LETTER from GARY KOUTNIK
To the Editor:
I’ve been paying attention to politics and governance since the Eisenhower administration. It’s always been an important part of my life, from dinners as a boy listening to the news on the radio, and talking about it with my family, all the way to today, listening to and reading about the current Congressional hearings, and talking about them with my wife.
So in 2011, when Rich Murphy suggested that I run for the county Board of Representatives, I didn’t hesitate. Now that I’m a newly minted private citizen after eight years on the Board, I’d like to share some thoughts about county government with the county in general.
First and foremost: the quality of the folks who serve you in Cooperstown.
We hear a lot about government corruption and malfeasance and how you can’t trust politicians. From the state level on up, some of this is true and most of it is not.
But in Otsego County, it’s clear to me that everyone who serves on the county board is there to provide a public service. No one’s getting rich, there’s no power to speak of; and not once in eight years did anyone call me and offer to buy my vote.
Public service is one of the great foundations of American patriotism, and it goes back to the Founding Fathers and even before that. That’s what happening in Cooperstown – patriotic folks who want to make a difference, to contribute to their community, to give back.
They’re there to serve you – and to spend your money wisely: Otsego County has stayed beneath the tax cap ever since there’s been a tax cap, and we’ve got the lowest tax rate of any county in the State.
And, by the way, all that partisan stuff you see in the news? They just don’t have time for it in Cooperstown. They’ve got work to do. In eight years, I do not remember a single party-line vote.
So when you get the urge to complain about government and lawmakers, aim higher. The folks in Cooperstown are giving up time, energy, and in some cases, income, to serve you.
We accomplished a lot during the time I was on the board, but I’m disappointed we did not move the Board meeting times into the 21st Century. The Rules of Order say that county board meetings are at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of the month. That might have worked in the old days, but those days are past.
Meeting in the middle of a working day reduces transparency and accountability, and it has to change. Many counties have board meetings at night, and the sky hasn’t fallen.
Changing the meeting time would take a supermajority – two-thirds – so it’s a high bar. Call your county representative and tell them that you’d like to be able to attend a meeting – maybe even speak at one! – if maybe someday they changed the meeting time so that most citizens could attend without taking time off from work.
All my best to my friends on the board as they take on the challenges of 2020 and beyond,
On Jan. 1, Gary Koutnik completed four terms on the Otsego County Board of Representatives, representing District 11 (Wards 1-2, Oneonta), most recently as vice chairman.