On Saturday, September 10, about a dozen SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick students joined several community volunteers in a long-overdue clean-up of the triangle at the intersection of Main Street and Lettis Highway in the City of Oneonta.
“The city’s lack of funds and staffing had put the maintenance of this entrance to Oneonta on a backburner,” Mark Drnek, Mayor of Oneonta, said. “But a local resident, Wendy Slicer, saw an opportunity to engage the community in an effort that would not only benefit the appearance of this important downtown plot, but also enlist the assistance of students from both colleges in collaboration.”
Last week, the community lost an exceptional friend in Bob Schlather. Those who attended the Mass at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Cooperstown on Saturday were graciously asked upon entry if they were with a particular organization, to be shown where others from their group were seated. This spoke volumes about Bob, who was involved in a dizzying array of groups and causes encompassing healthcare, human services, education, arts, historical associations, Rotary — basically, anything established for the betterment of the community. And it was with compassion, dedication, gentleness and a legendary and comforting sense of humor that Bob jumped into his volunteer roles as advisor, advocate, contributor and leader. In her homily during the Mass, the Rev. Betsy Jay referred to Bob as “invincible;” he was always there to get things done, and he did so with understated deliberation.
The Glimmerglass Festival was incredibly fortunate to be a keystone cause of Bob’s. He and his wife, Karen, first became involved as volunteers and supporters in 1979, when the Opera was still in its infancy. By 1984 he was elected to the Board and during his nearly 40 years as a Trustee, Bob served as: Treasurer for seven, Vice President of Personnel for four, Vice President of Legal Affairs, Chairman of the Audit Committee, an At-Large member
of the Executive Committee, and importantly, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for an impressive six years — in tandem with Peter Duchin as his President, with whom he then swapped the Presidency and Chairmanship positions for a year.
Cooperstown resident Liz Callahan will bring her more than 25 years of experience in leading non-profit organizations in the region when she steps in as Executive Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schoharie and Otsego Counties (CCE SO) on April 12.
“Cornell Cooperative Extension is all about community resilience,” Ms. Callahan said in a conversation with The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta. “The entire staff has a deep commitment to help families, farms, and individuals find answers that will work for them. The healthier our smaller units – our families, for instance – the healthier the communities will be.”
CCE SO, affiliated with Cornell University as part of the national land grant university system, is a non-profit community education agency. CCE helps preserve the region’s agricultural heritage, protect ecological infrastructure, support families, and provide youth opportunities for community service and research-based education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Ms. Callahan grew up in Western New York, where she participated in 4-H, served as a VISTA volunteer, and moved to Cooperstown in 1991 to pursue her Master’s in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program.
“Cooperative Extension is so much bigger than its visible role in 4-H,” she said. “The resources we have aren’t solidly defined with sharp corners. We’re focused on figuring out what communities need; that’s something that will be different in the rural and less rural parts of our counties.”
“Using the talents of the professional staff we have on hand and the resources of the Extension system, I know we can provide practical and constructive responses,” she said.
CCE SO’s remit spans a spectrum addressing the needs of long-established family farms to start-up agricultural endeavors, from professional gardeners to home hobbyists, from families needing
PUMPKIN CENTERPIECE – 6 – 7 p.m. Get ready for Thanksgiving with Branch & Bloom. Create a centerpiece from pumpkins, fresh flowers to take home. Registration required, cost $10/person. Huntington Memorial Library, 62 Chestnut St., Oneonta. 607-432-1980 or visit www.facebook.com/hmloneonta/
The truism, “not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done” – actually, it’s a famed quote from a 1924 British legal case – should apply to court proceedings and – if credibility is to be maintained – to democratic government generally.
With intent interest, the citizens of Otsego County have observed the wheels of justice turn since Memorial Day Weekend 2016, after it surfaced that a resident of Focus Otsego, identified only as M.P., had been left sitting in a chair, largely untended, for 41 hours.
In the subsequent months, four aides and LPNs responsible for M.P.’s care faced criminal charges and were convicted. The state Attorney General’s Office then took up the case, and brought nine charges against two top executives at Focus Healthcare, the Rockland County corporation that owned former county nursing home in Index, Town of Hartwick.
The Focus CEO, Joseph Zupnik, and the financial officer, Daniel Herman, were found guilty of one count of neglect, a misdemeanor, on Sept. 12 in Otsego Town Court. On Oct. 10, Town Justice Gary Kuch fined each of them $1,000 and sentenced each to 250 hours of community service. (The state has also fined the men $1 million, which they will split.)
So far, the proceedings have been transparent. Now, it appears the public is limited to what it can learn about the final step – how and where the 250 hours will be served.
The defendants’ lawyers asked that the men fulfill their obligation near their homes, Zupnik in Rockland County, where he is an EMT, and Herman in New Jersey.
The attorney general’s prosecutor, Kathleen Boland, argued the responsibility should be fulfilled in Otsego County. Judge Kuch sagely observed: “Doing community service at something you love doing – it doesn’t make any sense to me.”
However, he noted court rules prevent him from even making a recommendation. That decision is now in the hands of Alternatives to Incarceration, which has been administered under contract with the county since April 2011 by the Catholic Charities chapter, based in Oneonta.
The director, Ameen Aswad, will immediately tell you he can’t talk about specific cases, but he said that, generally, he assigns defendants referred to him to tasks within the county. The exception can come in cases where a guilty party was visiting for a short period from somewhere far away.
The nursing home’s Family Council has expressed no preference about where the community service should be done, according to its secretary, Bill Hayes.
In a letter to Kuch, Hayes and his wife, Betsy, Family Council chair, urge the men serve their time in “a residential facility’s laundry room, processing soiled garments and the equivalent of the ubiquitous brown washcloths they ordered for residents’ personal hygiene.” However, Bill Hayes said the couple has no firm opinion where the service should be, either.
Here’s another view: The case occurred in Otsego County; the community service should be done in Otsego County. Justice that can’t be observed is justice taken on faith. Is that good enough?
Be that as it may, Aswad said that Alternatives to Incarceration – it is overseen by a 19-person advisory board that includes police, judges, people from community services agencies, even a representative of the college – hasn’t made public what service culprits are required to perform or where.
The Committee on Open Government, which provides advice on the state’s Freedom of Information Law, says that court records are specifically exempt from FOIL. But if, in fact, Alternatives to Incarceration is a county agency – like, for instance, the probation department – it would be subject to FOIL.
There’s no reason why it should get to that.
There are differences of opinion on Zupnik and Herman’s community service. Given the high profile and emotions excited by M.P.’s case, it might make sense – and this may be argued otherwise, too – to allow the culprits to fulfill their obligation without publicity.
This is certain: When it’s over, there should a public accounting. The Alternatives to Incarceration board owes that to the public, for its own credibility if nothing else.
Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.
► Click Here to read report on the October 10 sentencing of FOCUS executives Joseph Zupnik and Daniel Herman in Otsego Town Court.
DAYLIGHT SAVINGS ENDS – 2 a.m. Turn clocks back one hour!
THEATER – 2 p.m. The Catskill Community Players present comedy drama “All in the Timing” consisting of six comic sketches about language, life, and complicated romances. Wieting Theater, 168 Main St., Worcester. Call 607-397-8500 or visit catskillplayers.org
FALL CLEAN UP – 1-4 p.m. Have fun outdoors and prepare the gardens for winter. No experience required, tools provided. Rain or shine. Brookwood Point, 6000 St. Hwy. 80, Cooperstown. call 607-547-2366 or visit otsegolandtrust.org