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David Bliss

NEW CHALLENGE: HIRING MANAGER

NEW CHALLENGE:

HIRING MANAGER

Bliss Anticipates Kennedy

Will Lead Recruitment, Too

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Dave Bliss
Meg Kennedy

COOPERSTOWN – If – as is anticipated – Dave Bliss is reelected chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives at the organizational meeting Thursday, Jan. 2, one of his first acts will be to name a committee to recruit the first county administrator.

In an interview, he said he sees no reason why county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, who led the effort to create the new position, shouldn’t chair the search as well. “She’s done an excellent job,” said the Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield Republican.  “I don’t see any reason to make a change there.”

Serving on the board of NYSAC (the state Association of Counties) gives her contacts and easier access to information that will help guide the recruitment process as it did the two-year study that preceded the county board’s 11-3-1 vote Wednesday, Dec. 4, to create a professional position at the top of the organizational chart.

The county board included $75,000 in the 2020 budget, also approved Dec. 4, with the idea it will take until mid-year to fill the $150,000 position, ($100,000 salary plus benefits and expenses.)

For her part, Kennedy called the vote “monumental,” adding, “it’s exciting – and a little scary at the same time.” That excitement was echoed by long-time supporters of the concept.

Former county board chairman David Brenner (and later, Oneonta mayor) said he was “very pleased” at the vote, and he praised his current successor: “This fellow Bliss, he’s been outstanding.”

Noting the current chair’s 25 years as Middlefield town supervisor, Brenner said, “He’s an old hand, and this looks to me like a skilled hand at work.  He’s selective about what battles he cares to discuss.  He’s picking the right priorities.”

Also expressing satisfaction was Kay Stuligross, formerly of Oneonta, now retired in Lansdale, Pa., who ran for the county board in 2007 specifically to see a professional administrator hired. The next step – hiring the right first person – is critical she said: “If we get someone who can’t do the job, it will set us back 10 years.”

At the Dec. 4 meeting, former county board Chairman Kathy Clark, R-Otego, held up Allegheny County’s failure – it has had three county managers since 2016, and the job is again vacant – as one reason for her nay vote.

And her former vice chairman, Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, who didn’t attend the critical meeting, has argued $150,000, the estimated cost of the cost, will become double that and more at a county administrators adds a deputy and support staff.

County Rep. Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield, also voted nay.

On the first point, Kennedy said much depends on the success of the hiring process and how the county board welcomes the new hire.  “I don’t want to micromanage the new administrator,” she said.  “I want to pave their way to establish their authority within the county dynamic.”

She said “our action as a board” will determine success, and anticipates the county reps “becoming a stronger legislative body,” more firmly setting priorities to ensure the county’s best future.

Bliss said he anticipates periods of stability and periods of turnover.  “Find one that works, and they end up staying for a long time.  Then there may be two or three more before they find the right fit again,” he said.

Both representatives said the ballooning of county manager budgets can be misleading, often simply reflecting how existing resources are adjusted to fit the new model.

Past And Present Collide In Debate On Administrator

CLICK FOR ADMINISTRATOR JOB DESCRIPTION

Past And Present

Collide In Debate

On Administrator

Planning v. ‘Dealing With It’

Explored; Also, Redistricting

County Rep. Keith McCarty, front left, chides board Chairman David Bliss for questioning past boards’ decisions on MOSA.  “I’m not blaming them,” replied Bliss.  “They did the best thing they could at the time.  And that’s what we’re doing today:  acting on the best knowledge we have now.” (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

COOPERSTOWN – Three decades of striving ended today as the Otsego County Board of Representatives, 11-2-1, created the position of county executive.

In a half-hour of give and take, it was clear that, despite and lopsided vote, starkly contrasting outlooks remain.

“You talk about planning,” said county Rep. Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield, and longest-serving board member.  “You can’t plan when you’re going to get a flood.  You can’t plan when a bridge is going to go out.  You can’t plan when a road washes out – we’ve had two of them on the east side of Otsego Lake. You deal with it.”

Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, who is finishing his first term, took on the rebuttal: “Our talents are hamstrung by a lack of coordination, a lack of planning, a lack of overall coordination.

VOTE EXPECTED ON COUNTY MANAGER

VOTE EXPECTED ON

COUNTY MANAGER

Debate May Focus On Cost

v. Benefit At Nov. 5 Meeting

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Rep. Meg Kennedy won praise from county board Chair David Bliss for shepherding the county manager discussion to this point. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)

COOPERSTOWN – The Otsego County Board of Representatives voted in 1993 to create a county manager position. The result was a 7-7 tie, but the weighted voting system blocked the move.

County Board chair Dave Bliss

A quarter-century plus a year later, a resolution is again headed to the county board, on Wednesday, Nov. 6, and with at least two Republicans, the one Conservative and all but perhaps one of the Democrats favoring it, it appears likely to be approved.

Since the creation of a top manager’s job would require enactment of a law, the Nov. 6 vote would be to set a public hearing for the  following month’s meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 4.

After the hearing, the county reps could vote on creating the position, or delay for further study and adjustments.

A first vote, 3-1, happened last week at the county board’s Administration Committee, chaired by Meg Kennedy, C-Mount Vision. She voted aye, and said county Reps. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, and Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, the board’s vice chairman, joined her.

Voting nay was county Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla. Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield, had to leave early. And Andrew Stammel, D-Town of Oneonta, was absent.

The idea, said Kennedy, is “to better serve the constituents.”

“The position will allow Otsego County to create short- and long-term plans to meet emerging and already existing needs,” she continued.  “And also to oversee day-to-day operations to allow greater efficiency in county government. Communications is also a biggie.”

“It’s extremely significant,” said Koutnik, who is retiring from the board at the end of the year. “It’s going to change things more than anything in the past eight years, most all of it for the better.”

Frazier said concerns about the expense caused him to hold back. “They aren’t showing the full costs,” he said. “It’s going to be a quarter of a million dollars by the time it’s implemented.”

The former board vice chairman, Frazier said he doesn’t see how a county manager could close that gap through savings or new revenues.

Kennedy, who also chairs the Budget Committee, said $75,000 has been included in the prospective 2020 budget to fund the position for half a year, thinking it will take until June or July to fill the position.

County board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, was at the Admin meeting ex officio, but said he also voted to move the manager position forward.

He acknowledged Frazier’s concerns, and said the county board will have to be vigilant, “or it quickly will become a million” if a county manager finds he or she needs an assistant county manager and other support staff.

But, Bliss continued, “if we can keep it to a single individual, a day-to-day contact for the county, overseeing things in general,” then costs can be controlled.

The resolution and job description approved by the Admin Committee weren’t available as of press time – they were being reviewed in the County Attorney’s Office – but Bliss said he would like the job requirements to be less specific, to give flexibility in who to hire.

He pointed to what happened in the City of Oneonta: the educational requirement of an MPA – a master’s in public administration – limited the applicant pool, City Hall went through two city managers before achieving some stability under George Korthauer, the current applicant.

Bliss said he’d like to avoid that.

None of the reps said they were counting noses, but Koutnik said he expects all the Democrats, except perhaps Stammel, to support the new position.

With at least Republicans Bliss and Oberacker joining them, and Conservative Kennedy, that adds up to 3,850 weighted votes, a healthy margin beyond the 3,115 needed to pass a measure.

Asked why a county manager is necessary, Koutnik said, “Ask a $116 million company” – that’s the county’s annual budget – “what they would do without their CEO.”

He pointed out three big construction projects pending: current and future renovations at the county jail; security upgrades at 242 Main, Oneonta’s former city hall, and replacing the highway garage on Cooperstown’s Walnut Street with a more central facility.

“We’ve got cost overruns in the jail renovations that no one seems to be in charge of. We’ve talked about that a number of times,” Koutnik said. “If we had a county manager who could clear that up, figure out the chain of command in terms of change orders, I think he or she would save us a lot of money.”

Kennedy said she could mention a number of instances where having a county manager would help, but she focused on the decline of the county’s rural emergency squad, who are losing volunteers due to outmigration and longer commutes. A county manager could be tasked to find out how other counties are tackling the problem.

“There are other issues,” she said. “The person is not going to be Superman or Superwoman. They can’t solve our broadband problems, they won’t be able to solve our energy problems. But they will be able to network with other counties’ leaders.”

Treasurer Warns Of Overages, But Chair Unruffled

Treasurer Warns

Of Overages, But

Chair Unruffled

$12M Gap Already Down To $7-8M,

Bliss Says As Deliberations Ensue

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Treasurer Allen Ruffles during last year’s budget deliberations.

COOPERSTOWN – Saying he has no “black magic” to fix it, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles has advised the county Board of Representatives it is facing a $12 million gap in the upcoming 2020 budget.

“I hear every year that Dan (Ruffles predecessor, Dan Crowell) used to work his ‘black magic,’ and always reduced the budget somehow last second,” said Ruffles in an email from the Horn of Africa, where he is on assignment with the Army Reserve.  “There is no magic: We will be using the fund balance to help offset this gap.”

However, county board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, said a budget working group has already reduced that to $7-8 million, and he’s aiming to produce a budget that will be under the 2 percent state-mandated budget cap.

Cows, Goats, Pigs, Oh My! At Junior Livestock Show

Cows, Goats, Pigs, Oh My!

At Junior Livestock Show

More than 250 kids presented 650 animals as part of The Farmers’ Museum’s 72nd annual Junior Livestock Show‘s Parade of Champions, showcasing the best of the best in livestock at the end of a weekend of trials and judging at the Iroquois Farm Showgrounds in Cooperstown. Above, Gus Mason, 14, holds Gummy Bear’s Grand Champion Jersey award and the Best Jersey Bred and Owned award . The Grand Champion silver plate award was made in memory of Howard Curry Ainslie by his family when he died in 1999.  Flanking Gummy Bear on the left is Howard Ainslie’s youngest daughter, Darcey Ainslie Schilling, and on the right, his granddaughter, Jennifer Griffith.  Harold Couse, Griffith’s father and husband of Howard’s daughter Carla Ainslie Couse, stands next to Gus, with family friend Addilee Lutz, 8.  At right, Farmers’ Museum board member David Bliss presents the Dairy Cup Best in Show award to Lance McClure and his cow, Jericho-Dairy Baracuda-ET. (Jennifer Hill/AllOTSEGO.com)

League Of Women Voters Plans ‘User’s Guide For Local Democracy’ Panel

League Of Women Voters

Plans ‘User’s Guide For

Local Democracy’ Panel

Public Welcome To Participate April 27

Laura Lee Bierman

MILFORD CENTER – Oneonta and Cooperstown’s League of Women Voters chapters are planning “A User’s Guide for Local Democracy: Skill Building for Active Organizations and Individuals,” 8:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Springbrook’s Family Engagement Center on Route 28.

Panelists will include Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director the League of Women Voters of New York State.

The workshop is designed to build attendees’ skills and confidence in planning and holding successful public and organizational events and meetings, according to a press release.  “We will look at ways to be more effective in listening to divergent opinions, and contending with stridency, in the search for meaningful consensus,” the release said.

Ruffles Takes First Step Against Whack-A-Mole

Editorial for November 30, 2018.

Ruffles Takes First Step Against Whack-A-Mole

Maria Ajello makes her monthly plea: Give me my house back.

For years now, Otsego County’s annual auction of foreclosed-on tax-delinquent properties has eaten up a lot of oxygen at the county Board of Representatives’ monthly meetings.
It’s the Whack-A-Mole of county government, which suggests: There are unresolved issues.
So a take-charge presentation by the new county treasurer, Allen Ruffles, at the November meeting was welcome, if partial.
First, he declared, having studied the issue, giving delinquent taxpayers four years to pay back bills is counterproductive. In the fourth year, the fees and interest that accrue just make it all that more likely property owners won’t be able to catch up.
Three years is the standard among New York State counties, and Ruffles – as he can within his treasurer’s duties – has implemented it, effective 2022.
Second, he encouraged the county board, as a companion measure, to pass a law enabling property owners to “buy back” their own homes.
Himself a former banker, Ruffles said most delinquent properties aren’t mortgaged and contain more-than-sufficient equity to qualify for bank loans to cover what’s owed.
The county board should promptly pass the enabling legislation.
While Ruffles didn’t need the county reps’ blessing, Rep. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, made a motion of support and it was approved, although three county reps – Kathy Clark, Michele Farwell and Andrew Stammel – abstained, uncertain about some of the particulars.

Ruffles’ presentation spurred a debate – of course, the Whack-A-Mole – on a related issue: Should county employees be allowed to bid at the annual delinquent-property auction.
There was general agreement that employees in the Treasurer’s and the County Attorney’s offices, who are elbows deep in preparing the annual tax sale, should be prohibited from bidding – elected officials, too – but beyond that there were divergences.

The Freeman’s Journal – At this month’s county board meeting, Allen Ruffles, the freshman county treasurer, announces steps he’s taking to streamline foreclosures and tax sales. At right is chairman David Bliss.

County Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, objected to any restrictions, even on himself and the other reps, saying anyone who thinks a property is worth more could bid against him. The board vice chair, Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, called a ban “100-percent optics.” Iffy. .
Farwell, the freshman Democrat from Morris, had a more textured view: “We’re the government, and government has lost the people’s trust. I think if you take an extra step to ensure the public’s trust in government, there’s a payoff there worth more than the opportunity for any employee in the county to bid.”
She summed up: “If you are an employee of McDonald’s, you cannot participate in those sweepstakes.”

Readers, ask yourself and fellow employees: In 10, 20 or 30 years on the job, has buying property at public auction ever come up in office conversation? Most of you would say, not at all; not once. It’s just beyond most people’s consideration.
The problem here is county employees swim in a sea where delinquent property-tax sales are dissolved oxygen. Everybody breathes that air. It’s conversation
in coffee breaks, where the treasurer’s and county attorney’s employees are sipping and sharing in the conversation.
There’s simply too much of an opportunity for inside knowledge to be acquired; for county employees, if you will, to prey on the rest of us.
Of course, it’s hard to listen to any discussion about tax sales without putting it in the context of the August 2014 auction, where Maria Ajello lost her Town of Richfield home to a neighbor who happened to be a county employee.
Another wrinkle: under a then-new policy, Ajello and a Town of Butternuts property owner, Bob Force, were denied the right to buy back their properties on the day of the sale.
They still feel that injustice, and anyone who hears Maria’s monthly plea for mercy feels it too. Injustice left alone festers, with unintended consequences: Fearful, the county board feels it must have a deputy sheriff on duty at all its monthly meetings.

To sum up, Treasurer Ruffles has taken a business-like step in shortening foreclosure from four years to three. Any business owner knows: If you let a bill go unpaid for even a year, the chances of getting paid are miniscule. But he and the county board, hand in hand, should continue to pursue not a best practice or two, but all THE best practices:
• One, pass the buy-back legislation, so captured value can be freed and people can stay in their homes.
• Two, ban every county employee from bidding on delinquent properties. Steady work, plus good health benefits and a secure retirement are recompense enough.
• Three, begin negotiations to make Maria Ajello and Bob Force whole – the properties they lost were worth many multiples of the taxes they owed.

Low Turnout At Hearing Clears Way For ’19 Budget

Low Turnout At Hearing

Clears Way For ’19 Budget

Due to the snow, perhaps, no member of the public appeared at the public hearing on Otsego County’s 2019 budget, which began at 6 p.m. this evening in Courtroom #1 in Cooperstown.  Above, county board Chair David Bliss, left, gave the floor to Clerk of the Board Carol McGovern to officially convene proceedings.   The budget keeps the tax increase under the state tax cap, and includes $500,000 in raises for 104 “M&C” (management and confidential employees) following a two-year, 16-county study to determine “average” wages.  This county’s wages, it turned out, are 20 percent below the average.  The study also recommended the county reps receive a $3,000 raise to their $10,500 salaries, the first increase since 2008.  Inset at left are county Personnel Director Penny Gentile, whose office conducted the salary survey; County Attorney Ellen Coccoma, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, and Deputy Treasurer Andrew Crisman.  Seated in the jury dock, in top photo, are, from left, County Reps. Andrew Marietta, Gary Koutnik, Danny Lapin, Peter Oberacker, Michele Farwell, Keith McCarty, Andrew Stammel and Ed Frazier.  Seated next to McGovern is her deputy, Jenna Utter.  (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

DEC Unveils Fully Accessible Basswood Pond Recreation Area

DEC Unveils Handicap Accessible

Basswood Pond Recreation Area

Cutting the ribbon on the new fishing platform, from left, Otsego County District 7 Rep. David Bliss, NYS Deputy Commissioner of Natural Resources Kathy Moser, DEC district four Regional Director Keith Goertz , and Catherine Seamon representing state Sen. James Seward’s office (Parker Fish/AllOTSEGO.com).

By PARKER FISH • Special To www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Rep. David Bliss tosses a bucket of trout fish into Basswood Pond after helping to cut the ribbon on the newly renovated State Forest recreational area.

BURLINGTON – The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation cut the ribbon this morning on the revamped Basswood Pond State Forest recreational area. The $100,000 project added several features to the site, while making the pond fully accessible to handicapped visitors.

“With the completion of these new accessible features, visitors with mobility impairments can enjoy the natural beauty and recreational opportunities at Basswood Pond,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

“These improvements, through Governor Cuomo’s Adventure NY initiative, are just a sample of the recreational upgrades that New York has underway to better serve everyone who wants to enjoy our state’s great outdoors,” he said.

County Board Discusses, Agrees To Easing Standoff With Sheriff
FOR VIDEO OF APRIL MEETING, CLICK HERE

County Board Discusses, Agrees

To Easing Standoff With Sheriff

County Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, praises county Board Chair David Bliss for working out an agreement that may end a standoff with Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. Frazier also sought to make sure yesterday’s vote endorsing the Devlin-Bliss agreement would give the chair sufficient clout to resolve the matter of the sheriff’s correctional-officer son, Ros, who has been barred from going on county property since an incident at the county jail in January 2017. Matt Ryan, the county’s labor attorney, reassured Frazier on that count.  Frazier is flanked by county reps Gary Koutnik, right, and Danny Lapin, both City of Oneonta Democrats.  For full debate, part of a video of the county board’s April meeting, click here (from videotape by Parker Fish/AllOTSEGO.com)
Sheriff Surrenders Authority Over Son

Sheriff Surrenders

Authority Over Son

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Rep. Ed Frazier, foreground, thanks chair David Bliss for breaking the deadlock over the investigation of the sheriff’s prison-guard son. (Jim Kevliin/AllOTSEGO.com)

COOPERSTOWN – After a 15-month standoff, Ros Devlin’s fate as a correctional officer is now in the hands of the chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives.

With one abstention and two absences, the county reps voted a few minutes ago to accept Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr.’s proposal to turn over authority for investigating and possibly removing his son from his job to county board Chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Otsego.

In a short discussion, county Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, first thanked Bliss for moving matters forward, but he asked the county labor attorney, Matt Ryan, “Does this get us where we need to be?”

Otsego County 911 Receives $840K State Grant

Otsego County 911 Center

Receives $840K State Grant

Shaking hands with District -7 Representative David Bliss, R-Cooperstown, Otsego County Director of 911 Communications Robert O’Brien (right) was the main figure responsible in securing $842,330 in grant funding for Otsego County’s 911 dispatch services. (Parker Fish/AllOTSEGO.com)

By PARKER FISH • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

In a press release sent out this morning, Otsego County Director of 911 Communications Robert O’Brien announced that the county’s 911 dispatch department had secured $842,330 in New York State grant funding. The total sum is divided between two seperate grants: $157,687 under the New York State Public Safety Answering Points Operation Grant Program for upgrades to the call center, and $684,650.00 under the New York State Statewide Interoperable Communications Grant Program which will be used to build three additional communications towers to improve coverage for the dispatchers. 

Otsego County Board Contingent Absorbs Lessons Of Governance

Otsego County Board Contingent

Absorbs Lessons Of Governance

A contingent from the Otsego County Board of Representatives – from left, chairman David Bliss, Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, and county Reps. Michele Farwell, Morris; Danny Lapin and Liz Shannon, both of Oneonta, and Andrew Marietta, Cooperstown/Town of Otsego – are absorbing lessons of good governance from colleagues statewide at the New York State Association of Counties’ annual Legislative Conference today in Albany.  The keynoter was Harvard’s Stephen Goldsmith, director of Innovations in the college’s American Government Program.  Workshop topics ranged from shared services to ethics and integrity in government.
Autumn Cafe Reopens After Year-Long Hiatus

Autumn Cafe Reopens

After Year-Long Hiatus

The Autumn Cafe, which introduced organic delicacies to Oneonta – and where Yoko Ono and son Sean Lennon used to lunch – has reopened after it was sold and closed for renovations for a year. But there’s much more in this week’s Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta, from an assessment of Gene Thaw, whose Native American art collection reinvented The Fenimore Art Museum, to a report on how Dave Bliss’ election to County Board chair is being greeted at the county courthouse, to an exploration of early-adopting local drone flyers, to attorney Susan Lettis’ wedding notice.  On newsstands this afternoon.
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Bliss Appointments Reflect ‘Continuity’ 

COUNTY BOARD REORGANIZES

Bliss: Appointments

Aim At ‘Continuity’ 

Meg Kennedy Emerges With New Status

As Chairman Of Both Administration, IGA

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick/Milford/New Lisbon, presides at this morning’s reorganizational meeting. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

COOPERSTOWN – She went into today’s reorganizational meeting of the Otsego County Board of Representatives already with the greatest clout under the weighted voting system.

But Meg Kennedy’s rising stature was quickly affirmed.

She was nominated and elected temporary chair of the reorganizational meeting, presiding over the transition of the chairmanship from Kathy Clark, R-Otego, to David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield.

And she emerged from the morning’s decision-making as chair of the Administration Committee – Ways & Means, through which all resolutions must flow before getting to the floor of the monthly county board meeting.

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