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News of Otsego County

Constitution

NYS SHERIFFS: 10 Per Table? A Step Too Far
LETTER from NEW YORK STATE SHERIFFS ASSOCIATION

10 Per Table? A Step Too Far

Editor’s Note: The New York State Sheriff’s Department issued this statement Monday, Nov. 23, saying local sheriffs lack the resources to enforce Governor Cuomo’s edict requiring
that no more than 10 New Yorkers celebrate Thanksgiving together.
This is an excerpt.

Governor Cuomo issued an Executive Order which limits “non-essential private residential gatherings” to no more than 10 individuals.

That has caused great consternation among many of our citizens, who envision armed officers arriving at their doors to count the number of people around the Thanksgiving table.

Many Sheriffs and other law enforcement leaders have felt compelled to allay those concerns by assuring citizens that officers will not be randomly coming to their homes on Thanksgiving Day to count the number of people inside.

That would be neither practical nor Constitutional.

The Governor has responded by dismissing those serious concerns on the part of local law enforcement, saying, “Law enforcement officers don’t get to pick and choose which laws they will enforce.”

We find that comment ironic, and disingenuous, since the Governor has directed that his own State Police do not have to enforce the order. Apparently, it is another case of “do as I say, not as I do,” such as we have seen with many other political leaders.

He has also called sheriffs “dictators” for following the Constitution rather than his orders, which we also find ironic.

We do not know if the Governor’s limit on home gatherings to ten individuals is the right number or not. That is a decision for science, not us, to make.

We do know, however, that the Governor has attempted to foist upon local law enforcement an impossible task. How are officers to know, without violating citizens’ right to privacy and other Constitutional rights, how many people are in the home?

How are they to determine if the family gathering is to be deemed “essential” or “nonessential?” …All of those are serious questions which make it impossible for law enforcement to know how to legally enforce the Governor’s order. They are questions that could have been addressed if we had a functioning State Legislature, creating clear and enforceable laws after input from those who would be impacted by them.

Instead we are faced with an unenforceable dictate issued without any consultation with law enforcement or the public as to enforceability.

We believe that rather than issuing orders that cannot be practically enforced, and then blaming law enforcement when they are not enforced, the Governor would better serve the people of New York if he were to use his position to encourage citizens to use common sense and voluntarily adhere to the guidance of state and federal health officials…

We urge you to listen to our public health officials.

We urge you to limit your exposure to those outside your household as much as you reasonably can. If we all do that, we will sooner be able to get back to normal.

We in law enforcement do not have the resources nor the legal authority to force you to do those things.

It is a matter of individual respon-sibility and we are confident that you will all voluntarily rise to the occasion.

What To Swear-On On? Bible? Constitution?

What To Swear-In On?

Bible? Constitution?

Common Council member Mark Drnek takes oath. Wife Betsy Holland holds Bible. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

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.”

For Now, Only Choice In Sheriff’s Race Is For Due Process

Editorial for September 7, 2018

For Now, Only

Choice In Sheriff’s

Race Is For Due Process

A letter to the editor the other week drew on the Biblical injunction, “The son shall not suffer for the sins of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquities of the son.” And surely that’s as it should be.
That said, it’s legitimate for open-minded citizens to question how county Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. has handled the situation involving his son, Ros, a correctional officer in the jail his father administers since it surfaced in January 2017. At the least, the situation is an awkward one; at worst, a dangerous one.
In effect, according
to a court decision on a
related matter made public on March 31, 2017, Ros Devlin told a fellow C-O he was thinking of committing suicide in front of his disciplining supervisor at the county jail, after first creating a diversion by shooting up an Oneonta or Milford school. (To read the decision for yourself, type “devlin judge’s order” in the search line at www.AllOTSEGO.com)
From the beginning, the sheriff has stood steadfastly by his son, who was suspended for more than a year – albeit, with pay; since March, without pay – by the Otsego County Board of Representatives.
The sheriff claimed a “witchhunt” was in progress; that his downfall was intended, not his son’s.

Devlin
Fernandez

If Ezekiel was right
about sons and fathers, his declaration should be equally valid for wives
and husbands.
That said, it’s legitimate for open-minded citizens to question the role of Kathy Clark, R-Otego, former county board chair – and a tough-minded and determined one – in engineering her husband, Bob Fernandez’s, challenge to Devlin after Fernandez’s retirement from the state police.
In New York State, the sheriff’s position – as with county clerk – is a constitutional office, filled by election, not appointment by a county board. There’s good reason for ensuring a sheriff’s independence: to keep law enforcement and politics separate.
Clark championing of her husband sought to breach that sensible divide.
Further problematic was the engineering of Fernandez’s Democratic endorsement. It grew out of a longtime personal friendship between Kathy Clark and Oneonta’s former Democratic mayor, Kim Muller, who for the time being is county Democratic chair. (She expects to step down when the county committee meets in early October.)
There’s no secret. Both acknowledge close ties between their families going back decades, when their children played in the same soccer league. Still, as you can imagine, the Fernandez endorsement has caused a rift among the Democratic rank and file.

For his part, Devlin has argued he didn’t trust the county board, under Kathy Clark’s chairmanship, to fairly investigate his son.
To his credit, when David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield, succeeded Clark this past Jan. 3, Devlin then reached out to Bliss, and in March agreed to recuse himself, allowing the board chair to order a medical examination of the son to determine if he is fit to continue as a jail guard.
The good news is: A process is in place. In interview this week, Bliss said the medical examination by a downstate physician who specializes in matters involving law-enforcement personnel is expected by mid-month.
Once the report is submitted, Bliss, in consultation with the county’s personnel lawyers and County Attorney Ellen Coccoma will decide on an appropriate course of action. He said he will keep county reps advised of developments and welcome inputs.
If the decision is made to discipline Ros Devlin, “the officer still has rights,” the board chair said. The younger Devlin could challenge any decision in court. Meanwhile, he will remain off the job without pay.
The bad news, from the perspective if the electorate, it’s unlikely the situation will be resolved before the Nov. 6 general election, Bliss said.

All this matters right now because the first match-up between Devlin and Fernandez comes Thursday, Sept. 13, in a local Republican primary. (That’s Thursday, not Tuesday, which is 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah.) The polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. across Otsego County for registered Republicans.
The vote will not necessarily settle anything. If Devlin, endorsed by the Republican county committee last March, wins, Fernandez has the Democratic county committee endorsement; he will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot anyhow.
If Fernandez were to win the Republican primary, Devlin would still appear on three lines – Conservative, Independent and Reform – on the November ballot.

The world is an imperfect place, as we know from our lives and experiences. We often have to choose between imperfect options, and this is one of those cases.
Yet, on the one hand, there is due process, independent of Sheriff Devlin’s control, that we can hope will resolve thinking people’s concerns – either clearing Ros Devlin, or removing him from his position permanently.
On the other hand, there is no due process, only cronyism and the potential that an alliance between husband and wife will inject politics into law enforcement.
For now, the only option is to vote for due process. For the time being, that option is Richard J. Devlin Jr.

 

ZAGATA: Is There No Way To Stop Child Separations?

Column by Mike Zagata, July 6, 2018

Is There No Way To

Stop Child Separations?

Mike Zagata

Most of us are the descendants of immigrants who legally entered the country via
Ellis Island.
As Americans, we should be proud that people want to come to our country. However, there are laws that control the rate of entry and processes to follow in adhering to those laws.
Today we’re besieged with a media blitz focused on the separation of children from adults caught entering illegally while they are subjected to our legal system.
Instead of jumping to the child separation issue, maybe we should stop and ask what it is that caused the separation, i.e. what are the adults
being processed for?
It turns out they have broken the law by illegally entering the country. Thus, it seems logical that any debate about immigration should begin there.
There are already at least two laws on the books that address these illegal border crossings, but they have, by several past presidents, largely been ignored.
Those presidents all took an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the land so they bear some of the responsibility for our current dilemma.
Congress passed the current laws and therefore they have the Constitutional authority to either amend them or pass new ones to address illegal immigration. Where is the media when it comes to asking Congress why it has been unwilling to fix the problem?
Now let’s address the topic of children being separated from their accompanying adults. Why did I say “adults” and not “parents”?
The answer is really quite simple – we have no easy way of determining if the adults are the actual parents of the children they are with.
We say that should be easy, and then are confronted with the fact that 50,000 people illegally cross the border each month. It takes months to do a background check on a U.S. citizen who was born here. We don’t have “months” to determine if the accompanying adults are the actual parents and if they have a criminal record.
However, we do have a legal process for deciding how to handle these illegal immigrants, but that process takes time. What do we do with the children in the meantime?
Do we put them in with other adults for whom we have no background information? Would doing so increase the likelihood of real child abuse?
Do we build, at taxpayer expense, holding facilities for the “families” – remember, there are 50,000 new ones each month. That would require a massive infrastructure to build and staffing it would be very expensive.
Do we simply put those caught illegally crossing the border on a bus and send them back – where is “back”?
Why not just release them at the border until their hearing date? That’s what’s been done in the past and about 80 percent don’t show up at the appointed court date. One could say they are the smart ones and soon after they blend into the overall population and the issue just goes away – or does it?

Because of our heritage and compassion, we all want those who wish to immigrate to our country to have the opportunity to do it legally. No one wants to see children entering a new country separated, even for a short time, from adults who may be their parents.
To address that concern, a broken immigration system needs to be fixed – not a tinkering, but a comprehensive overhaul.
If you, like me, want that done, please let your congressman and senator know that you understand it is them, not the President, who makes the laws and thus they have the power and responsibility to get it done.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and a former environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

MORGAN: On Fourth Of July, Love Letter To America

Column by Tom Morgan, July 6, 2018

Money Talk

On Fourth Of July,

Love Letter To America

Tom Morgan

We find dollops of hatred on the menu this 4th of July.
Facebook bristles with diatribes. As do various social media portals. Politicians screech insults. Hollywood stars spit gutter language at the President. Mobs drive White House staff and their families from restaurants. Academics rev up poisonous demonstrations. They fill young minds with anti-American bile. News networks blister the administration. Endlessly. Protests morph into hatefests.
Scratch the surface of all this. You will soon come upon a layer of people who dislike the foundations of this country. They discredit the U.S. with a list of complaints: Europeans nearly annihilated Native Americans. They enslaved Africans and made millions from their labor. Tycoons steamrolled the working class. The U.S. invaded countries whose governments we did not like. We toppled leaders elsewhere. We interned Japanese in WWII. We humiliated and denied blacks their civil rights. We suppressed women. We punished gays. Big oil buys our politicians. The list is a mile long.
Therefore, this country is illegitimate. Or should not be admired and celebrated. Or so these folks argue. They tell us the pages of our history are blotted with the blood of innocents. Our history stinks of injustices. And reeks of racism. And misogyny. Our Constitution was written by slave-holders and bigots.
You have heard these and more attacks on the legitimacy of the U.S. Let me proclaim that a lot of this is true. Actually, all of it.
So, what is there to celebrate about this country? Well, first, let us put our history in perspective. Name a significant country whose closet is not crammed with similar skeletons. Racism and slavery were not invented here. Invasions? There have been thousands. Injustices? From racial to religious to sexual, they choke the pages of history.
If we get real, we have to admit a sorry truth: Human activities are chock-a-block with evil. Everywhere you travel on this earth you find evidence of people beating up on people. Now and in the past. From the holocausts of Auschwitz to those of the Khmer Rouge and Rwanda. From the Irish famine to Stalin and Mao’s slaughter of millions. From Soviet gulags to Cuba’s imprisonment of its people.
My point? In the midst of this horrible behavior some countries have managed to create something good for their people. Some have guaranteed power to the people, through the ballot box. Some have created honest courts. Some have shed reservoirs of blood to defend human rights. Some have created and protected basic rights and liberties for their people.
Some have protected free speech. Some have gradually dismantled wretchedly unfair racist laws and customs. Some have created vast systems to care for the poor and disadvantaged. And produced wealth enough to fund such systems. Some have sent their troops abroad to fight for the liberty of others. Some have shared their wealth with poor nations and their people. Some have made education possible for all their children.
The world has always been a haven of evil. It simply is and has been and always will be. However, the world also contains goodness and decency, love and respect.
Confronted by those who hate this country, I can make a case that America is also blessed. With an abundance of goodness and decency, love and respect. I can make a case that we have more of such than most countries. And that many countries would have little of such, had we not come to their rescue.
I can make a case that despite humanity’s evil activities, this country is a decent place to live for most. Perhaps you disagree. If so, why do so many millions risk their lives to come here? And why do so few flee when things don’t go their way?
Some folks focus on the half-empty glasses of America. I look out on the world and see countless half-empty glasses. And many that are utterly empty and crushed. I look to America and see much to appreciate, admire and be grateful for.
From Tom…as in Morgan.

Tom Morgan, retired investment counselor in Oneonta who writes a nationally syndicated column, lives in Franklin.

ZAGATA: Doctor-Patient Discussions Private? Little By Little, Confidentiality Goes

Column by Mike Zagata, June 8, 2018

Doctor-Patient Discussions

Private? Little By Little,

Confidentiality Goes

Mike Zagata

Are there circumstances where it’s OK to violate your privacy? It might be OK if you make an informed decision to allow that to happen – but what if you don’t?
Have you heard of HIPPA – the Health insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996? If you have, you probably have a sense of comfort that it protects conversations your doctor has about your care or treatment with nurses and others.
Does it really do that, and are there times when it’s OK for your doctor, now known as your primary-care physician, to divulge information learned about you during a visit to law enforcement officials?
Does the doctor face an obligation to do so? It’s not your doctor’s fault if they do as they didn’t volunteer to assist your government.

Why these questions? If you’ve had a recent doctor’s appointment, the following questions might sound familiar: “Do you feel secure at home?” and, “Are you depressed?”
What is likely to happen if you answer “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second?
If you’re a firearms owner, you’re likely to receive a visit from the state police and see your firearms depart with them. You may also receive a visit from the folks at Social Services in an effort to determine if you’re the victim of spousal abuse.
The goal is to reduce the likelihood of domestic or other forms of violence, e.g. school shootings. That’s a laudable goal. However, does it, at the same time, violate your right to privacy and lead to the breakdown of the doctor-patient relationship? Is it the best way to achieve the goal?
As with most issues like this, there will likely be opinions on both sides of the issue. That’s one of the many benefits of living in America. The fact that we are losing our privacy right at an alarming rate is just that – fact.
The debate has already been held – by someone somewhere – and the decision made to allow that to happen.
Do you want your driving habits to be recorded each time make a trip to the grocery store or church? Do you want your location recorded each time you dial a number or utter a voice command on your cell phone? Do you wonder why you receive certain e-mails from marketers who seem to know your buying habits?

Yes, our cars and mobile phones offer convenience – but at what cost? To those of us who are older, this cost represents change and thus we are likely to be aware that it is happening. But what about the next generation?
This is life as they know it and therefore not perceived by them as a threat. You can be certain there will be more change – change they may then perceive as a threat because it’s different from that to which they are now accustomed.
It will happen incrementally over time and, at some later date, those of us still alive will awaken to the fact our lives are no longer recognizable and ask: “What happened?”

Mike Zagata, DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and environmental executive in Fortune 500 companies, resides in West Davenport.

HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for TUESDAY, FEB. 28
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for TUESDAY, FEB. 28

Learn About The NYS Constitution

14-19eventspage

CONSTITUTION EDUCATION – 7 p.m. The League of Women Voters will present a program on the NYS Constitutional Convention which voters have the option of calling for this fall. Moderated by Betsy Jay. Program is free and open to public. Village Meeting room, Cooperstown Village Library. Info, www.lwvny.org/programs-studies/con-con-edu.html

NARCAN TRAINING – 3-4 p.m. Free class to learn to administer narcan in an emergency. Receive certificate and free narcan kit upon completion. Friends of Recovery of Delaware and Otsego Counties, 22 Elm St., Oneonta. Info, www.friendsofrecoverydo.org/events

Buses From Coop, Oneonta Will Go To Pipeline Protest

Buses From Coop, Oneonta

Will Go To Pipeline Protest

PrintBuses will be leaving from Oneonta and Cooperstown to a rally against the Constitution Pipeline Tuesday, April 5.  Reserve a seat at StopThePipeline.org or contact Otsego 2000 at admin@otsego2000.org,  547-8881.

The rally will be in Capital Park in Albany, and participants will March to the state Department of Environmental Conservation offices.   The DEC must deny the Constitution’s water quality certificate by the end of April or the project with move forward without it.

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