DEMOCRACY FORUM – 7 p.m. Join Otsego County Board Members Adrienne Martini & Meg Kennedy to learn how they decided to run for office, and what the individual can do for democracy at the local level in this presentation ‘Making Local Democracy Work Better.’ Free, all welcome. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Held at Foothills Performing Arts Center, Oneonta. Visit www.lwvoneonta.org
MILFORD – Emily Popek, former Daily Star manager editor, has posted on her Facebook page that she intends to run for county representative in District 5, challenging Meg Kennedy, the board’s vice chairman.
District 5 includes Milford, Hartwick and New Lisbon. Under the county board’s weighted voting system, the position has the most people, and thus the most voting clout, of all the 14 districts.
The county board’s Administration Committee set a poor precedent in deciding to interview candidates for state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker’s District 6 seat in “executive session” – that is, in secret, out of the public view.
The county attorney, Ellen Coccoma, last week advised the Admin Committee when it interviewed the Republican candidate, Jennifer Mickle, that whether to do so in public or not was optional, up to the reps. To close the door instead of opening it was the wrong way to go.
It was bi-partisan poor judgment, too.
At this past Monday’s Admin meeting to interview the Democratic nominee, Diane Addesso, at least county Rep. Adrienne Martini, D-Oneonta, questioned if darkness should trump light.
Then she said, oh, never mind.
Admin Committee chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick/Milford/New Lisbon, made the motion, and Republicans Ed Frazier and Keith McCarty, and Democrat Andrew Marietta, as well as Martini, went along.
If Mickle, Addesso and Libertarian Andrew Hamill ran for the seat, they would have had to answer questions in public from the public. Why should they get a free ride into Oberacker’s seat without having to tell the public in this limited manner why they want the job and what they would do with it?
After all, when crowned by their fellow representatives, Mickle, Addesso or Hamill would be participating in votes that will have an impact on all of us living in Otsego County.
When this sorry process is over, soul-searching is warranted by all county reps.
The state Committee on Open Government is available to conduct a training session for the board, but it’s as much a question of attitude: Does county government belong to everyone, or to them alone?
COOPERSTOWN – A special Administration Committee meeting has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 30, to interview the Democrat-backed prospect to succeed state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker in the county board’s District 6, Admin Chairman Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick said today.
The meeting will not be Dec. 2, as previously reported.
The Democrats have already identified a prospect in District 6 (Maryland, Worcester, Westford and Decatur), according to Democratic County Chairman Clark Oliver. He said the candidate is a woman, but he hasn’t identified her yet.
COOPERSTOWN – To calm troubled political waters, county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, has scheduled an Administration Committee meeting for Dec. 2 to give the Democratic prospect to succeed state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker a hearing before that day’s county board meeting.
“I felt this was the right thing to do,” she said a few minutes ago. “I always try to do what’s fair, and I think this is fair.”
ONEONTA – This Saturday, the Oneonta Farmers Market will find their new winter home inside atrium of Foothills.
“The walkway space we usually use for the winter market was too close for social distancing and improperly ventilated,” said Meg Kennedy, market president and owner of ARK Floral. “It wasn’t a safe space with the pandemic going on.”
COOPERSTOWN – After tabling the measure two weeks ago, the county Board of Representatives today rallied behind Destination Marketing of Otsego County, with nine reps rejecting a resolution to reduce funding for its promotional arm from 15 percent to 24 percent.
Rep. Andrew Stammel, D-Town of Oneonta, proposed the larger cut for DMCOC, saying, “With the present state of the industry” – tourism – “we’re not going to be doing as much in this atmosphere.” Michele Farwell, D-Morris, second the motion.
COOPERSTOWN – Otsego County shouldn’t be waiting for Governor Cuomo’s permission to reopen as the coronavirus threat wanes, says county Rep. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus.
Oberacker, who is also running for state Senate, was the sole “nay” vote as a resolution asking the governor to reopen the county “safely and as soon as possible” passed the Board of Representatives today by a 13-1 vote.
“Why can’t we go to our governor and tell him: We understand it. We need to open. Here’s our plan to move forward,” said Oberacker in an interview after the meeting. “Let’s put together a structured plan to reopen Otsego County.”
The resolution the county representatives passed was less specific.
COOPERSTOWN – The county board will be asked to ally itself with similar counties – Schoharie, Delaware and Chenango, for instance – to be first in line to phase out of the coronavirus shutdown, county Rep. Meg Kennedy, R-Hartwick/Milford/New Lisbon, said this evening.
When it met earlier this month, Kennedy said, the county board’s Administration Committee, which she chairs, unanimously approved a resolution, which is still being drafted, asking Governor Cuomo to combine counties with like qualities – rural, with low COVID-19 infestations – in deciding which areas enter the “new normal” first.
COOPERSTOWN – Governor Cuomo’s plan to close the state’s $6 billion budget gap includes passing more Medicaid costs on to the counties, county Rep. Meg Kennedy, R-Hartwick/Milford/New Lisbon, told her colleagues at their March meeting this morning.
It could cost Otsego County a maximum of $1.9 million, she said, having been briefed as a member of the state Association of Counties board of directors.
That would require an “immediate 15-20 percent property tax hike in the county,” board chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, observed.
#KeepTheCap! This is a rallying cry for local government officials from around the state. What cap? The New York State 0% growth Medicaid Tax Cap that has been in place since 2012.
It goes hand in hand with another cap – the 2% cap on property tax levies that has been in place for NYS municipalities since roughly the same time.
They were instituted to work in tandem to decrease the pressure on local governments – to keep property taxes from increasing to meet the rising cost of providing Medicaid services to residents in all of the counties and New York City. The state would cover a portion of the increases and local governments would work harder to create efficiencies across the rest of their budgets.
For a decade this has worked, but the caps are in danger of diverging in this year’s state budget process. The Executive Budget reveals a strategy whereby the cap on the state side is removed and the cap on the local side stays the same, at the same time that $150 million of Medicaid costs are transferred to the counties and NYC.
The numbers that result are bringing together counties from across the state to send a unified message – Keep the Cap!
Earlier this month, county board Chair Dave Bliss and I spent the day in Albany. We were joined by dozens of county Officials and the staff of the state Association of Counties (@nyscounties).
We attended a meeting with the chairs of the Senate and Assembly Committees on Local Government. The message was clear. The message was urgent. Keep the Cap!
We have shown good faith on our end of the tax cap – bringing in budgets under 2% growth in the tax levy. Please work with us to avoid the fiscal stress this move will bring to local budgets.
There is no way the math works for us – without the help of NYS to share the costs associated with Medicaid at or near current levels, we cannot stay under 2% growth without making drastic cuts to non-mandated services. Even with cuts to such services, we would struggle.
We met with our local representatives in their offices in the Legislative Office Bldg and the Capitol. Assemblymen John Salka, Brian Miller and Chris Tague and Sen. Jim Seward expressed concern over the proposals and commitment to fight to #KeepTheCap. At the local level, this is a non-partisan issue. Everyone agrees that removing the cap on Medicaid spending would create fiscal stress in county budgets.
In an ideal world we promote prosperity and reduce the cost of Medicaid to each county by fostering economic development, the creation of jobs, expanding the tax base through increased investment and reducing the number of people who require assistance through upward mobility.
We can and should work toward that model.
In the short term, next year could bring unprecedented growth in the county’s share of the cost of Medicaid to our residents. New York is unique in having counties pay a share in this federal and state program. The cost of the program is set at state and federal levels. The 0% cap shields county government from the rising cost of the program that it neither controls nor designs. Keep the Cap! Protect local taxpayers.
The question was, “Do you think THEY will let the county administrator do the job?” They, of course, being the county Board
But the question misunderstands how the new county administrator job is envisioned.
Judging from discussions surrounding the new job’s creation, the county representatives aren’t looking for someone to tell them what to do. They’re looking for someone who will allow them to do what THEY want to do more efficiently.
The control of county government will remain in the hands of the 14 elected representatives, elected every two years from their districts, who are entrusted to act on their constituents’ behalf.\
Not such a bad idea.
For the past few weeks, a name has been circulating as a prospect for the county’s first administrator: Allen Ruffles, the Republican county treasurer who has just returned from a year-long assignment in East Africa with the New York State National Guard.
The position must first be advertised, candidates vetted and a vote taken. A better candidate may emerge. Regardless, he or she might benefit from at least a few Ruffles-like characteristics.
First, he had a varied background as a school teacher, insurance agent, banker (Key Bank’s former branch manager in Cooperstown), as well as a soldier, and the discipline that connotes. That should give him sympathy and understanding of a range of people.
Two, he’s a county native, with a family: wife Amy, daughter Mia and son Cooper, so he has a stake – a personal stake – in the middle- and long-term prosperity of the county. Being a native is not a requirement, but a candidate should have a plausible reason for coming here.
Third, he holds an elective office, so he would likely be sensitive to pressures county representatives feel, having to represent a varied voter base.
Fourth, he’s developed collegial relations with the county’s 20-some department heads, a group that – according to a survey county Rep. Meg Kennedy’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee conducted – is most resistant to the idea of reporting to a single boss.
That’s understandable: Most of us would prefer less supervision to more, but things are going to change. Ideally, he will develop the department heads into a team, focused on meeting the board’s directives.
Fifth, he has led preparation of two county budgets, and participated in two more as deputy to former County Treasurer Dan Crowell. It’s going to be a central function of the county administrator. Short-term, anyhow, his able deputy, Andrew Crisman, would ensure good relations with the Treasurer’s Office.
Sixth, Ruffles is not just experienced, but agreeable. Hard and soft skills, in whichever candidate is successful, is most important to ensuring the success of the new position. Put another way, building confidence, credibility and trust with all constituencies – the board, the department heads and the public.
Seventh, the county board, meeting Feb. 5, set the administrator’s salary at $100,000, considerably less than the $150,000 recommended to entice an out-of-county professional – $100,000 though, would be a nice raise for the county treasurer as he learns the new job.
That’s a lot of pluses.
Asked Monday about the chatter, county Rep. Andrew Marietta, the ranking Democrat, said he’d heard county board Chairman David Bliss mention Ruffles’ name in a meeting. “If Allen applied, it would be great,” Marietta said. “But it’s not a done deal.”
“I think a lot of Allen,” said Kennedy, whose IGA committee is handling the recruitment. “But it would be shortsighted of us to stop looking. There’s a lot to be gained by examining different candidates as they come forward.”
For instance, another potential candidate, former Cooperstown mayor Jeff Katz, has been mentioned for the job, and brings an impressive, albeit different, skill set.
“It’s going to be a county board decision,” Marietta said. Not a Republican or Democratic one.”
That’s exactly right. Still, thinking about someone like Ruffles helps focus on what qualities would help our county’s first top executive succeed.
COOPERSTOWN – When the 9-4 vote affirmed Meg Kennedy as the first woman vice chair of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, Andrew Marietta leaned over and said, “Meg, you know I support you.”
The Conservative for Hartwick, Milford and New Lisbon and the Democrat from Cooperstown and the Town of Otsego both shook hands and smiled.
But for the preceding few minutes Thursday, Jan. 2, at the Otsego County Board of Representatives’ organizational meetings, things were a bit more tense.
David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield/Cherry Valley, had been unanimously reelected board chairman. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, then nominated Kennedy – “our Citizen of the Year” – as vice chairman, and freshman Rick Brockway, R-Laurens, second it.
Bliss called the vote, but Michele Farwell, R-Morris, asked tentatively, “Is there discussion?”
What followed was a discussion about the future of bipartisanship, with Farwell noting that two years ago, when the county board was also split 7-7, now-retired Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, “was nominated, and he got unanimous support of the board. I thought that was a very positive show of bipartisanship.
“I’m just a little bit concerned we might be taking a step backward, and that would be unfortunate.”
Marietta, who as senior Democrat was the party’s leading prospect to succeed Koutnik, agreed. “Having that bipartisan approach contributed to how we worked well together,” he said. “… I think we lose some of the value of the past two years by not having that structure.”
Two Oneonta Democrats, Andrew Stammel and freshman Clark Oliver, speaking for the first time in an official capacity, concurred.
But another Oneonta Democrat, Adrienne Martini, said, “I also think it is nice to have some diversity in terms of who is the vice chair, and I think Meg brings that in terms of gender.”
In the end, Kennedy’s election was bipartisan.
Voting aye were Republicans Bliss, Wilber, Brockway, Unadilla’s Ed Frazier and East Springfield’s Keith McCarty. And Democrats Farwell, who paused for a moment before voting aye, Stammel and Martini.
Voting nay were Marietta, and the other three Oneonta reps, Oliver, Danny Lapin and newcomer Jill Basile.
Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, was absent with the flu.
After the vote, Bliss said, “I agree we’ve done some great work together lately as bipartisans. And I will endeavor to continue.”
He pointed out Kennedy, a Conservative, “is neither Republican or Democrat. And she’s proven her worth, and I know she will endeavor to be as bipartisan as possible.”
Still, Farwell regretted the Democratic loss of the vice chairman post. In an interview, she also noted that Koutnik, an environmentalist, was replaced by Brockway, “a climate-change denier,” on the board’s Solid Waste & Environmental Concerns Committee. And that Oliver was only named to one committee, Human Services.
“I wasn’t expecting a return to partisanship,” Farwell said. “I hear over and over that they want functional government, and not party nonsense like they see in Washington. I feel some trust has been lost.”
In an interview, Bliss said Marietta had expressed interest, “and I would have had no problem with Andrew as vice chair. Andrew was great. Meg was the better candidate.” The climate-denier statement surprised him. He said that Oliver was also named to Performance Review & Goal Setting, a special committee that is about to be elevated to full-committee status.
“Bipartisanship, by my definition, is the best person, the best candidate, the best idea,” the chairman said.
Throughout the debate, speakers were at pains to separate the issue of bipartisanship from Kennedy herself.
“I think Meg – representative Kennedy – will do a great job, and she has my respect and esteem,” said Farwell. Marietta said, “I think Meg will do a tremendous job.” And Stammel, turning to her during his remarks, said, “Meg, I think you will obviously do a great job.”
In the just completed term, Kennedy had chaired the two most time-consuming committees, Intergovernmental Affairs and Administration (ways and means), which won approval for a county administrator form of government and the establishment of the county Energy Task Force.