News of Otsego County


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


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


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/

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


Action Needed,

And Responsible

Majority Acted


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


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.

Build On DMCOC’s Smart Marketing


Every Business Should Build

On DMCOC’s Smart Marketing

It’s been hard to approximate layoffs. Business owners don’t want to announce them, and the monthly figures seem so theoretical.

Bassett Healthcare Network, people figure – and have heard anecdotally from time to time – has certainly furloughed and cut back hours after closing two floors and halting elective surgeries while coronavirus was considered a pending local emergency. But it doesn’t want to brag about it either.

So the county Board of Representatives plans to lay off 59 people – 50.5 FT equivalents, 10 percent of its payroll for $1 million in savings, and hardly enough – was a bracing bucket of cold water.

So were state Sen. Jim Seward’s declarations over the past few weeks that a depended-upon safety net, the state Department of Labor, is inaccessible. No one’s answering the phone and constituents, after days of trying, have been calling the senator’s office in tears. He wants answers, and action.
We need to focus, people.

In an interview the other day, the able Cassandra Harrington, executive director of Destination Marketing Corp. of Otsego County (too long a name) or DMCOC (meaningless acronym) had some scary numbers to share.

In 2018, she said, tourism brought $206 million to Otsego County, of which $101 million was spent employing people in a total of 3,426 jobs. Those jobs aren’t there this summer.
Happily, Destination Marketing has an action plan: It is rolling out a summer marketing promotion on June 1, looking to draw people here from a 150-mile radius.

Before we all throw up our hands in horror: The idea is to attract people, hopefully a lot of them, to kayak (with a loved one who has been equally exposed, or not exposed). And go to our airy beaches. And

Ride bicycles – one person per bike. And hike our lovely trails – 6 feet apart, of course.
Social distancing is easy in the Great Outdoors.

After July 1, when the Hall of Fame and other attractions very likely will have reopened
(The Clark Sports Center is looking to open that day), the marketing plan will shift to attractions, (paced to ensure the local institutions are not overcrowded.)

In the fall, the marketing will shift to foliage.

All of this makes sense, in line with the two-word imperative: REOPEN SAFELY. Both words matter equally; each must be done.

Two things:

One, are Destination Marketing’s promotions being sufficiently financed?

The county’s contribution to DMCOC is based on last year’s sales- and bed-tax revenues. We know the county’s broke, but it should take a flinty-eyed look at cost-benefit before it considers cutting here.

Another source of revenue is the Partners’ Program – partners being individual hotels, restaurants and attractions. They also are strapped, some less so, and they should participate if they can.

How about our local private foundations? Perhaps they can help ensure marketing efforts are fully funded.

People, some anyhow, are reluctant to accept the fact Otsego County is a tourist economy. That fact is going to be dramatically emphasized in the months ahead.

Two, local business must do what they can to serve, and thus profit from the people lured here by DMCOC’s marketing campaigns.

Maybe restaurants can make box lunches for bicyclists or picnickers. Maybe stores can set up sidewalk displays (enabled by municipalities.) Otsego County Chamber President Barbara Ann Heegan said Oneonta City Hall is considering allowing all restaurants to do sidewalk cafes.

Nice, airy and safe idea.

Individual businesses know better how to do so for themselves. It’s important they do so.

We’re all in a fix. But it’s not a fix that’s going to last forever.

Maybe the weather will slow the coronavirus. Maybe a vaccine will be developed over the fall or winter or sooner. Maybe immunity will become widespread. Pandemics eventually end, some more happily than others.

The point is, as we flattened the curve, let’s now do what we can to soften the economic pain.

For Good Of All, Hope Marty Patton Right


For Good Of All,

Hope Marty Patton Right

It may turn out Marty Patton made the right call, delaying opening of his Cooperstown All Star Village, the youth baseball tournament camp in West Oneonta, in hopes of salvaging at least some of the 2020 season.

Things are happening so quickly.

With this week’s Glimmerglass Fest cancellation, pretty much all of the major summer activities have been cancelled or delayed – mostly notably, of course, Derek Jeter’s July 26 Induction and the 2020 season of Patton’s competitor, Cooperstown Dreams Park.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus threat seems to be easing day to day, from New York City to Otsego County where, for now, there’s almost nothing left.

Patton’s strategy – cancelling the first week in June during the first week in May, etc. – may allow him to salvage two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, maybe more. He is emphatic, as every sensible person should be, that safety will guide any final decision.

Given where were are, it’s possible COVID-19 may be just an unhappy memory locally in a few weeks.

The pacing factor for Patton is where his teams are coming from: Detroit and Houston and Tucson and wherever the disease’s arrival came later.

When and where are questions Patton’s struggling with, as he should be. Let’s hope facts break his way, for the benefit of all of us.

War Not Over, But Let’s Take Victory Lap


COVID-19 War Not Over,

But Let’s Take Victory Lap

Let’s take a victory lap.

As of Monday, May 4, the coronavirus threat in Otsego County had been reduced to one case. One case in the whole county.

It’s a battle won, not the war.

Testing for the coronavirus identified 62 positive infections once symptoms appeared, through the Bassett Hospital hotline (547-5555) and other means. In all likelihood, though, there is still coronavirus in our neighborhoods.

Testing for antigens, which is expected to ramp up in the days ahead – soon, in local pharmacies. It will identify people who have been exposed to COVID-19, have it in their bloodstreams, but may not have infected anyone else.

Further, no county is an island, as much as we might wish it to be. People are driving up from New York City, the national center of the epidemic – many fewer than would have been if Induction 2020, Cooperstown Dreams Park and the Glimmerglass Festival hadn’t been cancelled – but still, some.

Some people, it’s said, are renting now-vacant Dreams Park families’ accommodations, seeking to shelter their families from the disease’s Ground Zero. Who can blame them?

According to an order from county Board Chairman David Bliss, they are required to report their arrival to the county Department of Health and to go into a 14-day quarantine. But it’s unlikely everybody is doing so.

Yes, it’s not over.

Still, we – look in the mirror; look around you to see who’s within sight – all of us, have participated in this success, in reducing 62 cases (and, potentially, rising) to one.

We’ve sheltered at home. We’ve washed our hands and used hand-sanitizer.

We’re wearing masks. We’re staying 6 feet away from each other.

We’ve avoided congregating outside our families. We’ve cancelled all major local events, from the Otsego Chamber of Commerce’s spring gala, to the Greater Oneonta Historical Society’s annual dinner, to all sporting events and high school graduations – you name it. All churches and social clubs are in abeyance.

We’ve sacrificed, for the good of all.

County government sprang into action, beginning with Bliss’ emergency declaration, a day after
President Trump’s and Governor Cuomo’s, to enable quick implementation of state and national orders.

In addition to a COVID-19 task force, chaired by County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, sub-task forces for economic development (DMOC’s Cassandra Harrington, chair) and health (Bassett’s Diane Johnson) were spun off.

Individual initiative played a part: Oneonta City Councilman Mark Drnek comes to mind. His, which evolved into, has been adopted by the City of Oneonta’s Economic Development Task Force, appointed by Mayor Gary Herzig.

Our elected officials – the county board, the Cooperstown village trustees, our school boards in Oneonta, Cooperstown and across the county – have been on it, strategizing, cutting, with more to come –
to ensure an unprecedented challenge doesn’t become an unprecedented fiasco.

In the front ranks, we should be thankful to county Public Health Department and its director, Heidi Bond, for reducing 62 confirmed cases of coronavirus to a single one. These unsung heroes have enforced the quarantines, and ensured those under quarantined are tended and kept in place.

Of course, this has been a 24-7 undertaking for Bassett Hospital and Fox Hospital, on the job unstintingly since March 13 – 54 days as of Wednesday, May 6.

This represents a lot of individual dedication and institutional muscle.

OK. Down to one. Breathe deeply. The signs are good. But challenges remain. Foremost, remember, that one neighbor of ours who is still suffering. It’s not over yet.

Given the bludgeoning New York City has taken, it’s to be expected that Governor Cuomo – he’s performed superbly in this crisis – is moving forward so cautiously.

But human beings are human beings – communal animals, energetic, crying and laughing, jostling
each other, pushing ever forward – and won’t be constrained beyond what’s reasonable.

All of this shall pass, preferably sooner, but at some point regardless.

Still, we citizens of Otsego County can be proud today.

First Cooperstown Election Was A Wild One


First Cooperstown Village

Election Was A Wild One

Illustrations inn Alan Taylor’s “William Cooper’s Town” including, upper right, Cooper’s Otsego
Manor, where Victor Salvatore’s James Fenimore Cooper statue is today, and, upper left, Elihu Phinney, Otsego
Herald publisher, a friend of Cooper’s who became a bitter political foe.

Editor’s Note: The uncertainly surrounding this year’s village elections locally and throughout New York State, now scheduled six months late on Sept. 15, brought to mind the tumult surrounding Cooperstown’s first village elections, recounted in Alan Taylor’s “William Cooper’s Town,” which won a 1996 Pulitzer Prize.

The (state) Legislature (in 1807) was considering two rival petitions to incorporate the
village at the foot of Lake Otsego. Incorporation would provide Cooperstown with a government
distinct from Otsego Township.

Ostensibly the rival petitions disputed the official name for the incorporated village (formation of an aqueduct company was also at issue): in one, (Cooperstown’s founder, Judge William) Cooper and the village Federalists sought to retain the name Cooperstown, while the other championed by (Otsego Herald publisher) Elihu Phinney and his new Republican friends, favored “Otsego Village” in order to dishonor the judge.

…The judge spent much of March in Albany haunting the Assembly lobby to press for passage of his bill. Instead, on April 3, the day after Phinney openly endorsed (gubernatorial candidate Daniel) Tompkins in the Otsego Herald, the state Legislature passed a bill incorporating Otsego Village and empowering Phinney and four associates to establish their aqueduct company.

Wounded by the theft of his village, William Cooper plunged into the campaign of 1807 with a vengeance. It became his personal mission to punish Phinney and the (ascendant Democratic Republicans) by helping to defeat their candidate for governor.

Flushed with victory, Phinney and his associates aggressively moved to implement the new government for Otsego Village. The May 14 issue of the Otsego Herald announced Tompkins’ sweeping victory and
summoned the villagers to meet at the courthouse on Tuesday, May 19, to elect five trustees.

But Phinney and Metcalf underestimated the resiliency and the anger of the Federalists, who were still a solid majority in the village, if no longer in the county at large.

On the 19th, the Federalist majority packed the courthouse and elected five trustees favored by William Cooper. Four days later the village Federalists reconvened at Maj. Joseph Griffin’s Red Lion Tavern.

They instructed the new trustees not to act until the legislature amended the incorporation and restored the name Cooperstown.

…Enraged by Phinney’s betrayal, Cooper urged his neighbors to cancel their subscriptions to the Otsego Herald, and he launched an effort to bring another, solidly Federalist newspaper into the village. In late 1808, the Cooperstown Federalists established their own newspaper, misnamed The Impartial Observer, (renamed The Freeman’s Journal in 1817.)

…The Federalists briefly obtained a majority in the state legislatire and, in June 1812, pushed through a bill reincorporating the village as Cooperstown.”

With Facts As Guide, Let’s Start Reopening


With Facts As Guide,

Let’s Start Reopening

As the headline has it, that’s what Governor Cuomo is doing. And he’s convincing.

When on April 16, Cuomo announced he was extending NY PAUSE from April 29 to May 15, most of us probably thought that it would then be extended to the end of May, then mid-June, and so on.
Upstaters, given the daily reports of New York City’s spiraling death code, were in that frame of mind.

So it was a pleasant surprise, Sunday, April 26, that the governor, in response to a reporter’s question at the daily briefing, said he planned to start “phase one” of the move to the “New Normal” on May 15 in three Upstate regions – including the Mohawk Valley, which includes Otsego County.

It wasn’t an unalloyed pleasant surprise; after all, who isn’t worried about our future relationship with the coronavirus.

Since then, Cuomo’s continued to sketch out a fact-based process.

Before the “New Normal” begins, regions must experience 14 days of sequential reduction in infection rates and less than 70 percent occupancy of hospitals.

Also, and less than a 1.1 percent infection rate; in other words, more people need to be getting better than are getting sick.

Tuesday the 28th, he announced isolation facilities will be established, so if a husband, wife, son or daughter gets sick, he or she doesn’t have to go home and infect the rest of the family.
To go back to the beginning, the sheltering in place and social distancing was required to “bend the curve” to achieve a declining infection rate, and that’s happened.

Cuomo’s decision comes amid a better understanding of the imperfection of

You may have read recent op-ed pieces or seen TV clips in the past few days of Dr. Scott Atlas, a former Stanford professor – Politico, The Hill, U.S. News, Real Clear Politics, Forbes, C-Span, etc. –
reporting on the emergence of five “key facts”:

1. The vast majority of us are at no significant risk of dying from COVID-19
2. Protecting older, at-risk people keeps hospitals from getting overcrowded
3. Total isolation slows population immunity, prolonging the threat
4. People are dying because other medical cases aren’t being treated
5. There’s a “clearly defined” population at risk that can be protected with “targeted measures”
With hundreds of people still dying daily in New York City, we can still say, but, but …

Still, the governor himself said Tuesday many Upstate counties resemble “Midwest and Western states” more than they do New York City and its suburbs.

Another report, in the Wall Street Journal, on Sweden’s experience suggests the benefits of targeting: Since 80 percent of people infected are over 65, Sweden only required those people to shelter in place. And since there were no pediatric deaths, elementary and middle schools stayed open.

That kind of strategic thinking makes sense.As it turned out, Sweden’s death rate was 80 people per million, less than the United States’ seven hardest-hit states. And since steps were less Draconian, they could be maintained for a longer period without blowback.

Cuomo’s “phase one” plan has another sensible twist: The state isn’t telling individual construction firms and factories how to open, reasoning that individual companies are better able to craft effective plans for themselves, plans that protect their workers and limit their liability.

Our reporter Libby Cudmore spoke to stalwart Eastman Associates, the Oneonta construction firm: It had already developed such a plan. In the Town of Oneonta, Burt Rigid Box is preparing one.

“A businessman called me this morning,” said County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, who chairs the county’s Coronavirus Task Force. “Here’s my advice. Make a business plan: This is how we can open safely. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell everyone.”

The goal isn’t to replace safety concerns with economic ones. The goal is to address safety concerns AND economic ones.

Governor Cuomo’s step-by-step process, it seems as we approach the “New Normal,” meets that criteria.
Both disease and economic depression would be devastating.


EDITORIAL Reprinted From This Week’s

Hometown Oneonta, Freeman’s Journal



He’s Ready For White House;

Americans Ready For Him

Governor Cuomo at the Baseball Hall of Fame, May 22, 2014. Cuomo was late, and missed President Obama. ( photo)

Andrew Cuomo for president.

Already, he seems presidential,  never more than this past Monday in announcing his collaboration with five other Northeast governors in a multi-state council “to restore the economy and get people back to work.”

Let’s do it.

In the five weeks of New York State’s fight against the coronavirus invasion, the governor’s shown all the qualities of leadership. He’s told the truth, good and bad. He’s had a plan. He declared a State of Emergency and implemented its most Draconian measures, unstintingly. He’s been decisive. He’s been human, and at times actually humorous.


Consider Joining Good Samaritans


Inspired By 5 Heroes At Fire Scene,

Consider Joining Good Samaritans

What’s happened in the past week is another opportunity to be impressed about the brave men and women who respond, in dark of night and bright of day, any hour, any day, when fires and accidents happen in Otsego County.

Training and experience have made mishaps so rare, we forget – certainly the public, but volunteers and ambulance squad members, too – that every fire call and crash creates danger. These hundreds of people are, happily, rarely injured seriously – although sprains and cuts and minor burns are routine.
Yet every call creates an opportunity for injury.

Such a rare call came at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, when firefighters from Middlefield, Cooperstown, Westford, Cherry Valley and Milford responded routinely, without a second thought, to what turned out to be a raging fire in the hamlet of Middlefield.

Springfield and Mount Vision stood by. But if they – if any of the 29 volunteer departments in Otsego County – had been summoned, they likewise would have responded without hesitation.
The scene was daunting – but not beyond the experience of the seasoned volunteers: A two-story barn, in flames. Water tanks were quickly filled from nearby Cherry Valley Creek, and the firefighters deployed around the burning structure. They knew what they needed to do – and they did it.

Then, the unexpected. “There was an explosion, a ball of white fire,” said Cooperstown First Assistant Fire Chief Mike Malloy. “These guys didn’t have anywhere to go.” They were simply engulfed. The barn, it seems, was being used as a garage.

Malloy supposes the fireball was created by the explosion of an acetylene tank. Then a second explosion, then “three, four, five, six,” he’s unsure how many.

As we know now, five fire-fighters were injured, including Cooperstown’s Fire Chief Jim Tallman, a youthful 42-year member of the department. John Sears and Ryan Smith, two Middlefield firefighters, were likewise transported to Bassett Hospital.

So were Scott Monington, an officer at the Otsego County Correctional Facility, and Jon Roach, a patient-care tech at Bassett, but they were quickly transferred to the burn unit at Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse, where they would spend the next four days.

Then, what joy and affection erupted Sunday afternoon when Scott and Jon were transported back to town by two of their CVFD colleagues and greeted by a parade of fire trucks outside the Clark Sports Center.

Transported over Murphy Hill to the scene of their travails, the recovering men were greeted again by grateful firefighters and neighbors at Middlefield hamlet’s four corners.

It must have taken a while to get that together? Not so.

The idea had come to mind Saturday evening. The county’s Emergency Services deputy director, Victor Jones, suggested it to Glen Falk, the Cooperstown department’s vice president, and they immediately implemented.

They sent out an invitation to all departments that had been at the scene. They came, joined by others, Fly Creek and Hartwick among them.

Dispatched to Syracuse, Emergency Squad Capt. Eric Pierce and EMT Joel Bostwick shaved their heads in solidarity with the two injured men.

It was an inspiring afternoon.

The community, of course, responded, as it always does. accounts quickly raised $20,000 to ensure Scott and Jon get through this with no out-of-pocket medical expenses. Further fundraisers are planned.

Financially, the departments are well supported by the towns they serve. State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and other legislators have sought out state money when necessary for an engine or ambulance – even a new building. In Cooperstown, Jane Forbes Clark is a well-known benefactress of the department.
What’s lagging is people like the injured men who arrived to a heroes welcome, and the men and women who greeted the returning heroes.

Every fire company in Otsego County can’t fully fill its ranks. Yes, there are reasons – commuting patterns, outmigration, and more – but those reasons don’t apply to everyone. This is a good time for all of us to rethink our availability. Follow the link at the top of Page A4, and volunteer if you can.

The term “hero” is devalued by overuse. But Scott Monington and Jon Roach certainly qualify.
They didn’t expect to be injured last Wednesday night. But they were and they took it. And it’s not too much to say every man and woman at the scene, while not expecting to be injured, accepted that they might be. That’s a hero. Individuals putting themselves at risk for friends, neighbors – and for people they don’t know. Special people indeed.

Of course, the words of Fred Lemister, the first among equals, at last month’s reception honoring the 9,400 calls he responded to over a 48-year career, echoed.

“You are a unique breed, people,” said Fred. “Don’t ever forget that. You are different. Fortunately different. You are not like most people, and be thankful for that.

“Life is a gift, people,” he continued. “And we need to give back for that gift. You people here have given back for that gift.

I look upon you as being Good Samaritans, as helping other people in need without any thought of reward. “You are indeed doing God’s work.” Yes, they are. Join them. You won’t be sorry.

Good News, Jobs Aplenty; Bad News, No Housing


Good News, Jobs Aplenty;

Bad News, No Housing

Anyone who’s paying attention around here has come to a double conclusion:

►One, pretty much every employer, big or small, has vacancies that can’t be filled.

►Two, if new employees are hired, they often can’t find a convenient, affordable place to live.
No workers. No worker housing. A double bind.
If misery loves company, then economic developer Jody Zakrevsky, CEO of Otsego Now, went to a jobs forum hosted by Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19, last week at SUNY Cobleskill, and came back with good news: All 11 counties in the 19th Congressional District are in the same boat.

“Columbia County is facing similar challenges,” said F. Michael Tucker, president/CEO of that county’s Economic Development Corp., whom Zakrevsky said had the most to tell Delgado about the challenge. In a way, it’s even moreso.

Tucker said his county’s had the lowest unemployment in the state for 22 months in a row.
Plus the biggest city, Hudson, has become a magnet for New York City folks looking for a weekend getaway. There are 4,500 second homes in that county, and the resulting gentrification is pushing home prices higher than around here.

There’s more good news, though, Tucker said: The state’s Division of Housing & Community Renewal is aware of the conundrum, and has $150 million in grants available to communities that recognize the problem.

Even more good news: Otsego County’s two largest communities, the City of Oneonta and Village of Cooperstown, have happened onto the route to the solution.

In Oneonta in particular, then-Mayor Dick Miller realized there was a hole in the Bresee’s Department Store renovation: The cost was so expensive, rents to allow a developer to make a profit would be more than most people could afford.

City Hall obtained state and federal grants and closed the gap. The resulting four-story apartment complex has been full and profitable for seven years now, and developer Chip Klugo completed the renovation of the building next door, former Stevens Hardware Store, last November. Mayor Gary Herzig, Miller’s successor, gets it, too, and is using grants to make the Lofts On Dietz, Kearney & Son’s 64 apartments and artists’ lofts, doable as well.

In Cooperstown, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch’s plate is full. The village will complete the $2.2 million last leg of a multi-year downtown upgrade this spring, and the $5.7 million Doubleday Field redo later in the year.

However, she’s looking beyond that to adopting the Oneonta model. Village Hall obtained a $1 million CDBG (community development block grant) through the Division of Housing & Community Renewal for the Cooperstown Distillery Expansion, which may be complete as soon as March (with a ribbon-cutting in May).

Once the village proves to the state it can administer CDBGs, Tillapaugh foresees applying for grants and partnering with developers on housing projects as well.

According to Tucker, you just can’t wait to be discovered: Communities need to determine what kind of projects are desirable, then seek out developers who have done similar projects elsewhere, as Miller did with Klugo, and Herzig with the Kearneys’ Lofts.

Almost inevitably, there will be some community opposition, as with the Lofts, and neighbors’ lawsuits, as with the Lofts. Resolve them if you can and move forward.

On hearing about the current conundrum – jobs you can’t fill and, if you can, no housing for the new employees – you might be tempted to get discouraged. No reason to, said Tucker:

A recent Columbia County middle-income apartment complex was finished and immediately filled.
It can happen here, too. Don’t look too far down the road. Do a project at a time: Bresee’s, Stevens, The Lofts, Springbrook’s housing in the Ford Block, above Key Bank, and then – be still beating hearts – the old (but marble-stepped) former Oneonta Hotel.

Cooperstown has done similarly with its downtown upgrades, one project after another – the rain gardens, the Pioneer Street sewerage, the sidewalks, the streetlights – eventually it gets done. Next, appropriately sited apartments.

Tucker pointed to what’s a three-legged stool: Jobs, housing – and job training, and there’s money for that, too, although much is already happening at our local ONC BOCES.

Today’s good-news screaming headline is, THERE’S PLENTY OF WORK. Check this week’s JOBS supplement, inside this edition. Once new paychecks are being cashed, things start to happen.

Are Fossil Fuels Part Of Climate-Change Answer?


Are Fossil Fuels Part

Of Climate-Change Answer

Some of you may have heard our Adirondack neighbor Bill McKibben’s NPR interview a year or two ago.

Unless all buildings in the U.S. are made energy-efficient by 2030, the war against Global Warming will be lost, he said.

The interviewer asked, is that possible? No, said McKibben, who is among the nation’s foremost
advocates of stemming greenhouse gases. In different words, McKibben is saying, we’re lost.

Too much of the discussion of the future of the earth is fear-filled and hope-less.

In reality, much research is underway not just toward creating a sustainable future, but into cleanly burning fossil fuels.

If that’s possible, we would preserve a huge investment in infrastructure that today provides 81 percent of the nation’s energy needs, and it’s portable and convenient.

Living here in Otsego County, we forget the scale of the energy challenge. But visit New York, Chicago or Miami – it’s a big, energy-guzzling world out there, friends.

Still, with fracking, the U.S. has achieved energy independence in the past decade for the first time since the end of World War II. This is desirable, but, of course, not if it destroys us.

Perhaps it doesn’t have to. So today, at the bottom of this page, we begin an occasional series, “Can Fossil Fuels Save Us?”, with a report from Stanford University of what its scientists are doing to emeliorate greenhouse effects.

Many similarly credible reports are available from research universities across the country, and the series will tap into them. And this newspaper has many credible readers that assess these inputs independently, and provide a counterbalance if necessary.

All but a tiny fringe of our fellow citizens accepts that Climate Change is real. That debate’s over. The focus is shifting to how much, how soon, and amelioration.

With Governor Cuomo proposing a $33 billion five-year green energy plan (despite the $6 billion budget), with the Otsego County Energy Task Force planning our local energy future, and with four-mile-square solar farm proposed at West Laurens (and many more to come), is it likely that renewables alone don’t need to be the whole solution?

Travel with us. Let’s not succumb to McKibben’s despair.

‘Sanctuary County’ Idea Understandable, Unwise


‘Sanctuary County’ Idea

Understandable, Unwise

What goes around comes around.

When it does in this context, you have to wonder: Is a jurisdiction – 560 in 2018 – declaring itself a “sanctuary city” or town, county, village, etc., about anything such a good idea?
Now, a Facebook drive is underway to make Otsego a “sanctuary county” – the idea is local authorities would simply not enforce New York State’s SAFE Act and its gun-control provisions. The effort was launched by Oneonta sportsman Kaleb White and is championed by newly elected county Rep. Rick Brockway, R-Laurens.

The initiative, of course, brings to mind the national sanctuary city movement to resist
immigration laws, and the Village of Cooperstown dipping a toe in those waters in April 2017.

The village policy, passed unanimously by the Village Board, said its police department would not “participate in the Delegation of Immigration Authority provided through Section 287(g) of the Immigration & Nationality Act (1996).”

And it would be “general practice … not to inquire about the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses or others who call or approach village staff seeking assistance.”

At the time, then-Mayor Jeff Katz denied the policy in any way put the Village into the sanctuary-community fold. At base, however, it adhered to a central tenet of the sanctuary: Community leaders declaring an intent to not enforce laws they disagree with.

It’s a slippery slope.

Fast-forward to the weeks since the Nov. 5, 2019, election, when Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, buoyed by his party winning control of both houses of that state’s legislature, declared he would reintroduce a package of “common sense” gun legislation that had been held up by Republican majorities.

Within weeks, all but six of Virginia’s 95 counties declared themselves “sanctuaries” against any forthcoming “unconstitutional” gun legislation, with towns and cities driving the total over 100.

The state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, has stated the sanctuaries have “no legal effect.” Seriously, though, what’s the Commonwealth of Virginia to do? Invade 89 counties to seize bump stocks, (at the point of a gun, no doubt)?

There’s a flip side to this, evident here in New York State’s “Green Light” Law, opposed by 62 percent of the electorate. It was passed anyway.

Sure, there’s room for profiles in courage, but each time a legislative body passes a law in the face of widespread opposition, it erodes its authority and credibility. It drains its reservoir of good will.

At the extreme, of course, were Parliament’s Townshend Acts, including a tax on tea, which led to the Sons of Liberty’s Boston Tea Party on Dec. 16, 1773, triggering Lexington and Concord the next spring and the American Revolution.

In Otsego County’s case, all our assemblymen and single senator are Republicans, and the Democrats, mostly from the New York City metropolitan area, control state government. Are thus unfunded mandates this taxation – certainly, governance – without representation?

Another example: When the state Legislature raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 last summer – another controversial move – it pledged to cover any associated costs. County Attorney Ellen Coccoma told the Otsego County board at its December meeting, the state – now facing a $6 billion budget – has now decided the counties must pick up those costs.

If this keeps up, will Upstate counties at some point declare themselves “sanctuaries” against all state mandates?

This is just spit balling, of course, so let’s back up.

New York’s SAFE Act is one of the most stringent pieces of gun-control legislation in the nation, so you can understand that people who own guns or hunt will object to it.

But while the impetus to declare “sanctuary counties” where the SAFE Act would not be enforced may be understandable – here, and in Delaware and Wyoming counties so far – it is unwise in that it erodes respect for law and order. The Otsego County board will probably reject the idea, and should.

Wisely, under Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch’s administration in Cooperstown, the link to the Village Board’s April 2017 policy has been removed; actually, you can’t seem to find it on the website at all.
Asked about it, Mayor Tillapaugh offered to dig it out of her PC and send it along.

This is an evolution in the right direction. It would be better, if they wished, for trustees to pass a resolution decrying particular immigration policies, perhaps for no other reason – Tillapaugh explained – than the village’s reduced police department simply lacks the person-power to collaborate in ICE investigations.

But for any public body – the Otsego County board, the Cooperstown Village Board, or whatever – to simply declare it won’t obey the law is ill-considered at least and, at worst, criminal.

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