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News of Otsego County

citizen of the year

15 Years Of ‘Citizens’ Prove: WE Can Overcome
Editorial

15 Years Of ‘Citizens’

Prove: WE Can Overcome

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
William Shakespeare

Cherry Valley Town Supervisor Tom Garretson was this newpaper’s first “Citizen of the Year” in 2006.

Can it be 15 years since The Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta, (after its founding in 2008), have recognized a Citizen (or Citizens) of the Year in the final edition of the 12th month?

In 2006, Cherry Valley Town Supervisor Tom Garretson, digesting information brought before him on industrial-scale wind turbines, changed his mind and led the charge to block them. That took guts and flexibility.

In 2020, Heidi Bond is a worthy successor. Like Garretson, she didn’t expect the worst epidemic in a century to explode upon us. But, like Garretson, she rose to the occasion, deploying her limited staff and doing what needed to be done, including long hours of hard work many days on end.

When called for a comment, but not yet knowing who had been chosen, county Rep. David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, said, “Your Citizen of the Year should be Heidi Bond.”
Of course, she is. Greatness was thrust upon her, and she was ready.

That is the case in several of the 42-some people who have been Citizens of the Year. (Several years, more than one person was chosen, the peak being Oneonta’s 12-person Charter Commission.)

But that idea: Not expecting a specific challenge, regular citizens can still be prepared, discovering that, through training, discipline, energy, intelligence and mental toughness, they can rise to the
occasion and overcome the challenges at hand.

That certainly applies to Heidi Bond, but also to Adrian Kuzminski (2010), who led the anti-fracking movement; Cooperstown then-mayor Carol Waller (2007), who led the village through a trouble-free record turnout to Cal Ripken’s 2007 Induction, to Pastor Sylvia Kevlin (2017), who responded to the fiery destruction of the Milford Methodist Church with the declaration, “We will rebuild.” And her congregation did.

Some achieved greatness in a more conscious way: Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich (2016), who raised a record $32 million, launched numerous innovations and renovated the campus. Is it any surprise that she largely succeeded in limiting the COVID spread on Oyaron Hill?

Or former Oneonta Mayor John Nader (2009), who, required to resign when he was promoted to SUNY Delhi dean, put the pieces in place for the renovation of the former Bresee’s Department Store into a reborn downtown anchor?

Or state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford (2013) – he is retiring this week after representing us in Albany for 34 years – whose hiring of a hard-driving economic developer and the elevation of the IDA to Otsego Now grew out of two “Seward Summits” on economic development and a personal determination to help his natal county better succeed at job creation?

It’s interesting that some of the Citizens, chosen with high hopes, didn’t quite work out.

The new team of Kathy Clark, Kay Stuligross and Linda Rowinski (2012) on the county board helm was heralded as a “return of amity,” but it didn’t turn out that way.

Entrepreneur Tom Cormier’s plan (2010) to revive the Oneonta Theatre as a concert venue was an exciting one, and had traction for a few years before collapsing.

Arguably, the Oneonta Charter Commission was visionary in professionalized governance (2011) through creating a city-manager position. But three failed or iffy city-manager tenures later, the City Fathers and Mothers are looking for a greater role for elected officials.

Still, these have been learning efforts. While economic developer Sandy Mathes’ energy didn’t prevent his forced departure, his successor – the more low-key Jody Zakrevsky – has been able to move Mathes initiatives forward. Plus, Mathes – and Seward – underscored the importance of jobs, jobs, jobs.

Not all promising initiatives succeed. As John Kennedy declared in his Boston brogue: “Why do we go to the moon? Not because it is easy – but because it is HAWED.”

One thought: Over 15 years, Otsego County – north and south – has been operating as more of a unit, with much more communication and collaboration between Oneonta and Cooperstown.

At first, it made sense to have separate Hometown Oneonta and Freeman’s Journal Citizens of the Year. No more, with Senator Seward, the Hager family (hops yards in Pierstown, Northern Eagle’s new brewery in West Oneonta), Stacie Haynes, serving distressed animals countywide, with Oneontans working at Bassett, and Cooperstonians at the colleges, a single county agenda made more and more sense.

Another thought: While eight of the first 10 Citizens were men, six of the last nine were women.

That brings to mind a quibble: In the recent efforts to fill state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker’s county board seat, both Republicans and Democrats declared it should be filled by a woman.

Folks, that battle’s been won; we can knock it off. The “little ladies” are beyond needing a leg up. They’ve fully arrived.

With MacGuire Benton’s election to the Cooperstown Village Board in a hard-fought race, and county Rep. Clark Oliver’s elevation to county Democratic chairman, it seems the county’s gay community is also claiming its proper place in our public life.

Fifteen years of recognizing our fellow citizens’ strivings to achieve, to solve problems, to realize visions, to meet challenges, demonstrate that imperfect human beings can do great things, whether they pursue us or are thrust upon us.

As COVID’s first anniversary approaches, the 42 Citizens provide reasons for pride and hope.

WE can overcome.

 

►FROM GARRETSON TO BOND, GREATNESS PURSUED

2006

Tom Garretson: Cherry Valley town supervisor led opposition to industrial-scale windmills.

2007

Carol Waller: She proved to be Cooperstown’s “Little Mayor That Could” during record attendance at Cal Ripken Induction.

2008

• Hometown Oneonta: The Centennial Committee – Tom Klemow, Kevin Herrick and Mayor John Nader – which organized city’s 100th-anniversary celebration that ended in a knock-out parade.
• The Freeman’s Journal:
Penney Gentile; her son Chris’ death in a Holy Thursday car crash spurred her campaign to make drivers’ education mandatory in state’s schools.

2009

• The Freeman’s Journal: Reinventing 22 Main – Mayor Joe Booan, Trustees Eric Hage, Willis Monie Jr., Neil Weiller. Republicans took control of Village Board and vowed clean-sheet look at Cooperstown government.
• Hometown Oneonta: John Nader, who resigned as mayor when he was promoted to SUNY Delhi provost (he is now SUNY Farmingdale president), but not before the Bresee’s renovation was assured.

2010

• Hometown Oneonta: Tom Cormier – Entrepreneur bought Oneonta Theatre, launched
promising revival.
• The Freeman’s Journal: Adrian Kuzminski, activist led
local fight against fracking.

2011

• Hometown Oneonta: 12-person City Charter Commission recommended professional city manager, got idea through referendum. Dave Rissberger, chairman; John Dudek, Martha
Forgiano, Karen Geasey, Tom
Kelly, Larry Malone, Steve Londner, Sarah Patterson, Paul Scheele, Kay StuliGross, Kathy Wolverton, Laurie Zimniewicz.
• The Freeman’s Journal: “Farmers of the Future” – Hartwick beef farmer Chris Harmon’s profile launched monthly profiles of
futuristic farmers over 2012.

The 12-member Oneonta Charter Revision Commission (2011) created the city-manager position there.

2012

New amity on county Board of Representatives hailed as County Reps. Kathy Clark, chairman, Kay Stuligross, and Linda Rowinski took over leadership.

2013

Jim Seward, “Building a
Consensus on a Properous
Future,” as former Greene County Economic Developer Sandy Mathes prepared to lead
county effort.

2014

The Hager Family, “Reviving the Golden Age of Hops.”

2015

“Fighting The Scourge: They Opened Four Fronts Against Heroin Tide”: County Judge
Brian Burns, now Supreme
Court judge; Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner, LEAF executive Julie Dostal; District Attorney
John Muehl

2016

Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich: “Beacon on Oyaron Hill,” as record $32 million fund drive came to a successful conclusion.

Hartwick College President (2016) completed a record $32 million fund drive.

2017

Pastor Sylvia (now kEVLIN): “Gethsemane & Back,” as new Milford Methodist Church building was rising after fire razed former church that March.

2018

Stacie Haynes: “For The Love Of Misty,” a childhood pet who nurtured a love of animals, and inspired drive to build new Susquehanna Animal Shelter,
now rising on Route 28, Index.

2019

Meg Kennedy: “The Kennedy Method,” where county board vice chairman, first local rep to serve on NYSAC board, built momentum behind county-manager system.

2020

Heidi Bond: “General in the
COVID-19 Fight.” The county’s public health director led
contact-tracing, much more to limit disease’s spread.

2020 Citizen Of The Year: General In C-19 Fight

2020 CITIZEN OF YEAR

General In

C-19 Fight

With 36 Years On Health Care’s

Front Lines, Heidi Bond Was Ready

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Although she didn’t know it was coming, good work habits, a cool head and years of training and experience prepared Heidi Bond, Otsego County public health director, to lead the local charge against COVID-19. With her is Molly, her pet Pomeranian. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

RICHFIELD SPRINGS

Thirty-four years ago, during her first summer as a nurse’s aide at Bassett Hospital, Heidi Bond’s mother, Registered Nurse Cindy Brophy, gave her advice that has carried her through her career to date.

“She told me, ‘I don’t care if you have to go cry in the bathroom every shift – you finish this summer,’” said Bond. “She had a very strong work ethic, and she instilled that in me.”

That fortitude was put to the test when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Bond, also an R.N., has worked tirelessly, seven days a week, since the first case arrived in mid-March, assisting with contact tracing, scheduling testing clinics and monitoring the rise of the virus throughout the county.

For her steady hand and firm compassion, Otsego County Director of Public Health Heidi Bond has been named the Citizen of the Year by Hometown Oneonta, The Freeman’s Journal and www.AllOTSEGO.com.

“I know I’m proud of the work she’s done,” said Dave Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, chairman of the county Board of Representatives. “And I’m confident in saying our board is too.”

“The challenges of COVID would have caused others to curl up in the corner,” said county Rep. Andrew Stammel, D-Oneonta, who chairs the county board’s Health & Education Committee. “But not Heidi. She works diligently, confidently and without complaint.”

“She’s a phenomenal person, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my daughter,” said Brophy, now a nurse in Scarborough, Maine. “She is gentle and kind, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her lose her temper. Everybody loves her.”

Bond was raised in Richfield Springs, graduating from Richfield Springs Central School with the Class of 1991. Working at Bassett, her mom got her the candy striper job in 1986, when Bond was a teenager.

Heidi was full of
vitality from her
earliest days in Richfield Springs,
her mom attests.

“I really enjoyed helping people,” Bond said. “Even just things like bringing them fresh water to drink.”

The next year, she applied to be a nurse’s aide, a job that was considerably more challenging. “I didn’t think she had the stomach for it,” said her mom. “I thought she’d change one bedpan and be out of there!”

But Heidi – determined to see the summer through – found joy in the work. “She fell in love with it,” said her mother. “She would write letters and cards for the older patients if they wanted to send one. She found the work very rewarding.”

She attended Utica College’s four-year R.N. program, graduating in 1995 and returning to Bassett’s pediatric inpatient unit, providing care for children who had surgery, the flu or accidents requiring an overnight stay.

There, she learned another critical-care lesson.

“So many people told me, ‘Oh, I could never do pediatrics, I’d get too attached,’” she said. “But I got very good at separating my personal emotions from my work, and I learned how to be strong for the kids and the families.”

She married her high school sweetheart, Stephen, in 1992. The couple had their first daughter, Katie, in 1998, and the young mother switched to part-time in pediatrics so she had more time to stay home with her daughter. Daughter Emily was born in 2001.

In 2000, when Katie was 2, Bond heard about an opening for nurses at the county’s Health Department. “I enjoyed my public health classes at college,” she said.

At that point, part of public health involved home-care visits. “It’s a much different style of nursing,” she said. “In a hospital, you’re seeing a patient in a sterile environment and you have no idea what their home life is like. But in home care, you’re able to see them where they’re most comfortable.”

Heidi Bond, front-line leader of Otsego County’s fight against COVID-19, pauses by the family
Christmas tree with, from left, husband Stephen, son-in-law Tom Worobey, daughter Katie Worobey and dog Molly, daughter Emily Bond and cat Kitty. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

Sometimes, home care involved more than just nursing. “You’d go into these places and see that they didn’t have running water or there would be holes in the floor,” she said. “When you see someone in the hospital, you never imagine they’re living that way.”

Facing her new challenge, she didn’t retreat to cry in the bathroom, either.

“You can help them get the help they need,” she said. “And sometimes, they don’t want to accept that, so you help them as much as you can with the resources they do have.”

In 2005, the county department gave up its Home Health Agency certification, switching more focus to scheduling rabies vaccinations for pets, flu-shot clinics, visits to new mothers, lead-prevention poisoning and education, and prevention of chronic diseases and injuries.

She was promoted to Communicable Disease Control director in 2004. “Before the pharmacies began offering the shot, we had to put out a clinic schedule,” she said. “One year, we got a message from the state saying there was a shortage of the vaccine, and we had to cancel all the clinics.”

“It’s funny,” she continued. “Back then, people were clamoring to get the flu vaccine. Now we have to educate people into taking the COVID vaccine. It’s a culture change – a lot of people have never had to deal with a serious communicable disease in a way that affects a whole society.”

She was appointed public health director in 2008, just one year before swine flu hit. “We did have cases,” she said. “But nowhere near as many cases of that as we do of COVID.”

Part of her new duties included pandemic preparations, such as “war games” scenarios. “When Ebola hit in 2014, we would have a practice station where we would get PPE on and off,” she said.

“We would go to hospitals and make sure they were putting it on right.”

No cases of Ebola ever arose in Otsego County. Still, those two test runs, she said, helped mentally prepare her for when she got the call in January.

“I had taken a Friday off because my daughters and I had planned to get massages,” she said. “But the state Department of Health scheduled a mandatory webinar, so I had to cancel them. That started the alarm bells ringing, and they haven’t stopped going off since.”

The first case in the county arrived in March, when a SUNY Oneonta student and his mother went on vacation to Lake Placid. “Mom was sick and the student didn’t want to quarantine with her,” Bond said. “So he returned to campus, and cases spread from there.”

From March until August, there were five deaths and 117 cases, and by June, the county seemed to have gotten the pandemic under control.

“There was a point in the summer where we went three weeks without a case,” she said. “I didn’t think it was over, but I’d tricked myself in to a complacency where I thought we could handle it.”

But the return of the college students jeopardized all of that.

Here’s where it all began: Teenager Heidi Bond as candy striper at Bassett Hospital in 1986.

A “super-spreader” party Friday, Aug. 21, SUNY Oneonta students’ first weekend back, resulted in 107 cases by the following weekend, when newly appointed SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras made a whirlwind trip to Oneonta and cancelled classes for two weeks. When cases hit 300 a week later, he closed the campus for the remainder of the semester.

“That really opened my eyes to just how fast the virus could spread,” she said. “Even with measures in place, in congregate living, it spreads no matter what you do.”

In the months since, SUNY’s infections topped out at over 700, with Hartwick College infections totaling 71 over the semester.

Community spread from the college outbreaks was minimal, in part, thanks to rapid testing sent in by the state. But as the weather got too cold for outdoor dining and “COVID fatigue” set in, cases began to trend upward, with more than a thousand cases and 11 deaths since September.

“We have the highest number of hospitalizations we’ve had, but people just aren’t as concerned as they were in the spring,” she said.

“I know she must be frustrated, but she remains professional and always does her job,” said Bliss.

“It breaks Heidi’s heart when people aren’t wearing masks,” said Brophy. “She isn’t angry, she just really cares about people.”

Bond is in constant communication with the state Department of Health, as well as the county board. “I talk to her daily,” said Bliss. “Sometimes multiple times a day. Before this, I might talk to her once or twice a month.”

“I feel confident when we go to her with questions,” said Stammel. “She explains the answers, and if she doesn’t know, she knows who to get the answer from, and brings it back to us.”

With the arrival of the vaccine – last week, 350 Bassett employees received the Pfizer shot and more than 500 received the Moderna – and with the recent approval of funds to hire three additional nurses, Bond is finally seeing the end of the crisis nearing.

“I try to tell myself that, in the grand scheme, a year or two is not a lot of time,” she said. “But when it’s all over, we’re all planning to take a long vacation on the beach.”

Heidi Bond and her assistant director, Kim Schlosser, strategize in the director’s office at the county’s Meadows Complex in the Town of Middlefield.
Heidi Bond Named Citizen Of The Year

PICK UP OTSEGO COUNTY YEARBOOK

Heidi Bond Named

Citizen Of The Year

Heidi Bond, who led Otsego County’s fight against COVID-19, has been named Citizen of the Year by Hometown Oneonta, The Freeman’s Journal and www.AllOTSEGO.com. Get the full story in either newspaper, which are being delivered now and will be available on newsstands throughout Otsego County by the end of the afternoon.
2019 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR The Kennedy Method

2019 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR

The Kennedy Method

County Rep Shepherds In Professional

Management, Energy Task Force, More

The Kennedy clan gathers in the 1990s at the wedding of their uncle and their father’s brother, John Kennedy and his bride, left. From left are Susan, mom Margaret, future county Rep. Meg, Anne, Owen, Katie, Jim, Tricia, Paul, Betsy, Joe (the youngest, then 10) Andy, John and the father of the family. While Meg is a Conservative (like her father), she says her siblings include Republicans and Democrats. Grown, the brothers and sisters range from a Dominican nun (Susan), to an honored Marine (Andy), to an high executive in an international seed company.

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Meg Kennedy announces the county’s Energy Task Force – 21 people in four task forces and 14 technical advisers – at the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce’s summit last January at The Otesaga. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

HARTWICK – Leadership gravitated toward Meg Kennedy, to hear her tell her story.
She first realized that was happening at an Oneonta Farmers’ Market vendors’ meeting in 2008 or 2009, where a difficult issue was being debated.

As the point of decision approached, Tom Warren, who runs the Stone & Thistle Farm, raising meadow-fed lamb and other natural products in East Meredith, spoke out: “Whatever Meg thinks we should do, that’s what we should do.”

To hear her tell it, Kennedy was as surprised by Warren’s comment as anyone.

“You suddenly have this reputation,” she reflected the other day in an interview in front of a roaring fire at her family’s Pleasant Valley Road home on being named 2019 Citizen of the Year by Hometown Oneonta, The Freeman’s Journal and www.AllOTSEGO.com. She added with a grin: “You have to make sure you aren’t saying anything stupid.”

Just starting her third term, Kennedy, the sole Conservative Party member of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, represents Hartwick, Milford and New Lisbon. The facts: but they just scratch the surface.

Warren reiterated his respect for Kennedy the other day: “She stays calm in the storm. She’s very reasoned about how she thinks and talks. If she reaches a decision, it’s done with a great deal of consideration.”

County Board Chairman David Bliss called Meg Kennedy’s selection as Citizen “a very good choice.” He singled her out for key roles because “she’s intelligent and hardworking, and has a lot of  common sense: Intelligence and common sense don’t always go together.”

He was confident she would approach difficult issues “with an open mind. She didn’t prejudge. I could trust her to do good work.”

All those qualities – and the woman who personifies them – were front and center in 2019, The Year of Meg Kennedy, if you will, which can be defined in at least four ways:

►ONE, COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR

Opposed to the idea of a county manager/administrator/executive when she first ran in 2015 – she considered it “another layer of government” – she gradually changed her mind on experiencing the complexities of county government.

County Rep. Dave Bliss and Meg Kennedy concentrate on SUNY New Paltz Vice President Gerry Benjamin’s presentation of “County Manager v. County Executive” in December 2017 at Springbrook. The following month, Bliss was elected county board chairman and appointed Kennedy to study the best way to bring professional management to Otsego County government. Next to
Kennedy are Springbrook CEO Patricia Kennedy and Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

She grilled Gerry Benjamin, SUNY New Paltz vice president, when that local government expert keynoted a community meeting locally in December 2017, soon after election to her second term.

Named the next month by the new chairman, Dave Bliss, to chair the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee (and the key Administration, the ways and means committee), she scheduled a second monthly meeting for the IGA – every month for 24 – dedicated to studying the optimum managerial option for this county.

On Dec. 4, the Otsego County Board of Representatives voted 11-2, with one absence, to create the job of county administrator, moving Otsego with its $120 million budget out of the last half-dozen counties statewide that lacked professional management.

► TWO, THE ENERGY TASK FORCE

In the year’s first month at the Otsego Chamber’s Energy Summit at The Otesaga, she announced the formation of the county board’s Energy Task Force, 21 members in four “work groups” – Building & Efficiency, Energy Supply & Distribution, Environmental Development, and Environment – plus 14 technical advisers.

The goal: to bring a range of sometimes warring advocates – renewable purists on one side and fossil-fuel bridge builders on the other – together behind a coherent,
workable energy future.

Otsego County Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Ann Heegan, a member of the Energy Task Force, addresses her colleagues May 1 at Oneonta Town Hall. The chamber has issued a statement supporting renewables, but calling for temporary use of fossil-fuels to keep businesses stable. Kennedy and her vice chairman, Michele Farwell, D-Butternuts/Morris/Pittsfield, are at the table. In foreground are members Bennett Sandler, Fly Creek, left, and David Hutchison, Oneonta. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)

After a year of fact-finding, the group received a $50,000 state grant Dec. 19 – the county’s anteing up another $50,000 – to hire a consultant to pull together this year’s fact-finding into a Community Energy Plan by the end of 2020.

►THREE, NYSAC

This year, she was also elected to New York State Association of Counties’ board of directors, the first Otsego County representative to receive that honor. That puts her in touch with cutting-edge ideas in county governance, which she can then use for the benefit of the rest of us back home.

►FOUR, THE FULCRUM

In the run-up to this year’s Nov. 5 county elections, when Democrats talked about winning a majority, and some Republicans may have worried about losing it, the arithmetic became clear – it’s a Meg Kennedy majority.

Six Republicans command 3,421 points in the board’s weighted-voting system; seven Democrats, 3,433, a difference of 12 votes. That means Kennedy, on partisan matters, Meg – her dad, Paul Kennedy, is Otsego County Conservative Party chairman (and founder) – controls the outcome.

Meg Kennedy rules! (But given her record to date, it’s unlikely she would do so without deliberation, discussion and reflection.)

She was born in 1967 at Stamford Hospital; her parents, Paul and Margaret Kennedy, had moved up from Long Island and bought a farm in Roxbury. As Kennedys multiplied, the parents moved to Laurens in 1974 so the kids, eventually 12 in all, could get a Catholic education at St. Mary’s School in Oneonta.

Meg Kennedy flanked by her parents, Margaret and Paul, and brother John and his wife, Cristy, of Oneonta, and their growing family. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)

In conversation the other day, Bliss’ sister Patty, herself a former St. Mary’s principal, recalled her girlhood, seeing the Kennedy clan each Sunday filling a pew at St. Mary’s “Our Lady of the Lake” in Cooperstown. (The Bliss family, with eight children, would be arrayed nearby.)

Paul and Andy (a decorated Marine colonel) are older, but – after Meg – came Betsy, John, Tricia, Owen (Owen Jr. was star center on last year’s CCS state championship basketball team), Jim (vice president of the international Chicago-based Ball Seed Co.), Susan (a Dominican nun with a Ph.D., now based in Nashville), Katie, Joe and Anne.

As third eldest, and eldest daughter, Meg’s leadership skills were soon required.
“I always got the young kids to do what we needed to do at home,” she recalled.

Growing up in the family’s Federal-style home – painted green, appropriately – that may date back to the 1700s, she wanted to do what her older brothers did, playing outside – in particular, riding horses. Of many horses raised on Pleasant Valley Road property over the years, the family still has seven, all born on the farm.

Meg and Sister Susan, a Dominican nun (with a Ph.D.) in Nashville, Tenn.

Meg credits St. Mary’s School with giving her an ethical grounding, from the 10 Commandments, the Rosary and the church’s other teachings and rituals. “It was a small school, I knew all the kids,” she said. “The teachers were very kind, and made sure everyone lived up to their potential.”

At CCS, “the teachers expected a lot of us.” With sister Betsy, a year behind her, she played field hockey and volleyball, and ran track. An indication of her future career in elective office, she was president of her sophomore and junior class, and was elected Student Council president her senior year, staging fundraisers for famine relief in Africa.
“I always could coalesce a group,” she said, again seemingly surprised. “You don’t see these things as you are moving through them.”

Graduating from high school in 1985, she followed brothers Paul and Andy to Cornell, the College of Agriculture & Life Science, studying horticulture and greenhouse management “with the idea I could come back and work in the greenhouses” – the family’s greenhouses on the Hartwick farm – “to do what needed to be done.”

Early on, her father had taken over his father’s Andrew R. Kennedy Seed & Bulb Co., selling to grand estates in the Hudson Valley and around Philadelphia; at its height locally, the family had 27,000 square feet of greenhouses – and Meg took over office functions after graduating from Cornell in 1989.

In addition to running Kennedy Seed, the family began selling flowers at the Oneonta Farmers’ Market, expanding to Cooperstown’s, Delhi’s and Callicoon’s, in Sullivan County. As the seed and bulb business changed, the farmers’ markets became a much larger part of her family’s operation.

In 2010, soon after Tom Warren made his pronouncement, Meg was approached by Fred Fields, the former Hartwick Town Board member, and asked to fill a vacancy on the Planning Board, (where she still serves.)

That set the stage for 2015, “one of those years where there were going to be a lot of open seats,” recalled Republican County Chairman Vince Casale. Held by Democrat Ed Lentz, District 5 “was one of the districts we knew we had to win. We were having a hard time finding the right person to commit to that seat.”

As he scanned the town boards and planning board in the three towns, he saw Meg’s name. Bingo.

“I picked up the phone and called her. I knew there had been some hot issues she had contended with on the Planning Board,” Casale said. Within a few minutes, “it was obvious she was up to the task. You knew she was one of those people who had instinctive leadership qualities. We talked for two hours.”

He added, “We never think of her as being from another party. She fits right in. She aligns with the values Republicans hold.”

Even though their father established the Conservative Party in Delaware County in the 1960s, then brought it here, her brothers and sisters are a mix of Conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, Kennedy said.

Conservatism fit her, she continued: “I take a more careful approach to change. I have to get it proved to me.”

As it happens, she was asked about a county manager in 2015 during a candidates’ night with Lentz at the Hartwick Community Center on Route 11. He supported the idea; she was unconvinced. Fracking was also an issue.

That fall, she won, 813-590, including 99 Conservative votes. “I won because I was more neutral on the issues,” she believes, adding, “I know a lot of people.”

Hearing the news, Tom Warren said something she still reflects on: “Meg won because of who she wasn’t.”

In 2017, she turned back a challenge from the former Hartwick town supervisor, Pat Ryan, 1,055 to 524. This year, she was unchallenged.

Joining the board in January 2016, she only knew Dave Bliss, also a freshman, and – just a bit – Oneonta then-rep Craig Gelbsman. “I wanted to get to know the people, to get an understanding of what they were doing.”

She was assigned to the IGA, Solid Waste & Environmental Concerns, and the Human Services committees.

Asked about a defining moment, she paused, then spoke of an executive session involving a personnel matter. “I believe my contribution saved the situation from escalating to the point where there could have been a very different outcome,” Meg said.

Since executive sessions are confidential, she couldn’t get into details, but said, “I was really glad I was there that day.”

What happened that day? Her approach coalesced into what we’ll call here, “The Kennedy Method” of problem-solving. One, listen. Two, hear. “They aren’t the same thing,” she said. Three, “what’s the fairest thing to do?”

“Then,” she concluded, “we could stay within the box of appropriateness.”

The 2017 campaign was a vigorous one – Democrats fielded candidates in 13 of 14 districts – and more of a consensus approach emerged from the organizational meeting, with Bliss, who represents Cooperstown and the towns of Middlefield and Cherry Valley, elected chairman, and Democrat Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, as vice chairman.

“I knew when I voted for Dave” – his predecessor, Kathy Clark, R-Otego, had been a mentor of sorts toward Kennedy – “I was voting for more work.”

He appointed her chairman of the IGA and Administration committees – the two most challenging – and, later, to the committee that built the 2020 budget. Plus, she served as vice chairman of the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank, tasked with rehabilitating or razing blighted buildings to get property back on the tax rolls.

In 2018, amid a general energy debate, 150 XNG natural-gas tankers were criss-crossing the county daily, and activists were protesting plans for a gas-decompressing station at the Oneonta Commerce Park.

A Democrat, Michele Farwell, representing Butternuts, Morris and Pittsfield, joined the board, and eventually approached Meg Kennedy with the idea of forming an Energy Task Force, as Tompkins County had done. “Maybe we could get everybody seated at the table and talking to each other and past each other,” Farwell said.

Kennedy, by then chairing the IGA, agreed. “What that shows about Meg is that she’s very open to hearing new ideas and talking,” Farwell said, adding, “As a leader, she is very happy to let other people play as much of a role as they may like.”

Meg had observed an impasse in the energy debate, and was concerned it would prevent much-needed economic development. “We need to do something,” she told herself. “If we do nothing, nothing will ever happen. We need to get started, and see where it takes us.”

Coming out of Benjamin’s December 2018 presentation at Springbrook, “County Manager v. County Executive,” Kennedy’s IGA Committee also took on the task of exploring that choice.

“People who voted for Dave to be chair, they also wanted to talk about a county administrator,” Meg said, adding characteristically, “We started with a clean, blank slate.”

A first key decision was not to pursue an executive, which would have been an elected position and require the county to develop a charter and take it to referendum. If the vote was nay, the effort would be back to the beginning.

The IGA’s study – it included inviting in top executives from similar counties, and such experts as Steve Acquario, NYSAC executive director – also found an elected executive can elevate politics in county government, vying with a county board for primacy.

“An executive was not a good fit for a rural county with a small population,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes, lower population centers are overlooked.”

And so the county administrator option was pursued. In the New Year, the challenge of filling the job begins, and Bliss has said he plans to ask Meg to lead the search.

At one point during the process, Meg Kennedy was waved over to a table to join a conversation. Looking back, she followed her internalized tick list: Listen, HEAR, what’s fair…

“Wow,” she said to herself as she got up, “we just had a very productive discussion!”

The Kennedy Method lives.

SPCA’s Stacie Haynes Is Citizen Of The Year

ALSO, CHECK OUT BEST PHOTOS OF 2018

SPCA’s Stacie Haynes

Is Citizen Of The Year

Stacie Haynes has loved dogs since, as a little girl, granddad Art Shaver introduced her to Misty. Today, she has her dream job, executive director of the Susquehanna SPCA, as it embarks on a $2 million fundraising drive for a new shelter. If anyone can help it happen, Stacie can. Read the story of her inspiring life in this week’s editions of Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal, on newsstands around Otsego County this afternoon.
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NYCM, Remillard and YMCA Honored At Chamber Dinner

NYCM, Remillard, YMCA

Honored At Chamber Gala

Congratulations to the winners of the Otsego County Chamber Celebration of Business Awards, honored tonight at the 30th Annual Dinner and Celebration of Business at SUNY Oneonta's Hunt Union Ballroom.  From left are Dan Robinson, NYCM president, with NBT Bank Distinguished Business Award; Chamber President Barbara Ann Heegan; John Remillard, retired Fox Hospital president, with Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Distinguished Citizen Award; Chamber Vice President Kelly Zack-Decker, and Frank Russo, Onoenta Family Y executive director, with Quality of Life Award.  (Ian Austin/ AllOTSEGO.com)
Congratulations to the winners of the Otsego County Chamber Celebration of Business Awards, honored tonight at the 30th Annual Dinner and Celebration of Business at SUNY Oneonta’s Hunt Union Ballroom.  From left are Dan Robinson, NYCM president, with NBT Bank Distinguished Business Award; Chamber President Barbara Ann Heegan; John Remillard, retired Fox Hospital president, with Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Distinguished Citizen Award; Chamber Vice President Kelly Zack-Decker, and Frank Russo, Onoenta Family Y executive director, with Quality of Life Award.  (Ian Austin/ AllOTSEGO.com)
Elks Award Citizen of the Year

Carla Balnis Elks’ Citizen of the Year

Exalted Ruler of The Elks Club Barbara Ann Heegan, right, gives Carla Palmer Balnis, Oneonta, the Elks Citizen of the Year Award during a ceremonial dinner on Wednesday evening. Other award winners were Elk of the Year Robert Pondolfino, Jr. , Officer of the Year Nancy Bates, with JoAnn LaMonica and Patrick Pidgeon both receiving the Grand Exalted Ruler Award. (Ian Austin/ allotsego.com)
Exalted Ruler of the Oneonta Elks, Barbara Ann Heegan, right, gives Carla Palmer Balnis, Oneonta, the Elks Citizen of the Year Award during a ceremonial dinner on Wednesday evening. Other award winners were Elk of the Year Robert Pondolfino, Jr. , Officer of the Year Nancy Bates, with JoAnn LaMonica and Patrick Pidgeon both receiving the Grand Exalted Ruler Award. (Ian Austin/ allotsego.com)
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