By Kevin Limiti
The City of Oneonta welcomed its new mayor on New Year’s Day when former Eighth Ward Councilman Mark Drnek took the oath to assume his office.
He already has changed City Hall: Mayor Drnek adopted City Administrator Greg Mattice’s plan to rearrange the office layout to “foster more coordination and collaboration” in the building.
“I will always do what’s best for the business of organization or, in this case, the City,” Mayor Drnek said.
The new mayor, who has lived in Oneonta for more than 38 years, said he is “really excited” to take on the new job.
“I’ve been planning for nine months,” Mayor Drnek said. “I’ve come in with a whole lot of plans and strategies for what I want to do.”
He said his experience as a Common Council member first elected in 2019 will help in the overall running of the City.
“The relationships I’ve built since the pandemic are going to make it easier to communicate,” he said of the Council. “We have a real bond of trust.”
Mayor Drnek has held many different jobs throughout his life, including illustrator for children’s magazines, a morning on-air news reporter for WZOZ, director of creative services for The Daily Star, host of the radio show “Blue Light Central,” and owner of Sweet Home Productions, a multi-media production firm.
The new mayor reiterated his campaign goal to market Oneonta in downstate and other media markets and attract at least 1,000 working people who might move to the city. Apart from public safety issues, it’s his top priority.
“I want everybody to understand that this is something I am singularly focused on: marketing, attracting, and bringing one thousand new people into the city,” he said. “They’re going to find we’ve solved the problems that are counterintuitive to coming here,” targeting housing and employment opportunities as challenges.
“We will bring people who have jobs,” he said. “One thousand isn’t ten thousand. This is a reasonable goal. I’ll provide the energy. It’ll lower slices of our tax pie, and we’ll see entrepreneurs.”
Mayor Drnek said Oneonta’s quality of life and its natural beauty will tempt newcomers, particularly given the economy’s shift to people often working remotely from their homes. He said he wants to foster “inspirational thinking” to get “our community involved in the process.”
“We all need to become salespeople,” he said.
Central to his quality-of-life strategy: turning Market Street into an entertainment district with cross-demographic appeal to “feed Main Street and become a vital place on the map, not just for people from the Oneonta area.”
“I wish I could wave a magic wand,” he said, emphasizing how a revitalized Market Street would be good for the prosperity of Oneonta but calling it a “long haul.”
On public safety, Mayor Drnek said he was “very excited” about the Community Police Board (CPB). He chaired the Community Advisory Board Review Council meetings which helped create the CPB and formed the basis for recommending best practices for the Oneonta Police Department (OPD). The community board is set to handle complaints and suggestions regarding OPD.
The city’s incoming leader gave high praise to the Oneonta Fire Department.
“Is there are a better fire department in the country than Oneonta?” he said. “I think not.”
The new mayor pledged his support for City Administrator Gary Mattice.
“He’s doing an excellent job,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to support him.”
The mayor reflected, too, on the need for a good relationship with college students who call Oneonta home.
“There are 15,000 residents in the City, half of them are in college,” he said. “They are a huge piece. They should appreciate their role here while we appreciate them. We’re going to be better off by bringing more voices. The more voices we have, the more opinions we have, the stronger we’ll be.”
The mayor acknowledged he is in the “honeymoon stage” of his term and does not expect it to remain like that forever.
“I came in with a lot of support,” he said. “I feel like I have a mandate. The community is extremely supportive of me personally. Right now, I’m enjoying this period, but I’m realizing enough to know this is not going to last forever.”
“The greatest lesson I ever learned was when I realized no matter how much I know, there is always someone who knows more,” he said. “You’ll be a better leader when you learn from them.”