By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA — The Common Council unanimously passed a motion to approve and adopt the Implementation Plan for Police Reform and Reinvention, which was worked on by the Community Advisory Board and the subsequent council led review committee, Tuesday, Oct.5.
Mayor Gary Herzig thanked the CABRC members who worked for six months on creating the plan to implement the CAB’s recommendations, which was a response to a directive given by former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Herzig said he was impressed members of CABRC, which included mayoral candidates Len Carson, R-Fifth Ward, and Mark Drnek, D-Eighth Ward, voted unanimously on every single motion.
The motion paves the way for standing Community Police Review board, whose job will be to handle complaints about OPD.
Other business discussed included the recent County Board meeting that approved county-wide ambulance service. Council members were concerned Oneonta would pay double for a service they don’t use, as Oneonta already has its own ambulance service.
Herzig acknowledged there was a “real need” for this ambulance service in Otsego County, but was concerned the county didn’t seem to have a plan on how to pay for it. He said he was “disappointed that the County Board passed this without any understanding of how it would pay for it.”
Scott Harrington, R-Sixth Ward, concurred, saying Rep. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, had trouble getting questions about the ambulance service answered, which he said was “very concerning.”
Harrington said Oneonta “historically” has done emergency calls outside the county and never asked to be reimbursed. “We’ve taken the brunt of it,” Harrington said. “The county needs to keep that in mind. … We haven’t even gotten a thank you.”
“This is something I think we really should push back on,” Harrington said.
Herzig said he invited Rep. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, Edmeston, Exeter, Plainfield, who chairs the Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee, and Victor Jones, emergency services coordinator, to speak at the council but was “surprised and disappointed” he didn’t hear back.
Chris Witzenberg was appointed police chief unanimously but only after Luke Murphy, D-First Ward, asked to table the vote because there were questions about comments made by him which some members of the council and a member of the public brought up. The concern was Witzenberg might circumvent decisions made by the Common Council as it related to law enforcement.
However, the motion was voted down in an even split with Murphy, Mark Davies, D-Second Ward, David Rissberger, D-Third Ward, and Kaytee Lipari Shue, D-Fourth Ward, voting yes.
The no votes were cast by Carson, Harrington, John Rafter, D-Seventh Ward, and Drnek.
The council members overwhelmingly praised Witzenberg, with Murphy congratulating his appointment.
Rissberger said he was concerned by the Facebook page for OPD saying 296 comments included “escalation of arguing and shouting” and wanted to ask “what his plan going forward with the social media account.”
Herzig responded public pages can’t block comments because it is considered censorship.
Prior to the vote, one man from the Oneonta Fire Department spoke up in support of Witzenberg, saying he worked with him for decades and thought he was very professional and qualified for the role.
After the motion was passed, the council members applauded the vote.
Herzig also spoke of how the city was “aggressively” exploring carbon heating and cooling options after grant awards were announced within Oneonta. These sites include the Downtown Heating District, which would replace a 60-year-old natural gas pipeline with district-style heat pumps, the Oneonta Railyard would have heat pumps for 177,000 square feet and the SUNY Oneonta campus would get a heat pump system serviceable to 29 buildings.
“These three projects make the city of Oneonta the most aggressive New York state community our size in pursuing district heat pump projects,” Herzig said.
Other actions taken by the common council included:
- Passing a motion to reject all submissions for contracts for 2021 sidewalk replacement;
- Appointments of full-time bus drivers for OPT;
- Renewal of three year contract with the town of Oneonta for OPT services within the town from Jan. 1, 2022 to Dec. 31, 2024.