Otsego Now Committee Goal: Full-Time CEO

Otsego Now Committee

Goal: Full-Time CEO

Hanft: Provision Will Blunt Momentum
Otsego Now chair Devin Morgan, left, and board members Rick Hulse, center, and Craig Gelbsman after voting aye on the committee minutes at Thursday’s meeting. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.allotsego.com

ONEONTA – The Otsego Now board of directors, at its monthly meeting Thursday, approved minutes of its new Reorganization Committee that includes among the committee’s goals: “engage in a search and hire a full-time CEO.”

The 2-5 vote came over the objections of board member Bob Hanft, immediate past chairman.  He said including that line in the Reorganization Committee’s 11 “duties and responsibilities” will only serve to slow Otsego Now’s current momentum.  “I think it does more harm than good.”

Hanft said the committee had been directed to come up with a plan for the future, and that taking on the mandate of seeking a new CEO should come only after a plan is developed and approved.  “I think that’s line should be stricken,” he said.

But board member Rick Hulse said, “I’m not for striking it.”

The board chair, Devin Morgan, then said the motion to approve the minutes was on the floor to be voted on; if the vote were to reject the motion, then it could be amended to reflect Hanft’s concern.

The vote was called and the two nay votes came from Hanft, retired J.P. Morgan vice president and former chair of the Hartwick College trustees, and Jim Salisbury, the retired banker and civic leader in Otego.

Voting aye were Morgan, a patent lawyer in Cooperstown; Hulse, a business consultant; County Rep. Craig Gelbsman, R-Oneonta, who is the county board’s liaison to the Otsego Now board;  board treasurer Jeff Lord, a Community Bank vice president, and Sarah Harvey, a project manager with LeChase Construction.

Hulse and Harvey, who was attending her first meeting, and the Reorganization Committee chair Cheryl Robinson, are new board members put in place in the past year by Kathy Clark, R-Otego, chairman of the county Board of Representatives.

Harvey was attending her first board meeting.  Robinson and board member Hugh Henderson were also absent.

The current CEO, Sandy Mathes, recently negotiated a second three-year contract with the Otsego Now board, where he continued in a half-time role.   In the contract negotiations, one of the issues was whether Otsego Now needs a full-time CEO in addition to Mathes and COO Elizabeth Horvath.

Another concern, expressed by Lord at Thursday’s meeting, is the cost of aggressively pursuing economic development.    Otsego Now has been operating without county support since it replaced the county Office of Economic Development in 2014, generating private funding by financing projects like Hillside Commons, Hartwick College’s renovations and Springbrook’s expansion.

Presumably, the Reorganization Committee will now go back and develop a plan for the full board’s approval.  If the resulting plan were approved and includes the debated provision, a search might then begin.  Morgan said the contract with Mathes allows each side to withdraw with 90 days’ notice.

After the meeting, Morgan said the vote was “not about getting rid of Sandy,” but how to best fill Otsego Now’s management needs going forward.   “There’s belief he can stay with us – if we can come up with the financial support.”

Coincidentally, Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig had told the Otsego Now board earlier in the meeting that the city’s $13 million, state-funded DRI (downtown redevelopment initiative) plan – one of Mathes’ signature initiatives – is due in the Cuomo Administration’s hands by Tuesday.

Other iniatives now underway include bringing a 250- to 600-job distribution center to Schenevus, redevelopment of Oneonta’s former D&H yards, filling a “shovel-ready site” prepared at Pony Farm, and implementing recent comprehensive master plan updates at Cooperstown and Richfield Springs.

In a conversation Friday, Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz voice strong support for Mathes, estimating he has brought $17 million in new money to the county in the past three years.

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