As SUNY Oneonta students begin arriving today, that’s the “tip line” number, the City of Oneonta’s dedicated hotline for citizens to report concerns over gatherings that are seen as jeopardizing public health doing this time of COVID-19 threat.
You can call the number, which was announced today, or you can send a text.
COOPERSTOWN – Rebounding from the year-long investigation of Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr.’s son, Otsego County may have gotten a head start in meeting the wide-ranging reforms coming out of Albany, said county board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield.
Last year, the county already upgraded pre-employment testing for correctional offices, deputies, parole officers – “anyone who carries a gun,” said Bliss, when asked about Governor Cuomo’s executive order and new laws the state Legislature enacted last week in the wake of national tumult caused by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis while being taken into custody.
“Yes and no,” Bliss replied when asked of former correctional officer Ros Devlin’s situation – an outburst in the county jail’s break room that eventually led to his resignation – prompted last year’s reforms. “It was probably instigated because of that, but it wasn’t a direct result,” he said.
Interviews this week indicated the three largest local governments – the county itself, the City of Oneonta and Village of Cooperstown – are already considering specific steps to respond to the new directives.
Over the past several days, Governor Cuomo signs several pieces that quickly moved through the state Legislature last week, including banning chokeholds, opening police disciplinary records for public review, and more.
He also issued an executive order requiring police departments to work with their local communities on “a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs,” and to submit it to Albany by next April 1 or lose state funding for law enforcement.
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, a Democrat, said Cuomo’s executive order “works hand in hand with what we’re trying to do, so I think it will be helpful.”
Herzig and OPD Chief Doug Brenner have proposed a Community Advisory Board to review police policies and practices. The mayor plans to discuss the concept with Common Council’s Planning Committee June 29, and bring it before the full council when it next meets on July 7.
In Cooperstown, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, also a Democrat, said “I 100 percent think it’s a good idea.” As for the April 1 deadline, she said, “The village doesn’t receive police department funding from the state, but that doesn’t negate this.”
Tillapaugh said she’s planning “a community group. That’s always the best thing, when you involve the community.” In addition to herself, the group might include the village’s two officers, a mental health expert, someone from Bassett, “a faith leader,” and a selection of village residents. A new police chief, when hired, would also be included.
For his part, Bliss said, “The executive order – it will mean what we are already doing,” said Bliss. “We already have a review in process. We haven’t had any accusation of those types, which I hope means we’re doing this well.”
He said he will ask county Rep. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, who chairs the county board’s Public Safety & Legal Affairs Committee, to take the lead in meeting the governor’s order and implementing the legislation. Wilber did not return calls.
Sheriff Devlin said he’s participated in several conference calls set up by the state Sheriff’s Association, and is waiting for guidance from the association on how to move forward.
“We already review policy and procedures, annually or every other year,” he said, “and go by the best practices. A lot of those things (enacted last week) are already occurring.”
The sheriff said no complaints against the department are pending right now. “You get complaints from time to time, he said. “Those are investigated. Knock on wood, fortunately we haven’t had a use of force incident in some time.” They usually occur when a suspect resists being taken into custody, he said.
ONEONTA – Mark Davies, Ward 2, and Kaytee Lipari Shue, Ward 4, will both appear on the Democratic ballot line for Oneonta Common Council this November after hammering opponents Seth Clark and Jerid Goss in today’s primary.
Both were endorsed by the city Democratic Committee.
Without write-ins counted, Davies received 95 votes to Clark’s five, and Shue got 49 votes to Goss’ 11. However, both Clark and Goss will run on the Republican and Independence lines in November.
ONEONTA – Mayor Gary Herzig will announce the recipients of the $2.3 million in Downtown Improvement Funding as part of his State of the City address at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5.
“The grant applications from our business owners far exceeded all expectations,” said Herzig. “That so many demonstrated a willingness to invest their time, energy, and resources into building a better downtown is very exciting. The award announcements, along with the State of the City address will now mark the transition from Downtown Revitalization planning to implementation.”
City Attorney David Merzig and building owner Melania Pervu met with County Judge John F. Lambert’s law clerk in Cooperstown this morning, following the release of the inspection report into the former Oneonta Hotel at 195 Main St. that showed filthy bathrooms, holes in walls and ceilings and tiles covering the sprinkler system.
According to Merzig, the clerk recommended that the city bring an Order to Show Cause to the judge, recommending punishment for the Pervus – Melania and her husband Nicolae – for failing to comply with Lambert’s September order that the building be brought up to code by Jan. 11. The order will then be presented to the judge for his ruling.
ONEONTA – Citing missing kitchen appliances, holes in the ceiling and a blocked sprinkler system, among nearly a dozen pages of code violations, the City will argue that Melania Pervu, owner of the former Oneonta Hotel at 195 Main St., has failed to remedy the unsafe conditions of her building, as ordered by County Judge John Lambert last September.
“There are still considerable violations,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “We have an obligation to make sure everybody in the city lives in a building deemed safe.”
With the court-imposed deadline of Jan. 11 passed, Judge John F. Lambert has requested a meeting with the city and Pervu at 10 a.m Friday, Jan. 25. “We will present the fact that our inspection shows outstanding violations,” said Herzig. “We took a number of photographs to demonstrate our concern.”
ONEONTA – In an order by county Judge John Lambert, owner Melania Pervu must make all repairs to the building at 195 Main St. before the Jan. 11, 2019 deadline or she could be held in contempt of court, according to a decision made Friday, Dec. 7.
“The city believes she violated the order, but understands the reluctance to issue a vacancy order before Christmas,” said City Attorney David Merzig.
Uncreative? With Full Plate,
That Might Be Just The Thing
‘I’m not creative,” Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky told the Otsego County Board of Representatives at its October meeting on the 3rd, as he began to deliver an “economic update” on the economic-development organization’s 2018 accomplishments.
While lacking creativity, Zakrevsky continued, he said he has the capacity to embrace someone else’s ideas and carry them to fruition.
Credit Zakrevsky with self-awareness and frankness, both virtues. Thinking about it further: The ability to carry great ideas forward may be just what’s needed right now in the local economic-development realm.
Zakrevsky’s predecessor, Sandy Mathes, was eminently creative; many of his initiatives are moving. Slow and steady implementation now might indeed win this race.
Among other things, Zakrevsky shared this very good news with the county board: Otsego Now has issued $11 million in bonds to Corning to expand its Life Sciences Plant in Oneonta; in return, the nation’s foremost glassmaker has committed to keeping 175 quality jobs in the city for at least 15 years.
Several other initiatives Zakrevsky shared with the county reps are important to pursue, such as a $750,000 grant sought toward Custom Electronics’ $2.2 million production line of futuristic self-recharging batteries. That’s 50 prospective jobs.
The batteries are used at disaster scenes, but also at movie shoots, to allow crew
to easily move sets when on location.
Of course, better batteries – in effect,
power storage – are essential as we shift
Another big challenge, of course, is moving forward redevelopment of Oneonta’s former D&H railyards; six site plans have been developed over the past few months. Also new, Otsego Now has gotten the state to designate a big chunk of the railyards as a new type of “opportunity zone,” providing tax breaks to prospective employers.
Also, Zakrevsky said, he is working with an unnamed “existing manufacturing company” on a 40,000-square-foot plant in the Oneonta Business Park (formerly Pony Farm) that promises to create 300 new jobs, with construction due to begin next year. He pointed out that 10 buildings in the park (only one owned by Otsego Now) are occupied, and only three available lots remain.
The Route 205 corridor through the Town of Oneonta is underway, necessary before the state DOT can upgrade that sometimes-congested stretch. And an airport study – Zakrevsky said consultants have promised its completion by Dec. 23 – may pave the way for county participation, as is proper, in what’s been a City of Oneonta facility.
There’s a lot more, including comprehensive master plan updates in Cooperstown, Richfield Springs and lately Schenevus.
Zakrevsky also heralded the creation, finally, of a one-stop shop for economic development in Otsego Now headquarters on the fifth floor of 189 Main, Oneonta.
Michelle Catan of the state Small Business Development Center has been joined in recent months by the Otsego County chamber; Southern Tier 8, the regional planning agency, and CADE, the Center for Agriculture, Development & Entrepreneurism.
If you remember, the keynoter at the second “Seward Summit” in November 2013, Dick Sheehy, manager/site selection, for CMH2Mhill, an international industrial recruiter, said a one-stop shop is an essential prerequisite to economic development.
Of course, putting loosely related entities on the same floor doesn’t, in itself, mean a one-stop shop exists. But at least proximity makes a tight, broad, comprehensive economic-development recruitment effort possible. Be still, beating hearts.
As we’re now all aware, if we’ve been paying attention, our county, from Greater Oneonta to Cooperstown, lacks sufficient natural gas and electricity even to meet current needs, much less recruit new employers, and Zakrevsky has become the lightning rod for that undertaking.
Otsego Now is seeking $3.5 million toward a natural gas decompression plant in Pony Farm, and its president has taken the brunt of criticism – and legal threats – from anti-gas adherents. He has to be unapologetically tough to keep that moving forward, and his board members need to get behind him publicly in a united front.
Regrettably, Sandy Mathes left too soon. But we have to move forward regardless.
From the railyards to Oneonta’s $14 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (the state’s DRI) to the potential 300-job distribution center at Schenevus, another Mathes initiative, Mathes left Zakrevsky plenty to do.
To the degree that slow and steady wins the race, Zakrevsky, who is reaching retirement age within a few months, can do a lot. His report to the county Board of Representatives was, simply, promising. Amid fears economic-development had been set back a generation, there’s reason to believe our economic-development challenges can, to some degree, be met.
Let’s go for it!
You know, of course:
Creativity is making something out of nothing.
Or, better, recognizing potential where nobody else does.
The scoop in last week’s paper is a case in point: A group calling itself The Market Street Alliance is proposing a distillery in the former Oneonta Ford building, that dreary, long-empty, black-painted hulk at the foot of Chestnut Street, across from Foothills.
But that’s just the beginning: The idea is to make it a centerpiece for a downtown Oneonta transformed into a beverage center, with breweries, wineries, even mead-makers. (Yes, mead, that honey-based brew quaffed by King Hrothgar and his knights.)
The local CPA and investor in the prospective distillery, Johna Peachin, got the idea from a visit to her son in Walla Walla, Wash., where she participated in a
monthly Sip & Stroll event.
At the Walla Walla – “twice as nice,” promoters say – Downtown Foundation, Events Manager Cindy Frost says her region is
being marketed these days as
“The New Napa Valley.”
There are over 100 wineries in the Walla Walla valley, and three-dozen wineries have tasting rooms in the downtown, attracting top-tier restaurants and hotels there.
Last summer, the foundation came up with the idea of the Sip & Stroll, which has just finished its second May-to-September season.
One evening a month, the wineries waive the fee on their tastings, and about 100 people have been buying $10 tickets to partake. Many participants, of course, then buy a glass or two, shop, dine, etc., making it worthwhile for the downtown establishments.
The evening’s a magnet, which is what every downtown wants.
The $1,000 revenue is used to promote the event, Frost said.
Peachin said she and fellow investors have a sales agreement with the Twelve Tribes, the religious community that owns the adjacent Yellow Deli.
She mentioned Ken Wortz, an owner of Kymar Distillery in Charlotteville, Delaware County, as an investor. And landlord Brian Shaughnessy and businessman Al Rubin accompanied her to the July 26 Otsego Now meeting where the original pitch was made.
The timeliness may not be great – just a few days before this news broke, Peachin had exploded negotiations between the Town of Oneonta Fire District and City Hall. City officials may not be too interested in accommodating her right now.
Still, the idea is intriguing.
Hold on a minute.
As outlined on this week’s front page, City Hall and the DRI (the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative), see the Oneonta Ford site as THE prime prospect for Artspace.
Artspace is that Minneapolis-based national entity that has been creating combinations of housing and studio space for artists across the nation since 1987. (Check www.artspace.org; very exciting.)
The colleges are active partners, seeing Artspace as a way to attract students; City Hall, as a way to keep them here after graduation. Doesn’t downtown Oneonta as an art magnet sounds much more enticing than Oneonta as a beer and liquor magnet, which, to a degree, it already is?
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig low-keys it: It’s the preferred site, but if the Twelve Tribes has another deal, the DRI, the most exciting news for the City of the Hills in a century, will just look somewhere else.
Come on. Are we serious or aren’t we? The state has already committed $3.5 million to cleaning up the Oneonta Ford property and building something new there, with more – likely – to come.
Enough dithering. Common Council should man and woman up, condemn what’s been an eyesore and a hazard for decades, pay the fair market value, and get started.
The Peachin group may make it work; but it may not.
If it doesn’t, the site could be locked up for decades to come. Our great-grandchildren will be seeing the same mess we are today, only moreso. Does anyone want that?
If Peachin’s creativity spurs City Hall – finally – into action, she certainly will deserve the community’s thanks and