News of Otsego County

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Guenther H. Dammer, 84; German Immigrant Settled In New Lisbon

IN MEMORIAM: Guenther H. Dammer, 84;

German Immigrant Settled In New Lisbon

Guenther Dammer

NEW LISBON – Guenther H. Dammer, 84, a German immigrant and painter, of New Lisbon, passed away at the Bassett Hospital on Aug. 22, 2019.

Born on Dec. 14, 1934 in Cologne, Germany the son of Paul and Maria Dammer.  After immigrating from Germany in 1965,  Guenther enjoyed a 34-year career as a painter, beginning with AT&T, finally retiring from Bell Atlantic. An avid Mets fan, he was happiest outdoors hunting, fishing, and the occasional (wink) drink with friends.

Guenther is survived by his daughters Erika Dammer and Kristen Dammer-Stigi, son-in-law Tom and grandson Jack; his sister and brother-in-law Helga and Arthur Breen; nephews and niece Arthur Jr. and Eric Breen, James and Stephanie Dammer, cousin Rosemarie and second cousin Eckhard.

Finally, New Welcome Sign At Oneonta’s I-88 Entrance

Finally, New Welcome Sign

At Oneonta’s I-88 Entrance

A highway crew this morning erects a new “Welcome to Oneonta” sign on Lettis Highway at Interstate 88’s Exit 15. The sign sports Oneonta’s new logo, which emerged from the city’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). It replaces a sign that’s been there for decades and had fallen into decrepitude in recent years. (Ian Austin/
With 30 Infected, County COVID Totals Hit New High




Daily Tally Sets New Mark;

5 Patients Now Hospitalized

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

CDC image of coronavurus

COOPERSTOWN – Thirty people tested positive for COVID-19 today, setting a new record for the number of cases reported in one day, according to Heidi Bond, county public health director.

Additionally, a fifth person has been hospitalized with the virus, bringing the county’s total to five, up one from last week.

The spike comes less than a week after the county Public Health Department reported a record-setting 18 cases in one day , prompting the Oneonta School District to go remote after students tested positive.

New Centers Executive Welcomed At County Site


New Centers Executive

Welcomed At County Site

Levi Lazar, new administrator at Centers Health Care’s Cooperstown Center, poses with his administrative team and Regional Administrator Laurie Mante, right, after a welcoming reception at noon today at the facility in Index. Center right is Assistant Administrator Victoria Williams; center left, Chief Nursing Officer Heidi Hendrix. Most recently, Lazar was administrator at the Buffalo Center. A New York City native, he has also been assigned to Overland, Kans. (Jim Kevlin/
CCS Board Creates Special-Education Administrator Job

CCS Board Creates


Administrator Job

As Services Leap 40%, Public Told,

‘Litigious Environment’ Requires It

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

CCS board President Tim Hayes, right, and Superintendent Bill Crankshaw listen to inputs from board members as this evening’s meeting. (Jim Kevlin/

COOPERSTOWN – With 14 percent of Cooperstown Central students in special-education programs, up from 10 percent a handful of years ago, the school board this evening created a new administrative position: “director of pupil services.”

With the complexity of the services growing, and the “litigious environment” – parents suing who are dissatisfied with the level of service – even school districts Cooperstown’s size (831 in K-12, it was reported this evening) are creating such jobs, Superintendent of Schools Bill Crankshaw told his board.

Helios’ Dan Ayres, ‘Man With A Plan’



Click For Reservations To Nov. 21 Otesaga Banquet

Helios’ Dan Ayres,

‘Man With A Plan’

Hospice Successor Prepares

Long-Term Care For Future

President & CEO Dan Ayres on a casual Friday at Helios Care’s new offices on Oneonta’s River Street Extension, where six sites were consolidated. (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

ONEONTA – By 1995, Dan Ayres – “Dan, the man with a plan” – had been vice president/support operations for five years at Fanny Allen Hospital in Winooski, Vt., when the news broke:

The small community hospital was about to be merged into the much larger Mary Fletcher Hospital in adjacent Burlington, and there would only a single high-level job for the Fanny Allen’s half-dozen top executives.

Ayres, now CEO & vice president at Helios Care, the former Catskill Area Hospice & Palliative Care, was the youngest applicant.  He got the job of vice president/facilities services, overseeing the merger of the two hospitals into the Fletcher Allen Medical Center.

The other applicants, he said in a recent interview at Helios consolidated headquarter on the River Street Extension, talked about their experience and credentials. “I had a plan,” Ayres said.  “I had a complete binder – the organization structure, the first 90 days.”

His latest plan – the concept, new name and new logo for Catskill Hospice – was unveiled by the Helios board Tuesday, Oct. 8, before 100 people at a reception at the Southside Quality Inn.

That, plus a nomination by a family member whose father had benefit from Helios new approach – don’t take the patient to the hospital; bring quality care to the patient’s home – will be recognized at the Otsego County Chamber’s Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Breakthrough Business of the Year at the annual Small Business Banquet Thursday, Nov. 21, at The Otesaga.

“Instead of end of life, Helios is about maintaining quality of life,” said chamber President Barbara Ann Heegan.  “We have a pioneer right here in our neighborhood, which I think is fantastic.”

Helios “keeps people in their homes longer,” she continued. “They have access to medical services.  It keeps them out of emergency rooms.  It helps with overall cost – for the patients themselves as well as the organization.”

Helios board chairman Connie Jastremski, retired Bassett chief nursing officer and vice president/patient care services, said she and other board members were aware the term “hospice” had become a barrier to care.

“It isn’t really the end of life,” she said, noting patients were typically entering hospice with only 4-5 days to live. “It’s making your life better at the end.”

Plus, “Catskill” in the name didn’t accurately depict the service area, which includes the Cooperstown area, which is not in the Catskills.

A popular term in renamed hospices is “comfort care,” but the local board discovered it’s trademarked; the rights would have been expensive to buy.

“’Helios Care,’ I think, struck us at first as ‘what?’” Jastremski said.

The Helios Care board of director and their CEO unveil the new logo Oct. 10 in a reception at Quality Inn, Southside. From left are Reginald Knight, Connie Jastremski (board chair), CEO Dan Ayres, Jeffrey Woeppel, Linda Evanczyk, the organization’s founder; Dr. Yoshiro Matsuo (founder of hospice in the Oneonta area) and John Pontius. (Photo courtesy WZOZ)

“Hearing the back story” – reflected in the new logo – “is important,” she said. “Helios, the god of sun, bringing warmth and bright light into your patients’ lifes.  Around the sun are hearts, the people who are caring for them, for the love, caring and compassionate dignity we provide.”

Now, she said, it’s her mission to get doctors to understand the new emphasis, which has required adding personnel to increase the palliative care piece.

Jastremski’s last job at Bassett was in the Pain & Palliative Care Unit, “holding people’s hands and talking to them about relieving their symptoms.”  That’s the Helios goal, to treat patients early and at home, with either nurses or telemedicine.

“If it is end of life,” she said, “we’re already there.”

Since Ayres arrived back in the Otsego-Delaware region in November 2016, change had been systematic.  (See box, this page)

If the new model works for patients, it also works for hospitals, which federal reimbursement rates are now punishing if a patient isn’t fully treated and has to return two or three times, Jastremski said.

“Patients who readmit most frequently come to the emergency room with shortness of breath, heart problems, dementia,” she continued.  “If you can call someone on a 24-hour hotline, we can send a nurse out to see you, or do it by telemedicine.”

A year-long pilot project between then-Catskill Area Hospice and Leatherstocking Collaborative Health Partners, a Bassett affiliate, showed an 80 percent dip in acute-care treatment and a 35 percent cost savings.

“This is saving hospitals money,” she said.  “Nothing is worse than having hospitals have year after year of unprofitable years.”

Early-Morning Fire Destroys New Berlin Home


Father, 3 Children

Flee Pittsfield Home

In Early-Morning Fire

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Richard Miller was able to get his three children out of their house at 1487 County Highway 13 in the Town of Pittsfield when they heard smoke alarms go off.

PITTSFIELD – A widower and his three children were left homeless after a blaze destroyed their New Berlin home overnight.

According to Pittsfield Fire Chief Dale Ives, Richard Miller called Otsego County 911 at 1:30 a.m. to report that his home at 1485 County Highway 13 was on fire. “The smoke detectors woke them up,” said Ives. “When we arrived on scene, he told us everyone was out of the house.”

Miller, a widower, lived in the house with his three children, Brandon, 13, Hunter, 10, and Izabella, 7. His wife, Sharron, died in February after a two-year battle with cancer.

Will End Of Bail Endanger Us?


Will End Of Bail

Endanger Us?

Editor’s Note: With New York State’s judicial reforms going into effect Jan. 1, Otsego County judicial and law enforcement leaders have been expressing concerns about possible negative impacts locally.  This article, on severely reducing the number of crimes that allow suspects to be held on bail, is the first of three articles.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr.

COOPERSTOWN – Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr. recognized that criminal justice reform was needed, but with new bail reforms looming, he fears the state may have gone too far.

“This is going to put criminals back on the streets and take police off the streets while they do paperwork,” he said. “It wasn’t well thought through, and law enforcement wasn’t consulted.”

The bail reform, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020, eliminates bail and remand for all but a limited group of “qualifying offenses,” including some violent felony offenses, sex offenses, criminal contempt with domestic violence and witness tampering or intimidation.

And when bail is allowed, financial circumstances and the ability to secure a bond must be considered. A judge can order that Least Restrictive Non-Monetary Conditions can be imposed, including restrictions on travel and weapons possession or electronic monitoring.

But several felonies – criminally negligent homicide, possession of a gun on school grounds and assault among them – are not qualifying offenses and would not be subject to bail.

For example, Kimberly Steeley, who is charged with smothering her infant twins Bonde and Liam, was charged with two counts manslaughter in the second degree in May, and released on $100,000 bond. Under new bail reform, no such bail would have been set, as manslaughter in the second degree is not a qualifying offense.

In addition to qualifying offenses, bail can be set if a defendant doesn’t show for court dates or commits additional crimes while awaiting trial.

Each county will be required to have a Pre-Trial Service Agency, either in-house or on contract, to monitor defendants and notify them of their court dates. “They’ll have to hold their hands,” said Christopher DiDonna, assistant district attorney. “It’s their responsibility to make sure the defendant shows up.”

Devlin also worries that the new standards will have a negative consequences for people who are struggling with drug addictions. “Sometimes jail is needed,” he said. “When we arrest someone who has a drug problem, we try to get them help. If there are no ramifications, they might not seek that help themselves.”

And with new standards for arrests – all evidence must be turned over to the prosecution within 15 days of arraignment – Devlin fears that many criminals will remain free while lab tests hold up their formal arrest.

“If someone drives drunk and kills someone, we can’t arrest them until the lab results come back,” he said. “That could be six months, and meanwhile, they’re out there. It’s going to mean more open cases with no arrests for us.”

And if someone who has been arrested, but not held on remand or bail, decides to skip court dates, it’s up to Devlin to determine whether or not to track them down.

“If someone flees, we have to go get them,” he said. “We have to decide if they’re worth the money.”

However, Devlin does not see bail reform having a long-term impact on the Otsego County Jail, which is currently undergoing repairs after a series of leaks rendered it uninhabitable.

Though repairs are underway, Devlin is still preparing to ask the county to budget funds for a new jail. “Corrections has changed since our jail was built,” he said. “There’s no way to fix it to those standards. We need a new jail.”

Based on states like New Jersey, which had also implemented bail reform, Devlin expects a short-term drop in inmates of around 40 percent.

“But when people are remanded for not showing up, or they are sentenced, we expect to see the population rebound,” he said. “But the ones that will be there, they’re not the best behaved people.”

“Criminal justice needed to be discussed,” he said. “But we slid the other way, and that worries me.”

NEXT WEEK: Justice Reform and discovery requirements.

New Year’s Baby Born To Sidney’s FitzGeralds

New Year’s Baby Born

To Sidney’s FitzGeralds

Jace FitzGerald

COOPERSTOWN – Jessica and Jordin FitzGerald of Sidney had a special New Year’s Day – and New Decade – treat:  Their baby boy, Jace FitzGerald, decided to make an entrance into this world a month ahead of his due date.

He was born at the Bassett Birthing Center in Cooperstown 3:55 p.m Jan. 1, 2020. Jace joins a 4- year-old brother Julian at home.


The New Decade Will Bring Pretty Much What We Expect


The New Decade Will Bring

Pretty Much What We Expect

County Rep. Meg Kennedy, in her interview on being named this newspaper’s Citizen of the Year for 2019, shared this story, which captures just the right note as we begin the new decade.

A customer pulls up to a local gas station. As the owner is filling the tank, the driver asks, “I’m moving to this town. How are the people here?”

“How are they where you come from?” came the reply.

“Great!” says the driver. “They’re friendly, cheerful, helpful, welcoming – you name it.”

“Well,” says the station owner, pausing from his labors, “I think you’ll find people around here pretty much the same.”

That afternoon, another customer pulls up. While the gas station proprietor is filling the tank, the driver asks, “I’m moving to town. How are the people around here?”

“How are they where you come from?” came the reply.

“Terrible,” says the driver. “Angry, penny-pinching gossips. No one gives anyone else a helping hand or cheerful word.”

“Well,” says the station owner, pausing from his labors, “I think you’ll find people around here pretty much the same.”

OK, New Year’s Resolution made!

New Common Council Delaying $70,000 For Destination Oneonta

New Common Council

Delaying $70,000 For

Destination Oneonta

Have Promoters Lost Focus?

Asks Drnek At First Meeting

The new Common Council at its first meeting this evening included, clockwise from left, Mark Drnek, John Rafter, Scott Harrington, Len Carson, City Clerk Nancy Powell, Mayor Gary Herzig, City Manager George Korthauer, Kaytee Lipari Shue, Deputy Mayor David Rissberger, Mark Davies and Luke Murphy.  (James Cummings/

By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to

ONEONTA – Common Council voted this evening, 5-3, not to renew a $70,000 contract with Destination Oneonta for 2020, but to table it for further discussion.

Council member Drnek asked if Destination Oneonta is looking beyond its Center City franchise.

“I’m not really certain what the geographic parameters of Destination Oneonta are,” said Council member Mike Drnek, Ward Eight.

Given that membership is expected to rise in the new year, Drnek expressed concern for an increase in members who live outside of city limits and the city having to bear the cost.

“Looking at the projection of 200 members in 2020, clearly the geography is moving outward from the city,” he said. “I think they do a terrific job, but if this becomes more of a Chamber of Commerce, are we still responsible for the $70,000,” he asked.

Electorate Spoke – Now, Work Together


Electorate Spoke –

Now, Work Together

The new town attorney, Peter Hobaica, introduces himself to the Richfield Town Board. Seated from left are Larry Frigault, Rex Seamon, Supervisor Nick Palevsky and Ed Bello, Jr. (Jim Kevlin/

It was troubling to attend the Richfield Town Board’s latest meeting, on Monday, Feb. 17.

The meeting room in the Town Hall on East James Street was full, which is good – citizens participating. But what followed was less so.

Control of the Richfield Town Board shifted from 3-2 to 2-3 on Jan. 1, with the majority shifting from supporters of the town’s new comprehensive plan and zoning code to those opposing it.

That evening, the two minority members, Larry Frigault and Rex Seamon, voted against or argued with every measure raised by the new majority, Supervisor Nick Palevsky and Ed Bello Jr. (with Fred Eckler participating by Skype from Florida.)

When that happened Frigault and Seamon supporters packing the room applauded. Intimidating, to say the least.

As has been reported, the Nov. 5 town elections, which preceded the New Year’s Day transfer of authority, centered on a
disputed comprehensive master plan and resulting zoning code.

A decade ago, opposed to the Monticello Hills Wind LLC six-turbine project, neighbors in the town’s west end organized as Protect Richfield, and sued the developers. Opinion was more mixed in other parts of the town, which saw $150,000 a year as welcome property-tax relief.

When the Appellate Division, state Supreme Court, in 2015 opened the way for Monticello Hills to move forward, the neighbors refocused on getting fully involved in the committee developing the comp plan, and to enter town government on the planning, zoning and town boards, where they had achieved a 3-2 majority, (Frigault, Seamon and Seamon’s nephew Kane).

The comp plan and the zoning code that followed envisioned the town as agricultural and residential, a Protect Richfield vision that troubled other residents who, dismayed by the falling enrollment at Richfield Spring Central School, were inclined toward more proactive development.

Unsurprisingly, the plan and code Protect Richfield adherents developed blocked wind turbines within town boundaries – and, thus, the Monticello Hills Wind Farm.

Granted, there was some give on one of the most restrictive measures – prohibiting any development alongside Route 20, a major artery through the town. That clause was modified.

Still, in the face of continuing objections, Frigault-Seamons bloc then approved the zoning code, 3-2, Sept. 30, five weeks before the election.

That election turned out to be a repudiation of the Protect Richfield bloc.

Palevsky, who had been controversial when he served a decade ago, and was also the focus of some intense personal attacks, nonetheless defeated his opponent, David Simonds, a local pastor, 369 to 356.

Palevsky’s running mates romped, with newcomer Ed Bello Jr. leading the ticket with 444 votes, followed by Eckler with 405. Their opponents, incumbent Kane Seamon (343) and Jeremy Fisher (246) were well behind, indicating the Palevsky bloc had captured Richfield minds and hearts.

That should tell Frigault and Rex Seamon that, whatever their good intentions, they failed to gain support of the electorate at large. They should respect that, and allow the new majority to move its program forward, which will likely lead to the rejection of the new comp plan and zoning code, and development of a new approach.

Prior to the Nov. 5 election, people of good will urged election of the Protect Richfield bloc, saying it would bring the community together. Given the margin of victory on the town board level, that seems unlikely.

Here’s the optimum outcome. Frigault and Seamon – and the badgering attendees at the recent meeting – should accept the judgment of the electorate at the ballot box. It’s the American away, (at least it was before the 2016 national elections).

The new majority should proceed with revising the comp plan and zoning code, per instructions of the electorate, but should assemble a zoning commission that represents the whole community, including Protect Richfield.

Certainly, zoning should identify areas for development, for housing, for recreation, for protection – and even optimum areas for
producing renewable energy, while minimizing the impact on neighbors and optimizing tax benefits for all townspeople.

Fingers crossed.

CSO’s New Conductor, Unable To Return Home, Uses Time Productively

Stranded, Conductor

Uses Time Productively

Zoltowski Walking Friend’s Dog,

Thinking About Symphony’s Future

Maciej Zoltowski interviewed at Latte Lounge before it shifted to takeout. (Ian Austin/

ONEONTA – The Catskill Symphony’s new conductor, Maestro Maciej Zoltowski, has been stranded in Upstate New York due to coronavirus strictures, but is using his time here productively.

Here’s the text of a letter to CSO members, received today:

“I hope this note finds you all in good health. My elbow (he fell on ice last November while here for his audition concert) has healed remarkably well, and I had been looking forward to greeting many of you at the Cabaret Concert. As you are all aware, the government forced our hand to cancel this years’ Cabaret because of the coronavirus. We at Catskill Symphony Orchestra, however, are looking to the future.

Work Starts Tomorrow On New Animal Shelter

Work Starts Tomorrow

On New Animal Shelter

Susquehanna SPCA Executive Director Stacie Haynes a few minutes ago examines the site of the new animal shelter on Route 28, Index, next to St. Mary’s Cemetery, where construction is scheduled to begin tomorrow. The state is allowing construction generally to begin May 15, but the shelter has been ruled an “essential service,” allowing it to get started on the new structure. The $5 million “Shelter Us” fund drive continues to move toward its completion. (Jim Kevlin/
Out With The Old, In With The New

Out With The Old,

In With The New

Paving Thursday At Chestnut, Main

The Upstate Companies, Mount Upton, hang the new signal next to Cooperstown’s venerable – and only – traffic signal that is being replaced at Main and Chestnut. Upstate’s John Rupert, Binghamton, and Derek Beach, Bainbridge hung the new addition, and said the arrival of a NYSEG crew is all that awaited to complete the transition.  A federally funded project, it has been six years in the making. Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, at the scene, advised drivers that the intersection (around Mel’s at 22) will be paved all day Thursday, so it would be wise to avoid that downtown corner. (Jim Kevlin/
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