Who gets the praise for professionalizing Otsego County government?
Foremost, probably county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick.
The idea caught fire with her, evident in her close questioning of SUNY New Paltz Vice President Gerry Benjamin, keynoter at “County Manager v. County Executive,” a forum on the idea Dec. 14, 2017, at Springbrook’s new community center.
In the months that followed, she became the first local county representative ever recruited to New York
State Association of Counties’ board, and tapped her new connections – Executive Director Steve Acquario and his network – in two years of study by her Intergovernmental Affairs Committee that led up to this week’s vote.
She did the heavy-lifting, but the concept would have gone nowhere without the consensus-building chairman, David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, who took the helm in January 2018, just as Kennedy’s effort began. Bliss has smoothed the way for a lot of progress, with this effort potentially foremost among them.
Kennedy’s IGA committee members: from the majority Republicans, Schenevus’ Peter Oberacker;
from the Democrats, Fly Creek’s Andrew Marietta, Gilbertsville’s Michele Farwell and Oneonta’s Liz Shannon. They attended a second monthly meeting 20 months in a row, absorbing the expertise Kennedy brought before them. They were sold.
Some credit should go Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, an Administration Committee member who little doubt votes nay. He engaged in the issue, and – as the grain of sand in the oyster – his challenges no doubt made the resulting concept stronger.
Of course, none of this happened overnight. Kay Stuligross, now retired outside Philadelphia, marshalled a League of Women Voters’ push for a county manager in the 1990s. That motivated her to run for the county board, where she served admirably for more than a decade.
The great Dave Brenner, former county board chairman, then Oneonta mayor, is also a scholar, and he prepared an exhaustive study in 2008 on the county board’s behalf that endorsed the county manager idea.
At the time, the board was particularly divided – Otego Rep. Ron Feldstein had cobble together a Democrat-dominated majority by enticing Worcester Republican Don Lindberg to accept the chairmanship.
Everyone was furious at everyone else, and Brenner sagely advised bringing a county manager into that turmoil would guarantee failure. Wait for a better day, he said, and so we have.
This has focused on praise, but some will look to blame the very same innovators. Praise – and hope – are more apt today. But the county representatives are embarked on a meaningful and – word of the year – potentially fraught experiment.
Surefootedly, Bliss, Kennedy et al can make it work, but success isn’t inevitable. Prudence, limits, economy, restraint, diplomacy are qualities needed in the months ahead.