ONEONTA — The Common Council approved the new Asst. Fire Chief, Timothy Foster to a round of applause Tuesday, Aug. 17, after some discussion about tabling the potential appointment until the situation with the COVID delta variant became more clear.
The council was briefed on the situation with the coronavirus variant, a mutation that is steadily causing higher rates of infection City Health Officer Diane Georgeson said while fully vaccinated adults can acquire and transmit the virus but it is spreading much more quickly in places with lower vaccination rates.
ONEONTA — Members of the Community Advisory Board Review Council, which includes mayoral candidates Mark Drnek and Len Carson, discussed some of the language pertaining to the Community Advisory Board document on “best practices” for the Oneonta Police Department.
However, ultimately it was decided there would need to be another meeting in two weeks to further discuss what is being put in the final document.
The delay means the city will miss the self-imposed deadline for acting on the plan.
Most of the issues the CAB had with the document as it stands now were highly semantical including replacing the words “may” with “shall” when referring to certain practices.
The biggest issue discussed was the language about “use of force” procedures, which is a broad category that includes verbal commands as well as use of potentially deadly force.
ONEONTA – More than 100 people gathered at Neahwa Park on Saturday, June 19, to celebrate Juneteenth, a day that celebrates African-American emancipation.
There was additional cause for celebration Saturday since President Joe Biden signed a law this week making Juneteenth a national holiday.
With a DJ spinning music the entire time, it wasn’t unusual to see spontaneous dancing. Free hamburgers, hotdogs and beverages were also provided. There was face painting, a raffle and artwork.
The event appeared to attract a diverse group of people, both in terms of ethnicity and age. It was very much a family centric event.
Joanne Fisher, assistant secretary for the Oneonta NAACP, said celebrating Juneteenth in Oneonta for the second year in a row is a great idea because it helps people learn about each other and for Black Americans to reclaim parts of their history that are often forgotten or were untaught in schools.
“I think it’s the only way we’re gonna bridge the gap and learn each other’s value,” Fisher said. “History hasn’t told us everything.”
Fisher, originally from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, said she was not taught about slavery and Juneteenth in her school, and therefore she didn’t get a chance to learn about her own history.
Anita Hopson set up a tent to display old items brought from her grandparents that originated mainly in West Africa. Some of the items included a jumping broom, used traditionally in marriages, sand paintings and others.
“‘I’m proud to have my family history,” Hopson said. She said she appreciated being given the chance to show these things to people who “don’t look like me.”
The Otsego Pride Alliance had a table at the event in which they put up photos of Black trans and LGBTQ members who were killed in violence across the country. They said they were there to support the Black community and promote equality.
Bertram Knight showcased some of his photographs, which he said were meant to convey the beauty of Black bodies.
“All the images are representations of black beauty,” Knight said, who was “looking for different ways to highlight and elevate differences in our communities.”
Aaron Smith, who moved to Oneonta from Alabama in January, said he was happy Juneteenth was being celebrated here.
“It’s good for me to be able to get out and celebrate Juneteenth,” Smith said. “(It) feels good to be learning about the community and celebrating our newest holiday.”
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig spoke before the entertainment began, quipping that it was nice to be out without masks.
However, Herzig said the last year was one of “needless tragedy, but one of reckoning and one of change.”
Herzig said the city of Oneonta recently “took a hard look in the mirror,” which was necessary for the community to become “better and better every year.”
Juneteenth is “a day for us to pause, a day for us to catch our breath and a day to celebrate,” Herzig said.
“Slavery may have ended, but its legacy has not,” Herzig said.
Herzig said it is only “through the richness of Black art and Black culture” that others can have a semblance of understanding the experience of Black Americans.
Herzig said he hoped the eventual artists lofts on Dietz Street would become the home of artists of color.
“Black culture has enriched our lives,” Herzig said. “We are so much better because of the African-American culture.”
Some of the entertainment included college students performing stepping dances, Jonathan Brown making a speech about how white supremacy not only hurts black people but also white people and the song “Speechless” from the new “Aladin” movie, performed by Ajare Malcolm.
Brown’s speech ended on a note that seemed to encapsulate the entire event. “Be truthful to our human experience,” Brown said. “Before we’re any race, we’re human.”
ONEONTA — Housing and jobs remain high priorities for the city of Oneonta. Both are needed and, according to Mayor Gary Herzig, need to be gradually increased at the same time.
“You can’t have a thriving community, you can’t have a good economy, if you can’t provide people with good housing,” Herzig said.
According to Herzig, housing is “desperately” needed at all levels including low-income, middle-income and high-income.
One of the problems with housing in Oneonta is that it is hard to compete with student rentals if you are a family in need of rental housing.
Herzig said there are “not a lot of incentives” for familyrentals. “We have to be creative with what we do.”
However, there have been some steps taken on the housing front in Oneonta. Most notably, the artist lofts being created on Dietz Street and, more recently, the pending purchase of the Ford Building by Springbrook to create 22 to 24 market rate apartments, which Herzig called a “very exciting project” that he said was certain would be approved by the Common Council.
The Oneonta Common Council’s meeting Tuesday, June 15, began with a celebratory note, as a result of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ending of most COVID restrictions Tuesday.
A presentation was given by Dr. Diane Georgeson, who spoke about the improving situation in regards to COVID-19.
While 53% of Oneonta residents were fully vaccinated, which is lower than the state average, the amount of cases have been going steadily down.
Some issues brought up during the presentation were the possible danger of the delta variant, which originated in India. Booster shots that will eventually be available are supposed to solve this problem.
“We’re at a point that we’ve been dreaming of,” Herzig said, who opened up city buildings to the public Monday, June 14. “It was great seeing people of the public and I got to see them smiling. … Today is a good day and we’re looking forward to having a summer that is pretty normal.”
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?'”
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.”
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
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.