HOMETOWN Views and Perspectives
The amiable Dave Bliss, who is entering his second year as chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, patently has achieved his first goal: A “change of culture” toward a more amiable atmosphere.
“I believe we have a working relationship with departments heads and other board members,” the former 24-year Middlefield town supervisor, a Republican, said in an interview assessing his first year at the helm, and looking ahead to the second.
“Democrats and Republicans are evenly split – we need to work together.”
A case in point surfaced at the county board’s organizational meeting on Jan. 2, where Bliss was reelected by a 12-2 vote.
Each month there’s a consent agenda that lumps together a few dozen routine resolutions so they can be taken care of in one vote – a huge time saver in a usually lengthy meeting.
But any county rep can ask that any resolution be removed for individual debate, as Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, sensibly did in this case on the “Climate Smart Communities Pledge,” which NYSERDA is encouraging local governments to adopt.
Meg Kennedy, C-Mount Vision, asked the question on everyone’s mind, “Does it close the door on other possible developments that might be considered ‘Climate UN-smart’?”
Well, guess what? In a county where battle lines are firming up over natural gas, an amiable and informative discussion followed.
Michele Farwell, D-Morris, who was drawn into politics by the anti-fracking fight, said, “The economic-development component is going to be central; it has to be.”
Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, pointed out the pledge could open the way to a $250,000 grant to allow the county to plan for “extreme weather” eventualities that may result from climate change. As OCCA circuit rider, you might expect he likes the climate pledge. But he said his piece, and didn’t push it.
Keith McCarty, who chairs the Solid Waste & Environmental Concerns Committee, said he doesn’t necessarily favor the pledge, but he didn’t quash it in committee: He wanted it to be considered by the full board.
Maybe the county board can approve parts of the pledge that it agrees with and still open the door to grants? Andrew Stammel, D-Oneonta, did a quick Google and found NYSERDA is firm that the 10 points in the pledge be passed verbatim.
Still, county Planning Director Karen Sullivan offered to explore what wiggle room might be available and report back at the February meeting.
That kind of give-and-take would have been impossible during the 2013-17 period, when the then-chair was determined to impose her will and everything was a fight.
As if a reminder, that surfaced twice during the reorganizational meeting.
First, with Kathy Clark, R-Otego, Bliss’ predecessor, and Frazier, her former vice chair, providing the two nay votes in Bliss’ 12-2 reelection. Would it have been more savvy, seeing where things were going, to just go along?
Afterwards, a political observer opined that, since Bliss had negotiated a resolution to the standoff over Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr.’s son, Roz, and Devlin had then defeated Clark’s husband Bob Fernandez in the sheriff’s race, there were still some open sores.
Second, Clark then removed from the consent agenda and challenged the reappointment of Lori Lehenbauer as Republican elections commissioner. The county rep described three instances when she didn’t feel Lehenbauer had provided the Fernandez campaign with accurate information.
In one case, she was assured a county Elections Board decision made the Friday before Labor Day could be challenged the following Tuesday, only to learn the three-day challenge period had expired over the holiday weekend.
Clark then provided the nay vote in the 13-1 decision to reappoint Lehenbauer. Self-immolation.
The good news is: That’s yesterday’s news.
Bliss is often heard to ask, “Do I want to die on that hill?” Indeed, winning everything isn’t everything.
Some fights are, and a more sensible approach – Bliss’s – is to build good will, so when those fights worth fighting come along there’s sufficient mutual confidence that different sides can compromise.
David Bliss is allowing a reservoir of good will to fill, and that promises good decisions that are already surfacing – in the astonishing professionalizing of department head salaries, for one – will become a welcome feature of Otsego County government.