News of Otsego County

David Rissberger

Common Council approves CAB plan and Witzenberg as police chief, discusses county board EMS issue

Common Council approves CAB plan
and Witzenberg as police chief,
discusses county board EMS issue

By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to

ONEONTA — The Common Council unanimously passed a motion to approve and adopt the Implementation Plan for Police Reform and Reinvention, which was worked on by the Community Advisory Board and the subsequent council led review committee, Tuesday, Oct.5.

Mayor Gary Herzig thanked the CABRC members who worked for six months on creating the plan to implement the CAB’s recommendations, which was a response to a directive given by former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Herzig said he was impressed members of CABRC, which included mayoral candidates Len Carson, R-Fifth Ward, and Mark Drnek, D-Eighth Ward, voted unanimously on every single motion.

The motion paves the way for standing Community Police Review board, whose job will be to handle complaints about OPD.

Other business discussed included the recent County Board meeting that approved county-wide ambulance service. Council members were concerned Oneonta would pay double for a service they don’t use, as Oneonta already has its own ambulance service.

RISSBERGER: Citizens Can Expected Action On City Policing

Citizens Can Expected

Action On City Policing

To the Editor:

In light of recent national and local events, I feel compelled to speak out regarding the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

David Rissberger is the senior member of Oneonta Common Council.

As I’d like to believe most civilized people would be, I was horrified and appalled to watch the barbaric treatment of Mr. George Floyd as he was being arrested by the Minneapolis police department.

Police officers take an oath to protect and serve ALL members of their community and to treat citizens with respect and dignity. The video of the death of George Floyd that went viral clearly showed that Mr. Floyd was afforded neither.

In recent days my heart has been filled with hope as I have watched thousands of people across our country taking to the streets in peaceful protest in response to the horrific treatment of Mr. Floyd and other instances of police brutality against people of color.

The Justice for George Floyd protest in Muller Plaza recently drew over 500 people – one of the largest crowds for any protest in recent years. This speaks volumes of the caliber of people in our region who wish to demonstrate their dedication to improving their community by helping to ensure that people of color are treated equally under the law.

Following the protest in the plaza, many have questioned on social media, “What next?”  and “Were we even heard?” I would like to offer assurances that your Oneonta City Council members have been listening, but we also know that listening can become meaningless if not followed up by action toward areas of identified concern.

Our mayor and the leadership of the Oneonta Police Department have met and will continue to meet with our local chapter of the NAACP to continue the dialogue to discuss ways in which to improve relations and interactions with people of color.

My colleagues and I have reached out to our police chief in order to discuss areas which may be improved, such as a review of ongoing education and training in the proper use of force and updating policies and procedures for police officer conduct.

This is a good start and I am not naïve to think that this is the totality of the work that we will do in the coming days.

I believe that Oneonta has made progress in race relations in the last 20 years but we must never rest on our laurels. The day that we do is a day that we allow those voices of bigotry
and prejudice to slowly overshadow and stain our community once more.

Those of us on the Common Council are dedicated to working with our police force and our local chapter of the NAACP to ensure that ALL citizens of Oneonta are safe, secure, and feel that their voices are equally heard.

We need to continue to hear from the people in our community and hear your stories. Thank you for peacefully protesting and helping to move us forward to a better, more equitable society.

Common Council

Herzig, Rissberger Initiating Review Of OPD Practices

Herzig, Rissberger

Initiating Review

Of OPD Practices

Chief Brenner Denounces ‘Practices

That Hurt, Demean, Destroy Trust’

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to


ONEONTA – The mayor and a senior Council member have already opened conversations with Police Chief Doug Brenner on how to review departmental operations in the wake of nationwide unrest following the May 25 death of George Floyd while being taking into custody in Minneapolis.

“First of all, I have confidence in our police chief and police department,” Mayor Gary Herzig said a few minutes ago.  “However, this is a time for all of us to do a little introspection and self-awareness and take a look at our operating procedures and our policies to make sure they are designed to do everything that we can to guard against any type of inequality in how we treat the public.”

He expects to be able to announce the form of the review – whether a commission, audit of OPD procedures, through Common Council or some other means – by the end of this week.

Weather, Holidays Keeps Council Members Home From Final Meeting

Meeting Rescheduled For Wednesday

Weather, Holidays Keep

Council Members Away

From Their Final Duties

Winter weather and holiday travel plans resulted in a near-empty Oneonta Common Council meeting earlier this evening, where outgoing members Michelle Fraser, First Ward, Melissa Nicosia, Second Ward, and Dana Levinson, Fifth Ward, didn’t attend their final meeting as Council members. With Michelle Osterhoudt having resigned Nov. 30, that left only, from left, David Rissberger, Third Ward, City Manager George Korthauer,  Mayor Gary Herzig, City Clerk Kerriann Harrington, Russ Southard, Sixth Ward, John Rafter, Seventh Ward, and Joe Ficano, Eighth Ward, in attendance, leaving the council without a quorum. Though Ficano and Southard, both outgoing, were honored by Herzig for their contributions, inset photo, a special meeting was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18 to address agenda items that could not be voted on tonight. (Ian Austin/

Needed Upgrades in City’s Security Systems Delayed

Council Committee Split On Study

Is City Hall Secure?

Question Stirs Debate

OPEC Chairman David Rissberger and commitee member Michelle Frazier joust over how to approach a security review of City Hall and five other city-owned buildings. (Jennifer Hill/

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to

ONEONTA – How secure is City Hall and its related facilities?

That question stirred a lively debate over whether to spend $16,500 on a “facility-security study” at last night’s meeting of Common Council’s OPEC, the Operations Planning and Evaluation Committee.

Council members Michelle Frazier and John Rafter opposed the idea, and OPEC chairman Dave Rissberger, backed up by City Manager George Korthauer, supporting it.  With OPEC member Michelle Osterhoudt absent, action was delayed for a week.

This is the second time the proposal by Binghamton-based McFarland Johnson was set aside.  At last week’s Common Council meeting, Mayor Gary Herzig removed the motion from the agenda to allow OPEC review.

As 5 Council Members Depart,Rissberger Says: I’ll Run Again

As 5 Council Members Depart,

Rissberger Says: I’ll Run Again


ONEONTA – With five of the city’s eight Common Council members departing, veteran Dave Rissberger affirmed today he intends to seek another term.

He represents the Third Ward, which extends one block on each side of Maple Street and north of State Street.

Rissberger is the first Democrat to announced he’s in the race. In The past few days, Republicans Len Carson and Scott Harrington  announced they are running to fill seats that are being vacated this fall.

Rissberger Apologizes But Holds Firm

Council Member Apologizes

But Holds Firm On OH-Fest

Reading from a prepared statement, 3rd Ward Council member David Rissberger apologized for his outburst at the previous Common Council meeting. (Parker fish/

By PARKER FISH • Special to

ONEONTA – The topic of OH Fest – SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College’s collaborative spring event – led to a heated exchange between 3rd Ward Council member David Rissberger and 5th Ward Council member Dana Marie Levinson two weeks ago at a Common Council meeting.

Talking led to shouting between the two until Mayor Gary Herzig stepped in to bring order to the discussion. Two weeks later, Rissberger apologized at last night’s Council meeting for his conduct, yet reaffirmed his belief that OH-Fest should be held off city property.  It is currently held in Neahwa Park.

Large Turn Out As Clean-Up Falls On Earth Day

Large Turn-Out As Clean-Up

Finally Falls On Earth Day

Members of Alpha Omicron Phi and Phi Kappa Psi pose with councilman Dave Rissberger, on left in green, and their haul of trash they collected from the streets this morning during the annual Third Ward Clean Up. Student volunteers and city residents banded together to pick up garbage from OHFest XIII the night before. This year’s event featured one of it’s largest turn-outs since it’s inception.(Ian Austin/


Airport Commission: Name Terminal For Dennis Finn

Airport Commission To City:

Name Terminal For Dennis Finn

Jeff Back, a longtime friend and fellow Airport Commission member with Dennis Finn, announces the commission’s recommendation to name the airport terminal in Finn’s honor. (Ian Austin/
Council member Dave Rissberger, Third Ward, will take the recommendation to the Operations, Planning and Evaluation committee that he chairs.


ONEONTA – During public comment at this evening’s Common Council meeting, city Airport Commissioner Jeff Back laid out his case for naming the Oneonta Municipal Airport terminal  in memory of the late Dennis Finn.

“Dennis was a valued founding member of the airport commission,” he said. “His involvement with the airport goes back to it’s construction and pre-dates the original dedication ceremony in 1966. His commitment, daily efforts and never-ending promotion of airport activities have been a strong contributor to the renovation of airport facilities, airport awareness and increased community involvement.

“It is the unanimous recommendation of the airport commission that the airport’s main terminal be named in his honor.”

Council Discussed Options To Keep Teen Center Open

Council Discusses Options

To Keep Teen Center Open

"We are looking forwards for to other parties coming in to operate the Teen Center," Council member John Rafter tells his colleagues this evening. At left is Council member Joe Ficano. ( photo)
“We are looking forwards for to other parties coming in to operate the Teen Center,” Council member John Rafter tells his colleagues this evening. At left is Council member Joe Ficano. ( photo)


Council member Rissberger: " think the program's important to the kids."
Council member Rissberger: “I think the program’s important to the kids.”

ONEONTA – Common Council this evening discussed options to continue operation of the Oneonta Teen Center despite the YMCA’s choice not to carry the program beyond Dec. 31, when the Y’s contract with the city expires.

“At first we were led to believe that the Y would be able to continue after the 31st until we find another operator,” Council member Dave Rissberger told his colleagues. “That is not happening.”

A portion of the 2017 budget has already been allocated for teen activities and programs. The city can take on the program if its insurance liability policy covers it. The city owns the Armory on Academy Street, where the teen center is located.

Common Council Approves City Manager Search Committee

Donovan, Cleinman Join

Search For City Manager

Council Members Paul van der Sommen, First Ward, Melissa Nicosia. Second Ward and David Rissberger, Third Ward, will all serve on the search committee for the next city manager, approved unanimously at tonight's Common Council meeting. (Ian Austin/
Oneonta Common Council Tuesday evening unanimously approved Mayor Gary Herzig’s slate for the search committee that will recruit a third city manager, after the first two resigned under pressure.  For the first time, the search committee will include community members, retired SUNY Oneonta President Alan Donovan and Al Cleinman of Cleinman Performance Partners, the national consultancy for optometry practices.  Council members on the panel include, above, from left, David Rissberger, Melissa Nicosia and Paul van der Sommen.  (Ian Austin/
Council Debates Restoration, Demolition of 27 Market St.

Council Debates Razing,

Restoring Oneonta Ford

Members Apply For Restore NY Grant

To Tear Down Hulk At Market, Chestnut

Sandy Mathes. CEO of Otsego Now, explains that the building at 27 Market St. should be demolished , but the new structure will incorporate the look of downtown Oneonta. (Ian Austin/
Sandy Mathes. CEO of Otsego Now, explains that the building at 27 Market Street must be demolished, but the new structure will incorporate the look of downtown Oneonta. (Ian Austin/


Nancy Powell, City Clerk, reads a letter from Karyl Sage pleading with the city not to destroy 27 Market Street.
Nancy Powell, City Clerk, reads a letter from Karyl Sage pleading with the city not to destroy 27 Market Set.

ONEONTA – There is no saving the Oneonta Ford building.

“We’ve had people inspect it and structurally, it cannot support the additional two, three floors as part of the Market Street project,” said Sandy Mathes, CEO of Otsego Now.

Mathes was responding in part to a letter sent by Karyl Sage and read by City Clerk Nancy Powell during the public hearing on Common Council’s intent to submit an application for a Restore NY grant with the intent of using the grant to purchase and demolish the building at 27 Market St.

“Demolition is not always the best answer,” Sage’s letter read.  “Look at Bresee’s and the Greater Oneonta Historical Society.  I ask that you consider rehab of the Oneonta Ford building.  It could very well become the center for the Food and Beverage hub.”

Council Declines Proposed Stipend For Acting City Manager Meg Hungerford

Council Fails To Gain Majority

To Approve Hungerford Stipend

Meg Hungerford, treasurer and Acting City Manager, was "disappointed" by the vote. (Ian Austin/
City Finance Director Meg Hungerford, the acting city manager, was “disappointed” by the vote. (Ian Austin/

ONEONTA – With her allies – Council members Mike Lynch and Larry Malone – absent from this evening’s Common Council meeting, a motion to give Acting City Manager Meg Hungerford a $31,771 stipend failed for lack of a majority.

The vote in favor of the stipend was 4-2, with  Dave Rissberger and Bob Brzozowski voting no.  Rissberger specifically cited budget concerns.   “This isn’t a reflection on the job Meg is doing,”  he said.

Under the City Charter, Hungerford, as city finance director, automatically became acting city manager after City Manager Martin Murphy’s suspension on Friday, July 17.




City Manager Gets $60,000,

Doubling His Severance, Plus

In Exchange, Martin Murphy Agrees Not To Sue City Hall

Acting Mayor Maureen Hennessey, seated next to City Attorney David Merzig, agreed to sign a severance agreement for former city manager Martin Murphy . (Ian Austin/
Acting Mayor Maureen Hennessey, seated next to City Attorney David Merzig, this morning agreed to sign a severance agreement for former city manager Martin Murphy . (Ian Austin/


City Manager Murphy wasn't at this morning's meeting.
City Manager Murphy wasn’t at this morning’s meeting.

ONEONTA – In a special meeting at 9 a.m. today, City Manager Martin Murphy and the Common Council reached a settlement agreement, allowing Murphy to voluntarily resign with six months severance pay.

Murphy, who had served as city manager for 10 months following the departure of former city manager Mike Long, was suspended by a vote of 5-2, with one abstention, on Friday, July 17.  He was not present at this morning’s meeting.

“It’s a sad day in the city,” said Council Member Dave Rissberger, Third Ward.  “If we terminate one employee without due process, what’s to say we won’t do it to another?”

Charter Input Parsed

Charter Input Parsed

By JIM KEVLIN•Hometown Oneonta

Edition of Friday, Oct. 17, 2014

There were many issues raised, but two predominated at a tense Common Council meeting Monday, Oct. 13.
One, that watering down city-manager credentials from a master’s in public administration (MPA) to a bachelor’s, was an attempt to circumvent the new City Charter, which residents adopted by a 1,128-348 vote in November 2011.

Two, that by bypassing former City Manager Mike Long – the city’s first – and going directly to department heads, Council members were undercutting the charter’s support of professional management.

Long’s successor, Marty Murphy, had been sworn in earlier in the evening, and sat at the mayor’s left hand through the 90-minute session, answering questions and offering advice when he was consulted.

The special meeting had been called for the sole purpose of assessing the 20-page report of the Charter Review Commission, formed by Mayor Dick Miller following Long’s departure May 31 after only 18 months on the job.
As evening’s end, he concluded, “The council feels, virtually unanimously, that the charter was implemented.”

The exception to that unanimity was Council member David Rissberger, who chaired the original Charter Commission. Challenged at one point by Council member Mike Lynch, Rissberger shot back, “Just because I’m in the minority does not mean I’m wrong.”

Earlier in the discussion, citing the requirement for an MPA – the new city manager has one; the preferred candidate of some Council members for the job, Director of Finance Meg Hungerford, did not – Rissberger said, “I don’t think we fulfilled that at all.”

Council member Chip Holmes said he didn’t believe voters cared about the higher qualification. He voted for the charter, he said, and “that – the MPA – didn’t matter to me as a voter.”

He pointed out that City Attorney David Merzig had written an opinion allowing the lower qualification – “we had Merzig in on the whole thing” – which brought that topic to an end.

Discussion then shifted to working through the city manager or going directly to department heads, and a debate ensued on what on “lines of supervision,” specified in the charter, means. “Lines of supervision are different than lines of communication,” said Council member Bob Brzozowski.

Holmes said he would go through the city manager first when seeking to get something done. “If things aren’t getting done,” he said, “then you have to bypass him to get it done.”

Working through a city manager “is a very new idea for us,” said Council member Maureen Hennessy. “That is a sea change for us.” But, she added, “with an effective city manager, that will take a lot of the angst out of it for us.”

Discussion also arose about how the city manager, under the charter, has the authority to hire and fire. Saying he assumed a city manager would brief council before making significant personnel decisions, the mayor asked the new city manager to weigh in.

“Removing an employee is a pretty significant step,” said Murphy. “That decision should come with the concurrence of city council.” “Concurrence” rather than “approval,” he said. A council vote on a dismissal “allows politics to come in.”

Under an outline proposed by the mayor, the number of council committees was reduced from five to two: Finance & Administration, including Human Resources, and Facilities & Community Improvements.

In place of the police committee – a “committee of the whole” – the fire and police chiefs, and also the code enforcement officer, would be asked to report to the full board once a month.

This means council members would have to attend fewer committee meetings, which can be lengthy, and the meetings would be scheduled for 7 p.m., more convenient to the public.

Also, agendas and minutes would be posted on the city website, another recommendation of the review commission.
Miller said he would prepare a memo outlining those changes. “The charter will be better and our functioning will be better as a result of this,” he said.

County Rep. Kay Stuligross, D-Oneonta, a member of both the Charter and Charter Review commissions, was at the meeting and said later she approves of those adjustments as making City Hall more transparent.

“They were all too defensive,” she added. “We (the commission) wanted them to look forward. I would rather have them look forward. How can we do a better job?”

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