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News of Otsego County

editorial

To Editorialize Or Not To Editorialize, That Is The Question

EDITORIAL

To Editorialize Or Not To
Editorialize, That Is The Question

GREG KLEIN

In the early 1990s, at my second job out of college, at a newspaper in central Alabama, I made the mistake of writing a column about church league basketball.

I had the best of intentions. I was the sports editor of a semiweekly paper in a small city that was becoming a bedroom community for the state capital and the thriving military base between the two cities. My brand, to the extent a 23-year-old, naive, fish-out-of-water reporter/editor/columnist could have a brand, was to not take sports too seriously, but to view it as a metaphor for life.

One week, I had a handful of people tell me that the best team in the local YMCA Church Basketball League, representing the second biggest church in about the 10th biggest city in the state, was acting reprehensibly in their games. They were not only winning, but showboating, running up scores and rubbing it in, then disingenuously telling their upset opponents not to get angry because, “it’s church league, baby.”

I went to watch a game to confirm the behavior and then I wrote a column that called out the behavior.

I could not have been more unprepared for the result. Although I did not mention the church or any of the players by name, I think I heard from every player on that team, as well as the church’s assistant pastor, who hosted me at his office. I also had way too many pow wows with my publisher.

Although I had gotten some threats at Auburn for being a sports editor who was not rah rah enough about the football team, I had never experienced anything like the church league basketball controversy. People read my words back to me with fury in their voices. They accused me of questioning their religion or their faith in their religion. There was a second round of controversy about how I had only watched one game. When I gave them feedback from two other games, a few of the players started outing and questioning my sources. When the YMCA’s league coordinator later introduced me to his wife, she greeted me by saying, “so, you are the one who is trying to get my husband fired.” I am pretty sure those were the only words she ever spoke to me.

New Editor Views Media Brands As Community Service
EDITORIAL

New Editor Views Media

Brands As Community Service

GREG KLEIN

I can honestly say this is a column I never thought I would write, my first as editor of The Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta.

I say that for two reasons: one, I spent the past decade in competition with the Iron String Press media team, while working as an editor and reporter for another news organization; two, that stint, with an Alabama-based organization I shall forever more refer to as the pension fund, did not go well.

My first play, “The Sun,” first staged in 2004, is about a small-town newspaper that is being destroyed as larger news organizations try to buy it. I spent the past decade at the pension fund thinking either irony is a cruel trick of life, or I was being blessed with an abundance of stories for the television adaptation.

The twin low points were mass layoffs on Good Friday/Passover eve and the closing of the Town Crier office and relegating the Cooperstown paper to a reprint.

As the Crier editor at the time, I took the laying off of my reporter (while I was on vacation, no less) hard and the office closing harder. I transferred to a couple of different roles at the pension fund’s daily, but it wasn’t a secret I hated commuting to Oneonta. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise in some ways as I got to know the city, its politicians and businesses, and the southern half of the county.

Still, I missed Cooperstown and the coronavirus pandemic and family issues made it harder and harder for me to commute.

I had been planning to quit the newspaper business for good this year, perhaps to go back to my dreams of making movies. Or, at least, to help other people make their movies. Last year, after years of discussions, I teamed up with a group of local film makers, businesspeople and political leaders to start a nonprofit 501c6 film commission office, Film COOP (rhymes with hoop, we are not a co-op), or more officially, The Cooperstown, Oneonta, Otsego County Film Partnership, Inc.

‘Reefer Madness’ Goes Mainstream

EDITORIAL

‘Reefer Madness’

Goes Mainstream

The 1936 movie raised the alarm, and laughs.

Maybe when marijuana vendors appear at Disney World, or when the venerable theme park comes up with a Marijuana Mile theme ride, or maybe Marijuana Maelstrom.

Then, perhaps, the Village of Cooperstown – “the pinnacle” of youth baseball camps, according to Lunetta Swartout, Cooperstown Stays proprietor, (and she ought to know) – should approve pot shops, or a “recreational cannabis dispensary,” or whatever, along Main Street in Baseball’s Mecca.

Maybe then, but now the debate is more than theoretical.

Simmering, simmering for years, marijuana legalization moved to the front burner over the weekend, when Governor Cuomo and the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly agreed on legislation “to legalize adult-use cannabis.” The Assembly and Senate approved the bill Tuesday, and Cuomo was expected to sign it.

America IS Great
Editorial

America IS Great

Over Three Generations, Oneonta’s Naders Prove It

Jaunty Sam Nader, seen here in his heyday, was a great American.

With the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the summer-long riots following George Floyd’s death and debates over race relations, we can forget: We live in a great country, where ambition and hard work are almost assuredly rewarded.

A case in point – a life in point – is Sam Nader, the respected and beloved former mayor of Oneonta, who passed away Tuesday, Feb. 9, at age 101.

When Sam Nader was born in 1919 in Oneonta’s Sixth Ward, you might have thought his prospects were limited.

His parents, Elias and Rose, had married in the old country in 1907, and had come to America in hopes of a better life. He joined the Delaware & Hudson in 1911 as a stationary fireman, tending the fire that heated the boiler and created the steam to power the steam engine – hot, dirty work.

But young Sam’s boyhood in “the Beehive,” a six-apartment house on West Broadway, next to the busy, noisy D&H yards, didn’t weigh him down. Quite the opposite.

It launched a life of joys and accomplishment (and, of course, some tragedy, too), as he related in an anecdote-filled interview on his 100th birthday in his living room at 96 River St., when he spoke:

End of Coronavirus Is Near, Multiple Vaccines Tell Us
Editorial

End of Coronavirus Is Near,

Multiple Vaccines Tell Us

For Now, Wear Masks, Social Distance, Avoid Crowds
In his Nov. 23 briefing, Governor Cuomo reported Cooperstown had the lowest COVID infection rate in the state.

You hear talk about a “second wave” of COVID-19, and it’s here. But take heart. In context, we’re not seeing the end of the beginning, but the beginning of the end.

USA Today’s lead headline Monday was “Moderna seeks emergency FDA approval for COVID-19 vaccine,” and it was echoed in all the national newspapers – the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post – and many local ones that still publish on Mondays.

That was foretold last week on the front page of this paper: “VACCINE DUE: Local Drugstores Prepare To Give Protective Shots.”

Moderna was the third out of the gate, after Pfizer and AstraZeneca sought FDA approval in the past week.

Our county public health director, Heidi Bond, echoes the national predictions: We can expect to begin administering a vaccine to health workers by mid-December (still-President Trump says next week), and to the general public by April.

OK. But it’s hard to imagine the public will have to wait until spring. The supply will be taking off and demand will be rising.

In an interview in early April, when this all began, Bond told that, since 9/11, this county – among many others in New York State – conducted exercises to see how quickly the local population could be vaccinated if biological warfare struck.

The answer: Staff and volunteer nurses could vaccinate everyone in the county in four days. Four days.

The good news has been sensibly muted by the remaining threat. Public officials – our mayors, in particular, who are on the front lines – don’t want to say we’re out of the woods. And we aren’t.

Still, it was particularly heartening when Governor Cuomo, in his daily briefing Nov. 23, identified Cooperstown as the community with the lowest infection rate in the state, 0.24 percent – about one person in 400. That’s one quarter of one percent, compared to Lancaster, the Buffalo suburb, at a high of 9.68 – about one person in 10.

Cooperstown’s low rate didn’t just happen. Mayor Tillapaugh and the Village Board have been constant and unanimous in messaging: wear masks, social distance, avoid crowds.

That the village could be singled out after hosting people from around the country over the summer – fewer certainly – affirms the local leadership.

Still, countywide we’re in the midst of that predicted second wave, with daily infections hitting a one-day record of 30 last week. This past Monday, there were 19 in-county cases reported.

The City of Oneonta, after largely avoiding infections from 700-plus cases that erupted on SUNY Oneonta at the end of August, is now the epicenter of this second wave. With local bars as the flashpoints, 66 of last week’s 130 cases countywide were in the city and town of Oneonta.

Like Tillapaugh, Oneonta’s Gary Herzig has been an activist mayor, using his bully pulpit to promote safety measures, and forming the “Survive, Then Thrive” committee to do what might be done to help the local economy. Early on, he raised the alarm that things were awry at SUNY Oneonta, paving the way for COVID-fighter Dennis Craig’s appointment as interim president.

Craig is working his way around pockets of faculty resistance, building consensus around a reopening plan, aimed for now at Feb. 1, but – Craig is the first to say – subject to adjustment, depending where we are at the time.

All that said, the emerging national strategy for rolling out the vaccinations makes sense. Certainly, vaccinate front-line and healthcare workers first. Then, vaccinate everyone over 50.

The numbers suggest that will largely eradicate the plague.

As of Nov. 25, 240,213 Americans had died of COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of those, 220,852 were 55 and over; 19,361 were under 55.

That means 92 percent of COVID’s victims have been 55 and older; only 8 percent, 54 and younger.

About 30 percent of all Americans are 55 and older, yet they make up 92 percent of victims. Vaccinate a third of the nation (110 million people of 320 million total), solve 92 percent of the problem.

It’s a cold calculation, but a practical one.

Meanwhile, nobody wants to be the last person to die from COVID. And, while the odds are much, much better for younger Americans, nobody’s completely safe. For the love of the people who love you, wear masks, social distance, avoid crowds.

EDITORIAL: Pilgrims’ Energy, Ambition Lives On Today
EDITORIAL

Pilgrims’ Energy,

Ambition Lives On Today

In Custom Electronics President Mike Pentaris, the American spirit lives. (AllOTSEGO.com/File Photo)

‘Tribute to the Entrepreneurial Spirit.” That’s what the Otsego Chamber of Commerce called its annual awards program on Nov. 12, conducted this year largely via Zoom.

That rallying call couldn’t have come at a better time, given this year’s challenges – a pandemic, a particularly divisive Presidential election, and riots in cities and challenges to the very idea of policing.

The stories the Otsego Chamber’s honorees were a tonic. Liberty lives, and a somewhat level playing field, imperfect as it may be, is still enabling success stories aplenty.
For all that, we offer Thanksgiving.

Yes, the Otsego Chamber celebration underscored that freedom, ambition, achievement and access to prosperity are alive today on our “new Promised Land,” as the Pilgrims envisioned it.

Proof it’s so was Michael Pentaris’ story: As a boy, his family lived in a shipping crate near the harbor of Larnaca, Cyprus. Recognizing her kids were smart, Michael’s mom obtained scholarships for them to the American Academy there.

A scholarship to Brescia College in Owensboro, Ky., followed, and two degrees from SUNY Binghamton. Then, a role in rescuing Graham Labs in Hobart, and guiding its acquisition by a Fortune 500 company. And then, a rise to presidency of Custom Electronics, creating ultracapacitor-maker Ioxus along the way.

In time of COVID-19, Pentaris shifted the technology in BriteShot, which enabled “Law & Order,” “Blue Bloods” and other hit TV shows and movies to be powered
on location anywhere, to AirAffair, which, in three steps, removes the virus from movie sets – any enclosed location, for that matter.

Mike Pentaris was just the beginning:

• BETTIOL DISTINGUISHED CITIZEN: State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford,
had a dream of public service that led him to the pinnacle of state decisionmaking. He had hard-working parents who believed in community service, but he’s wasn’t born with a silver spoon at hand.

• BREAKTHROUGH BUSINESS: Pathfinder Village tapped the energies of its residents, many with Down Syndrome, to create Pathfinder Produce & Mobile Market, which not only provided productive labor, but turns out vegetables and food products for needy families.

• SMALL BUSINESS OF THE YEAR: Theresa’s Emporium, which has figured out how to thrive in downtown Oneonta, on the ground floor of the former Bresee’s for the past 10 years. Despite the Great Recession of 2008 and other challenges, Theresa Cyzeski continues building her business, adding lines and pursuing opportunities.

Seward’s Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Award was created by Gene Sr., whose first business was running an ice-cream truck, and who ended up developing Southside Oneonta into the commercial strip we

Gene Bettiol

all frequent today. His son, taken by cancer in his mid-40s, was a chip off the old block, promoting the National Soccer Hall of Fame, then Foothills – anything he perceived as beneficial to the community.

What’s driving people like these today isn’t so different from what motivated the Pilgrims. Freedom to pursue their dreams brought 102 of them aboard the cramped Mayflower on a dangerous ocean voyage to New England’s shores, coming ashore 400 years ago last Saturday, Nov. 21, at today’s Provincetown, Mass., on the tip of Cape Cod.

It was “new Promised Land,” in their view, where they would be allowed to pursue their beliefs and, after a dozen years in exile and penury in Holland, to improve their economic conditions.

Before going ashore, Pilgrims and crew members signed “The Mayflower Compact,” agreeing to rules of order to ensure the survival of the fledgling community. It’s said to be the first time free people mutually agreed to a form of government.

Remarkable. Also remarkable that, with COVID-19, urban riots and a bitter presidential contest, we Americans mostly let the anniversary pass with so little notice.

Revisiting Jaci Bettiol’s assessment of her father at the time of his passing in December 2017 underscores our point: The Pilgrim spirit lives today. She called his life “inspirational.”

“He lived as if he was going to live forever; going full force each day without slowing down. No one could convince him to stop and smell the roses. There were simply too many opportunities awaiting his vision.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

EDITORIAL: Unite In Making Plan Work
EDITORIAL

Unite In Making Plan Work

Doesn’t it remind you of what happened to Hartwick College President Margaret L. Drugovich?

No sooner had she arrived in 2008 on Oyaron Hill, when the Great Recession hit.

Within a few months, the fledgling president, with no chance to build a reputation or support among staff and faculty, had to begin laying people off.

The faculty balked. Criticism abounded.

Dennis Craig
Margaret Drugovich

Drugovich did what she had to do. Things settled down. The economy eventually rebounded, and Drugovich built the sterling reputation she has today.

Fast forward to 2020 and, across the valley, SUNY Oneonta President Dennis Craig.

It’s even moreso. Drugovich had a short honeymoon. Craig parachuted into the middle of a 700-plus COVID-19 infestation, one of the worst per-capita among U.S. campuses. His predecessor had departed precipitously. The New York Times’ front page was trumpeting our woes worldwide.

Craig immediately formed a COVID-19 Rapid Response Team. In a month – almost to the day – the team reported out a 22-page, single-space,
detailed-packed plan to take on the menace.

Pretty good.

So far, some of the faculty balked. But otherwise, criticism hasn’t abounded.

Just the opposite. Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig likes the plan’s focus on the safety of his constituents. Student Association President Gabby Cesaria likes the focus on a Feb. 1 reopening; she surveyed students, and 50 percent want to return to classes.

In recent decades, SUNY Oneonta has been on the make.

President Alan Donovan, now retired and an Oneonta community leader, began the drive to push up the quality of students and scholarship.

During his successor Nancy Kleniewski’s tenure, Oneonta was often mentioned, along with Geneseo and New Paltz, as one of “SUNY’s Ivies,” if you will.

During that period, the SUNY System invested heavily in the hilltop. Tom Rathbun, the level-headed assistant vice president/facilities, was spending $30-40 million a year upgrading the campus, and it looks great. (His successor, Lachlan Squair, appears to be quite an innovator, making SUNY Oneonta an innovator in Upstate Medical’s novel “pool testing.”)

And alumnus Bill Pullman starred in “Independence Day.” You can’t get much better than that.

SUNY Oneonta dropped the ball when COVID-19 arrived. That was then; recent, but then.

This is now.

The SUNY Oneonta community must want to return to what it was, a campus on the make. With its particular COVID mess behind it, the SUNY Oneonta community should strive, as one, to be a Model of the Reopening.

With two anti-COVID vaccines coming online, with the wide local acceptance of masks and social distancing, with the high-level of community sensitivity to COVID, it can be done.

The online petition – only a fraction of the faculty, some 71 out of 500 professors and instructors, have signed it – takes on Craig and Provost Leamor Kahanov personally.

While no doubt well meaning, the petition drive seems to be the wrong instrument at this point.

That’s misguided.

Of the many issues raised, the one about sensitivity to relatives of faculty who may have pre-existing conditions resonates most. But it’s hard to believe the administration would not seek to ensure what protection it can to people under particular threat of COVID.

No doubt the key players in the campus hierarchy are as imperfect as the rest of us, but – at this critical point in SUNY Oneonta’s history – let’s all pull together behind the people who, more than ever, need wide support.

And that includes the campus community and the rest of us, the public at large.

Sterling Legacy Suggest: Are City Managers Needed

EDITORIAL

Sterling Mayor’ Legacy Suggest:

Are City Managers Needed?

Maybe it’s apocryphal, but the story’s told of a former mayor of Oneonta who, elected decades ago, discovered some department heads were taking hour-and-a-half lunches to work out at a local gym.

The mayor gave everybody raises, at the same time advising the department heads: Game over, be back at your desks in an hour.

That worked for six months, then the particular department heads starting slipping, the story goes, and soon things were back to how they’d been at the outset.

If true, that underscores the need for a boss, on site, every day at City Hall – and at every other business, for that matter. The buck needs to stop somewhere.

That said, the City of Oneonta’s experience with the current city-manager system of government – next year it will be in place a decade – just hasn’t worked out as hoped.

So that Mayor Gary Herzig is again suggesting revisiting how City Hall governs itself – and
it’s effectiveness in general – is worthwhile, and timely.

The idea of an executive director, implementing mayoral and Common Council policies, makes sense. Pairing that job with, for instance, finance director (or the most apt department head) makes further sense.

As it happens, the third city manager in a decade, George Korthauer, retired last February, just a month before COVID-19 arrived, requiring extraordinary leadership, which Herzig provided – to no one’s surprise, really, given his almost four-year track record.

It’s the Curse of Competence – a job expands to the talents of the person holding it. (Or shrinks.) Even a city charter like Oneonta’s, calling for a “weak mayor” form of government, can’t keep a good person down.

Meanwhile, the Village of Cooperstown also professionalized its government, creating a village
administrator, but leaving the elected mayor and board of trustees assisted, but fully in charge.

Over the years, City Hall has been blessed with many such good persons. Or maybe it’s an Oneonta thing; the city is welcoming to newcomers and comfortable for natives.

There never seems to be a shortage of qualified people, wanting to give back.

It’s not just Herzig; there’s been a succession of capable mayors.

The mourned Dick Miller, a former corporate executive and Hartwick College president; John Nader, now SUNY Farmingdale president; Kim Muller, a SUNY administrator; the venerable David Brenner, a SUNY associate vice president and author, who also chaired the county Board of Representatives.

The trail of talent goes back to the 1960s, when Sam Nader, now 101, set the mold, gaining a statewide reputation for acumen, and bringing a New York Yankees farm team to Damaschke Field.

It can’t be an accident.

By contrast, the three city managers to date just didn’t catch fire. Mayor Herzig is right in concluding it’s time to at least review, and perhaps rethink, a well-intended undertaking that fell short of its goal.

Putting artificial limitations on talented local people, smart, experienced, ambitious about their native or adopted community, must be a mistake.

One caveat: The current city charter was a hard sell, but – in the end – the deal was clinched. On Nov. 7, 2010, 76.08 percent of voters approved it, 1,177 cast aye ballots to the nays’ 370.

A new charter revision effort must earn credibility. The new document must be likewise sold to the public, as the last one was. If it indeed corrects flaws in the 2011 document – as it can and should – that shouldn’t be a heavy lift.

If it includes major changes, Oneonta citizens must be convinced they are indeed improvements. Then, put to a vote, the revised charter passed, and establish a firm foundation for a future that may very well be better guided by leading citizens.

EDITORIAL: Turmoil At Bassett, But It’s Good Turmoil. And It Can’t Be Avoided

EDITORIAL

Turmoil At Bassett,

But It’s Good Turmoil.

And It Can’t Be Avoided

Intriguing news is filtering out of the vicinity of One Atwell Road, Cooperstown, as Dr. Tommy Ibrahim, new Bassett Healthcare Network president/CEO, takes hold.

Some people are leaving, voluntarily or not, which is common in this kind of transition. But there’s a particularly intriguing addition: A tech guy, Michael Thompson, VP/systems improvement, recruited from Integris, Ibrahim’s former employer, based in Oklahoma City.

Last week’s announcement described his job this way: “Michael will partner with administrative and medical staff leadership to develop and implement a strategic-performance improvement plan for all hospitals across the Bassett Healthcare Network.”


That dovetails with Dr. Ibrahim’s vision, as he described it in an introductory interview on his arrival in mid-July.

Integris’ nine hospitals were silos, vertically organized – president, vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, department heads, etc. His idea was to organize hospitals by specialties – radiologists, cardiac specialists, dermatologists, etc. – horizontally.

Aggregating the power of expertise: You can see how effective that would be, at Integris, sure, but also at Bassett, in concentrating the expertise scattered between Cooperstown, Fox in Oneonta, O’Connor in Delhi, Cobleskill Regional Hospital, Little Falls, and the Bassett Network’s dozens of other facilities.

At Integris, Ibrahim told the Daily Oklahoman a year ago, “Our strategy to becoming one of the nation’s five top medical systems starts with building an infrastructure around data analytics. Our central theme remains quality and patient safety, around which we track many matrices.”

Data, matrices (measurements), quality. It’s going to be exacting, intense. At Integris, “teams systemwide meet every morning to gather, quickly identify and rectify issues, and rally around providing the best patient care possible,” the Oklahoman reported.

To do this, Ibrahim needs people around him to effectively implement; in other words, to get the
right things done right, and quickly.

To do this, he needs his own team.

It seems, that’s where we’re heading.

Departures so far include Dr. Steven Heneghan, the Network’s chief medical officer, announced a month ago. Two or three other key players – unannounced, but you’d know them – as of last Friday. It’s being said top Bassett executives who want to remain in their positions must reapply, but that couldn’t be immediately confirmed this week.

Can it be helped? Probably not, nor should it be.

The former Oneonta mayor, Dick Miller, served on the Fox board, and used to say it’s generally accepted that, for a modern hospital system to succeed, it has to draw on a population of 1.2 million; Bassett’s eight counties add up to 600,000.

It should go without saying, but can’t be said enough: For the good of Otsego County, in particular, it’s important that Bassett – a font of jobs and brainpower, a facility essential to quality economic development – orbits around Cooperstown, rather than Utica, Albany, Binghamton or, heavens, Sayre. Pa. That means adding to and further developing exceptional expertise already in house –
obviously, there’s never enough of that – attracting more patients, and continuing to expand as
opportunities arise.

In his departing interview, Dr. Bill Streck, Ibrahim’s predecessor, who retired in 2014 but was brought back in 2018 when his successor resigned, was asked what went wrong in the interim.

Nothing specific, Streck said, just a loss of “institutional momen-tum.” That, he continued, can be a fatal sin.

Dr. Tommy Ibrahim, 39, has brains, a successful track record, youthful energy, and a vision of where we should go. He sold that vision to the Bassett board, which was looking for a future. He needs

HIS team to take him there, and us. That’s going to take some short-term pain. And that’s OK.

Final quote from the Oklahoman:  “I think Integris” – substitute Bassett – “can absolutely compete with the likes of the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins and the Cleveland Clinic.”

Without ambitious goals, we aren’t going to get there, or anywhere. Ibrahim needs his team’s support, and everyone’s, to get there.

Public, Private Colleges Both Must Thrive

Public, Private Colleges

Both Must Thrive

It’s been reported that SUNY Oneonta’s volunteer quarantining was a SUNY-wide policy.

If so, then we can expected similar COVID explosions at Cobleskill, Delhi, Binghamton and across the 64-campus system, unless the campuses can quickly apply SUNY Oneonta’s new regimen of 100-percent testing and a two-week hiatus.

Throughout the pandemic threat, there have been calls for uniform policies and instruction from Washington D.C. (or the CDC in Atlanta), so a nation of 320 million people can proceed lock-step against a common foe.

That’s fine, but there’s a downside: If some central authority gets it wrong, then we all get it wrong. New York State got it wrong – it was a fiasco, but Governor Cuomo led us out of it – allowing other states to learn and adapt, albeit not perfectly.

There’s another reason for Hartwick College’s rigor vis a vis SUNY Oneonta’s fuzzier focus. President Margaret L. Drugovich undoubtedly understood that, if Hartwick didn’t get it right, there might be no Hartwick.

Within the SUNY system, there’s a different understanding: There will be hard times, there will be cuts, but the big bureaucracy will continue churning along. Thanks, taxpayers.

SUNY Oneonta had to get it sorta right. Hartwick had to get it perfectly right.

What does this tell us?

Nationally, we need diversity among the states to come up with solutions. With COVID-19, we need a diversity of institutions of higher learning to ensure a diversity of solutions (and diversity of thought, for that matter, but that’s for another day.)

Excelsior Scholarships, the SUNY system’s free tuition for children of families with incomes of less than $125,000, have put many of Upstate’s fine private colleges at a competitive disadvantage that will erode their effectiveness over time, maybe even their ability to exist.

Yes, Cornell, RPI, Colgate, Niagara, RIT, Hamiltion, Union and, yes, Hartwick, are already feeling the pinch. Earlier this year, supportive alumni pulled Aurora from the brink.

When we eventually get to the New Normal, part of it should be a revisiting of Excelsior Program to ensure an equal playing field. First, all students should have some skin in the game. Second, the state

Legislature should make sure tuition aid is equitably spread across the board, to SUNY colleges and private institutions alike.

The SUNY Oneonta fiasco (227 cases at presstime) – and, fingers crossed, Hartwick College’s relative success to date (two cases) – underscore: e pluribus victoria.

Let’s Stay Flexible, Collaborate, Decide To Move Forward

Let’s Stay Flexible,

Collaborate, Decide

To Move Forward

20-20 hindsight is easy but…

Aug. 21-23 was critical. That was the first weekend back for SUNY Oneonta’s 6,500 students. For Hartwick College 1,200; but, as it turns out, that was less impactful.

For Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig and Common Council, the focus had been on bars and gatherings on Main Street, but that turned out to be under control.

Yes, there were students there, but the heightened public concern, and tavern keepers’ wariness about losing their licenses, plus state regulations preventing people from actually standing at the bar, avoided the COVID-19 petri dish that downtown might have been.

It turns out, a better focus would have been off-campus festivities – several “large parties,” as SUNY
Chancellor Jim Malatras put it, where a handful of students passed the infection to other students who went back to campus and passed it on to others, 245 as of Tuesday, Sept. 1. Kapow!

In addition to patrolling downtown, city police were supposed to be patrolling for large parties. According to Police Chief Dave Brenner, a cruiser responded to a single party, and issued a noise complaint.

With 20-20 hindsight, there you have it.

On the SUNY campus, the policy was to ask incoming students to self-quarantine for seven days, and those coming from “hot-spot” states to quarantine for 14. Dreamin’, as was underscored by the course of events since then.

In contrast, Hartwick College insisted students get tests in advance to prove they were clean, and tested them again when they arrived on campus, and will continue to do so.

That SUNY Oneonta had to test all its students on an emergency basis AFTER 105 cases erupted on the Saturday of Weekend Two – underscores that Hartwick’s approach was better.

It’s nice, perhaps, that the first default of SUNY Oneonta’s administration was to trust students to be dependable – but we’re in a pandemic, folks. Nice doesn’t do it.

At the time, the SUNY Student Association’s opting out of City Hall’s ban on nighttime buses between the campuses and the downtown seemed like a bad idea. Since, the SA’s contract with Hale

Transportation of Clinton was abruptly cancelled.

On his Sunday, Aug. 30, press conference at SUNY Oneonta, Chancellor Malatras also announced a high-ranking official, Hank Bennett. the SUNY system’s deputy director of operations, has been deployed from Albany to advise the local campus’ administration.

It’s a shame it had to come to that, but there it is.

The good news is, as of this writing, at least, there have been infections, but not all are active. It seems young people are more at-risk than originally thought, but not as much as older citizens.

This may change by the time you read this, but by press time no one had been hospitalized, and it was expected all SUNY students would be tested.

We’ve learned collaboration is better than not, that tough decisions are necessary, that there’s no substitute to dusting ourselves off and moving forward.

After Malatras raised the alarm, Governor Cuomo dispatched a virus-testing SWAT team to the City of the Hills, which set up testing sites Wednesday, Sept. 2, at Foothills, the Oneonta Armory and
St. James Episcopal Church.

For now, in Oneonta, you can get tested; so, get tested. That allows contact tracing, quarantining and, eventually, let’s expect and anticipate, an end to this unhappy episode and a return to whatever the

New Normal may be.

Extremism Threatens George Floyd’s Legacy

EDITORIAL

Extremism Threatens

George Floyd’s Legacy

In our nation and county, we have a moment of opportunity.

George Floyd’s death – and, in particular, the graphic video, 8 minutes and 46 seconds of it – caused every American of good will, black, white, Hispanic, even, yes, Indians, to say, enough is enough.

The mechanisms of reform are starting to turn on the question of the moment: How do we retool our police departments so it, finally, once and for all, won’t happen again? How do we retreat from the militarization of local, state and national law enforcement set in motion on Sept. 11, 2001, after terrorists brought the Twin Towers to the ground before every American’s very eyes?

At the state level, Governor Cuomo has ordered every local government with one of the state’s
500 police forces to review records for the past 10 years and “reinvent and modernize police strategies and programs” – BY APRIL 1! This is what’s called, not a wish, not a study, not a forum, but an action plan.

Subjects to be studied include use of force, crowd management, community policing, addressing “implicit bias,” de-escalation training, community-based outreach, citizen-complaint
procedures, and more.

County Rep. Dan Wilber, who chairs the Public Safety & Legislative Affairs Committee, Oneonta Common Council, at Mayor Herzig’s initiative, and the Cooperstown Village Board are already moving to meet the governor’s deadline.

Potentially, this will be George Floyd’s legacy. Let’s not threaten it.

It isn’t guaranteed.

The biggest threat to accomplishing Cuomo’s mandate and George Floyd’s legacy – at base, to create a more perfect union – is extremism and its silly stepchild, overreach.

Extremism? How about Black Lives Matter’s Hawk Newsome, who said the other day: “If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down the system and replace it.” That’s
going to work out well.

Silly overreach? Last week’s action by the Cooperstown Village Board to remove the word “Indian”
from Historic Markers qualifies – and, presumably, eventually from such icons as the “Indian Hunter” in Lakefront Park.

It turns out, though, the word “Indian” is unobjectionable, even preferred, by many Indians themselves, local experts tell us. Some Indians specifically reject the alternative “Native Americans,” noting their ancestors crossed the Bering Strait – “Beringia” – from Asia 15,000 years before Amerigo Vespucci was born in 1454.

Let’s keep our eye on the ball.

The point is, there are “sensitive” experts out there – as compared to the “insensitive” rest of us, as characterized by Trustee MacGuire Benton – who would be contemptuous of the Village Board’s initiative, first raised by Benton and turned into a resolution by Trustee Richard Sternberg.

Thankfully, after knowledgeable instruction, Sternberg said he intends to at least revise his resolution to allow a period of study before approaching the state Education Department and asking for our local monuments to be defaced.

Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch now says that resolutions, like this one, shouldn’t be sprung on the Village Board at the 11th hour of a late-night meeting, as this one was. She’s considering asking that resolution be included in the packet trustees receive on the Friday before their Monday meetings, so they aren’t ambushed.

Look, folks, all of us have undergone severe personal challenges, going on four months now.

Some of us, or family and friends, have been stricken by coronavirus. Many of us have seen our livelihoods challenged. Most of us have been confined, for better or for worse. And all of us have been inconvenienced.

Then, just as things appeared to be improving – maybe, it turns out, in New York State; but in much of the rest of the nation, no – a match was thrown into a bucket of gasoline in Minneapolis, dramatizing a grievous flaw in OUR American society that can no longer go unaddressed.

In both crises – the pandemic and the protests – there has been extremism and overreach, and
they are eroding the consensus that will allow us to get anything out of this mess.

Again, let’s stay focused.

As we enter the Fourth of July weekend, let’s vow to stick to the business of being can-do Americans,
and get both crises behind us, to affirm our American system, that we don’t burn books, and
can read what we want. That we don’t deface monuments over ideology. That we remove statues by due process, not mob rule.

That we can burn flags if we want to – even our revered Stars & Stripes.
Except for very narrow exceptions – shouting fire in a crowded theater – we can say and write what we want. If we can stand the scolds, we can use whatever words we want. And certainly, we can think what we wish, as long as we don’t act on our felonious ruminations.

Let’s treasure these Constitutional guarantees. They’re called freedoms. And looking at most of the world, they’re American freedoms. Let’s cherish them. Let’s learn to appreciate them by practicing them – this Independence Day and going forward.

In Nation Under Duress, A Verb To Live By

EDITORIAL

In Nation Under Duress,

A Verb To Live By

Socially distanced appropriately, Cooperstown village trustees join Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, center, at the Pride Flag, unfurled at 22 Main on Tuesday, June 1. From left are Joe Membrino, Richard Sternberg, Jeanne Dewey, MacGuire Benton, Jim Dean and Cindy Falk. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

The verb, “to accept.”

The verb became action at 8:30 a.m. Monday, June 1, when Public Works Director Mitch Hotaling climbed a ladder and hung the Pride Flag on Cooperstown Village Hall.

When the Village Board, with some rancor, voted last July to fly the flag during Gay Pride Month, trustees couldn’t know how the verb, “to accept,” might resonate today after three months of pandemic and a week of riots.

To begin, let’s activate the verb to accept the people we know who are gay: beloved brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins, childhood friends.

And more: Let’s accept they should be honored, even celebrated. It’s time.

“We” sounds majoritarian. It is. It is time for the country at large to accept this minority, and be enriched by it, as the majority has accepted so many others over our 250-year history and continues to do today.

Let’s go further. Let’s accept that violence settles nothing.

Arguably, the 1967 burning of American cities ripped apart the Civil Rights coalition of the 1960s and set back the cause 20 years. Fury creates fury; it’s no win.

Let’s accept that militarizing American police forces after 9/11 – “civilians” is what officers call the rest of us – was a mistake from its beginning in the shadow of the burning Twin Towers. Let’s ramp it back.
Locally, we’ve seen the bad as we walked past armored cars and flak-jacketed officers en route to the Hall of Fame’s Induction.

And we’ve seen the good: Last Sunday, Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner assigned no officer when 500 people rallied peacefully for justice in Oneonta’s Muller Plaza. He trusted them.
Community policing, that’s called, a partnership between police and people.

Let’s accept it.

Yes, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, we’ve read how Minneapolis’ police union sheltered members from responsibility. Let’s accept reform is needed there, too.

Let’s accept that our nation’s vast wealth – the envy of the world – hasn’t been sufficiently shared.

Locally, Schenevus’ unified joy at the prospect of a 300-job distribution center dramatized the yearning for good jobs here, as in black neighborhoods like the one where George Floyd was killed.

In the Trump Administration’s peace plan for Israel and Palestine, multi-national companies agreed to build plants in Palestine, where unemployment is as high as 43 percent in Gaza. Why not in disadvantaged American neighborhoods?

Let’s accept that economic stability stabilizes families, and neighborhoods and communities. Stable communities require less policing, fewer opportunities
for the Officer Chauvins of the world to do their damage.

Let’s accept vibrant American capitalism as a font of opportunity and wealth, the modern outlet for ambition and the pioneering spirit. And tax it appropriately for the benefit of all.

Let’s accept that our Constitutional system generally works – or, as Churchill said, better than any other – and that the current administration happened because government had lost touch with its constituents.

If we don’t like the result, that can be allayed, perhaps as soon as Nov. 3 or no later than Nov. 5, 2024, and reforms made along the way.

Let’s accept the arc of history bends toward justice. The American story, flawed as any other nation’s,
proves it.

Amid all this, let’s accept flying the Pride Flag each June. Since we all have gay friends and relatives, it shouldn’t be divisive at all. Mayor Gary Herzig has said he doesn’t object to it in Oneonta – so, draft a resolution.

Let’s accept we may not fly enough flags: Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Parkway is lined with 90, one for every nation that has contributed any significant number of today’s Philadelphians.

Let’s accept the American canon: freedom, justice, the right to pursue Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. For everyone. And let’s use verb, “to accept,” to advance it.

Action Needed, And Responsible Majority Acted

EDITORIAL

Action Needed,

And Responsible

Majority Acted

9 ACCEPTED IMPERATIVE; 5 DIDN’T

Preparing to vote on 59 layoffs Wednesday, May 20, are, from left, top row, Chairman
Dave Bliss and Vice Chair Meg Kennedy; County Reps. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla; and Andrew Stammel, D-Town of Oneonta. Second row, Michele Farwell, D-Morris; Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta; Rick Brockway, R-Laurens; Dan Wilber, R-Burlington. Third row, Andrew Marietta, D-Fly Creek; Jill Basile, D-Oneonta; Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, and Adrienne Martini, D-Oneonta. Bottom row, Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, attended but had departed. (Screenshot from Facebook Live meeting)

Sometimes things have to be done. Imperatives, they’re called.

Such is the regrettable layoff of 59 county workers, a decision made May 20, a week ago Wednesday, by the Otsego County Board of Representatives. The layoffs go into effect Monday, June 8, the day county government is allowed to reopen.

The vote was 9-4-1, with the nays all Democrats: a veteran county rep, Andrew Stammell, Town of Oneonta, who should have known better, and three newcomers, second-term Michele Farwell, Morris, ditto, and newcomers Jill Basile and Clark Oliver, who are, well, newcomers facing probably the toughest decision they will make in their tenures.

Danny Lapin, also an Oneonta Democrat, had to leave halfway through the meeting – he was moderating a long-scheduled OCCA panel on adapting to a post-COVID-19 world. Asked, however, he said he would have voted nay, too. “I share the same concerns as Representatives Stammel and Farwell” – that the cuts made aren’t the best possible.

In listening to last week’s debate, and talking with county board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, and the vice chairman, Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, the cuts were made after an exhaustive review. Department heads were asked for guidance. Kennedy’s Administration Committee met for several hours Wednesday, May 13, then for five hours Friday, May 15, to make the final decision.

All board members were welcome at these meetings, and all were emailed voluminous information and data that were the basis for the decisions, said Bliss.

He added that many of the layoffs are people who were determined “non-essential” – a terrible term – and thus were prohibited from working anyway. Also, they will be laid off in time to partake of “enhanced” unemployment, an extra $600 a week. (A separate editorial, perhaps.)

Plus, the CSEA, at first obdurate, has since agreed to additional sweeteners from the county board: Those laid off may return with their seniority and vacation time intact, and can choose to pay and stay on the county medical insurance through the end of the year. Civil Service Law requires none of this, Personnel Officer Penny Gentile told the board.

All in all, that’s a pretty sweet layoff, if any layoff can be.

“When you’re talking about the solvency of the county,” said Bliss, “you’ve got to do what’s right.” Not to edit him, but they – the county reps – have to do the best they can, with the expectation any decision this complicated – paring 10 percent of a 500-person staff in two dozen departments – won’t be perfect.

As county Rep. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, said, quoting Teddy Roosevelt: “Sometimes the right decision and the hardest decision are the same.”

Here are a couple of ways to analyze the nay votes.

One, the Republicans, in alliance with the one Conservative, control the county board, and there’s a responsibility that comes with control. They were elected to, and arguably they made the best decision they could, after an open and inclusive process.

And it’s not over: There are more tough decisions ahead.

Two, through bipartisanship. That, along with “transparency,” are two terms that often emerge between Democratic lips. This was a time for bipartisanship.

It’s interesting that two Democrats – Andrew Marietta, Cooperstown/Town of Otsego,  and Adrienne Martini, City of Oneonta – serve on the Admin Committee, went through the many hours of deliberations, and voted twice in favor of the layoffs, once in committee, then on the 20th.

County Rep. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, then called for those who voted nay to come up with an alternate list, if they can do better. That’s fine in theory; but, frankly, the county board’s procedures were followed in getting to the 9-4-1 vote. It should stand, and likely will.

“We have to do everything we can to bring these who lost their jobs back,” said Lapin. By not making the tough decision, he, Stammel, Farwell, Basile and Oliver will have little leverage to accomplish that.

The decision will be made by those who took a deep breath and did what they had to.

Actually, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles has an idea that’s more interesting: Use this opportunity to review county government top to bottom, to see where efficiencies can be put in place.

For instance, bill paying and hiring is done across multiple departments. Why not centralize
those activities, bills in the Treasurer’s Office, hiring and personnel administration in a new Human Resources Department.

That would be the best of all worlds: Making layoffs as painless as possible, and streamlining county government so those who do return will reenter a leaner, more effective and efficient organization.

Everyone’s adapting to the “new normal,” and it isn’t going to be 100 percent comfortable for anyone.

City Folks Will Flee Upstate When This is Over

EDITORIAL

As With 9/11, City Folks Will Flee

Upstate When Pandemic is Over

Small businesses in small towns like ours, and the small City of Oneonta, are taking a hit right now.
But for businesses that make it through, there may be better days ahead.

At one of the daily briefings of local community leaders by the Governor’s regional representative, it’s said, a Power Point showed how multiple infected travelers – pinpoints, charted through tracings – flew in from Europe to JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports, tightly packed and infecting others.

Landing, the pinpoints scattered into Westchester County, southern Connecticut and northern New Jersey. The ones that went directly into New York City entered the subways and, well, this all added up to the perfect COVID-19 storm.

As of earlier this week, 15,786 of 90,694 deaths were in New York City, some 18 percent of the national toll.

After 9/11, New York City folks flocked north. We all know somebody. (Chuck Williamson of Butternuts Brewery comes to mind; he watched the Towers fall from the front door of his tavern in Red Hook, across the bay.)

The point is, when this is over, people are going to flock Upstate, and not just to getaway. Country living is great. (See excerpt below from Chris Ingraham’s “The Worst Place in America” in June’s Reader’s Digest.)

Think about it. If Oneonta could attract 500 new families with high-tech earners who could work from a distance, and the Cooperstown area, maybe 100, it would be transformative.

And, yes, both communities already have broadband.

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