COOPERSTOWN – After tabling the measure two weeks ago, the county Board of Representatives today rallied behind Destination Marketing of Otsego County, with nine reps rejecting a resolution to reduce funding for its promotional arm from 15 percent to 24 percent.
Rep. Andrew Stammel, D-Town of Oneonta, proposed the larger cut for DMCOC, saying, “With the present state of the industry” – tourism – “we’re not going to be doing as much in this atmosphere.” Michele Farwell, D-Morris, second the motion.
COOPERSTOWN – After a 2½-hour executive session, the Otsego County Board of Representatives emerged this afternoon to vote, 9-4, with one absence, to lay off 58 employees, saving $1 million in the face of plummeting revenues caused by the coronavirus threat.
The meeting, the second this month, was called specifically to decide on layoffs.
Four Democratic county representatives voted nay: Michele Farwell, Gilbertsville; and three Oneontans, Andrew Stammel and freshmen Clark Oliver and Jill Basile. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, had participated in the Facebook Live meeting, but was absent for the vote.
COOPERSTOWN – Saying “most people understand HPPA and privacy implications,” county board Chair Dave Bliss told his colleagues today Otsego County residents will only be given gross numbers about the coronavirus infestation.
However, he said, individuals and families may “self-disclose,” he said.
Some larger counties are releasing data by town, but “guidance from the state is that smaller counties with smaller population have the right not to disclose, which is what we’ve decided to do,” since people might be able to determine who the individuals are.
COOPERSTOWN – Richard Sternberg, saying he was acting on behalf of the Susquehanna SPCA, told what appeared to be a partly surprised county Board of Representatives this evening that the Shelter will begin unilaterally levying fees Jan. 1 on county entities and towns that require its services.
“We will be initiating a billing system,” said Sternberg, the retired Bassett surgeon and Cooperstown village trustee, who said he was acting as an adviser to the Shelter’s Board of Directors.
Speaking at the public hearing on the 2020 county budget at the county courthouse, he said when Executive Director Stacie Haynes’ time is required, a fee of $80 an hour will be levied, with quarter-hour increments. For other staff members, it will be a $40 hour fee, plus $30 per day for caring for each animal housed at the shelter, and 65 cent per mile mileage if staffers’ or Shelter vehicles are used.
“I don’t think (county government) is run as effectively as the people who elect us should demand it should be,” county Rep. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, inset at right, told the 10 people who attended an informational session this evening in Oneonta City Hall on the county Board of Representatives’ plan to create a $150,000 county manager job to run the $116 million operation. Members of the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee – chair Meg Kennedy, and county Reps. Michele Farwell, Liz Shannon, Andrew Marietta and Oberacker – repeated presentations they gave at last week’s monthly county board meeting. In the Q&A, Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, top photo, who works with a city manager, said policy questions will be still be debated in open meetings, but operational decisions – his example: which roads get paved – will be made out of the public eye. A second informational meeting – the League of Women Voters is running the sessions for the county board – will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the county courthouse in Cooperstown. The official public hearing will be at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, prior to the county board’s monthly meeting. Seated at rostrum in top photo are, from left, the League’s Stephanie Bauer, and county Representatives Gary Koutnik, David Bliss (chairman), Farwell, Shannon, Kennedy and, with back to camera, Andrew Stammel. Behind Herzig are two new county reps, Clark Oliver and Jill Basile.
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.”
LAURENS – When Caitlin Ogden was 11 and living in Palm Harbor, Fla., west of Tampa, her parents learned of a Black Arabian for sale near their native Elmira, and determined to buy it for their horse-loving daughter.
When they contacted the seller, it was gone. But the horse’s cousin, two months younger, was available.
Thrilled at the gift, Caitlin named it Black Knight, after a horse in the Thoroughbred Series novel she was reading at the time. She rode it, tended it, with no inkling of a danger ahead.
In August 2004, the news broke: Hurricane Charlie, Category 5 – the most dangerous classification – was headed for Palm Harbor. As recommended, she spray-painted her phone number on Knight’s side. The paddock gate was left open, in case her horse and the others needed to scatter in face of the storm.
The storm veered away, but for Ogden, already considering abandoning the busy Florida suburb with its congested roads for the pleasures of small town living, Charley settled it: She and her horse were moving north.
“I wanted some place to ride my horse in the woods, not on the street,” she said. “I wasn’t going to find that in Florida.”
Enrolling at Elmira College, she obtained a B.A. in History. Intrigued with a particular period, Ogden went on to SUNY Binghamton for a B.A. in Medieval Studies, while working as education services coordinator for the National Soaring Museum, Elmira.
She became interested in fundraising, and while earning her master’s (2018) at the Cooperstown Graduate School in Museum Studies, interned at the Roberson Museum in Binghamton, then in SUNY Oneonta’s development office, before joining the Baseball Hall of Fame as a grants writer.
She bought two acres in the Town of Laurens, near the former Edgewood Golf Course, big enough for her current horse, Leo – official name, Lucci the Lion. “I chose to settle here and call it my home,” she said in an interview at The Funny Farm, the restaurant and minimart on the Laurens/New Lisbon line.
Since 2016, “like many Americans, I was feeling stress and tension about how politics had become very divisive,” she said. Instead of “yelling at the TV set,” she volunteered for county Rep. Liz Shannon’s 2017 campaign.
There she met other politically minded young people, like Clark Oliver, who is running unopposed for county board in the City of Oneonta’s District 11, and MacGuire Benton, the Cooperstown village trustee and assistant Democratic elections commissioner.
“I’m doing my little part to get things back on track,” she said. Despite the national divide, “we have more similarities than differences.”
She has been going door to door every evening after work and 4-8 hours on weekends, “to get to know as many people as I can.”
Such hard work, she suggested, resulted in her winning the Independent Party primary in June. Her opponent’s was the only name on the ballot, but a write-in push won her the fall ballot line, 30-4.
“I’m quite honored they selected me by a large margin,” she said.
If elected, Ogden said she will seek to ensure the Cooperative Extension Service is sufficiently funded. (Its director, Don Smyser, was chided by county reps in September for a shortfall.)
Her goal is for local farmers to benefit from budgeting, grants and equipment, mental health and other available Cooperative Extension programs.
She favors rural broadband as soon as possible, noting satellite service is too expensive. Lack of broadband “is hurting property values; it’s hurting rural education,” she said.
She saluted the City of Oneonta for obtaining downtown-restoration grants, and said she will seek similar programs for downtown Laurens and Otego.
There no downtown in Laurens, she said, but she pointed to Rubera’s in downtown Otego, which began as a pizza parlor and has expanded serving lunch and dinner. It’s a model for others entrepreneurs to follow, she said.
Of her conversation at the last county board meeting with county Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, the woman whom Ogden would succeed, if elected, she said, “That was the first time I actually talked with her.”
Clark suggested Ogden increase the size of her name on roadside signs.
“I appreciated the fact that she was pleasant to a Democrat who might be her success,” Ogden said.
COOPERSTOWN – “He’s here. I know he’s here,” county board Chair David Bliss said around the noon hour, looking into Clerk of the Board Carol McGovern’s office through a door at the front left of the board meeting room.
Suddenly, there he was: Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19, all 6-foot-4 of him, who said he’d just driven up from his Rhinebeck home, two and a half hours away. Some of the attendees seemed aware he was showing up; others seemed genuinely surprised.
COOPERSTOWN – A vote on creating a county administrator position may come as soon as December, county Rep. Meg Kennedy, R-C/Mount Vision, told the county Board of Representatives meeting this morning.
“This is momentous,” reacted county Rep. Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, the board’s vice chairman. “We have a timeline!” Retiring at year’s end, he said hiring a county administrator would be the most important decision of his decade on the county board.
Kennedy told her colleagues $75,000 has been placed in to prospective 2020 county budget for this purpose, with the idea that, if the position is approved, it would take until mid-year for the recruitment and hiring process to be completed.
COOPERSTOWN – Failing to do so two months ago, the county Board of Representatives voted 12-2 to enact a state-sponsored “Climate Smart Community Pledge” during their meeting on Wednesday, March 6.
County Reps. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, and Kathy Clark, R-Otego, who had questioned it last time, when it was referred to the Solid Waste & Environmental Concerns Committee (SWECC) for further study, opposed it again.
But the board’s vice chair, Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, who had opposed the resolution in SWECC on Feb. 15, saying it wasn’t strong enough, today voted aye.
The pledge is part of a state effort to incentivize municipalities and counties to become clean-energy communities. When local governments vote to adopt the pledge, they agree to support 10 required elements; in return, they gain access to certain grants.
Frazier, who pulled the resolution from the consent agenda for a separate vote, said, “I don’t know what we’re trying to accomplish with it, and called it “an attempt to stifle any type of economic development.”
“We should not tie the hands” of entrepreneurs looking to develop businesses in the region, he said.
In response, county Rep. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, an OCCA circuit rider, said the Climate Smart Pledge “did not have the legal teeth to stifle economic development,” and that signing onto the pledge would free up grants to “help business protect themselves from the effects of climate change.”
Meg Kennedy, C-Mount Vision, used the Town of Hartwick as a Climate Smart community that had not turned away economic development. “Just last night, the town voted approve going forward with the … Hampton Inn,” she said.
“I encourage the county to work on energy efficiency upgrades and having energy efficient equipment,” Kennedy added, before saying she would vote in favor of the Climate Smart Pledge.
In explaining why he changed his voted, Koutnik said, “The language of the resolution was too watered down. But now I will support it because it opens us up to getting grants to address climate change.”
“Climate change is a clear and present danger,” he added.
On the surface, the
argument makes sense,
Boston-based Xpress Natural Gas’ trucks, carrying fuel from fracking fields in Northeastern Pennsylvania across Otsego County to the Iroquois Pipeline near Little Falls, are legal carriers and should be allow to use
New York State roads just like
any other legal carrier.
After all, what’s next? Should we then ban oil tankers? Suburban Propane delivery trucks? Dump trucks, where pebbles might from time to time slip out from under the tarps? Loud motorcycles? Model Ts and other antiques that don’t operate at
current fuel-efficiency standards?
Oh where, oh where will
There’s a certain logic to the argument. But, honestly, XNG trucks have caused four “incidents” – three down-and-out accidents, no doubt about it (Google “XNG” at www.allotsego.com) – since they began crossing the county en masse 18 months ago.
Have there been three oil-tanker crashes? Three Suburban Propane truck crashes? Sure, pebbles have slipped from under tarps, but the results are an occasional cracked windshield; should we ban them completely for that?
Face it, the XNG trucks are different. For one, there are just that many more of them: 80 a day, back and forth, for 160 individual trips. In 500 days, that’s 80,000 trips. The magnitude alone assures there will continue to be “incidents” – and worse.
“Four ‘incidents’ in Otsego County. That tells me these trucks are different from other vehicles,” said Nicole Dillingham, president of Otsego 2000, the Cooperstown-based environmental group that has called for action where local governments have not. “They are too heavy. They’re top heavy. And the drivers are tired.”
Reporters for this newspaper have covered the crashes. In two cases, the trucks that have fallen over did so on Route 205 north
of Hartwick hamlet, a sparsely populated stretch.
The Wednesday, July 11, crash just shy of Schuyler Lake, was of a different magnitude – or easily could have been. The fully loaded northbound rig came over a very slight rise on a very slight curve and toppled off the road. Just a 10th of a mile
further on – maybe 150 yards; a
football field and a half – was the hamlet itself: homes and people.
Looking at the scene, it would be hard for any sensible person to conclude: a little bit farther, that same rig under very similar circumstances could have had serious – even fatal – results.
No, we’re not being overdramatic. Go see for yourself.
Equally troubling is a circumstance that’s becoming clear: In the three cases, the trailers being pulled by cabs slipped off the pavement for a moment, sank into too-soft shoulders and toppled. On many, many stretches of Route 205 and Route 28, the shoulders are the same and, given 16,000 trips every 100 days, it’s going to happen again and again.
It doesn’t have to be.
Dillingham’s been getting the run-around. She goes to the towns; they say it has to be handled at the state level by the Department of Transportation. She goes to the DOT, it says its hands are tied without a request for a “traffic study” from the towns along the route.
A traffic study might well determine the trucks are simply too heavy for the roads, and order them onto four-lanes – I-88 or I-81 to the New York State Thruway (I-90) and, hence, Little Falls. There’s a ready alternative.
But, according to Oneonta Town Supervisor Bob Wood, chairman of the county Association of Town Supervisors, his colleagues believe a truck
being operated legally should be
allowed on any legal roads. They tell him: What’s next? Are we going to ban Suburban Propane delivery trucks? And there we are.
What are some other options? Maybe a petition by citizens would convince the DOT to act. Maybe a request – firmly worded – from the county Board of Representatives, which next meets Wednesday, Aug. 1, plus vigorous follow-up, would do the trick. Certainly, our state delegation – Senator Seward and Assemblymen Magee, Miller, etc. – could dent DOT’s resolve to do nothing.
Right now, Otsego 2000 is drafting a resolution for town boards to consider passing. And Wood said Dillingham is welcome to talk at one of his association’s monthly meetings. He should invite her to do that soonest.
OK, there have been four “incidents,” three of them crashes. We’ve been lucky it hasn’t happened in a populated hamlet. But it will.
Let’s not wait until an XNG rig plows into someone’s living room or rolls over someone’s mobile home, with perhaps a fatal effect.
Bad things can happen, we can see. Let’s act before they do.
COOPERSTOWN – Missing the deadline to sign his oath of office, county Rep. Dan Wilber’s election to a second term representing District 10 – Edmeston, Burlington, Exeter and Plainfield — is in doubt.
His erstwhile colleagues on the Otsego County Board of Representatives must now vote to reappoint Wilber to his former seat for him to continue serving. The board’s Administrative Committee approved such a resolution at today’s meeting, which must be acted on by the full board when it meets Wednesday, May 2.
It was not immediately clear if Wilber will have enough support for that to happen, or if another candidate will emerge for the job.
COOPERSTOWN – The county Board of Representatives this morning approved a second three-year contract with Destination Marketing of Otsego County, ending months of uncertainty about the privatized tourism-promotion effort.
The contract runs from this coming Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2019.
On issue that was resolved: DMOC had sought a five-year contract, but settled for three.