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News of Otsego County

MAyor Gary Herzig

Seward Lauded, Given Key To City At Common Council Meeting

Jim Seward Lauded,

Given Key To Oneonta

Mayor Gary Herzig,  lower left, presents retiring state Senator Jim Seward, R-Milford, with a Key to the City for his support of Oneonta over his 30 years as senator.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – Comparing retiring state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford to “Ghostbusters,” Mayor Gary Herzig lauded the Senator and presented him with a key to the city for his “timeless support” to the City of Oneonta.

“It was never quite ‘Who you gonna call,’ because usually, he called me first,” Herzig said. “And he always asked, ‘What do you need me to do?'”

City Clerk Nancy Powell Retires; Deputy Clerk Steps Into Role

City Clerk Nancy Powell Retires;

Deputy Clerk Steps Into Position

Nancy Powell

ONEONTA – After five years, City Clerk Nancy Powell has announced her retirement, with deputy clerk Kerriann Harrington expected to be appointed by vote during the Common Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

“Nancy has  a long history with the City of Oneonta,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “She started as Oneonta’s first female firefighter, and has committed to serving the people of the city. We appreciate all she’s done and wish her all the best.”

CCS Outbreak Hits Herzigs
Otsego COVID Cases Double, 5 Delaware Ones Sent Here

CCS Outbreak Hits Herzigs

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Mayor Gary Herzig takes a COVID test when the SUNY epidemic h

ONEONTA – In the past week, Otsego County doubled its November COVID-19, leaving Oneonta’s mayor and his wife among the newly quarantined.

With 37 new cases of the virus identified from Tuesday the 10th to Tuesday the 17th, the number of cases for the month rose from 46 to 83 in just seven days. Two from Otsego County were hospitalized, including a resident from a group home where 16 were infected after a staff member tested positive.

“The numbers are going in the wrong direction,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “And unfortunately, it’s a bit random, so that’s worrisome.”

Herzig himself is in “voluntary quarantine” after his wife Connie was exposed at Cooperstown Elementary School. She was deemed to be in “close contact” with a Cooperstown Elementary School teacher who tested positive for COVID on Monday, Nov. 16.

Herzig, who was substitute teaching at the school she retired from in 2018, is under required quarantine for two weeks.

“It’s something we’re all going through,” said the mayor, who was nonetheless able to attend this week’s Common Council meeting, held via Zoom.

Neither Herzig has shown symptoms or tested positive for the virus as of Tuesday, Nov. 17.

But more worrisome, said Heidi Bond, Otsego County public health director, is that her team so far hasn’t been able to link — or contact trace – some of these new cases spreading across the county.

“People can’t figure out where they picked it up,” she said. “These are people who have no known exposure to someone who they knew had tested positive.”

Last week, an employee at Applebee’s in the Southside Mall tested positive, but Bond said that no patrons have come forward with positive tests, only a few “close contacts” of the patient.

And before that, staff and residents of two residential living facilities, one in Oneonta and one in Cooperstown, tested positive for the virus, marking small “clusters” of cases that could be traced.

“That’s what we do when we interview people,” she said. “We try to determine where they’ve been for the last two weeks.”

The good news, she said, is that the SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College outbreaks have quieted, with one case at Hartwick and three at SUNY in recent days.

It’s too early, she said, to determine how many cases will spread from the positives at Cooperstown and Greater Plains Elementary Schools, both which went to remote learning this week after positive tests.

In all, 218 people are in quarantine, with one hospitalized at Albany Medical Center.
Local hospitals, meanwhile, are housing patients from Delaware County.

“Delaware County doesn’t have any ICU beds,” Bond told the SUNY Oneonta COVID-19 Task Force during its meeting on Monday, Nov. 16. “Two of those patients are at Fox Hospital, and three of them
at Bassett.”

According to Karen Huxtable-Hooker, Bassett Health Network spokesman, no hospitals in Delaware County are critical-access hospitals and they don’t have any ICU beds.

“They routinely transfer critical-care patients elsewhere,” she said.

While Fox does not have a dedicated ICU, Huxtable-Hooker said they have sectioned off spaces to provide COVID-specific care.

“Not all patients who are hospitalized for the coronavirus need ICU care,” said Huxtable-Hooker. “Some respond to treatment quickly and fully recover.”

Numbers are rising statewide and nationally, especially as students prepare to head home for the holidays, a move that could cause cases to spike.

“Families bringing their kids back to the area need them to quarantine for 14 days,” she said. “It’s hard, it’s the holidays, and no one wants to quarantine away from their family.”

After Potential Exposure, Mayor, First Lady In Quarantine

After Potential COVID Exposure,

Mayor, First Lady In Quarantine

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Connie and Mayor Gary Herzig are quarantining after being exposed to COVID-19. (Libby Cudmore/AllOTSEGO.com)

ONEONTA – Following a “potential exposure” to COVID-19 at Cooperstown Elementary School, Connie Herzig, wife of Mayor Gary Herzig, is in precautionary quarantine and undergoing testing, as mandated by the Otsego County Department of Health.

Herzig is also “voluntarily” quarantine for 14 days. “It’s something we’re all going through,” he said.

According to Mayor Herzig, Connie, who retired from the school in 2018, was at the school as a substitute teacher, and was in contact with a teacher who later tested positive.

Neither Herzig has shown symptoms or tested positive for the virus

Public Hearing Tuesday For New City Mask Law

Public Hearing Tuesday

For New City Mask Law

ONEONTA – A public hearing on the city’s amended “Masks and Face Coverings” law will be opened at the top of this week’s Common Council meetin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The law, which was drafted after a stricter ordinance was vetoed by Mayor Gary Herzig, will require that face coverings be worn at all times in outdoor public space in the city’s downtown (MU-1) zoning district. Masks will also be required by all customers in retail and service businesses, as well as in restaurants and bars when not seated and eating.

Council Approves Law Requiring Masks Downtown

Council Approves Law

Requiring Masks Downtown

ONEONTA – Unanimously, Oneonta Common Council approved an ordinance requiring masks be worn at all times downtown and in any public space when social distancing cannot be maintained, such as crowded neighborhood streets or parks.

Last month, Mayor Gary Herzig vetoed the city’s original proposed law, which codified the state’s public health law and required masks be worn in private homes when there was no social distancing.

City Committee Lauded By NY Conference Of Mayors

City Committee Lauded

By Conference Of Mayors

ONEONTA – The city’s “Survive, Then Thrive” committee has awarded the “Local Government Achievement Award” by the NYS Conference of Mayors for their work in seeking grants, planning events and strengthening partnerships for both the present and the “post-COVID” world.

“In March, I called upon 6 people to form a committee to identify strategies for Oneonta businesses to Survive, then Thrive,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “Fifty more people – you – volunteered to join and give of their time and skills. Both Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta provided support. Thank you to all.”

Mayor Herzig Halts Mask Mandate In Private Homes

A Rare Veto

Mayor Herzig Halts Mask

Mandate In Private Homes

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Mayor Herzig

ONEONTA – With concerns over enforcement and overreach, Mayor Gary Herzig, who has pushed mask mandates, has vetoed the City of Oneonta’s proposed mask law Tuesday, Oct. 20.

“I fully support wearing masks,” said Herzig. “The intent of the law was to make local enforcement more effective. However, I do not believe this ordinance will achieve that purpose, and I will exercise my right to veto this law,” he said.

The law, modeled on the state’s executive order requiring people to wear masks in all “public and private indoor and outdoor locations” when they cannot socially distance, passed at the Tuesday, Oct. 6, meeting
of Common Council on a 5-2 vote along party lines, with one abstention.

At a public hearing Tuesday evening, many of the comments voiced support for wearing masks in public, but balked at the language that required masks to be worn in private homes.

Kevin Perch, a SUNY Oneonta senior who sits on the city’s Control Room and serves as chief of staff for the student association, was among those expressing concerns.

“I advocate for wearing masks wholeheartedly,” he said. “I’ve mulled back and forth the past couple of days, and ultimately came to a decision – enforcing masks on streets and in business is appropriate, but I do not think that the legislation that is on table is one I want to see signed into law.”

Conversely, Steve Londner, in a letter to Common Council, expressed concern that the ordinance left open too many possibilities for spread of COVID-19.

“There’s an exception in the law that says a person playing a sport doesn’t have to wear one,” he said. “But if the intent is to limit the spread, it seems odd that a group of students talking quietly needs masks, but a group playing basketball and panting does not.”

Fran Colone also wrote a letter. “The required enforcement on private property is excessive,” he said. “If I’m mowing my lawn and my neighbor stops to chat, are we both ticketed? How crazy is that?”

Bill Waller, Cooperstown, attended the meeting to share his experience with the law Cooperstown passed this summer.

“Our sidewalks were so narrow that the social distancing was forcing people into the street,” he said. “We mandated masks on Main Street, and we’ve issued a few tickets, but overall, it was a successful, mask-wearing summer.”

He also clarified how the “private home,” language came to be. “It is my under-standing that this is for places like New York City, where buildings include areas like vestibules and lobbies,” he said. “They’re private homes, but public spaces.”

Only one letter writer, Ronda Zuk, disagreed with the entire law.

“Since Otsego County no longer has a State of Emergency (it ended on April 13, 2020) it has no authority to make or enforce a mask mandate,” she wrote. “Of Otsego County’s 60,244 residents only seven people or .012 percent of the county’s population have died from COVID-19. Clearly this virus is not a deadly threat to the overwhelming majority of residents. However, governmental overreach such as this mask mandate is a threat to the freedoms we used to enjoy as Americans.”

At the end of public comment, Herzig echoed the speakers concerns. “If you’re walking down Main Street without a mask on and someone walks out of a store in front of you, you’re in violation of the law,” he said. “But we can’t expect the police to follow someone down the street and wait to ticket them.”

Herzig said that he would sign an ordinance that required masks in the business district.

“That is where it is most needed,” he said. “If we can move forward with an ordinance that addresses our area of greatest risk, it has my support.”

BULLETIN: MAYOR VETOES MASK LAW

BULLETIN

MAYOR VETOES

CITY MASK LAW

Mayor Herzig

ONEONTA – With multiple public comments submitted voicing concerns over the enforcement of wearing masks in private homes, Mayor Gary Herzig announced at the end of tonight’s public hearing that he would not sign the city’s mask ordinance, which narrowly passed Council, 5-2, with one abstention, at its last meeting.

“I fully support wearing masks,” said Herzig. “The intent of the law was to make local enforcement more effective. However, I do not believe this ordinance will achieve that purpose, and I will exercise my right to veto this law.”

Herzig said that he would sign an ordinance that required masks in the business district.

Details In This Week’s Hometown Oneonta

Mayor, Council Member, Police Chief Set Record Straight On Flag

Mayor, Chief, Deputy Mayor

Aim To Calm ‘Blue Line’ Furor

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

The online furor began when Chief Brenner furled the “Thin Blue Line” flag after it was discussed in a Common Council committee.

ONEONTA – The removal of a “Thin Blue Line” flag from the pole in front of the Public Safety Building has caused a local social media uproar, and the mayor, police chief and deputy mayor issued a joint statement tonight seeking to calm the discussion.

The men are in agreement on the issue, the statement said.

“Locally, we have enough problems to solve without creating ones that do not exist,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “Many of the recent accusations, spreading through social media and email, have been both painful and false. We want to set the record straight.”

The controversy started during a meeting of the city’s Legislative Committee last week.  Deputy Mayor Dave Rissberger, Third Ward, brought up the flagpole in front of the Public Safety Building, which had flown the “Thin Blue Line” flag since the summer.

City Will Hear Public Comment On Mask Law

Public Hearing Tonight

On City Mask Ordinance

ONEONTA – A public hearing on the city’s new mask law will be heard as part of tonight’s Common Council meeting at 7 p.m. over Zoom.

The ordinance, which codifies the state’s public health law, would require masks to be worn whenever social distancing can not be maintained, including during large gatherings in private homes. It passed Common Council 5-2, with one abstention.

Residency Requirement, Budget Powers Debated For City Administrator

Residency Requirement, Budget

Debated For  City Administrator

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – Residency and the budget process were two of the strongly-debated topics as Common Council continues refining the City Manager role to a City Administrator.

“We’ve had so many issues with the last three city managers finding a place to stay, as well as issues with our housing stock, that we should allow the City Manager to live outside the city,” said Council member Dave Rissberger, Third Ward.

Common Council Moves To Change City ‘Manager’ To ‘Administrator’

Common Council Moves To Change

City ‘Manager’ To ‘Administrator’

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – It could be as easy as changing a few words.

“It is more apparent to me that we have a job that is titled ‘city manager’ in the Charter, but if you look at the description, it describes a city administrator,” said Mayor Gary Herzig during a special meeting of the Common Council this evening.

“The last three people we recruited as city managers were frustrated because they felt Council was too involved, Council was frustrated because they felt like they weren’t involved enough and the Mayor was frustrated because it was a struggle to know what was happening,” he said.

Oneonta Law Requires Masks In Private Homes

Oneonta Law Requires

Masks In Private Homes

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – With a 5-2 split on party lines and one abstention, Oneonta Common Council Tuesday, Oct. 6, moved closer to applying the state’s “Mask and Face Coverings” law locally, potentially bringing it into everyone’s living rooms.

Echoing the state law, the local law that is now going to public hearing requires people to where masks in all “public and private indoor and outdoor locations” when they cannot socially distance.

“This law covers nothing that isn’t already covered in the Governor’s executive orders,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. The law is intended to enable OPD to enforce the provisions, now in Public Health Law, within city limits.

“Right now, it’s difficult to write a ticket because we don’t have a way to reference the executive order,” said Police Chief Doug Brenner, “This just makes it easier, like we were writing a ticket for littering.”

“The police aren’t going to go around knocking on people’s doors,” said Herzig. “If someone calls in a large, noisy party and the police find that there is not appropriate social distancing, this gives them the authority to ticket them under city law.”

Democratic Council members Luke Murphy, First Ward, David Rissberger, Third Ward, Kaytee Lipari Shue, Fourth Ward, John Rafter, Seventh Ward and Mark Drnek, Eighth Ward, all voted yes.

The nays were Republicans Len Carson, Fifth Ward, and Scott Harrington, Sixth Ward.

Democrat Mark Davies, Second Ward, abstained. “As an employee of SUNY, I need to recuse myself,”
he said.

“I disagree with that statement,” said City Attorney David Merzig. “The law will be applied to all citizens.”

Explaining his vote, Murphy said, “Two days ago, I was walking past someone on Main Street, and it was so busy that we couldn’t get six feet apart without going on someone’s lawn. Luckily we both had masks.”

“It’s about marketing,” said Drnek. “People don’t want to come to Oneonta because they have a perception that it’s unsafe, but when I wear a mask, and you wear a mask, we know it’s safe to shop, to dine, to visit local merchants. Our community needs to know it’s safe to be in downtown Oneonta.”

“I’ve taken more engagement on this than any other issue since I started,” said Carson. “And 99 percent of the people I speak to are totally against this.”

“I understand the importance of wearing a mask,” said Harrington. “But I spoke to a lot of people in my ward, and they feel like it’s an overreach, that they’re adults and they know the guidelines.”

“We have a public health law, and I never hear complaining about the masks,” said Rissberger. “But as soon as we’re about to solidify the law, people get upset, which makes me wonder if they’re really wearing the mask.

It’s no different than the seatbelt law or the car seat laws. If the public health law isn’t overreach, than neither is this.”

The law now moves to a public hearing, which will be held Tuesday, Oct. 20. Following the public hearing, Herzig will then have to sign the law.

Is City Manager Needed?
AFTER DECADE, MAYOR HERZIG TO ASK QUESTION AGAIN

Is City Manager Needed?

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

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.

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