News of Otsego County

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Gary Koutnik

KOUTNIK: County Board Has Honest Folks Trying To Do Best
LETTER from GARY KOUTNIK

County Board Has Honest

Folks Trying To Do Best

To the Editor:

I’ve been paying attention to politics and governance since the Eisenhower administration. It’s always been an important part of my life, from dinners as a boy listening to the news on the radio, and talking about it with my family, all the way to today, listening to and reading about the current Congressional hearings, and talking about them with my wife.

So in 2011, when Rich Murphy suggested that I run for the county Board of Representatives, I didn’t hesitate. Now that I’m a newly minted private citizen after eight years on the Board, I’d like to share some thoughts about county government with the county in general.

First and foremost: the quality of the folks who serve you in Cooperstown.

We hear a lot about government corruption and malfeasance and how you can’t trust politicians. From the state level on up, some of this is true and most of it is not.

But in Otsego County, it’s clear to me that everyone who serves on the county board is there to provide a public service. No one’s getting rich, there’s no power to speak of; and not once in eight years did anyone call me and offer to buy my vote.

Public service is one of the great foundations of American patriotism, and it goes back to the Founding Fathers and even before that. That’s what happening in Cooperstown – patriotic folks who want to make a difference, to contribute to their community, to give back.

They’re there to serve you – and to spend your money wisely: Otsego County has stayed beneath the tax cap ever since there’s been a tax cap, and we’ve got the lowest tax rate of any county in the State.

And, by the way, all that partisan stuff you see in the news? They just don’t have time for it in Cooperstown. They’ve got work to do. In eight years, I do not remember a single party-line vote.

So when you get the urge to complain about government and lawmakers, aim higher. The folks in Cooperstown are giving up time, energy, and in some cases, income, to serve you.

We accomplished a lot during the time I was on the board, but I’m disappointed we did not move the Board meeting times into the 21st Century. The Rules of Order say that county board meetings are at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of the month. That might have worked in the old days, but those days are past.

Meeting in the middle of a working day reduces transparency and accountability, and it has to change. Many counties have board meetings at night, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

Changing the meeting time would take a supermajority – two-thirds – so it’s a high bar. Call your county representative and tell them that you’d like to be able to attend a meeting – maybe even speak at one! – if maybe someday they changed the meeting time so that most citizens could attend without taking time off from work.

All my best to my friends on the board as they take on the challenges of 2020 and beyond,

GARY KOUTNIK

Oneonta

On Jan. 1, Gary Koutnik completed four terms on the Otsego County Board of Representatives, representing District 11 (Wards 1-2, Oneonta), most recently as vice chairman.

 

Clark, Koutnik, Shannon Praised At Final Meeting

UNANIMOUS RESOLUTIONS PASSED

Clark, Koutnik, Shannon

Praised At Final Meeting

COOPERSTOWN — In its final meeting of the year, the Otsego County Board of Representatives today bid farewell to three of its members in unanimous resolutions:

•  Kathy Clark, R-Otego, former board chairman, was praised for “sincere effort … to represent the county’s best interests,” and — as the first woman to chair the board — “an important role model for young women and girls.”  She served six terms, or 12 years.

Voters Keep ‘A Brisk Pace’ At Polling Stations

Voters Keep ‘A Brisk Pace’

At County Polling Stations

Outgoing Otsego County Representative Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, and retired General Anthony German, R-Oneonta, were volunteering as part of the “Get Out and Vote” initiative at the Foothills polling location this morning. “We see who in the district hasn’t voted yet, and we will will give them a friendly reminder call,” explained Koutnik. County election commissioner Mike Henrici, reported that voter turnout was “brisk” across the county this morning; polling locations will remain open until 9 p.m. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
VOTE EXPECTED ON COUNTY MANAGER

VOTE EXPECTED ON

COUNTY MANAGER

Debate May Focus On Cost

v. Benefit At Nov. 5 Meeting

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

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

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

County Board chair Dave Bliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bliss said he’d like to avoid that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Administrator Vote Possible In December

Administrator

Vote Possible

In December

$75,000 Put In 2020 Budget, But

It’s Unclear If The ‘Ayes’ Will Win

County Rep. Meg Kennedy, R-C/Mount Vision, chairman of the county board’s IGA committee, briefs her colleagues this morning on the development of a county-administrator position. Vice Chairman Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, faces the camera at center. Board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, is at left. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

COOPERSTOWN – A vote on creating a county administrator position may come as soon as December, county Rep. Meg Kennedy, R-C/Mount Vision, told the county Board of Representatives meeting this morning.

“This is momentous,” reacted county Rep. Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, the board’s vice chairman.  “We have a timeline!”  Retiring at year’s end, he said hiring a county administrator would be the most important decision of his decade on the county board.

Kennedy told her colleagues $75,000 has been placed in to prospective 2020 county budget for this purpose, with the idea that, if the position is approved, it would take until mid-year for the recruitment and hiring process to be completed.

Vice-Chair Koutnik Planning To Retire From County Board

ELECTION SEASON BEGINS

Vice-Chair Koutnik

Planning To Retire

From County Board

Clark Oliver, Young Democrats’ Chair,

Looking To Succeed Veteran Lawmaker

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Oliver
Koutnik

ONEONTA – Today is the first day petitions may be circulated for this fall’s local elections, and a surprise has already surfaced: Gary Koutnik, Democratic vice chair of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, plans to retire. This time of life comes to everyone at different points, but whatever age you are when you decide to leave work, take a look at these retirement tips to see how to make the most of it.

The news surfaced in a press release from Clark Oliver, who chairs the county’s Young Democrats organization, announcing he plans to run in Koutnik’s District 11 in Oneonta.

Koutnik Votes No On Climate Pledge, Saying It’s Too Weak

Koutnik Votes ‘No’

On ‘Climate Pledge’

Draft As Too Weak

But SWECC Committee, 4-1, Forwards

Compromise Document To Full Board

The Solid Waste & Environmental Concerns Committee of the county Board of Representatives discusses on a “Climate Smart Community Pledge” resolution. County Reps. Keith McCarty, Meg Kennedy and Gary Koutnik, listen to County Planning Director Karen Sullivan.  At right is county Rep. Danny Lapin (Jennifer Hill/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – Saying the language “was softened,” County board Vice Chair Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, today voted against sending a “Climate Smart Community Pledge” resolution, as revised, to the full board for action March 6.

However, his colleagues on the Solid Waste & Environmental Concerns Committee nonetheless agreed to forward the adjusted resolution, 4-1, for the full board’s consideration.

“The language did reduce the  sense of Climate Change being a crisis,” Koutnik said.  “My vote was largely a symbolic one, so it would be in the public record for future generations to see.”

Ruffles Takes First Step Against Whack-A-Mole

Editorial for November 30, 2018.

Ruffles Takes First Step Against Whack-A-Mole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

questionnaire — gary koutnik

Gary Koutnik

COUNTY BOARD OF REPRESENTATIVES, DISTRICT 11 (unopposed)

COMMUNITY OF RESIDENCE:  City of Oneonta

EDUCATION:  BS in Education, Bucknell University; MS in Administration, SUNY Albany

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE:  School Psychologist and Director of Special Education (OCSD)

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT:  Hyde Hall Site Interpreter; Farmer’s Museum Dramatic Interpreter; Glimmerglobe Theater; Catskill Players Executive Committee and VP; Otsego County Democratic Committee Executive Committee; Oneonta Assembly of God. 

FAMILY:  Wife Abbey (married 1979), two sons:  Randall (26) and Whitsun (23)

PHILOSOPHY OF GOVERNMENT:  “There are some things that we can’t do unless we do them together. When we do them together, that’s called government.” Barney Frank

MAJOR ISSUES FACING OTSEGO COUNTY:  Matching people to training and training to existing jobs.  Preserving our awesome natural resources and landscape.  Fighting back against the devastations of poverty.  Building up our County human resources – and therefore quality services – after a decade of cuts.

STATEMENT:  The County must begin to serve the needs of its citizens and not the political needs of its leaders.  These are difficult times which require bold decisions.  We need to plan carefully and thoughtfully for a short, medium and long-term future, and this process takes vision, hard work, and courage.

MY QUALITIES:  Passion for democracy; work ethic; ability to collaborate; long experience and relationship with Otsego County residents from all walks of life.

County Appears To Retreat On Richfield Homeless Site

County Appears To Retreat

On Richfield Homeless Site

Koutnik Sees No Action ‘For Long Time, If At All’
Richfield Springs neighbor Barbara Wahl Shypski tells the county board this morning there are “safety concerns” about putting homeless lodging on Lake Street. (Jim Kevliin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

County Rep. Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield, discusses today’s agenda with colleague Jim Power, R-Butternuets.

COOPERSTOWN – County Rep. Gary Koutnik, who chairs the committee that is seeking homes for the homeless in Otsego County, was quick to reassure Richfield Springs neighbors this morning that former Mielnicki’s Restaurant on Lake Street won’t be part of county plans any time soon.

“We will not be taking any action on it for a long time, if at all,” said Koutnik, D-Oneonta, who chairs the county board’s Human Services Committee.

He spoke after Lake Street neighbor Barbara Wahl Shypski, accompanied by a half dozen other residents, told county reps meeting in the County Office Building, “We have some grave concerns.”

candidates 2015 gary koutnik

GARY KOUTNIK

COUNTY BOARD OF REPRESENTATIVES, DISTRICT 11

COMMUNITY OF RESIDENCE:   City of Oneonta

EDUCATION:  Wantagh High School, Wantagh, NY – 1968.  BS in Ed – Bucknell University, 1972.  MS in Admin – UAlbany – 1999

Gary Koutnik
Gary Koutnik

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE:  School Psychologist, School Administrator, Historic Interpretation

COMMUNITY/POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT:    Executive Committee, Otsego County Democratic Committee.  Many years of Church governance and committee work, mostly in church growth.  30+ years working with families with disabled children in Oneonta and Otsego County and surrounding counties.  Delegate to Democratic National Convention, 2012.

FAMILY:  Wife Abbey, two sons:  Randall (San Francisco) and Whitsun (Oneonta)

IN TWO OR THREE SENTENCES, EXPLAIN YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF GOVERNMENT:   “There are some things that we can’t do unless we do them together. When we do them together, that’s called government.” (Congressman Barney Frank)

WHAT ARE THE THREE MAJOR ISSUES THE OTSEGO COUNTY BOARD OF REPRESENTATIVES FACES, AND HOW WOULD YOU ADDRESS THEM?

– Comprehensive Plan:  Board looks at mid- and long-term planning for County:  what do we want to be in the business of; prioritize our efforts; move toward greater effectiveness and efficiency in all areas, starting with highest priority issues.

– Coordinate all activities County-wide:  This would probably (but not necessarily) be a County Manager, a kind of CEO for our two dozen departments and 500 employees.

– Budget:  Longer-term budget development based on planning and coordination above.

WHAT QUALITIES/EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE THAT MAKES YOU THE BETTER CHOICE IN THIS RACE:   Experience on the Board; 35 years working and living in Otsego County, both in the City and in many of the towns.  Experience with management, budget and supervision.  A passion to provide the benefits of governing to all citizens, with nobody left out.

IS THERE A STATEMENT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH VOTERS?    I’ve gotten to know hundreds of families in Oneonta from all walks of life during my career. I’ve talked with them about their hopes and dreams, especially for their children, and I’ve learned about their frustrations and anxieties. I’ve spent my whole career getting to know the people of Oneonta. And I’ve met too many families in Oneonta who have been left out of the benefits of democracy. Democracy is for every last citizen, with no one left out. If I’m reelected, I’ll continue to work for all of us. Fiscal responsibility, certainly. Hard choices, certainly. But no collateral damage. No one intentionally left out.

 

For the Love of Scrooge

For the Love of Scrooge

By JIM KEVLIN • The Freeman’s Journal/HOMETOWN ONEONTA

Edition of Thursday-Friday, Dec. 25-26, 2014

Ebenezer Scrooge (Oneonta’s Gary Koutnik) is surrounded by his ghosts – from right, Christmas Past (Caley Sharratt), Christmas Present (Gary Kuch) and Christmas Yet To Come (Art Newell). (Jim Kevin/The Freeman's Journal)
Ebenezer Scrooge (Oneonta’s Gary Koutnik) is surrounded by his ghosts – from right, Christmas Past (Caley Sharratt), Christmas Present (Gary Kuch) and Christmas Yet To Come (Art Newell). (Jim Kevin/The Freeman’s Journal)

Gary Koutnik hasn’t just played Scrooge, he and his audience live the story of redemption together.

“Everybody knows the play,” said the actor, mutton-chopped for the time being. “They know what happens at the end. They’re waiting for it. I feel like I’m being swept along.

“The more emotion I’m feeling on stage in the character, the more I can help the audience feel. And the audience helps me do that, too.”

Koutnik, retired special-ed director at Oneonta schools and county representative from the city’s Ward 1-2, completed his second run as Charles Dickens’ famous Grinch on Saturday, Dec. 20.

“A Christmas Carol,” which the Glimmer Globe Theatre and Templeton Players, sponsored by Matt and Mary Margaret Sohns, performed for a second year at The Farmers’ Museum, filled four performances at the Louis Jones Center over two weekends.

Because of its universal message, “A Christmas Carol” has enduring appeal, said Danielle Henrici, NYSHA director of education and producer. For some families, including hers while growing up on Long Island, seeing “A Christmas Carol” is an annual tradition.

“There really is hope,” she said of its message. “Even if you’ve gone astray, you can correct yourself and be a good person. It’s really what the holidays are all about – remembering what really matters in life.”

For Koutnik, Scrooge was “a bucket-list role” (along with Dickens’ Fagan in “Oliver Twist”).

A docent at Hyde Hall, he had met Danielle then-Newell and her now-husband, Mike Henrici, when they conducted ghost tours together at the National Historic Landmark mansion.

When the couple asked him to play Scrooge, Koutnik quickly accepted, then realized his son, Randall, was getting married that same weekend. As arrangements proceeded, the son and bride Lily shifted the ceremony a week, and Scrooge Koutnik was born.

“Scrooge has to play the whole range,” the actor reflected. “Greed, unhappiness – then he has to be so joyous and giving. And that happens as the play progresses – it’s a great challenge.”

It seems there are many, many scripts based on “A Christmas Carol.” But the lines in this one, written by Mike Henrici, with contributions from Danielle, are the words Dickens used in the novel, an added attraction for Koutnik.

Otsego County’s Scrooge was raised on Long Island, and his interest in acting dates back to attending elementary school plays in Wantagh.

As a high school freshman, he was cast as a crowd member. The next year, he was Frederick, one of the Trapp children in “Sound of Music.” “That opened my eyes to what this all should be,” he said. “I just never stopped.”

After college, he joined ONC BOCES’ special-ed faculty, and after 14 years moved to the Oneonta City School District, but he continued to direct and perform. On the Oneonta theater scene, he was Arthur in “Camelot,” the baker in “Into the Woods,” and – his favorite role – Juror #8 in “Twelve Angry Men,” the role played by Henry Fonda in the movie.

In the special-ed field, he met wife Abbey, who is also an artist and performing clown. They have two sons, Randall, writing code in San Francisco, and Whitsun, at home.

Koutnik was recently elected to a second term on the county board. But his second term as Scrooge will be his last, as least for a while. “It’s a great thrill,” he said, but added, “I don’t want to play a lifelong Scrooge.” (The Henricis have recruited Dr. Don Raddatz to step in next year.)

Still, Scrooge is a hard role to let go. You can almost hear Koutnik shiver as he depicts Scrooge asking the black-shrouded Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come: “Show me someone who feels tenderness regarding a death.”

The Ghost shows him the mourning Cratchits.

“I’ve asked you to show me tenderness,” our Scrooge declares. “And you have.” A pause. “Take me away.”

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