News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.
 BREAKING NEWS 
 POLICE & FIRE 
 IN MEMORIAM  
 HOMETOWN PEOPLE 
 COLUMNS 
 EDITORIALS 
 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 

 EMPLOYMENT  
 DINING & ENTERTAINMENT  
 REAL ESTATE  
 AUTOMOTIVE  
 REMEMBRANCE  
 GOODS & SERVICES

City Manager

Sterling Legacy Suggest: Are City Managers Needed

EDITORIAL

Sterling Mayor’ Legacy Suggest:

Are City Managers Needed?

Maybe it’s apocryphal, but the story’s told of a former mayor of Oneonta who, elected decades ago, discovered some department heads were taking hour-and-a-half lunches to work out at a local gym.

The mayor gave everybody raises, at the same time advising the department heads: Game over, be back at your desks in an hour.

That worked for six months, then the particular department heads starting slipping, the story goes, and soon things were back to how they’d been at the outset.

If true, that underscores the need for a boss, on site, every day at City Hall – and at every other business, for that matter. The buck needs to stop somewhere.

That said, the City of Oneonta’s experience with the current city-manager system of government – next year it will be in place a decade – just hasn’t worked out as hoped.

So that Mayor Gary Herzig is again suggesting revisiting how City Hall governs itself – and
it’s effectiveness in general – is worthwhile, and timely.

The idea of an executive director, implementing mayoral and Common Council policies, makes sense. Pairing that job with, for instance, finance director (or the most apt department head) makes further sense.

As it happens, the third city manager in a decade, George Korthauer, retired last February, just a month before COVID-19 arrived, requiring extraordinary leadership, which Herzig provided – to no one’s surprise, really, given his almost four-year track record.

It’s the Curse of Competence – a job expands to the talents of the person holding it. (Or shrinks.) Even a city charter like Oneonta’s, calling for a “weak mayor” form of government, can’t keep a good person down.

Meanwhile, the Village of Cooperstown also professionalized its government, creating a village
administrator, but leaving the elected mayor and board of trustees assisted, but fully in charge.

Over the years, City Hall has been blessed with many such good persons. Or maybe it’s an Oneonta thing; the city is welcoming to newcomers and comfortable for natives.

There never seems to be a shortage of qualified people, wanting to give back.

It’s not just Herzig; there’s been a succession of capable mayors.

The mourned Dick Miller, a former corporate executive and Hartwick College president; John Nader, now SUNY Farmingdale president; Kim Muller, a SUNY administrator; the venerable David Brenner, a SUNY associate vice president and author, who also chaired the county Board of Representatives.

The trail of talent goes back to the 1960s, when Sam Nader, now 101, set the mold, gaining a statewide reputation for acumen, and bringing a New York Yankees farm team to Damaschke Field.

It can’t be an accident.

By contrast, the three city managers to date just didn’t catch fire. Mayor Herzig is right in concluding it’s time to at least review, and perhaps rethink, a well-intended undertaking that fell short of its goal.

Putting artificial limitations on talented local people, smart, experienced, ambitious about their native or adopted community, must be a mistake.

One caveat: The current city charter was a hard sell, but – in the end – the deal was clinched. On Nov. 7, 2010, 76.08 percent of voters approved it, 1,177 cast aye ballots to the nays’ 370.

A new charter revision effort must earn credibility. The new document must be likewise sold to the public, as the last one was. If it indeed corrects flaws in the 2011 document – as it can and should – that shouldn’t be a heavy lift.

If it includes major changes, Oneonta citizens must be convinced they are indeed improvements. Then, put to a vote, the revised charter passed, and establish a firm foundation for a future that may very well be better guided by leading citizens.

Is City Manager Needed?
AFTER DECADE, MAYOR HERZIG TO ASK QUESTION AGAIN

Is City Manager Needed?

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA –Oneonta’s third city manager, George Korthauer, retired from City Hall on Feb. 7.

A month later, on March 13, Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 202 went into effect, declaring a state of emergency in New York State in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic threat.

In the past six months, Mayor Gary Herzig, under a City Charter that gives him largely ceremonial responsibilities, led the effort that kept in-community infections – not including SUNY Oneonta’s “large outbreak,” now ending – to an average of eight a month.

Given that the city man-ager’s $110,000 salary is about 4 percent of the tax levy, Herzig said, he intends to again revisit whether a city-manager form of government, as now constituted, is the best way to govern 14,000-population Oneonta.

He said he planned to start that conversation perhaps as soon at the Common Council’s Budget Committee meeting Wednesday, Sept. 16, but certainly soon after.

And he would like a decision by the end of the year, so savings and likely lower expenses could be reflected in the 2021 budget. (This year’s budget is slightly more than $17 million.)

“I still support having an administrative position supervising day-to-day operations – a staff person, a non-political person,” he said, perhaps an executive director instead of a full-fledged city manager.

Herzig took charge from the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, but in the past month, with the community worried about the colleges reopening, he racheted up police enforcement of mask wearing and social distancing in public places, cancelled evening bus service from the campuses, and issued a “Welcome to Students” letter outlining expectations.

When widespread partying was evident when students returned Aug. 21, he alerted the Governor’s Office, setting the stage for what happened when the “large outbreak” followed: Chancellor Jim Malatras shut the campus for two weeks, and Cuomo deployed a state Virus Testing SWAT Team to the city.

In an interview Monday, Sept. 14, the mayor said, “I didn’t do this all by myself.”

“Our department heads just were amazing in the way they stepped up and provided leadership,” he said. “That was the only way to move through this crisis – and they did it. They filled the leadership void as a team.”

Personnel Director Katie Böttger and City Engineer Greg Mattice assumed day-to-day management, directing the department-head team, he added.

When it was approved on Nov. 7, 2010, the idea of professional management of City Hall won by a 1,177-370 margin. But one decade and three city managers later, dramatic change for the better hasn’t been evident.

“I was an early supporter and still support the concept of having an administrative position supervising the day-to-day operation of the city,” said Herzig.

“But I think the overwhelming number of people in Oneonta who voted to support it, including myself, didn’t recognize it would drastically change our form of government.”

Under the council-manager form of government, Council members’ role is limited to “just being legislators,” he continued. “They are asked not to participate providing input on local government operations.”

There are day-to-day decisions Council members should help make, he said: “What roads are being fixed. How staffing is organized. What priorities are set operationally. In a community this size, most people would want their elected Council members to be involved.”

As for his job, “whether the people want a ceremonial mayor going forward, or a mayor who has the ability to set direction and in control of of city operations, is an open question.” He said he hasn’t decided whether to run for a third two-year term next year.

Herzig said he’s intrigued with combining day-to-day administration with another existing function – with finance or personnel, for instance. “I believe Cortland has been very successful doing that,” he said.
Since six of the eight Council members had only served two months before “we went into Zoom … They haven’t had the opportunity to really dig into this.”

“In the next week or two,” he said, “I’ll look for opportunities for a whole discussion with Council members around where we are now, and what are the different options.”

The mayor expressed the view that a referendum is only necessary if powers are being taken away from elected officials; Herzig said they would be enhanced. “Changing the job description would not require a public vote as far as I know,” he said, in reference to the city manager’s job duties.

He said he would be guided by City Attorney David Merzig’s opinion. In 2016, charter revisions endorsed by a committee chaired by former Mayor John Nader foundered when SUNY New Paltz’s Gerald Benjamin, the state’s foremost expert on local government, said he believed those changes were substantive enough to require another public vote.

‘Outstanding’ City Hall Staff Might Now Apply To Succeed Korthauer

MAYOR HERZIG LOOKS AHEAD

‘Outstanding’ Staffers

May Submit Applications

To Succeed City Manager

City Manager Korthauer, foreground, and Mayor Herzig at a December Common Council meeting. (AllOTSEGO>com photo)

ONEONTA – Mayor Gary Herzig said he “would not be surprised” to receive applications from within City Hall from department heads seeking to succeed Oneonta’s third city manager.

City Manager George Korthauer, whose resignation was announced this afternoon, helped assemble “a really outstanding team of department heads and staff,” Herzig said in an interview a few minutes ago.  “There are folks who have the expertise, have the dedication and have the willingness to work hard.”

The mayor said he only learned of Korthauer’s decision to retire on Friday, and that is is “too early” to predict how the search for a successor will proceed.

Oneonta Welcomes New City Manager

KORTHAUER VISITING DEPARTMENTS

City Manager Greeted

At City Hall Reception

Councilman John Rafter, Ward 7, meets with George Korthauer, Oneonta’s new city manager, during a noon-time reception at City Hall today. “He has a combination of 25 years of experience an a hands-on, approachable and involved attitude,” Mayor Gary Herzig said in welcoming remarks.  “His first few weeks will be spent learning, then we will focus on our list of goals that include organization, procedures, assets and how to efficiently use City resources.”  Korthauer, chosen from 90 applicants, spent the morning  with the personnel director at a staff meeting, and planned on touring some city facilities this afternoon. “There is so much going on here, I am just trying to get caught up!” said Korthauer. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Council Due To Name Manager

Council To Name

3rd City Manager

Korthauer Served In Petoskey, Mich.

George Korthauer

ONEONTA – Common Council is scheduled to appoint George Korthauer as Oneonta’s third city manager at its Tuesday, May 16, meeting.

Korthauer served for 25 years as the city manager of Petoskey, Mich., retiring in 2009. During his tenure, he redeveloped the city’s Lake Michigan waterfront park, oversaw development of a marina, winter sport and athletic complex, as well as construction of the new City Hall.

City Manager Search Starts Friday

City Manager Search

Begins This Friday

Mayor Gary Herzig announced that Catherine Tick Parrish, the Novak Consultant hired to conduct the City Manager search, will begin looking through applications on Friday, Jan. 6. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

ONEONTA –  The search for Oneonta’s new City Manager will formally begin on Friday, Jan. 6.

“Our consultant, Catherine Tuck Parrish, will begin looking at applications,” said Mayor Gary Herzig during  the Common Council meeting held earlier this evening.  “She’ll weed out and present us with the candidates that she believes will be the best fit.”

City Manager Must Be Enabler, Advocate, Mentor

New City Manager Must Be

‘Enabler,’ ‘Advocate,’ ‘Mentor’

After interviewing Council Members, department heads and other City Hall workers, consultants Jerry Faiella, Executive Director of the NYS City/County Managers Association, and Michael Ritchie, Senior Advisor, ICMA, determined that the next City Manager must be an enabler of staff development, an advocate for employees and a mentor. He also suggested that Council undergo additional training in the City Manager form of government, and offered to help with the search for the next City Manager. He is flanked by Michael Ritchie. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
After interviewing Council Members, department heads and other City Hall workers, consultants Jerry Faiella, Executive Director of the NYS City/County Managers Association, and Michael Ritchie, Senior Advisor, ICMA, determined that the next City Manager must be an enabler of staff development, an advocate for employees and a mentor. He also suggested that Council undergo additional training in the City Manager form of government, and offered to help with the search for the next City Manager.  (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

For Full Story, Read the Hometown Oneonta

On Newsstands Wednesday Afternoon

Move Qualifications Out Of Charter, Panel Says

Move Qualifications Out

Of Charter, Panel Says

Residency Requirement Remains in Charter

Council Member Melissa Nicosia, Second Ward, explains why she believes the qualifications for the City Manager should be removed from the charter. Former mayor David Brenner listens. (Ian Austin/AlOTSEGO.com)
Council Member Melissa Nicosia, Second Ward, explains why she believes the qualifications for the City Manager should be removed from the charter. Former mayor David Brenner listens. (Ian Austin/AlOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • for www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – Mayor Herzig’s ad hoc Charter Review Committee last evening proposed removing the qualifications for the city manager from the charter, putting them in a job description, like all other positions.  That would allow Common Council to change them by a majority vote.

“No other job has their requirements outlined in the charter,” said Committee member and Council member Melissa Nicosia, Second Ward.  “I think the Common Council should determine what the qualifications are based on their needs.  This allows the position to evolve.”

“Who knows what will work 10 years from now?” asked Committee member David Martindale.

City Manager Duties Dominate First Charter Revision Meeting

City Manager Duties Dominate

First Charter Revision Meeting

bbbbbbb
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig’s ad hoc committee on charter revision met for the first time this evening, spending much of the two hours identifying areas for future discussion.  Inevitably, perhaps, much of the talk had to do with the role of city manager, after two have been hired and forced out in the three years since 75 percent of the electorate approved the document in 2011.   The meeting was chaired by former mayor John Nader, right, now SUNY Delhi provost.  He was joined by, clockwise from Nader, Common Council members Maureen Hennessy and Russ Southard, former mayor David W. Brenner, and incoming Council member Melissa Nicosia.   Absent was Council member Chip Holmes.  Herzig said he intends to name a seventh member, but has not yet done so.  (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

CLICK FOR YOUR OWN COPY OF CITY CHARTER

ONEONTA CITY MANAGER MARTIN MURPHY RESIGNS

City Manager Gets $60,000,

Doubling His Severance, Plus

In Exchange, Martin Murphy Agrees Not To Sue City Hall

Acting Mayor Maureen Hennessey, seated next to City Attorney David Merzig, agreed to sign a severance agreement for former city manager Martin Murphy . (Ian Austin/ allotsego.com)
Acting Mayor Maureen Hennessey, seated next to City Attorney David Merzig, this morning agreed to sign a severance agreement for former city manager Martin Murphy . (Ian Austin/ allotsego.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • for allotsego.com

City Manager Murphy wasn't at this morning's meeting.
City Manager Murphy wasn’t at this morning’s meeting.

ONEONTA – In a special meeting at 9 a.m. today, City Manager Martin Murphy and the Common Council reached a settlement agreement, allowing Murphy to voluntarily resign with six months severance pay.

Murphy, who had served as city manager for 10 months following the departure of former city manager Mike Long, was suspended by a vote of 5-2, with one abstention, on Friday, July 17.  He was not present at this morning’s meeting.

“It’s a sad day in the city,” said Council Member Dave Rissberger, Third Ward.  “If we terminate one employee without due process, what’s to say we won’t do it to another?”

Common Council Releases Saturday’s Meeting Agenda

Common Council Releases

Saturday’s Meeting Agenda

A few minutes ago, City Hall issued this agenda for the 9 a.m. Saturday special meeting, presumably called to discuss developments in the situation involving the suspension of City Manager Martin Murphy in advance of his dismissal.  As of Tuesday's Council meeting, Murphy had not responded to Council's offer that he resign and accept a quarter year's salary ($27,000).  It could not be confirmed if Murphy had accepted the offer, presented a counter-offer or plans legal action.   The public is invited to attend Saturday's meeting.
A few minutes ago, City Hall issued this agenda for the 9 a.m. Saturday special meeting, presumably called to discuss developments in the situation involving the suspension of City Manager Martin Murphy in advance of his dismissal. As of Tuesday’s Council meeting, Murphy had not responded to Council’s offer that he resign and accept a quarter year’s salary ($27,000). It could not be confirmed if Murphy had accepted the offer, presented a counter-offer or plans legal action. The public is invited to attend Saturday’s meeting.

 

COUNCIL VOTE SUSPENDS CITY MANAGER MURPHY

COUNCIL VOTE SUSPENDS

CITY MANAGER MURPHY

Council member Mike Lynch reads a resolution to suspend City Manager Martin Murphy in absentia. Murphy was in Saratoga, where his first granddaughter was born Thursday, the day he was asked to resign. (Ian Austin/allotsego.com)
Council member Mike Lynch reads a resolution to suspend City Manager Martin Murphy in absentia. Murphy was in Saratoga, where his first granddaughter was born Thursday, the day he was asked to resign. (Ian Austin/allotsego.com)

By JIM KEVLIN • for allotsego.com

Acting Mayor Southard, foreground, tries to calm crowded Council Chambers after audience members learned they wouldn't be allowed to comment. In the middle of the front row is Gary Herzig, unopposed candidate for mayor in the November elections.
Acting Mayor Southard, foreground, tries to calm crowded Council Chambers after audience members learned they wouldn’t be allowed to comment. Front row right is Gary Herzig, unopposed candidate for mayor in the November elections.
A dismayed Brzozowski called it "a show trial" and left the room.
A dismayed Brzozowski called it “a show trial” and left the room.

ONEONTA – After barring public comment before a packed house, a split Common Council this evening voted, 5-2, with one abstention, to suspend City Manager Martin Murphy, who has served as City Hall’s top executive for 10 months.

Three Council members, Bob Brzozowski, Chip Holmes and David Rissberger, argued that due process had been circumvented and Murphy was the victim of emotions gone out of control.

Meanwhile, a four-vote bloc – Council members Mike Lynch, Larry Malone, Maureen Hennessy and Madolyn O. Palmer – sat stolidly, saying nothing.    Acting Mayor Russ Southard joined the four in voting for the suspension.

COUNCIL TO MEET FRIDAY ON CITY MANAGER FUTURE

COUNCIL TO MEET FRIDAY

ON CITY MANAGER FUTURE

By JIM KEVLIN • for allotsego.com

City Manager Martin Murphy listens to Council member Mike Lynch at a recent Common Council meeting.  (Ian Austin/allotsego.com)
City Manager Martin Murphy listens to Council member Mike Lynch at a recent Common Council meeting. (Ian Austin/allotsego.com)

ONEONTA – The second effort to remove a city manager in as many years will be the topic of a special Common Council meeting scheduled for 6:30 Friday evening in City Hall.

A notice of the meeting was sent out at 6:36 this evening by City Clerk Doug Kendall, alerting the public that Acting Mayor Russ Southard called the meeting at the request of Council members Larry Malone, Mike Lynch, Maureen Hennessy and Madolyn O. Palmer.  No particulars were provided.

In an interview this evening, however, Southard said Council intends to vote on a three-month severance package for Murphy, as called for in his contract.  “It’s not clear cut how it’s going to come out,” he said.  “Who knows if someone’s going to change their minds?”

According to various inputs, however, it was learned that Southard and Hennessy this morning asked City Manager Martin Murphy for his resignation, and he declined to give it.

If Murphy were asked to resign and declined to do so, he would be entitled to a public hearing, the mayor said.  Council would then vote on contining the manager or ending the relationship.

City Manager’s First Budget Through Hearing Unbruised

City Manager’s First Budget

Through Hearing Unbruised

By LIBBY CUDMORE • HOMETOWN ONEONTA

Edition of Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

 

City Manager Martin Murphy reviews his first Oneonta city budget
City Manager Martin Murphy reviews his first Oneonta city budget (Ian Austin/HOMETOWN ONEONTA)

When City Manager Martin Murphy joined City Hall in early October, Day One he started on his first budget, a $21.6 million spending plan for 2015 that Common Council will act on in December.

Murphy is no stranger to budgeting; previously, he was Cortland County administrator. “We were working with a $125 million budget, so it was much larger than what we have here,” he said. “But it’s all relative to the services the community needs.”

In his first budget, it’s focus. “A great deal of scrutiny is placed on fire and police,” he said. “They’re 40 percent of the budget, so you’re always scrutinizing the largest areas to see where you can have some efficiency.”

His first budget eliminates two vacant police positions and two from the fire department, one a vacancy and the second an expected retirement.

However, Murphy said, this change may not be permanent: $81,000 has been allocated for the Center for Public Safety Management to review the departments’ workload and deployment. “As the community changes, it’s important that we look at the places that need assistance and deploy our resources accordingly,” said the manager. “If it’s found that we need to put those positions back in, we will,” he said. “But we want to see what the calls and responses are so we can make data-driven decisions.”

Another $200,000 has been allocated to the fire department for a new ladder truck, totaling $400,000 with funds from the year prior.

With housing another priority, Murphy has proposed creating a full-time Community Development director, taking back duties Housing Specialist Jeff House had assumed on an interim basis.

But Murphy’s budget was not without detractors. At a public hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 25, John VanValkenburg declared, “Heaven forbid my house catch fire. I won’t be on the phone to 911 thinking, ‘I’m sure glad they hired a Community Development director’.”

Murphy also proposed eliminating a position from Human Resources and to replace a Recreation clerk with an administrative assistant.

His proposed a 25-cent bus fare increase to cover rising costs, buy new buses and maintain older ones, also drew criticism at the hearing. “We’re trying to bring people to Oneonta, not scare them out!” said Edward James Palumbo. “Many of us are on a fixed income.”

But overall, Martin is confident his budget will be passed by Common Council.

Oneonta Common Council Rejects Adding Citizens To City Manager Search

Common Council Rejects Adding

Citizens To City Manager Search

Council member Larry Malone, in voting to exclude two members of the public from the city-manager search, said it is "extremely important to maintain the confidentiality of the candidates."  (Ian Austin/allotsego.com)
Council member Larry Malone, in voting to exclude two members of the public from the city-manager search, said it is “extremely important to maintain the confidentiality of the candidates.” (Ian Austin/allotsego.com)
City Hall's consultant in recruitment of the new city manager, Nick Mazza, tells Common Council he has winnowed the 37 applicants down to 25 for its consideration.
City Hall’s consultant in recruitment of the new city manager, Nick Mazza, tells Common Council he has winnowed the 37 applicants down to 25 for its consideration.

ONEONTA – Common Council, 6-1, this evening rejected suggestions it expand its search committee for a new city manager to include two members of the public.

Unanimously, Common Council did vote to expand the search committee to include the whole council, not just its Human Resources Committee.

“What we’ve been through,” said Council member Russ Southard, HR committee chair, referring to working 18 months with the first city manager, “makes us the best experienced people to select the next city manager.”

Council member Larry Malone, who is also a Charter Revision Committee member and served on the original Charter Commission, voted “nay” on including members of the public in the search, saying his constituents told him they’d hired him to do the job.

Posts navigation

21 Railroad Ave. Cooperstown, New York 13326 • (607) 547-6103