Tom Murphy. Students participating in “Circle,” which, said the release, is “based on the ancient ritual of sitting in a circle to communicate and build empathy.”

Press releases are, at best, carefully contrived and one-dimensional – not the most ideal vehicle to convey the essence of something designed to drive home a compelling message about bullying.

Tom Murphy and his colleague, retired U.S. Army Sergeant Rick Yarosh, steamrolled our aforementioned skepticism right out of the box, though; their Monday afternoon program was hard-hitting but empathetic, energetic and motivational, entertaining and interactive. Students were engaged, too – a tough crowd, those senior high students are, at a tough time of day, after lunch and during the last period before school’s end – but they rallied and got involved. Well done, all.

Last December, this newspaper reported the story when two students stood to address a meeting of the CCS Board of Education to say they felt like they had no support from “a member of the administration” when they reported incidents of racial intolerance and bullying. Whether their

Masks at random

Masks, randomly

Editorial: March 3, 2022

We read your comments on our Facebook and pages, we really do. After we posted the news on February 27 that Governor Kathy Hochul would lift the state’s indoor mask mandate for students and teachers in schools, one reader opined, “That mid-term variant.”

Laughs come hard these days, what with masks and Ukraine and the unending number of days in February, but that one got a hearty chuckle.

Cynical? You bet; in our opinion, not unduly so. Sunday’s mid-afternoon announcement was not unexpected, but its timing quizzical given the fact that just two weeks ago, the Governor set a timetable that would see kids returning from winter break on February 28 and enduring a couple of COVID tests during the week so the state could, on March 4, look at the numbers and decide then what to do about masks.

Along came the CDC on Friday, February 25 with its new three-tiered low/medium/high risk calculation, throwing a giant wrench into the governor’s purported schedule. Well done for rush-releasing an active response to those new guidelines, arbitrary as they might be. Points deducted, though, for her absurdly passive-aggressive decision to eliminate the state mandate but leave it up to county governments to render the final decision as to whether they will require schools to keep the masks on indoors. That is not high-minded recognition of local control, it’s an abrogation of executive responsibility.

Political consideration seems to be grabbing the COVID wheel as we enter New York’s heavily-political season. Governor Hochul made the no-mask announcement just one day before the state’s

Editorial: Blah blah blah etc.

Editorial: “We’re following the science.”

“Your call is very important to us. Please hold.”

There’s one that’s hard to believe, particularly after you’ve been on hold for an hour with a faceless conglomerate whose digital operator’s repeated reassurance becomes more grating than helpful.

“Thank you for your service.”

A thoughtful and once-meaningful sentiment that recognizes our heroes who serve or have served our nation during war and peace. It keeps its intended depth on a one-to-one or small group setting, and it’s always important to say a sincere thank you to those who dedicated their lives to keeping all of us safe and sound. Sadly, it has become a commoditized catchphrase for a television promotion or politician’s stump speech. A box on the speechwriter’s checklist.

“Small business is the backbone of our community.”

District Attorney: Right on bail, discovery

District Attorney right on bail, discovery

Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl is in a dangerous spot when it comes to what we understand his position to be on the third-rail issues of bail and discovery reform.

He can see both sides of the issue.

That’s poison these days – acknowledging, in this case, that those calling for reform to the criminal justice system had reason to do so but that those saying it went too far are equally justified.

“Form over function,” he called it, and The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta agrees. We support the District Attorney’s thoughtful approach.

While the most ardent backers of criminal justice reform in Albany point to somewhat favorable violent recidivism statistics and declare the issue all but closed, Mr. Muehl has his own, more localized and immediate realities: a plunge in the number drug dealer prosecutions. He’s also watched his successful drug court drop from 50 participants to just three – those choosing drug court in the past, he said, would be in jail “on a fair amount of bail” to give them time to think about their options and choose to sober up rather than going right back out onto the streets.

Then there are the retailers in the County facing their own recidivism issues, Because shoplifting, organized or otherwise, tends to fall outside the classic definition of “violent crime,” few thieves remain behind bars and are back stealing from the same store(s) they hit only hours before. It is a problem.

But in the words of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, “You know, an incident happens and it’s just jail jail jail.” His Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, points out a past that reform came from “a disparate impact negatively specifically on Black and Brown communities. If you had money you could get out, if you didn’t, you stayed in.” She noted specifically the case of Kalief Browder, a Bronx resident held on Riker’s Island for three years because he couldn’t make bail for allegedly stealing a backpack containing valuables. Two years after his release, he hanged himself.

February being Black History Month, it’s an ideal time to consider these important points of view – the how, when, and where of bail and the impact it can have. The history of bail as little more than a tool to keep minority populations locked up. It is a problem.

The loudest voices in the debate right now belong to the reform advocates who refuse to consider change to the new laws on one side and, on the other, those who demand a complete roll-back of the 2019 and 2020 statutes. This is not an all-or-nothing situation, yet sadly, our polarized culture demands that kind of sloganeering but might be better served by looking down the middle of the road.

The District Attorney says he has no philosophical opposition to the concept of the reforms but that, in reality, “they went way too far.” The form-over-function anchor that weighs down discovery reform prevents prosecutors from doing their real work in favor of filling out reports that, in turn, bog down the desks of defense attorneys who are getting more useless information than they could ever need.

We agree with Mr. Muehl’s fundamental premise and hope in the coming months our lawmakers in Albany will similarly agree that no law is perfect right out of the box. There’s room to keep important new criminal justice protections in place and return function to the process without tilting the scales too far in favor of one side or the other.

Editorial: The Sideshow

Editorial: The Sideshow

“New York will create a bureaucracy out of anything.”

So wrote one of this newspaper’s Facebook followers after reading a post about the state’s new “Office of Cannabis Management,” set up as the agency tasked to regulate legal weed and its derivations. The Office was a long time coming; ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo had stalled his appointment of potential agency leadership and then he stepped down. His successor moved (relatively) quickly and, voila, we have a new state agency.

The appropriately snarky observation came after we shared the Office’s announcement of its CANNABIS CONVERSATIONS. “Let’s talk about the new law and next steps for cannabis in New York,” they say, setting a series of online events between now and February 21.

Blah-blah-blah etc.

They’re just words now

“Your call is very important to us. Please hold.”

There’s one that’s hard to believe, particularly after you’ve been on hold for an hour with a faceless conglomerate whose digital operator’s repeated reassurance becomes more grating than helpful.

“Thank you for your service.”

A thoughtful and once-meaningful sentiment that recognizes our heroes who serve or have served our nation during war and peace. It keeps its intended depth on a one-to-one or small group setting, and it’s always important to say a sincere thank you to those who dedicated their lives to keeping all of us safe and sound. Sadly, it has become a commoditized catchphrase for a television promotion or politician’s stump speech. A box on the speechwriter’s checklist.

“Small business is the backbone of our community.”

Yes it is, but that’s another that no longer carries a scintilla of sincerity. Perfect for the elected official searching for the right thing to say when government policies – usually far from his or her influence or control – have run roughshod over the Main Street retailers and restaurants just trying to make payroll at the end of the week. No, it’s not the right thing to say. It’s just blah-blah-blah.

“We’re following the science.”

The newest entry to the catchphrase roster. One of ex-Governor Cuomo’s leave-behinds from his daily COVID shows from back in the day, and, at the time, a reassuring comment when all around was dark. Like a lot of things he was doing and saying on those shows, politicians around the world picked up on it quicker than you can say “seven-day rolling average.”

We’re hearing it a lot now from people like Governor Kathy Hochul and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki who, in the face of a public’s waning patience for all things restrictive, keep hammering the idea that “we’re following the science” when rendering decisions on mask mandates and related guidance (“guidance,” we’ve learned, implies a different legal standard than “rule,” but both mean “you have to do this”).

But when the science in, say, Massachusetts or Connecticut says it’s OK to take the masks off in schools, why doesn’t New York’s science say the same thing? The governors in those two states say they’re “following the science” in lifting mask mandates. Here in New York, we evidently “followed the science” last week when we got the word that the state was calling a halt on its ‘winter surge’ indoor mask mandate for businesses (but not for places like nursing homes, transportation hubs, and other ‘congregate settings’). We have to wait until early March for science to reveal itself far enough to render a decision on schools.

What science are we following that the others aren’t? Is ours better? Or is it just stuck in New York’s Byzantine bureaucracy that slows down everything from state park passes to driver’s licenses?

We do not question whether New York’s mask mandate wheel of fortune is right or wrong. (And we hear you, The Other Side of the Debate, when you’ll now trot out your own tired sloganeering by shouting various permutations of the word ‘sheep.’) We’re deeply grateful for the science – especially for those people who are and do science — that has been the light at the end of this long tunnel since the earliest days of the pandemic. We remain confident that science and its practitioners will see all of us through this mess.

We do question whether “we’re following the science” has become so overused that it now is just bureaucratic lexicon, a meaningless utterance that checks a politician’s box but provides the same reassurance as saying “Your call is very important to us. Please hold.”

Editorial: Hello in there

Editorial: Hello in there

Where have all the people gone?
Seems like there’s no one hangin’ on.
Look through the windows,
The houses are empty.
Everybody’s out of town.
Seems like
I’m the only one around.
Better send some people down.
Everyone on Earth
Is out of town.

Hal David wrote that apocalyptic lyric back in 1970, Burt Bacharach added some appropriately dyspeptic music with a wobbly trombone, B.J. Thomas sang it with the right tinge of loneliness.

The song came to mind as we stood at the top of Cooperstown’s Main Street late one frigid afternoon last week. The stroll to the post office didn’t do much to counter the desolation — plenty of doors displayed some semblance of the “closed until March” sign that turns up every year around this time.

As it must. It’s our slow season, that time of year when New Yorkers become temporary Floridians, when business owners can grab some much-deserved rest in between busier times, when people can escape the cold.

Editorial: Destination ‘yes’

Editorial: Destination ‘yes’

Oneonta’s new mayor, Mark Drnek, dropped a surprise when the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce held its 2022 virtual ‘State of the State’ on January 11 and he told Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh that he wants to collaborate with her and other regional leaders on a “destination marketing” campaign to attract new residents to an Oneonta-to-Cooperstown corridor.

His proposal – one he freely admitted was a surprise to all on the Zoom meeting – came after Mayor Tillapaugh said she’d gently tease his predecessor, Gary Herzig, that Oneonta was home to Cooperstown Baseball World and Cooperstown All-Star Village, and they “really benefit that community’s lodging and business community.” With Cooperstown Dreams Park in the Town of Hartwick, she said, “I always joke that the Village of Cooperstown is the only one without an actual baseball complex named after Cooperstown.”

She’s right, of course – we wonder if players and parents unfamiliar with the region aren’t a little disappointed to learn that the Village itself is some 20 miles away from the place to which they’ve traveled to say they played baseball “in Cooperstown.”

Editorial: Maybe not

Editorial: Maybe not

Far be it from this page to look a gift horse squarely in the mouth, but open wide, equine friend:
Term limits aren’t government reform.

We do not blame Governor Kathy Hochul for saying eight is enough when it comes to years in office for a governor. Her predecessor’s bullying monomania for cementing his legacy by winning the fourth term that eluded his father was his undoing.

She calls for that same two-term limit on the lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller. She ups the ante putative Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin slapped on the table in December — his proposal would, so far, limit only the governor’s time at the helm. Neither yet loops in the state Legislature — a wise political move, given the fact that it’s the state Legislature that would have to approve the deal in the first place before sending to the state’s voters. We doubt they’d agree to vote themselves out of office, but we also think they’d be hard-pressed to carve themselves out if public pressure demanded otherwise.

Editorial: Omicron’s Paradox

Omicron’s Paradox

A COVID-weary public confronts the conundrum daily: Is this good news? Is it bad news?

We have to admit that we’re a little bit confused.

The Omicron caseload is frightening on its surface — ridiculously high numbers on a daily basis, top-of-the-fold newspaper coverage, lead-story status.

We’re so attuned to scary numbers and frightening graphs that when we hear about record-shattering daily positive tests coming back, the first thing we want to do is retreat to our quarantine corners and hide. We worry that we’re all going to become experts in the Greek alphabet before this is finished.
But then we look past the raw data and hear the experts say that with Omicron, it’s important to take a more analytical approach. Governor Kathy Hochul, on Monday, said, “People are testing at a much higher rate. It’s shocking in the scale of the number of people who are testing positive, but we’re grateful cases are not presenting themselves as severely as they did with Delta.” She cited encouraging news out of South Africa, where Omicron first was detected — a sharp jolt in positives followed by an equally sharp decline. “We have so many more defenses this time,” she said.

Editorial: Just wear it

Editorial: Just wear it

A few Albany wags called it “mandate-ish” when Governor Kathy Hochul’s indoor mask order took effect a week ago and roughly 20 percent of the state’s counties said immediately they’d not be enforcing
the order.

We remain somewhat at a loss as to how a county could cherry-pick the state laws (or, as may be the case, executive orders that carry the full force of law) they choose to enforce. That’s a topic for another day.

“They’re saying that just to get in the paper,” Governor Hochul quipped about the recalcitrants. “She’s doing it just to get in the paper,” the recalcitrants, generally, replied.

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