In Mayor Miller’s Memory,
Free Game At Damaschke
ONEONTA – Take in a baseball game this Saturday at Damaschke Field, and remember the late Mayor Dick Miller, the Oneonta Outlaws’ first fan.
Outlaws President of Operations/GM Steve Pindar announced this afternoon that Miller’s “many friends and business associates have come together to ‘Buy Out the Ballpark.”
In the mayor’s memory, they are inviting the public to attend the 7 p.m. game against the Syracuse Salt Cats for free. Fireworks follow.
“Please join us as we honor the late Dick Miller,” said Pindar.
We Learn Happiness Inevitable,
But Perhaps Not Right This Minute
Editorial for The Freeman’s Journal/HOMETOWN ONEONTA
Edition of Thursday-Friday, Dec. 25-26, 2014
Not having watched Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” for a few years, it was a jolt to rediscover that the movie’s deus ex machina is his contemplation, on a bridge during a wintry storm, in his cups, his S&L on bankruptcy’s brink, just having run his car into a tree, of ending it all.
Instead, as we now remember, his guardian angel jumps in, and Stewart’s George Bailey, after rescuing Clarence – from the Latin for “clear one” – is taken on a tour of his hometown, Bedford Falls, as it would have been had he never lived.
With George’s realization of the good his one life had accomplished, the movie ends with our hero, his loving family and his appreciative community packed in the livingroom of his rambling – and repair-challenged – Victorian, singing “Auld Lang Syne.”
The message resonates at the end of this gray year in Otsego County, where many of us, updating our cell-phone contacts at year’s end, “erased” one, two or even more friends who made the decision not to go on. Their decisions, we can agree, have left us in a sadder place today than when we last contemplated the message of Christmas.
In this despond came an unexpected light: “Stay,” by poet and professor Jennifer Michael Hecht, which – after two of her friends took their lives – debunks society’s rationalizations of the individual decisions made this year that have depressed our local reality.
Three conclusions – two data proven – emerge:
• One, we know such final acts are devastating to immediate families. But Hecht shows that is statistically so: If a parent takes his or her life while a child is under 18, the chances triple the child will follow suit.
• Two, there’s a copycat effect generally: People contemplating that desperate act are more likely to follow through if someone they respect makes that choice.
• Three. We know this – George Bailey learned it – is: “You owe it to your future self to live.” However daunting the personal challenges may seem at any moment, things get better, often much better.
As we all know from personal experience, bitter disappointments, undeserved tragedies, health crises contribute to the people we become, and we emerge stronger, more thoughtful, better prepared for future setbacks, and more appreciative of the many joys that always await.
One of our correspondents tells of trying to return to Cooperstown from Edmeston in a storm last winter, only to get stuck twice on snow-covered ice halfway up that steep hill just past West Burlington.
Turning north on relatively flat Route 51 and inching through Burlington Flats and West Exeter to Richfield Springs and, eventually, home, a TED talk came on the radio. The subject, happiness.
The best research, it seems, shows that everybody has a happiness level. After a blow, no matter how harrowing, within six months we’ve returned to that golden mean. It’s more golden for some; less for others, but there you have it.
That’s a reality worth contemplating as we soldier through life’s winters – figuratively and, in the months ahead, real – (and embrace its delights.) People we love and admire surrender to their devils, and we can mourn what might have been. But whatever today’s darkness, let’s keep our eyes on that bright star ahead.
Town, City Invited To GO-EDC
Talks On Collaborations
By JIM KEVLIN • HOMETOWN ONEONTA
Edition of Dec. 12, 2014
The most steadfast advocate of town-city collaboration is gone, but Mayor Dick Miller’s spirit lives on.
GO-EDC, the economic-development advocacy group spearheaded by Albert Colone and Bill Shue, has invited the Oneonta Town Board and Oneonta City Council to a moderated conversation at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 15, on how the two might collaborate for the benefit of both, plus the Greater Oneonta region.
Colone, founding president of the former National Soccer Hall of Fame, said he was inspired, in part, when he ran across the 2008 Center for Government Research study, “Opportunities to Use Shared Services and Consolidation Strategies to Improve Efficiency, Effectiveness and Equity in Local Government.”
The meeting, planned in the Oneonta Middle School auditorium, will be moderated by Steve Smith, executive director of the Mohawk Valley Economic Development District, as well as Shue, who is a former city alderman, and Colone. It will cover three topics:
• The possible development of a comprehensive town-city water/sewer master plan.
• The merits of a town-city tourism, sports and recreation agency to establish Oneonta as the “tourism gateway” to Catskills and Coopertown.
• Review the 2008 study.
Moment Of Silence, Tribute To Mayor
Mark First Meeting Without Leader
Charter Input Parsed
By JIM KEVLIN•Hometown Oneonta
Edition of Friday, Oct. 17, 2014
There were many issues raised, but two predominated at a tense Common Council meeting Monday, Oct. 13.
One, that watering down city-manager credentials from a master’s in public administration (MPA) to a bachelor’s, was an attempt to circumvent the new City Charter, which residents adopted by a 1,128-348 vote in November 2011.
Two, that by bypassing former City Manager Mike Long – the city’s first – and going directly to department heads, Council members were undercutting the charter’s support of professional management.
Long’s successor, Marty Murphy, had been sworn in earlier in the evening, and sat at the mayor’s left hand through the 90-minute session, answering questions and offering advice when he was consulted.
The special meeting had been called for the sole purpose of assessing the 20-page report of the Charter Review Commission, formed by Mayor Dick Miller following Long’s departure May 31 after only 18 months on the job.
As evening’s end, he concluded, “The council feels, virtually unanimously, that the charter was implemented.”
The exception to that unanimity was Council member David Rissberger, who chaired the original Charter Commission. Challenged at one point by Council member Mike Lynch, Rissberger shot back, “Just because I’m in the minority does not mean I’m wrong.”
Earlier in the discussion, citing the requirement for an MPA – the new city manager has one; the preferred candidate of some Council members for the job, Director of Finance Meg Hungerford, did not – Rissberger said, “I don’t think we fulfilled that at all.”
Council member Chip Holmes said he didn’t believe voters cared about the higher qualification. He voted for the charter, he said, and “that – the MPA – didn’t matter to me as a voter.”
He pointed out that City Attorney David Merzig had written an opinion allowing the lower qualification – “we had Merzig in on the whole thing” – which brought that topic to an end.
Discussion then shifted to working through the city manager or going directly to department heads, and a debate ensued on what on “lines of supervision,” specified in the charter, means. “Lines of supervision are different than lines of communication,” said Council member Bob Brzozowski.
Holmes said he would go through the city manager first when seeking to get something done. “If things aren’t getting done,” he said, “then you have to bypass him to get it done.”
Working through a city manager “is a very new idea for us,” said Council member Maureen Hennessy. “That is a sea change for us.” But, she added, “with an effective city manager, that will take a lot of the angst out of it for us.”
Discussion also arose about how the city manager, under the charter, has the authority to hire and fire. Saying he assumed a city manager would brief council before making significant personnel decisions, the mayor asked the new city manager to weigh in.
“Removing an employee is a pretty significant step,” said Murphy. “That decision should come with the concurrence of city council.” “Concurrence” rather than “approval,” he said. A council vote on a dismissal “allows politics to come in.”
Under an outline proposed by the mayor, the number of council committees was reduced from five to two: Finance & Administration, including Human Resources, and Facilities & Community Improvements.
In place of the police committee – a “committee of the whole” – the fire and police chiefs, and also the code enforcement officer, would be asked to report to the full board once a month.
This means council members would have to attend fewer committee meetings, which can be lengthy, and the meetings would be scheduled for 7 p.m., more convenient to the public.
Also, agendas and minutes would be posted on the city website, another recommendation of the review commission.
Miller said he would prepare a memo outlining those changes. “The charter will be better and our functioning will be better as a result of this,” he said.
County Rep. Kay Stuligross, D-Oneonta, a member of both the Charter and Charter Review commissions, was at the meeting and said later she approves of those adjustments as making City Hall more transparent.
“They were all too defensive,” she added. “We (the commission) wanted them to look forward. I would rather have them look forward. How can we do a better job?”
Cleinman Receives Key to City for Beautification
ONEONTA – In a small recognition ceremony earlier this afternoon, Al Cleinman of Cleinman Performance Partners, gave a check for $2,500 to the City of Oneonta for Civic Beautification. Mayor Dick Miller had his own gift to give; the key to the city of Oneonta, which he awarded to Cleinman.
“Al’s idea for making this part (of Oneonta) turned out to be a wonderful improvement.” said Miller, “Alan’s Island, which was a joint project between the City of Oneonta, The Garden Club and Cleinman Preformance Partners has made a significant improvement to Oneonta. The gifts the have given go far beyond this small island.”
Cleinman has other ambitious ideas for decorating up the entrance to the city on the James F. Lettis highway, but they have yet to be finalized. “It is not a decision, it is a responsibility of ours to beautify our city.” said Cleinman, “We have a lot of entrances to this city, I challenge others to take this idea and do more with it. “
Facts, Level-Headed Tactics
Way To Lessen Student Rowdiness
During the debate over Hillside Commons last year, one landlord was talking about how, as the academic credentials of SUNY Oneonta students rose – they are still rising – the damage to his apartments declined.
Of course, it makes sense. The more students who are more focused on their studies, the less interest they have in Beer Pong and the like.
While there is always elevated concern about mischief in college towns like Oneonta when students return – disorderly conduct, noise, public urination and, in the wee hours when the bars empty out, in particular, fights – there’s no comprehensive magic-wand solution immediately at hand.
The news that a SUNY Oneonta student is in critical condition after striking his head on the pavement during an early hours altercation Sunday the 13th underscores how serious the issue can be.
Coincidentally, NPR broadcast a chilling piece on campus drinking on the 8th, reporting 80 percent of college students drink and half of them binge drink. Dr. Sharon Levy, director of teen substance abuse at Boston Children’s Hospital, says, “Everybody’s drinking to get drunk. Kids tell me this is how they socialize with friends.”
When students enter college at 18, “the part of their brain in charge of seeking reward and stimulation is in full gear,” the report continued. “But here’s the tricky part: The part of the brain that could put the brakes on impulsive behavior is still immature and not fully functioning.”
While, locally, we’re concerned, as we should be, about the impact of student misbehavior on the quality of life, students should be more concerned than we are: A half million under the influence are injured every year, and 1,800 die, NPR reported.
To a degree, college extends adolescence: Heavy drinking is more of a problem among college students than their peers in the working world. That speaks to the whole idea of a year of mandatory community service after high school.
Somewhat more mature incoming freshmen would be more focused, better prepared to take advantage of what a college education has to offer and to avoid the pitfalls.
But that’s not a solution we can implement here today.
The point of our local situation is not to panic. The world isn’t coming to an end because 7,500 students are back in town, as they have returned for 125 years at SUNY and 85 at Hartwick.
The Miller Administration has been pursuing sensible solutions for some time now: For instance, opening the lines of communication between the OPD, university police and Hartwick security (where Tom Kelly became director of campus security after a distinguished career in the state police). These people are pros.
In 2012, OPD raided three bars identified as magnets for underage drinkers, then closed them down. Regrettably, this pushed underage drinkers into “house parties” in residential neighborhoods, the current focus of much police activity. Push in here, it comes out there.
In a conversation the other day, the mayor pointed out that the weekend of Sept. 6-7, when mischief spiked, was Pledge Weekend. “But who knew,” he said. Part of the solution, he said, may be understanding the campuses’ social calendars and tapping the college forces to help the OPD during the hot spots.
This is the kind of level-headed problem analysis we’ve come to expect from Mayor Miller, an approach that lends itself to a problem that can be eased now, but only solved longterm.
A good first step. always, is to get the facts. Numbers were provided at the stormy Tuesday, Sept. 16, Common Council meeting and the impression is they are up. If so, how much? Let’s nail down the extent of any spike before we declare a crisis.
Emotions may be raw right now, but emotions aren’t going to solve anything. The public’s had a say. Now, it might make sense to put together a representative panel to explore the challenge and come up with practical, proven steps.
You can be sure that Oneonta is not unique, that what may be happening here is happening elsewhere. And someone may even have figured out an amelioration.
Regardless, let’s not forget that Oneonta, on balance, is a better, more prosperous place because of our colleges, and the brainy professionals and ever more motivated students they bring here, not to mention the payroll.
The colleges – faculty, students, staff – are our friends.
Let’s treat rowdiness for what it is, a negative piece in a happier whole. When you think about it, isn’t that what so much of life is like?
A WILD NIGHT:
ANGRY CITIZENS BERATE COUNCIL
•By LIBBY CUDMORE•Hometown Oneonta
The room was packed. The mood was tense.
“I resent being held hostage by these students,” said Lisa Yelich, Elm Street. “I’m being told I have to keep my lawn furniture chained to my porch, that I can’t have flower pots because they’ll get smashed or stolen – this is the city I moved into?”
“My porch furniture was stolen,” added Kim Baskin, Cedar Street. “I woke up to find my hanging flower baskets smashed in the street. This is the worst it’s ever been. It’s out of hand.”
“Metaphorically, maybe we need a few more muggings, maybe of the politicians!” said George Siatos, Gardner Place.
That provoked Council member Chip Holmes: “Sit down!” he told Siatos. “You are out of line!”
The occasion was the regular Common Council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 16.
Mayor Miller, himself a former Hartwick College president, had invited a conversation between residents, students and college officials after concerns about OH! Fest and student behaviors were voiced at the last council meeting.
“The events of the last few weekends have caused us to expand this conversation,” he told the gathering. “Our two concerns are the residents, who live here and pay taxes, and concerns for the students who are engaging in these high-risk behaviors. The worst nightmare for the colleges would be a tragedy that we might have had some opportunity to intervene on beforehand.”
Sitting in the crowd, SUNY Oneonta President Nancy Kleniewski looked concerned as resident after resident stood to tell of students urinating and vomiting on their lawns, of vandalism and destruction, of house parties and fights, like the one in the early hours of Sunday morning, Sept. 14, that left one student in critical condition.
Since both colleges returned, Assistant Fire Chief Jim Maloney reported an uptick in calls to the campus. “We had 44 EMS calls and four fire calls to SUNY, two EMS calls and nine fire calls to Hartwick,” said Maloney. “We’ve had 24 EMS calls off campus.”
Police Chief Dennis Nayor agreed that there had been a larger volume of calls than normal in the weeks since students returned.
“Mrs. Baskin hit the nail on the head,” said Council member Mike Lynch. “Something is going on that’s different this year. It’s a behavior problem, and we have to figure it out. We have thick skin in Center City. We don’t call the cops if someone’s playing their stereo loud at 10 p.m. When we ring your bell, you know it’s a problem.”
Said Kleniewski, “The college takes this behavior very seriously. When students are arrested, they go through a campus judicial process, and they don’t get arrested again – it’s a deterrent.”
The college also offers alcohol education to incoming freshman, provides counseling to students struggling with alcohol or drug dependencies, and offers on-campus alternatives to going out the bars, she said.
Meg Nowak, Hartwick College vice president for student affairs, said, “At the beginning of the semester, freshmen meet with Hartwick staff, police and a public defender to discuss their rights and responsibilities as residents and how to be good community members.
“We hold our students accountable for their actions when we’re notified of them.”
One of the biggest concerns facing the council is the rise of house parties since closing three bars in 2012 pushed students into neighborhoods. “Social media is making this worse,” said Council member Bob Brzozowski. “With greater surveillance of the bars, they’ve moved to the houses and there’s less control. I don’t know we solve this problem.”
“I don’t know how to solve it tonight,” said Lynch. “But we have to be careful going forward.”
Even after Miller closed the public comment period, conversations continued in the hall. The meeting continued as scheduled, although to a less crowded room.
And after everyone else had left, one last student stood up. “My name is Manny Alban and I’m a senior at SUNY Oneonta,” he said. “I want to apologize on behalf of my 12,000 fellow students. But we are not guests here – we are just as much residents as you are, and we want to increase the communications between us. We’re not all bad.”
“You represent your constituents well,” said Miller.
Fully Implement Charter, Rissberger, Malone Say