By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Candidates for Otsego County Board of Representatives in District 5, Emily Popek and incumbent Meg Kennedy, took time to answer questions in a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters, Thursday, Oct. 14.
The debate was held virtually with questions being submitted to an email provided by the League of Women Voters of Cooperstown. Kennedy is a conservative and Popek is a Democrat.
District 5, the largest in the county, by proportional representation, including the towns of Hartwick, Milford and Pittsfield.
Originally, other local races, including the Hartwick town supervisor, were supposed to be represented. But, according to moderator Maureen Murray, there needed to be more than two candidates represented and District Five was the only race which met this threshold.
Popek began her opening statement by touting her experience as a community editor and later a managing editor for the Daily Star, and referred to herself often as a “communications expert.”
“I believe democracy is at its best when voters are given a choice,” Popek said, who explained it was a sense of “civil responsibility” that caused her to make the decision to run for county board. She stressed the need for greater communication from the board to it constituents.
“I know that public meetings are’not a substitute for effective communication,” Popek said, who said she wants to “find new ways” to involve the community in public engagement and “not just tell them what’s happening.”
Kennedy used her work as president of the Oneonta Farmer’s Market as well as the owner of ARK Floral as a means of showcasing her leadership and experience she took with her as county representative.
“Leadership is key,” Kennedy said, who explained working with vendors in the farmer’s market were “opportunities to learn how to listen, how to communicate and how to work with a large, diverse group.”
Kennedy said asking “the right questions” was important to being a leader.
“I’ve been enjoying the work,” Kennedy said. “I’m honored to have represented the district” and would like to continue serving.
The candidates were asked if they support the new county administrator position, occupied now by Joshua Beams, with both agreeing they were in support it. However, Popek spoke of the need for a public information officer who would be someone county residents could talk to and would be helpful in order for the county to “control its own narrative.”
County EMS and fire volunteer services were also up for discussion, with Kennedy noting first responders were aging. She said she hoped they could be “revitalized” with county wide services.
“We have seen the difficulties and challenges being faced at the town level,” Popek said in regards to emergency services, and said the county should step in to help.
The board passed a motion in September, which approved county wide EMS services along with the purchase of two ambulances.
Popek said she thought the top two issues facing the county were infrastructure and a strategic plan, and Otsego County needed to “look beyond the next crisis” and start with “serious planning on where we want to go and how we want to get there.”
Kennedy largely agreed, and said the county administrator would help open up a lot of these discussions. She mentioned building broadband and infrastructure carried “significant price tags” and the county administrator would allow “these in depth discussions.”
When discussing communication with constituents, Kennedy said she mostly communicated by phone and email and didn’t use social media. Popek on the other hand said she used social media and would like to use it more often as a means of communicating with constituents.
On the topic of not relying on baseball tourism as much, both candidates agreed more needed to be done.
“We found out in 2020 that baseball tourism might not always be there,” Kennedy said. She emphasized the need for “pushing the county as a good place to live” and “providing a wide access to broadband is key to that.”
Both candidates agreed that the bed tax needed to be distributed equitably, with Popek suggesting it could “go back to the localities” in order to ensure that it would be distributed fairly.
Asked about how climate change affects things locally, Kennedy said, “I think the climate is always kind of in a state of change.” But said it was important to be prepared for any kind of weather related disaster.
“Regardless of whether its climate change or just weird weather, we need to be ready for it,” Kennedy said.
“I certainly believe that man-made climate change exists,” Popek said. “The time to take action is not just now is already passed. We have a responsibility to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.”
The final topic discussed was how to retain younger residents of Otsego County. Popek related she moved here when she was 20 and understands why moving to other areas would be appealing for young people. She stressed the need to bring local businesses and educators together to shine a light on opportunities in the county.
Kennedy said to look at economic development with manufacturing jobs. She also suggested Otsego County should be marketed to young people in the same way it’s marketed for tourists, because it showcased a lot of what was appealing about the county.
In her closing statement, Kennedy encouraged those watching to contact her by email or phone and said she would continue working on issues such as economic developing and securing broadband.
“Its been my honor to serve district five residents on the county board,” Kennedy said.
Popek’s reiterated in her closing statement how she wanted to expand communication by using social media platforms and bring the process of government to her potential constituents. “I’m a problem solver,” Popek said. “I like the challenge.”