COOPERSTOWN – Democratic unhappiness over how state Sen. Peter Oberacker was replaced on the county board spilled over at today’s reorganizational meeting.
County Board Chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, was reelected, but the vote was 10-3, plus one abstention. And not before Bliss was criticized for partisanship, poor communication and a lack of vision.
“The people of the county deserve a county chair who puts the good of the county above party and does not work the rules for partisan advantage,” said Michelle Farwell, D-Morris, one of two reps speaking out against Bliss’ reelection.
The other was Jill Basile, D-Oneonta, who said, “We saw our lack of transparency, partisanship and poor communications in the appointment of the District 6 representative,” Jennifer Mickle, R-Town of Maryland, who succeeded Oberacker.
It’s a bit of a Christmas story, coming out of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, of all things.
It involves at least four of Pope Gregory’s “Seven Virtues” – Charity, Patience, Kindness and Equanimity. (The Seven Deadly Sins, of course, have a higher profile.)
Famously, talk is cheap, when it comes to bipartisanship (and generally). But three county representatives – Andrew Marietta, Andrienne Martini and Andrew Stammel – talked that talk AND walked that walk in recent days.
The winner: Objective governance for the good of all 59,493 of us,
Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, Working Family Party member, small “i” and Big “I” i(I)ndependents, Libertarians, etc.
By the county board’s December meeting on the 2nd, it was clear the Republicans had put themselves in a trap that could have lost them majority control for only the second time since the Board of Representatives was created in the early 1970s.
No need to relive every particular, but when state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker resigned Monday, Nov. 16, the Republicans fast-tracked the succession.
Democrats only found out about plans to seat Oberacker’s hand-picked successor, Jennifer Mickle, the day before the Thursday, Nov. 19, Administration Committee meeting, too late to come up with their own candidate.
The Admin Committee, 3-1, on party lines, then approved Mickle, (who, aside from the controversy, appears to be an able candidate). Without Admin approval, Democrats needed a 2/3rd majority to have their candidate even considered by the full board.
For a while, it looked like ill-will and recriminations would be the gifts under the county Christmas tree this year.
The Republicans, it seems, hadn’t fully considered how this might play out: With Oberacker’s seat vacant, neither party had a majority under the county’s complicated weighted-voting system.
So neither party could fill the vacancy without at least one vote from the other party.
And the Democrats, at least some of them, were incensed, and in no mood to play nice.
If the vacancy stood, the Republicans couldn’t have appointed the board’s chair or vice chair Jan. 2 at the annual reorganizational meeting. Or name the committee chairs, or control committee membership.
All decisions would have had to be bipartisan.
Out of power since 2008, the Democrats now held all the cards.
Including the fairness card. Not fairness to the Republicans, but to the 3,456 voters in Oberacker’s District 6 (Maryland, Worcester, Westford and Decatur).
At the Dec. 2 full county board meeting, Marietta, Martini and Stammel were profiles in fairness. All decried the rushed (and partisan) process. But Martini put it this way: “Leaving that district without representation for a year just doesn’t sit well.”
So the three Democrats handed control of the county board – at least until Nov. 4, 2021, the next Election Day – back to the Republicans.
(Also kudos to the board’s sole Conservative, Meg Kennedy, who scheduled a second Admin meeting to interview the Democratic nominee, former Worcester supervisor Diane Addesso, a goodwill gesture, even though it was too late to make a difference.)
To end where we began: Talk is cheap.
Most Democrats and some Republicans have been touting bipartisanship in board deliberations.
But Marietta, Martini and Stammel have shown that, to them, it’s a way of governing, worth more than numerical control.
Well done. Let’s hope, at least for the next year, bipartisanship will rule.
We’ve been here before, with an opposite outcome: In 2006, the Republican representative from Worcester, Don Lindberg, allied himself with the Democratic minority and achieved the board’s chairmanship.
The anger generated by that deal prevented any friendly compromise for the next two years. A recurrence has now been prevented.
‘…Leaving that district without
representation for year…doesn’t sit well.’
Editor’s Note: These were the comments from county Rep. Adrienne Martini, D-Oneonta, prior to voting for the Republican nominee to succeed state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, on the county board.
‘I agree with (county Rep. Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta) that the process was a little bumpy, and there were problems with it. It’s also not a process we do on a regular basis. If it should happen again in the near future, I hope that we will remember what we’ve learned.
“I’ve gone back and forth on how I’ll vote. Ultimately I come down where (Rep. Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield) does, which is leaving that district without representation for a year just doesn’t sit well.
“We only have 30 days from Representative Oberacker’s resignation to fill the seat by board vote. In a perfect world, the Governor could call for a special election, but the odds of that ever happening are low.
“Additionally, the county would have to bear the cost of having a special election, which is an expense we cannot afford right now. We are still in the middle of a pandemic and it is getting worse in our county.
“The board needs to have a voice from every single district as we face the next few months, which might be even more bleak than the spring was.
“The candidate who was appointed will be up for election in November and her constituents will have a year’s worth of her votes to consider. I hope all parties field a candidate for this seat then so that the voters can decide.
“Because of all of this, I will vote yes on this nominee.”
The county board’s Administration Committee set a poor precedent in deciding to interview candidates for state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker’s District 6 seat in “executive session” – that is, in secret, out of the public view.
The county attorney, Ellen Coccoma, last week advised the Admin Committee when it interviewed the Republican candidate, Jennifer Mickle, that whether to do so in public or not was optional, up to the reps. To close the door instead of opening it was the wrong way to go.
It was bi-partisan poor judgment, too.
At this past Monday’s Admin meeting to interview the Democratic nominee, Diane Addesso, at least county Rep. Adrienne Martini, D-Oneonta, questioned if darkness should trump light.
Then she said, oh, never mind.
Admin Committee chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick/Milford/New Lisbon, made the motion, and Republicans Ed Frazier and Keith McCarty, and Democrat Andrew Marietta, as well as Martini, went along.
If Mickle, Addesso and Libertarian Andrew Hamill ran for the seat, they would have had to answer questions in public from the public. Why should they get a free ride into Oberacker’s seat without having to tell the public in this limited manner why they want the job and what they would do with it?
After all, when crowned by their fellow representatives, Mickle, Addesso or Hamill would be participating in votes that will have an impact on all of us living in Otsego County.
When this sorry process is over, soul-searching is warranted by all county reps.
The state Committee on Open Government is available to conduct a training session for the board, but it’s as much a question of attitude: Does county government belong to everyone, or to them alone?
COOPERSTOWN – After expressions of bitterness among fellow Democrats, three of them crossed party lines today to appoint Oneonta businesswoman Jennifer Mickle, a Republican, to succeed state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker as District 6 county representative.
Voting for Mickle were Democratic county Reps. Adrienne Martini and Andrew Stammel, both of Oneonta, and Andrew Marietta, Cooperstown/Town of Otsego. She will have to run for a full term next November.
All the Republicans voted aye, for a margin of 9-3. There was one abstention – Michelle Farwell, D-Morris. The weighted vote was 4156-1,035.
Mickle, who was Oberacker’s choice to succeed him, is a partner in Oneonta’s United Student Rentals, which she owns with husband Ron. A longtime Maryland resident, she has chaired the town’s Board of Assessment Review. She also chaired the Northern Otsego Relay for Life committee.
COOPERSTOWN – With Democratic county Reps. Adrienne Martini and Andrew Marietta saying they will vote for her, it appears Republican Jennifer Mickle will be appointed to succeed state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker on the county board, assuring Republican control of the board.
SCHENEVUS – After a week of political wrangling, two women – one Republican, one Democrat – have emerged as prospective successors to state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, on the county board.
The Republican is Jennifer Mickle, an Oneonta businesswoman who lives in the Town of Maryland, where she has chaired the town Board of Assessment Review.
The Democrat is Diane Addesso, former Worcester town supervisor who operates a graphic-design studio there.
County Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick/Milford/New Lisbon, who chairs the county board’s Administration Committee, scheduled a special Admin meeting for 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 30, after Democrats called the process hurried and unfair.
“My goal in having that meeting,” she said Tuesday, Nov. 24, “is to allow the questions and answers for both candidates … even if it doesn’t come to a vote.”
She added, “The process did not allow both sides to be heard, and I’m trying to remedy that.”
What followed was set in motion Monday, Nov. 16, when Oberacker resigned from his District 6 county board seat.
The next evening, county Republican Chairman Vince Casale convened a meeting of District 6 Republican committee members, and they endorsed Mickle, Oberacker’s choice to succeed him.
Wednesday, www.AllOTSEGO.com reported the news, and Democrats responded with dismay that they weren’t briefed. “I had to read about it on AllOTSEGO.com,” one of the Democratic reps said at the Thursday Admin meeting.
That day, Admin Committee members and county reps in attendance from both parties participated in a Zoom interview with Mickle. The committee then voted 3-1, along party lines, to send her name to the full board at its next meeting Dec. 2.
That evening, the county Democratic Committee convened and selected Addesso as its choice to succeed Oberacker. And the next morning, Kennedy announced her decision to vet Addesso as well.
“Hearing from both sides, and giving the opposition ample time to field a candidate and vet them is the right and fair thing to do,” said Democratic County Chairman Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta, on hearing the news.
Casale demurred, saying both Republicans and Democrats knew on Nov. 3, Election Day, that Oberacker would have to resign. “The Democrats are acting as if they are victims to politics, when they are actually victims of their own ineptitude and lack of planning,” he said.
In an interview, Mickle, who operates United Student Rentals with her husband, Ron, and chairs the Northern Otsego Relay for Life Committee, said joining the county board would be “a wonderful opportunity. I’ve always believed in public service and giving back to the community. I hope my experience will not only be a benefit to District 6, but to the county as a whole.”
In another interview, Addesso said that, while Worcester town supervisor, she streamlined polling places from four to one. That, in addition to her predecessor buying a gravel pit as a savings measure, led to a state citation for good governance. Kennedy said she isn’t sure if the second Admin meeting will achieve anything concrete, since the committee has already recommended Mickle to the county board. The committee’s makeup is three Republicans, two Democrats.
An added wrinkle: With Oberacker having resigned, neither Republicans nor Democrat have a majority of votes. If no Democrat will vote with the Republicans, Mickle can be confirmed.
If that happens, County Attorney Ellen Coccoma has ruled the reps would have to petition Governor Cuomo for a special election, but there’s no guarantee he would OK it.
District 6 is considered a Republican district, so if Mickle had to wait until next November’s election, she might have an advantage.
The county Board of Elections reports there are 1,624 Republicans in District 6, compared to 789 Democrats.
However, there are other voting parties as well: Conservatives (72), Working Families (11), Green (13), Libertarian (15), Independence (225), non-affiliated (704) and “other” (3).
COOPERSTOWN – To calm troubled political waters, county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, has scheduled an Administration Committee meeting for Dec. 2 to give the Democratic prospect to succeed state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker a hearing before that day’s county board meeting.
“I felt this was the right thing to do,” she said a few minutes ago. “I always try to do what’s fair, and I think this is fair.”
COOPERSTOWN – In a party-line vote, the county board’s Administration Committee a few minutes ago voted, 3-1, to send Jennifer Mickle’s name Dec. 2 to the full board, which will consider whether to appoint her to succeed state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, in Cooperstown.
County Rep. Clark Oliver, the Democratic county chairman, said “I’m disappointed this process was so rushed.” The Democratic County Committee planned to meet tonight to designate a Democratic nominee.
But county board Chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, said everyone knew nine months ago, when Oberacker announced he would run to succeed retiring state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, that there might be a vacancy.
SCHENEVUS – Republican county committee members from the county board’s District 6 met last evening and nominated Jennifer Mickle, a Town of Maryland resident and Oneonta businesswoman, to succeed state Senator-elect Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, on the county board.
The candidate, who also has experience in local government and community service, called it “a wonderful opportunity. I’ve always believed in public service and giving back to the community. I hope my experience will not only be a benefit to District 6, but to the county as a whole.”