By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – When the 9-4 vote affirmed Meg Kennedy as the first woman vice chair of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, Andrew Marietta leaned over and said, “Meg, you know I support you.”
The Conservative for Hartwick, Milford and New Lisbon and the Democrat from Cooperstown and the Town of Otsego both shook hands and smiled.
But for the preceding few minutes Thursday, Jan. 2, at the Otsego County Board of Representatives’ organizational meetings, things were a bit more tense.
David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield/Cherry Valley, had been unanimously reelected board chairman. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, then nominated Kennedy – “our Citizen of the Year” – as vice chairman, and freshman Rick Brockway, R-Laurens, second it.
Bliss called the vote, but Michele Farwell, R-Morris, asked tentatively, “Is there discussion?”
What followed was a discussion about the future of bipartisanship, with Farwell noting that two years ago, when the county board was also split 7-7, now-retired Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, “was nominated, and he got unanimous support of the board. I thought that was a very positive show of bipartisanship.
“I’m just a little bit concerned we might be taking a step backward, and that would be unfortunate.”
Marietta, who as senior Democrat was the party’s leading prospect to succeed Koutnik, agreed. “Having that bipartisan approach contributed to how we worked well together,” he said. “… I think we lose some of the value of the past two years by not having that structure.”
Two Oneonta Democrats, Andrew Stammel and freshman Clark Oliver, speaking for the first time in an official capacity, concurred.
But another Oneonta Democrat, Adrienne Martini, said, “I also think it is nice to have some diversity in terms of who is the vice chair, and I think Meg brings that in terms of gender.”
In the end, Kennedy’s election was bipartisan.
Voting aye were Republicans Bliss, Wilber, Brockway, Unadilla’s Ed Frazier and East Springfield’s Keith McCarty. And Democrats Farwell, who paused for a moment before voting aye, Stammel and Martini.
Voting nay were Marietta, and the other three Oneonta reps, Oliver, Danny Lapin and newcomer Jill Basile.
Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, was absent with the flu.
After the vote, Bliss said, “I agree we’ve done some great work together lately as bipartisans. And I will endeavor to continue.”
He pointed out Kennedy, a Conservative, “is neither Republican or Democrat. And she’s proven her worth, and I know she will endeavor to be as bipartisan as possible.”
Still, Farwell regretted the Democratic loss of the vice chairman post. In an interview, she also noted that Koutnik, an environmentalist, was replaced by Brockway, “a climate-change denier,” on the board’s Solid Waste & Environmental Concerns Committee. And that Oliver was only named to one committee, Human Services.
“I wasn’t expecting a return to partisanship,” Farwell said. “I hear over and over that they want functional government, and not party nonsense like they see in Washington. I feel some trust has been lost.”
In an interview, Bliss said Marietta had expressed interest, “and I would have had no problem with Andrew as vice chair. Andrew was great. Meg was the better candidate.” The climate-denier statement surprised him. He said that Oliver was also named to Performance Review & Goal Setting, a special committee that is about to be elevated to full-committee status.
“Bipartisanship, by my definition, is the best person, the best candidate, the best idea,” the chairman said.
Throughout the debate, speakers were at pains to separate the issue of bipartisanship from Kennedy herself.
“I think Meg – representative Kennedy – will do a great job, and she has my respect and esteem,” said Farwell. Marietta said, “I think Meg will do a tremendous job.” And Stammel, turning to her during his remarks, said, “Meg, I think you will obviously do a great job.”
In the just completed term, Kennedy had chaired the two most time-consuming committees, Intergovernmental Affairs and Administration (ways and means), which won approval for a county administrator form of government and the establishment of the county Energy Task Force.