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 www.AllOTSEGO.com, 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 amazon.com.
It matters. Even for the longterm health of our schools.
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.
“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.
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.
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. GoFundMe.com 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.
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.
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.
The question was, “Do you think THEY will let the county administrator do the job?” They, of course, being the county Board
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
He has been Otsego County’s state senator since 1986. Many of us – most of us, perhaps – have never known another one.
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.
Oneonta City Manager George Korthauer – Oneonta’s first successful city manager – announced Monday, Jan. 13, that he’s heading off into a well-earned retirement.
He should go with all our thanks and best wishes.
He proved that even the City of Oneonta – feisty, argumentative, proud of its heritage, sure of its opinions – can eventually come to terms with a professional from out of town, and benefiting from what, in this case, he had to offer.
Commenting on Korthauer’s pending Feb. 7 departure, Mayor Gary Herzig cited “a wealth of knowledge regarding municipal equipment,” which sounds like faint praise.
But Deputy Mayor David Rissberger put some meat on those bones: Retired from 25 years as city manager in Petoskey, in Michigan’s lake-effect zone, Korthauer knew about snow removal, advising the use of more effective attachments on city snow plows, and instituting alternate-parking on some streets to ease plowing.
Use to dealing with freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, he introduced the “Pothole Killer,” developed by, yes, Patch Management Inc. of Bucks County, Pa., which has a device that pounds a specially developed aggregate into potholes, extending the life of repairs.
Most of all, though, “people in City Hall liked him,” said Rissberger. “He was a nice guy. He was very knowledgeable. I think he’s gotten us over the hump of getting used to having day-to-day management.”
That speaks to it. Low-key experience and amiability allowed folks in City Hall to relax and, little by little, finally accept that things are going to be different.
After Mayor Dick Miller’s hard-driving administration squeezed out the first city manager, Mike Long, and after second City Manager Martin Murphy’s hard-driving personality put him at odds with too many people, Korthauer was a relief.
Oneonta was the first local governmental entity – outside public schools – to hire a professional manager, (although the Village of Cooperstown briefly tried it in the 1990s, an experience everyone there seems willing to leave forgotten.)
Since, Cooperstown revived the village administrator job, providing a contrast to Oneonta: Village Clerk Teri Barown got the job. It was a different job from Korthauer’s, but both had expertise. Neither he nor she is a table-pounder.
She’s a local girl, which gave her some instant cred, but the right local person isn’t always available.
But the City of Oneonta continued to struggle. When the County of Otsego was considering a professional manager last year, dubious onlookers pointed to the City of the Hills’ travails.
As the county now begins the search process on its first administrator, there are lessons that can be drawn from George, and Teri too.
Local is good, if the right person can be found locally. The Oneonta job description may be over-credentialed, required an import, but the county appears to have avoided that trap.
Temperament is huge – the professional has to win over an array of constantly changing elected officials. Expertise and experience are huge too, and Korthauer’s won him the credibility Barown was granted.
George Korthauer was 66 when hired in May 2017, is 69 now, so this wasn’t expected to be a 20-year deal.
With a house in Petoskey and grandkids in Denver, he and wife, the lively Brenda, are responding to different pulls now; you can understand why they’re ready to leave a few months before his contract expires.
The point is, his job is done. That’s particularly the case, since he’s readied his department heads to aspire to succeed him. Herzig expects applications from the ranks.
Mayor Miller was known to say when an initiative was nearing its end, “You have largely fulfilled your commitment.” He likely would have said something like that to George Korthauer.
Let’s go a step further: Well done. Farewell. And God speed.
Many sages over the centuries have concluded: The future has not yet been written, (if it ever is). Whatever we’re going through, this too shall pass.
You may have seen the Associated Press dispatch the other day: The Government Justice Center in Albany is suing to prevent Governor Cuomo from getting a pay raise, saying Section 7, Article XIII of the state Constitution prohibits raises during an elected official’s term.
When he was last elected in November 2018, his salary was $179,000, and has since risen to $200,000. Jan. 1, it rose to $225,000 and on Jan. 1, 2021, it will rise to $250,000.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is also receiving raises, from $151,500 in 2019 to $210,000 in 2020 and $220,000 in 2021.
Section 7, Article XIII, reads, “Each of the state officers named in this constitution shall, during his or her continuance in office, receive a compensation, to be fixed by law, which shall not be increased or diminished during the term for which he or she shall have been elected or appointed.”
Seems pretty straightforward.
The AP dispatch reports, both Cuomo and Hochul declined comment.
Because the U.S. has been governed by laws for some 250 years now, we take the rule of law for granted. That our governor – our chief magistrate – appears to be operating outside the state Constitution is troubling, but “troubling” is coming to characterize a lot of what’s coming out of Albany these days.
Take the “Green Light” Law, which, as of Dec. 14, requires county clerk’s offices that operate DMV offices, like Otsego’s, to issue New York State driver’s licenses to undocumented residents.
The explanation is that some undocument residents are driving anyway, and this at least ensures a subset of those will learn to drive to a sufficient level to obtain a license, thus making New York State’s roads safer.
But the contradiction is hard to get over: Persons in the U.S. illegally are being issued legal documents.
Further troubling, when the successful applicant goes to the pay-window computer to be guided through the payment process, at one point the question, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” appears on the screen.
If the applicant checks the “yes” box, his or her information is automatically forwarded to
the Otsego County Board of Elections.
According to Mike Henrici, the county Democratic elections commissioner, all voter registrations are then sent to Albany for verification. Plus, potential fines and jail sentences should deter fraudulent voting. Let’s hope for the best.
Even more troubling are the “justice reforms” that, as Senator Seward notes on Page A4, will allow 90 percent of people arrested to go free.
Already, the New York Post reported the other day a suspect “sucker-punched” an officer and was freed without bail. More examples will no doubt be flowing forth in the weeks ahead.
Changes in how evidence is handled – for instance, requiring suspected cocaine or meth
seized in drug arrests to be confirmed within 15 days; now, the testing can take months –
will put many suspects, some facing serious charges, back on the street, and hinder how their cases are eventually resolved, if they can even be found and brought before the bar.
Add in the possibility of not just legalization, but muscular commercialization, of marijuana, and other measures – there are worrisome clouds forming on New York State’s horizon.
This is not to start the New Year on a down beat.
Swings between reform and rebalancing are part of not just U.S. history, but functioning democracies generally. Think “Peace, Love and Woodstock,” followed by the Reagan years.
To the degree any of the reforms are an overreach, they will be eventually corrected, although perhaps not in 2020.