In our May 29 edition, County Rep. Clark Oliver of Oneonta was tweaked in this space, along with his fellow Democrats who voted against 59 layoffs without offering an alternative.
They ducked a hard decision, thus losing credibility with their colleagues, it was argued.
Last Wednesday, Aug. 5, the county board was considering a measure to set aside New York State’s 2-percent property tax cap – yes, something that’s bound to be unpopular with a majority of voters.
(As County Attorney Ellen Coccoma explained, the idea isn’t to necessarily go beyond the cap but, if forced to do so, to avoid penalties that would be imposed unless the cap is lifted in advance.)
The county board’s leader, Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, as appropriate, put the measure on the table, but it required a second.
Who stepped forward? One of the county board’s junior members, Clark Oliver, District 11 (Oneonta Wards 1 and 2). He explained, “If we don’t raise property taxes, we’ll just have to think about cutting crucial services.”
The board as a whole will now have to act on the tax-cap question at its September meeting on the 2nd.
Oliver’s decision to provide the second is in line with his arguments against the layoffs: That people being laid off will be hurt, and also citizens at large who require county services.
In this space, we support the layoffs as necessary, but – as always – we respect – in fact, welcome – people’s opinions to think otherwise.
Last week, Clark Oliver stepped up and made a tough decision that was in line with his previously expressed opinions. Guts and consistency. Not bad for a freshman – or a
veteran, for that matter.
ONEONTA – Coloring and photography cannot only be calming, says Destination Oneonta Director Katrina Van Zandt, but they can help keep Otsego County’s tourism top of mind.
After all, people aren’t going to be sheltering in place forever.
“We know that tourism has a big impact on Oneonta,” she said. “So we partnered with This is Cooperstown on its coloring contest.”
It’s one of several ways entities in Oneonta, Coopertown and in between are reaching out to their neighbors under COVID-19 quarantines.
Sweet Home Productions, Destination Marketing of Otsego County (DMOC), Van Zandt and county Rep. Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta, are each taking step to help the county through the crisis and into a better time.
• TO A BRIGHTER DAY
The coloring pages, available on the Destination Oneonta Facebook Page, are open to anyone who wants to enter. “We’re giving away Downtown Dollar prizes in five categories,” she said. “You can use them at restaurants and stores, to buy those groceries at the Green Earth or treat yourself to dinner from the Autumn Café.”
• DOWNTOWN PROMOTIONS
Entries must use the #ColorMeCoop hashtag and must be completed by April 12, with winners chosen April 13.
Destination Oneonta is also working with Mark Drnek, Sweet Home Oneonta and the Eighth Ward Council member, on promoting downtown businesses online. “People were on Facebook asking where they could buy gift cards online to support local businesses,” he said. “We had the time, so we thought we should put together something.”
The website, www.SupportOneonta.com, aggregates local businesses by type and directs people to online ordering. “Everyone is doing what they can,” he said. “This is about getting this information out there to help these businesses replace this income.”
It’s free for businesses to be listed, and he is working with the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce to link to additional resources for business assistance.
• CITY AND COUNTY
He also built a www.SupportOtsego.com for businesses outside the city, and is working on similar pages for Delhi and Schoharie County.
The SupportOtsego page will also host the county’s Economic Impact Task Force survey, aimed at helping understand what businesses need to recover. (That task force and a Health Care one, appointed by county board Chair Dave Bliss last week, are aimed at getting more people involved in tackling today’s foremost local challenges.”)
“I’ve been getting a lot of questions about relief efforts, loan availability and how to access those programs,” said Cassandra Harrington, DMOC executive director. “We put together this survey to make sure we know what the businesses need.”
The survey asks questions on whether businesses are remaining open or haven’t opened yet, how many employees they have, and how they promote their business.
“Businesses want to present a unified front,” she said. “We want to get them all together in a digital format so they can compare and be fair to their customers.”
The surveys will be collected throughout the week and analyzed at the task forces’ next meeting.
• LINING UP EXPERTS
Meanwhile, Oliver, the freshman county representative, has put together a growing list for county residents looking for educational resources, food pantries and restaurant deals, healthcare information and more.
“When the crisis began, there was just this onslaught of Facebook posts,” he said. “And I thought we needed a centralized location of all this information.”
Working with LEAF Executive Director Julie Dostal and Elyane Mosher Campoli, a local event organizer, Oliver put together the Google Doc. “Each school district, for instance, has its own food pickup, so we have a category for that,” he said. “We’ve got educational and entertainment pages, health info, deliveries and child care.”
There’s even a section for stress management and volunteers, and many of the services available are no-cost or a low-cost service.
And Oliver is hoping that people will add their own resources to the list.
“We’re really looking for people who are willing to do deliveries of groceries or medicine, or who might be willing to offer pet or child care,” he said.
ONEONTA — The traditional swearing-ins were Wednesday, Jan. 1, in Common Council chambers, but swearing-in with a hand on the Bible was one tradition that may be waning.
When each of the nine candidates approached the podium, City Judge Lucy Bernier asked them if they would like to place their hand on the Bible, or on the U.S. Constitution.
Three of the nine – seven Council members and two county reps – chose the Constitution.
“I figure upholding a political office and upholding the law of the United States, which is the Constitution, relates more to my job politically than the Bible does,” said Jill Basile, sworn in as the city’s District 14 county board representative.“I understand and value the tradition of swearing on the Bible, but I also understand and value that people are different, religions are different, and being able to make a choice is powerful.”
Basile hopes others feel the same. “I think that folks should embrace differences and someone swearing-in on a Constitution shouldn’t affect how people perceive them doing their job as an elected official,” she said.
Council member John Rafter, Seventh Ward, who also swore on the Constitution, insisted “people can use anything to swear on. They don’t have to choose between two. It’s simply a swearing-in, and where my hand is is irrelevant. I can swear on ‘Finnegan’s Wake’” – the James Joyce classic – “if I want, because I believe in it very strongly.”
Sixth Ward Council member Scott Harrington, however, chose the Bible out of habit. “I didn’t give it a thought,” he said. “I think it’s both tradition and my personal belief. Like when I got married. You make the promise. When I make that promise I’m answering to honesty and integrity.”
And there’s family heritage . “When my dad took the oath of office, he got sworn in on the Bible,” he said. “Maybe it’s just my upbringing.”
The most youthful member of the county board, Clark Oliver, made a stand for tradition “mostly out of respect for my family. I was raised Christian and I’m currently a member at the First Presbyterian Church in Oneonta,” he said. “I recognize that there’s a separation of church and state and totally respect my colleagues. It was a personal choice. I think it’s a choice that every official should be able to make,” he said.
But according to Otsego County Judge Brian D. Burns, swearing-in on the Constitution is relatively new.
“I’ve personally never seen anyone swear-in on the Constitution,” he said. “From my experience, that’s new.” In 20 years administering oaths of office in Cooperstown, everyone’s sworn on the Bible.
From a legal standpoint, however, signing a state-required form, not the oath, affirms elected officials’ status. “Each public official has to sign a sworn oath and that’s the action that really counts,” he said.
Historically, at least three presidents did not use the Bible for their oath of office. John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce both used a book of law and Theodore Roosevelt raised his right hand in place of a text.
“There is no issue about putting your hand on the Bible or the Constitution or the
Koran,” said Council member David Rissberger, Third Ward. “When you are sworn into the office you are promising to the people that elected you that you will uphold the constitution and do the best job possible. When you put your hand on something you are saying that this what you believe in. I swore on the Bible, but I would feel just as comfortable swearing on the Constitution.”
And Mayor Gary Herzig echoed this perspective.
“There is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, but it’s not a requirement,” he said. “We have people serving office of many different religions and some who don’t follow any religion, so for that reason we are not going to tell people that their only option is to put a hand on the Bible.”
Editor’s Note: This is the last of three profiles of new members of the Otsego County Board of Representatives who will take office Jan. 1.
By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – It was in elementary school that Clark Oliver realized he would always have to fight for what he believed in.
“Maybe if your kid didn’t wear pink shoes, he wouldn’t get bullied,” a teacher told Oliver’s mom, Karen.
“I was a young gay person,” he said. “Growing up in this town was hard. I experienced bullying at different times in elementary school and that was my catalyst. I want any kid to wear pink shoes and be safe in school.”
And years later, that moment would be one of many that inspired Oliver to venture into politics, now becoming the youngest Otsego County Board member in the history of the county.
“More than just voting matters, activism and direct involvement matters,” he said.
But it wasn’t until 2012, when gay marriage was legalized, that Oliver recognized the influence of politics.
“I knew the fight that was going on. I knew that gay people couldn’t get married in many parts of this country, but I saw the White House lit up in rainbow and I realized that people we had elected did that and that voting matters,” he said. “That was the moment I realized the power of politics.”
Oliver, an Oneonta native, attended Valleyview Elementary from kindergarten to fifth grade, before going on the national tour with “101 Dalmatians,” playing one of the puppies.
He graduated from Oneonta High School in 2016 and recently graduated from SUNY Oneonta. During that time, he decided to join the Young Democrats and by August, became the president.
“I wanted to make sure that Democrats were better represented in Otsego County. When I became president, there were four Democrats and 10 Republicans on county board. That disproportionate of a tilt was not OK with me.”
For Oliver, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the election of Donald Trump in 2016. “I had a large desire to do more after I saw the election of Donald Trump and the dysfunction in Washington,” he said.
His idea was the Young Democrats would help hold back the Republican majority in Otsego County in the fall of 2017.
“We now have seven Republicans and seven Democrats,” he said. “The Young Democrats were the primary driving force behind that shift. We enacted a ground game that hadn’t been present before – knocking on doors and organizing phone banks. We also had a candidate in 13/14 districts. It was unprecedented.”
Afterwards, he spent time helping Brian Flynn during his Congressional Primary campaign in the spring of 2018 and later managed Joyce St. George’s state Senate campaign.
“We increased the Democratic vote share by 10 percent and I’m really proud of that,” he said.
When Gary Koutnik retired from county board in early 2019, he endorsed Oliver.
“I prioritize and want to encourage youth involvement in politics. I wanted to show young people that they’re just as qualified, just as capable as anyone in office.”
Clark has plans for when he takes his seat in January, starting with the county administrator position.
“Now that it has passed, I want to make sure that we hire the right person. I would like to see it be someone outside of county government,” the new representative said.
Get to know Oneonta’s Clark Oliver. You likely will be hearing a lot about him on the political scene in years to come.
A senior poli-sci major at SUNY Oneonta, he will be finishing his degree in December just in time to take office Jan. 1, as he’s running unopposed in the county board’s District 11 (Oneonta’s Ward 1-2).
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In the past couple weeks, two fellow Democratic candidates – Hall of Fame grantsman Caitlin Ogden, who is running against Rick Brockway in District 3, and Hanford Mills Director of Education Luke Murphy, who, learning Common Council member Michele Frazier is moving to Delhi, mounted an energetic write-in campaign in Oneonta’s Ward One – report they were inspired to run by Oliver’s enthusiasm and encouragement, as well as Village Trustee MacGuire Benton.
In an interview, Oliver – he’s a gutsy young guy, smart and talented: you may remember that, as a boy, he performed in the Broadway hit, “101 Dalmatians,” on its national tour – said he also encouraged Jill Basile to run for county rep in District 14, and Kaytee Lipari Shue to run for Common Council in Ward 4.
Disillusioned, then motivated, by President Trump, Oliver issues are a little general – transparency, fiscal responsibility, environmental sustainability, etc. — still to be precisely defined.
“Each of us is running to make our communities a better place – we aren’t necessarily a slate,” he said. “A lot of young people are excited and passionate about running for office. At many levels of government we don’t see young people represented. I’m inspired we all decided to run at the same time, and happy to see a change in local politics.”
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal
ONEONTA – Community engagement doesn’t have a minimum age requirement.
MacGuire Benton, 21, of Cooperstown, and two Oneontans, Clark Oliver, 21, and Wilson Wells, 23, have all thrown their hats into the ring of local politics.
“Our age group is horrible about voting,” said Oliver. “And I think part of that is that we don’t have people who look like us running for office.”
Benton is already in: Tuesday, March 19, he was elected to an uncontested, one-year seat on the Cooperstown Village Board. “I never thought I’d be a politician,” he said. “But my engagement in the community has led me to public service.”
Oliver and Wells are both running for seats on the Otsego County Board of Representatives.
Wells, an independent, also ran for the District 14 seat in 2017. This time he’s facing Democrat Jennifer Basile for a seat now held by Democrat Liz Shannon, who’s stepping down at the end of her term.
Oliver is running in District 11 to succeed the board’s vice chairman, Gary Koutnik, who is also retiring.
Petitions do not have to be filed until April 1-4, so more candidates may surface for both seats.
While they’re young, the three candidates have experience working for political campaigns.
Benton, the former chair of the Otsego County Young Democrats, worked last year for both Bryan Flynn’s 19th Congressional primary campaign and on the campaign of state Sen. Jen Metzger, whose 14th District runs from south of Poughkeepsie to across southern Delaware County.
Oliver, current chair of the county’s Young Democrats (a job Benton held before him) was the campaign staff for Joyce St. George’s Senate campaign against state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford.
Wells, a SUNY Oneonta graduate with a double major in Political Science and Criminal Justice, worked the reelection campaign of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
For Wells, his campaign’s key issue is transparency. “I’m not focused on party politics,” he said. “I have a vision of the government for the people, by the people.”
He has pledged weekly town halls with not just his constituents, but anyone who wants to meet with him. “And I plan to explain every vote and why I voted the way I did,” he said. “I don’t want there to be any questions. I want it all on the table.”
Oliver, meanwhile, is focused on putting the County Administrator/Manager debate to rest. “The manager (system) works in other counties,” he said. “So much of what the County Board does in their meetings could be done by a manager, so that we can empower the legislature to spend more time innovating instead.”
“My biggest concern is that an unelected manager wouldn’t be accountable to the people,” Wells countered. “We need some sort of administrator, but I think it needs to be an elected position.”
Oliver said that, if elected, he will push for a conclusion on the administrator/manager discussion. “It’s time we deliver,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we’re being left behind.”
All three agreed that climate change and sustainability is a key focus of their campaigns. “It’s reflective of the younger generation, regardless of party,” said Oliver. “If we don’t act now, we won’t be able to move forward.”
Both Oliver and Wells agreed redevelopment of the D&H railyards is necessary if Oneonta is to grow in the future, and agreed that environmental sustainability must work hand-in-hand with economic sustainability.
“I’d like to see, for every $1 spent in the railyards on fossil fuels, another dollar spent for green energy,” said Clark. “I really want to bring economic and environmental stakeholders together.”
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting a ton of money in fossil fuels in the railyards,” agreed Wells. “But sustainability is most efficient at the local level, rather than the federal.”
For his part, Benton wants to keep sustainability at the front of his mind on the Village Board.
“In a county where we rely so much on agriculture and tourism, we have to keep our county clean and beautiful,” he said. “A lot has been accomplished, and I want to continue that good management. For example, could we look into a community buy-in for solar? Sustainability is a passion of mine.”
While Benton get acclimated in his new role, Oliver and wells will be campaigning until Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 5.
“I want to get a record-breaking turnout,” said Oliver. “I plan on knocking on every door in my district. This isn’t about being partisan. It’s about bettering our community.”
ONEONTA – Today is the first day petitions may be circulated for this fall’s local elections, and a surprise has already surfaced: Gary Koutnik, Democratic vice chair of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, plans to retire. This time of life comes to everyone at different points, but whatever age you are when you decide to leave work, take a look at these retirement tips to see how to make the most of it.
The news surfaced in a press release from Clark Oliver, who chairs the county’s Young Democrats organization, announcing he plans to run in Koutnik’s District 11 in Oneonta.