News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.


MAyor Gary Herzig

Is City Manager Needed?

Is City Manager Needed?

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

ONEONTA –Oneonta’s third city manager, George Korthauer, retired from City Hall on Feb. 7.

A month later, on March 13, Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 202 went into effect, declaring a state of emergency in New York State in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic threat.

In the past six months, Mayor Gary Herzig, under a City Charter that gives him largely ceremonial responsibilities, led the effort that kept in-community infections – not including SUNY Oneonta’s “large outbreak,” now ending – to an average of eight a month.

Given that the city man-ager’s $110,000 salary is about 4 percent of the tax levy, Herzig said, he intends to again revisit whether a city-manager form of government, as now constituted, is the best way to govern 14,000-population Oneonta.

He said he planned to start that conversation perhaps as soon at the Common Council’s Budget Committee meeting Wednesday, Sept. 16, but certainly soon after.

And he would like a decision by the end of the year, so savings and likely lower expenses could be reflected in the 2021 budget. (This year’s budget is slightly more than $17 million.)

“I still support having an administrative position supervising day-to-day operations – a staff person, a non-political person,” he said, perhaps an executive director instead of a full-fledged city manager.

Herzig took charge from the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, but in the past month, with the community worried about the colleges reopening, he racheted up police enforcement of mask wearing and social distancing in public places, cancelled evening bus service from the campuses, and issued a “Welcome to Students” letter outlining expectations.

When widespread partying was evident when students returned Aug. 21, he alerted the Governor’s Office, setting the stage for what happened when the “large outbreak” followed: Chancellor Jim Malatras shut the campus for two weeks, and Cuomo deployed a state Virus Testing SWAT Team to the city.

In an interview Monday, Sept. 14, the mayor said, “I didn’t do this all by myself.”

“Our department heads just were amazing in the way they stepped up and provided leadership,” he said. “That was the only way to move through this crisis – and they did it. They filled the leadership void as a team.”

Personnel Director Katie Böttger and City Engineer Greg Mattice assumed day-to-day management, directing the department-head team, he added.

When it was approved on Nov. 7, 2010, the idea of professional management of City Hall won by a 1,177-370 margin. But one decade and three city managers later, dramatic change for the better hasn’t been evident.

“I was an early supporter and still support the concept of having an administrative position supervising the day-to-day operation of the city,” said Herzig.

“But I think the overwhelming number of people in Oneonta who voted to support it, including myself, didn’t recognize it would drastically change our form of government.”

Under the council-manager form of government, Council members’ role is limited to “just being legislators,” he continued. “They are asked not to participate providing input on local government operations.”

There are day-to-day decisions Council members should help make, he said: “What roads are being fixed. How staffing is organized. What priorities are set operationally. In a community this size, most people would want their elected Council members to be involved.”

As for his job, “whether the people want a ceremonial mayor going forward, or a mayor who has the ability to set direction and in control of of city operations, is an open question.” He said he hasn’t decided whether to run for a third two-year term next year.

Herzig said he’s intrigued with combining day-to-day administration with another existing function – with finance or personnel, for instance. “I believe Cortland has been very successful doing that,” he said.
Since six of the eight Council members had only served two months before “we went into Zoom … They haven’t had the opportunity to really dig into this.”

“In the next week or two,” he said, “I’ll look for opportunities for a whole discussion with Council members around where we are now, and what are the different options.”

The mayor expressed the view that a referendum is only necessary if powers are being taken away from elected officials; Herzig said they would be enhanced. “Changing the job description would not require a public vote as far as I know,” he said, in reference to the city manager’s job duties.

He said he would be guided by City Attorney David Merzig’s opinion. In 2016, charter revisions endorsed by a committee chaired by former Mayor John Nader foundered when SUNY New Paltz’s Gerald Benjamin, the state’s foremost expert on local government, said he believed those changes were substantive enough to require another public vote.

At SUNY, It’s Partying; At Hartwick, Trespassing


At SUNY, It’s Partying;

At Hartwick, Trespassing

City Council member David Rissberger referenced this photo of a party in a SUNY Oneonta isolation dorm that was posted to social media over the weekend during this evening’s Oneonta Control Group meeting.  It painted contrasting pictures of SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College, where a total of eight students have been put on administrative leave and two tickets issued for trespassing.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – A photo circulating on social media, purportedly showing a party underway in SUNY Oneonta’s isolation dorm over the weekend, prompted a conversation about the differences in how SUNY and Hartwick colleges are handling the COVID-19 outbreak and quarantines.

“I’m concerned by this photo,” said Council member David Rissberger, Third Ward, during the second of Mayor Gary Herzig’s Oneonta Control Room meetings this evening. “There’s no supervision, and the community needs reassurances that moving forward, something like this is not going to happen again.”

Currently there are 651 total cases of COVID-19 at SUNY Oneonta; 43 students are quarantined on the campus, with 139 in isolation after testing positive for the virus.

Need a COVID Test? Call 833-NYSTRNG
Need a COVID Test? Call 833-NYSTRNG

COVID Testing Underway;

Mayor Swabbed At Foothills

Mayor Gary Herzig gets swabbed by a Bassett Healthcare nurse at the COVID-19 rapid-test site in the Foothills Atrium this evening. Following the outbreak at SUNY Oneonta this past week, and with the WellNow Center on Southside experiencing up to eight-hour waits, Governor  Cuomo ordered three testing facilities to be established at in the city, at Foothills, St. James Episcopal Church and the Armory, with plans to administer up to 50,000 free tests to all members of the community. The sites will be extending their hours of operation from 9 a.m.-6.p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with results in 15 minutes. Call 833-NYSTRNG (833-697-8764) to schedule a test. (Ian Austin/
Virus SWAT Teams Head To SUNY-O

Virus SWAT Team

Heads To SUNY-O

As COVID Explodes

Chancellor Hurries To Campus;

Classes Cancelled For 2 Weeks

Chancellor Jim Malatras announces the SUNY Oneonta campus will be closed for two weeks as the total overnight added up to 105 cases. College president Barbara Jean Morris and Mayor Gary Herzig were also at the 1:30 p.m. press conference next to the Milne Library (Ian Austin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

ONEONTA – SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said Governor Cuomo is deploying a COVID-19 testing SWAT team to quell the worst outbreak of the disease in the 64-campus system.

Three sites will be set up by Wednesday, where all students will be required to get tested, and members of the community at large can get tested for free as well. The county Health Department is helping to coordinate the three sites.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” said Malatras, who moved up a summit with SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris and Mayor Gary Herzig from Monday to today after infections rose to 105 cases overnight.

Common Council To Consider Releasing Bombers Mortgage

Common Council Considers

Letting Bombers’ Mortgage Go

Oneonta Common Council will vote on how to proceed with potentially recouping some of their investment in Bomber’s Burrito Bar, which closed in December. (Ian Austin/

ONEONTA – With Bombers Burrito Bar bankrupt, Common Council tonight will discuss releasing its $50,000 mortgage on 221 Main St. to the state Business Development Corp. to facilitate, hopefully, the building’s resale and reuse.

Owner John Hewitt “owes the lender (NYSBDC) as much as $1 million,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “The lender, of course, is trying to recoup as much of that as possible.”

The city loaned Hewitt $50,000 from the Community Development Fund to help the restaurant open in June 2019, but it closed in December.

Herzig To Students: House Parties Could Result In $1,000 Fine

Mayor To Students:

House Parties Could

Result In $1,000 Fine

ONEONTA – College students who host house parties could face criminal charges and fines up to $1,000, according to a letter Mayor Gary Herzig has written to SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College students.

“The virus doesn’t care where you are,” he wrote. “The virus doesn’t respect boundaries or property lines. It is happy to infect you wherever you are.”

Oneonta Mayor: Bars Beware Or Be Closed
Reprinted From This Week’s
Hometown Oneonta, Freeman’s Journal

Question: Can Students Safely Return?

Mayor Herzig:

Bars Beware

Or Be Closed

Hayley Dower, manager, Red Jug Pub, is already a social distancing VIP, setting up the “velvet rope” to limit the number of customers in her bar. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – Mayor Gary Herzig has a message if returning Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta students go out on the town – follow the rules, or the fun stops.

“We will enforce the state regulations,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “If you’re not at a table, you need to have your mask on. You can’t be elbow-to-elbow at the bar. We will send the police, code enforcement or the state Liquor Authority in to respond to complaints.”

As the colleges announced reopening plans for this fall, Herzig plans to meet with the two college presidents, Hartwick’s Margaret Drugovich and SUNY Oneonta’s Barbara Jean Morris, to lay out the city’s new approach.

City, Chamber: Come Get Your PPE!

City, Chamber:

Come Get Your PPE!

Masked man Mayor Gary Herzig, gives Peter Clark, foreground, a gallon of hand sanitizer as part of the “Survive, Then Thrive” giveaway of personal protective equipment, including hand sanitizer, masks and thermometers, to local businesses at Damaschke Field this morning. 85 businesses have signed up for appointments to get the PPE, contact-free, but there are still slots available tomorrow from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Call the Otsego County Chamber (607) 434-3130 for an appointment (Ian Austin/
Students, Citizens Will Be Part Of Police Review Board

Students, Citizens Will Be

Part Of Police Review Board

Mayor Herzig

ONEONTA – SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College students and faculty, as well as representatives from the NAACP, Common Council and City Hall will be tasked with reviewing police policies and procedures as part of Mayor Gary Herzig’s proposed Community Advisory Board to the Oneonta Police Department, Herzig announced during a meeting of the Planning Commission this evening.

“Our policies have been approved by the state as part of our accreditation,” he said. “But they’ve never been reviewed by the people of the city.”

With 3 COVID Cases In City, Mayor Reaffirms Need For Caution
Murphy’s Anti-Racism Resolution Approved

With 3 COVID Cases In Oneonta,

Mayor Reaffirms Need For Caution

Common Council Member Luke Murphy, First Ward, second from right, reads his first resolution, decrying racism and injustice for all people in the City of Oneonta, as part of tonight’s meeting.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – With three new COVID-19 cases confirmed in the City of Oneonta, Mayor Gary Herzig implored business owners and citizens to continue wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands.

“We’ve had six weeks without any cases, so to have three new ones is a significant wake-up call,” he said during tonight’s Common Council meeting. “People are telling me that they see that things have lapsed, people aren’t wearing masks in stores or on the streets. But the risk is still real.”

Additionally, the Mohawk Valley cases on the whole were also continuing to rise, putting the region at risk for being put back on PAUSE.

In Pandemic, Pridefest 2020 Goes Digital
‘Next Year In The Park’

Pridefest 2020

Goes Virtual

Evvergreen’s Margaret Uhalde, left Chris Scaduto perform “It’s All You” in a studio concert performed as part of Oneonta Pridefest 2020, being presented virtually this year due to the COVID-19. The event included remarks from Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Ron Zacchi, Director Of External Affairs for the NYS Department of Human Rights, as well as members of the Otsego County Pride Alliance. At right, Mayor Gary Herzig gave remarks honoring the occasion in a time of crisis. “In Oneonta, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, what your religion is, or who you love, we’ve come together to get through this, and going forward, we’ll be stronger than ever. So Happy Pride, and next year, I’ll see you back in the park!” The event continues until 8 p.m., with a time of remembrance and presentations by Bold Theatrics, ENORMOUS Little Things and Sweet Marie.

Common Council Could Resume in Chambers By July

Common Council Could

Resume in Chambers By July

Mayor Herzig

ONEONTA – Oneonta Common Council could resume holding meetings in person by July,  Katie Böttger, personnel director, told the council during their remote meeting earlier this evening.

“It’s up to all of you,” she said. “But (the state) advises working remotely through the end of June.”

Common Council has been meeting on Zoom and streaming the meetings live on the city’s YouTube channel.

HERZIG: Protect Us From Returning Students


Protect Us From

Returning Students

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig’s letter, sent to Governor Cuomo this week, expressing concern about college students’ return to the City of the Hills.

Mayor Herzig

Thank you for your effective leadership during these dangerous and unpredictable times.

The City of Oneonta is proud to be the home of two fine colleges – SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. The 7,000 plus students who live and study with us are a vital part of our community culture and economy.

Our ability, along with those of all of New York’s college communities, to effectively recover from COVID-19 is dependent upon the re-opening of our college campuses and the return of their students.

Re-opening our college campuses, however, will require an aggressive program of testing for all students attending our residential colleges.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the City of Oneonta have consistently represented no more than 15 percent of all such cases in Otsego County despite Oneonta being the county’s clear center of population density.

This can only be attributed to the diligent way in which the people of this City have responded to the need to isolate.

The return of 7,000 college students, without a program of mandated testing, to a community with
very little immunity, places too many lives at risk – a risk supported by the recently released
Cornell University study ranking Otsego County as the third most vulnerable to an outbreak in
New York State.

…Having adequate testing materials available for returning students of both our public and private colleges must be a priority – along with effective protocols for testing and isolation.

August may feel like the distant future right now; however, one thing we have learned from this pandemic is that it is never too early to act, Our host communities look forward to working in partnership with your administration, SUNY, and our local college administrators in implementing a safe and full COVID-19 recovery.


Marketed Right, Drnek Says Oneonta Could Be Telecommuting Hub

Drnek: Marketed Right,

Oneonta Has Future As

A Telecommuting Hub

Oneonta Common Council live-streamed this evening’s meeting on the city’s Youtube Channel. Top row, from left, are Council members Len Carson, Fifth Ward, John Rafter, Seventh Ward, Mark Drnek, Eighth Ward, and Scott Harrington, Sixth Ward.  Second row, from left, are Police Chief Doug Brenner, Finance Director Virginia Lee, Council member Luke Murphy, First Ward and Mayor Gary Herzig, Third row, from left, are  Council members Mark Davies, Second Ward, and Dave Rissberger, Third Ward; Personnel Director Katie Böttger abd City Attorney David Merzig.  At bottom is Community Development Director Judy Pangman.  Council member Kaytee Lipari-Shu participated by phone.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – Calling Oneonta a “jewel,” Mayor Gary Herzig said that the city’s Economic Development Task Force is looking to not only support the city’s downtown, but bring people here to settle.

“Our goal is to have every single business not only survive the crisis, but thrive afterwards,” he said during tonight’s Common Council meeting. “We’ve always known it was a jewel, but we think more people will soon be seeking that jewel.”

The meeting was streamed live on the city’s YouTube page.

Herzig: 3 COVID-19 Cases In City

Mayor Herzig Reports:

3 COVID-19 Cases In City

ONEONTA – As first reports of three cases of COVID-19 in the City of Oneonta surfaced this evening, Common Council unanimously approved two measures to shelter workers who may need quarantine and transfer funds for COVID-19 expenditures.

“The good news is that it’s a small number, thanks to the selfless way they are quarantining themselves,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “The bad news is that we know that more people are contagious, but may have no symptoms, and that there are not enough tests. We’re doing great, but we cannot ease up.”

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