By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA — The traditional swearing-ins were Wednesday, Jan. 1, in Common Council chambers, but swearing-in with a hand on the Bible was one tradition that may be waning.
When each of the nine candidates approached the podium, City Judge Lucy Bernier asked them if they would like to place their hand on the Bible, or on the U.S. Constitution.
Three of the nine – seven Council members and two county reps – chose the Constitution.
“I figure upholding a political office and upholding the law of the United States, which is the Constitution, relates more to my job politically than the Bible does,” said Jill Basile, sworn in as the city’s District 14 county board representative.“I understand and value the tradition of swearing on the Bible, but I also understand and value that people are different, religions are different, and being able to make a choice is powerful.”
Basile hopes others feel the same. “I think that folks should embrace differences and someone swearing-in on a Constitution shouldn’t affect how people perceive them doing their job as an elected official,” she said.
Council member John Rafter, Seventh Ward, who also swore on the Constitution, insisted “people can use anything to swear on. They don’t have to choose between two. It’s simply a swearing-in, and where my hand is is irrelevant. I can swear on ‘Finnegan’s Wake’” – the James Joyce classic – “if I want, because I believe in it very strongly.”
Sixth Ward Council member Scott Harrington, however, chose the Bible out of habit. “I didn’t give it a thought,” he said. “I think it’s both tradition and my personal belief. Like when I got married. You make the promise. When I make that promise I’m answering to honesty and integrity.”
And there’s family heritage . “When my dad took the oath of office, he got sworn in on the Bible,” he said. “Maybe it’s just my upbringing.”
The most youthful member of the county board, Clark Oliver, made a stand for tradition “mostly out of respect for my family. I was raised Christian and I’m currently a member at the First Presbyterian Church in Oneonta,” he said. “I recognize that there’s a separation of church and state and totally respect my colleagues. It was a personal choice. I think it’s a choice that every official should be able to make,” he said.
But according to Otsego County Judge Brian D. Burns, swearing-in on the Constitution is relatively new.
“I’ve personally never seen anyone swear-in on the Constitution,” he said. “From my experience, that’s new.” In 20 years administering oaths of office in Cooperstown, everyone’s sworn on the Bible.
From a legal standpoint, however, signing a state-required form, not the oath, affirms elected officials’ status. “Each public official has to sign a sworn oath and that’s the action that really counts,” he said.
Historically, at least three presidents did not use the Bible for their oath of office. John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce both used a book of law and Theodore Roosevelt raised his right hand in place of a text.
“There is no issue about putting your hand on the Bible or the Constitution or the
Koran,” said Council member David Rissberger, Third Ward. “When you are sworn into the office you are promising to the people that elected you that you will uphold the constitution and do the best job possible. When you put your hand on something you are saying that this what you believe in. I swore on the Bible, but I would feel just as comfortable swearing on the Constitution.”
And Mayor Gary Herzig echoed this perspective.
“There is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, but it’s not a requirement,” he said. “We have people serving office of many different religions and some who don’t follow any religion, so for that reason we are not going to tell people that their only option is to put a hand on the Bible.”
NEW FACES AT 197 MAIN ST.
Editor’s Note: This profile is the first of three on newly elected Otsego County representatives who will take office Jan. 1.
By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Jill Basile saw her future as her father, Bruce, lay in a hospital bed.
“During that time I watched a lot of news,” she said. “I decided that I didn’t want to be the person who complained behind the scenes anymore. I wanted to do something.”
Her father passed away in April 2017, but his inspiration resulted in Basile’s election Nov. 5 to the Otsego County Board from District 14, which stretches south from the colleges to I-88. She succeeds Liz Shannon, who is stepping down.
“I figured this was my time to help the community that I grew up in. I missed the sense of helpfulness in my life,” she said. “I think people look at the large picture, but they don’t realize how much local politics affect their lives directly, and that’s why I’m here.”
A native of Oneonta, she received a bachelor’s in financial services from SUNY Cobleskill and joined Hartwick College, first as a residential director, then assistant director of Residential Life and Judicial Affairs.
With a master’s degree in student affairs administration from SUNY Binghamton, she joined Opportunities for Otsego’s Violence Intervention Program as a victim advocate.
“I decided on the county board because of my experience with the county,” she said.
For Basile, it quickly became clear that part of her political career would also involve animals. She began volunteering for the Susquehanna SPCA after she adopted her dog there in 2015 and became a board member in 2017.
“I have loved animals my whole life and after spotting Sasha and adopting her from the shelter, I wanted to give back,” she said.
As a board member of the SQSPCA, one of her first goals is to help her local furry friends. “It’s surprising to me that the shelter provides a service to the county by caring for animal victims and they are not compensated,” she said.
The SQSPCA recently spearheaded an iniative to get more funding for animal cruelty cases in Otsego County.
“The sheriff’s department now has $10,000 in the budget for animal cruelty. That’s a step forward for us,” said Basile. “As a board, it’s been something we’ve been passionate about.”
During her campaign, “that was one of my main talking points. People really connected with me on that.”
Yet another mission for Basile is establishing a better protocol for pay raises for Otsego County employees.
Last year, the county board adopted a competitive scale for its manager, but the new rep said, “statistically, Otsego County’s pay rate is lower than neighboring counties. I’d like to see the county come up with a process or policy for providing raises for employees that would allow county board representatives to prepare for the future.”
Additionally, Basile, who now works from home as an academic adviser to SUNY Delhi’s Nursing Program, wants monthly board meetings at a different time, “when people can attend – 10 a.m. is not accessible for most working people.”
With her first county board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 2, Jill Basile is ready to put things in motion. “I think people look at the large picture, but they don’t realize how much local politics affect their lives directly, and that’s why I’m here.”
NEXT WEEK: Rick Brockway, R-District 3, representing Laurens and Otego.
LETTER from JULIE HUNTSMAN
To The Editor:
I’m writing today in enthusiastic support of Jill Basile, candidate for Otsego County Board, District 14, (Wards 7-8).
I have gotten to know Jill through her volunteer work for the Susquehanna SPCA, on whose board she also serves. Time and again, in a crunch when volunteers are crucial, she rolls up her sleeves, literally, and gets to work, no matter how dirty the job. She gives back in other ways too: She’s served as director of Oneonta Reading is Fundamental since 2017.
Jill’s background, education, and work experience also impress me. She was raised in Otsego County and knows our region very well. Her undergraduate education in business and master’s in Student Affairs Administration prepared her for a productive career managing college facilities, developing programs and educating students and advisers alike.
Her fine work at Hartwick College earned her the Adviser of the Year Award, 2010-11. She currently serves as academic adviser at SUNY Delhi’s School of Nursing, a position she has held since 2014.
In addition, she has valuable experience in human services, having worked with Opportunities for Otsego and the Child Advocacy Center. Jill has counseled people in crisis, and advocated for those without a voice.
She has facilitated the complex interface between health care providers, law enforcement, schools and social services when families, individuals or children are in peril.
Jill is very well qualified for this position. She’s a giver and gets things done – our county board would be very lucky to have her! District 14 – vote Jill Basile on Nov. 5!
JULIE HUNTSMAN, DVM
LETTER from SHANNON McHUGH
To the Editor,
I would like to officially announce my support for Jill Basile who is ready to lead District 14 within the City of Oneonta into greater times. She is running for the county Board of Representatives in the hopes of bringing new energy to Ward 7-8.
As a small business owner for the past 14 years in this city, I wholeheartedly believe in and support Jill’s ideas and concepts that are going to ignite a line of open communication with those who are in a space of power in our community.
I have had the pleasure of working alongside Jill at the Susquehanna SPCA, where together we shaved matted dogs saved from a neglect case. Her energy and positive outlook can be seen in every facet of the SPCA, where you can also find her walking adoptable dogs on Main Street in the snow or ensuring the community is aware of the shelter’s needs. She is that person you go to when you need something done and you know it will be done right.
I also serve as a Community Relations & Human Rights commissioner for the City of Oneonta, and have utilized Jill’s skills and determination to assist the commission in its goals. Jill is always available, and ready for whatever concern or issue comes her way.
She is the type of individual that leads by example and leaves you feeling empowered. As a community we are lucky to have such a genuine and open individual that is going to bring compassion, new ideas and good ole hard work to our county board.
I hope you will join me in bringing about this much needed positive shift into our community, and vote for Jill!
SHANNON McHUGH, LMSW
Community Relations &
Human Rights Commissioner
LETTER from DAN BUTTERMANN
To the Editor:
I am writing to enthusiastically suggest we vote for Jill Basile for county representative from District 14 (Ward 7-8).
I have been fortunate to get to know Jill during her campaign. This campaign is not the start of her contributions to benefit our community either, as she has been giving to our community for many years. Her resume is rich with experience that will greatly benefit our county in her new role.
Jill started as a resident director at Hartwick College, working to ensure the wellbeing and safety of our college students. After Hartwick, Jill went to work for Opportunities for Otsego in its violence intervention program, then onto the county in its office for child advocacy, and now she works as an academic adviser at SUNY Delhi while raising her family right here in Oneonta.
Not only have Jill’s professional activities directly benefited our region, she also volunteers for organizations like SPCA, Reading is Fundamental and Future of Oneonta Foundation.
Jill is well equipped to take on the challenges of the board of representatives and I recommend all my friends and neighbors in District 14 cast their vote for her on Nov. 5. Wait! Head out now and vote early. Vote today!
ONEONTA – Independent county board candidate Wilson Wells in is for the duration.
The county Board of Elections this morning rejected a challenge to independent Wilson Wells’ petitions to run in District 14, Oneonta’s Wards 7 and 8. The election is Nov. 5.
The challenge was filed by retiring Ward * Common Council member Joe Ficano, a Democrat. A fellow Democrat, Jill Basile, is running in District 14, and would have been unopposed if Wells had been knocked off the ballot.
ONEONTA – Announcing her intent to establish an annual budget allocation specifically toward animal care, Jill Basile, a resident of Oneonta’s Seventh Ward, will run for the Otsego County Board of Representatives in the 14th District, a seat currently held by Lizabeth Shannon.
An alumni of Oneonta High School, Basile earned a Bachelors degree in Business Administration from SUNY Cobleskill and a Master’s Degree in Student Affairs Administration from SUNY Binghamton.
Since returning to Oneonta after college, Basile has worked at Family Planning of South Central NY, Hartwick College, Opportunities for Otsego Violence Intervention Program, Coordinator of the Child Advocacy Center for Otsego County and SUNY Delhi.