Oneonta’s 3rd City Manager Retires
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – George Korthauer has made history: He is the first Oneonta city manager to largely serve out his contract and depart on his own terms.
After announcing his retirement Monday, Jan. 13, he’s leaving office on Feb. 7, a few months before the August expiration of his three-year contract, but before the iciest and snowiest month of February is well underway.
First off, he and wife Brenda “are planning to visit friends in Florida,” then heading out to Denver to visit a new grandson before settling back in the home they maintain in Petoskey, Mich., where he retired as city manager after 25 years.
The first city manager, Mike Long, former Poughkeepsie city manager, started on Oct. 1, 2012, and departed in May 2014. His successor, Cortland County Manager Martin Murphy, was hired Sept. 4, 2014, and departed in less than a year, on July 17, 2015.
Korthauer, 66 then, 69 now, was hired May 16, 2017. His annual salary was $110,000 for each year in his contract.
His contract runs until August, but – with six new Common Council members of eight sworn in Jan. 2 – Korthauer said leaving now will permit the new Council members “to appoint a city manager of their own choosing early on.”
Mayor Gary Herzig said there are “outstanding candidates” now working in City Hall, and he expects in-house applicants for the top job. Korthauer agreed.
Deputy Mayor David Rissberger said, “People in City Hall like him. 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.”
Korthauer was self-effacing, minimizing any accomplishment. But he went on to describe a major restructuring that occurred during his administration.
He has combined all public service functions under City Manager Greg Mattice. Previously, the water treatment plant, the waste-treatment plant and Streets & Facilities had operated independently. “We’re working to consolidate, to streamline the operation,” he said.
He agreed with Rissberger that getting people comfortable with the now 8-year-old system was a top priority.
“The city manager form of government was new to Oneonta,” said Korthauer. “I’ve had a lot of experience in that system.” His role was “merely working to further establishing the council-manager form of government.”
In contrast, he recalled that his first job, as an assistant city manager in Illinois, was in the first city in the country to adopt the city-manager form. A city-manager system was long-accepted in Petoskey at the time he was hired.
Herzig said his first step will be to discuss the hiring of the fourth city manager with the Common Council in toto, but was unsure if he’ll be ready to do so by the next meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 21.
He said, “I will lead the council in the search,” but said “it’s premature” to get into particulars now. “We’ve just learned about George’s resignation this past week. It is something that will be done with our council. The first step is to talk to the entire group together.”
Asked if he would seek changes in the City Charter governing the city manager’s role, as he did last time, he was unsure, but said, “Whatever our policies state, whether it’s policy in the City Charter or city code of city ordinance, none should be carved in stone. All should be periodically assessed as times change and needs change … Practice demonstrates what works best.”
Asked about what he’ll seek in the next city manager, Herzig said: “There are many things. You need a person to lead. To set priorities. In addition to municipal experience, you need someone to understand the pulse of the community.
“You need someone who is an excellent communicator. And you need someone who is able to implement a vision that is developed by elected officials. You need to oversee a staff of 125 people in way you can make that vision a reality.
“Obviously,” he said. “That’s all a very tall order.”