Editor’s Note: Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, is retiring from the county board to focus on chairing the city Planning Commission, and to share his reflections on development and environmentalism through his blog, (accessible by Googling “danny lapin blog”.) This is an excerpt to his introduction to the blog.
One of my best friends in graduate school lovingly coined the topic of local government the “most important thing nobody cares about.” This was, of course, after hearing me prattle on about tax rates, land-use regulations, and urban planning in general for hours on end over the course of our two-year program in bucolic Upstate New York.
The decisions made by our local government affect us a lot more than we might think. Most apparent is in the layout of our road network and built environment. Those decisions were likely guided by a zoning code overseen by a local Planning Commission.
Decisions on how parks are designed, when basketball courts are opened or closed, and whether a new dog park should be built in town are controlled by local governments. Decisions on when to plow our roads, inspect the safety of our buildings, and how best to respond to emergencies are largely undertaken by… you guessed it… local governments.
Too often, I hear that town/village/city meetings are “boring” or that “nothing” gets done. People question whether they should take time away from their families, jobs, or other commitments to attend meetings.
I created this blog to break down key issues facing the city ranging from Downtown Revitalization to housing, taxes, sustainability, and beyond. I did this because I want us all to effectively evaluate each candidate based on the merits of their vision. Ultimately, who each reader chooses to support is up to them, however – it is my hope that this blog will play a small role in helping people understand the key issues facing our community.
So why create a blog now? In 2016, the City of Oneonta received a $10 million grant through the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative. This grant is intended to transform our downtown through the implementation of several small-to-to medium-sized projects. In the five years that have transpired, façade improvements are starting to pop up Downtown, a new marketing campaign was launched, and dozens of units of new housing are likely to come online in our community.
As the planner/engineer and creator of “Strong Towns,” Chuck Mahron, says change is at its strongest when it comes incrementally from the bottom up. As citizens, we get to act as glorified job interviewers as we select who will be Oneonta’s next mayor. The first step to the interview process is for us to figure out what are some of the key issues facing our city. It’s time to step beyond the
dinner table where many of us has an idea of what Oneonta needs, enter the public square, and debate these issues in the open.
When you think about it, with the amount of baggage both Republican and Democratic designees for county sheriff are carrying, 2018 would be a great opportunity for a third person to run as an independent.
You may have a favorite candidate of your own, but how about someone like Len Carson, the Oneonta Republican who narrowly lost reelection to his seat on the Otsego County Board of Representatives last November despite distinguishing himself as bright, level-headed and forward-thinking during his tenure.
Just that term – “an Oneonta Republican” – speaks to his ability to reach across party lines in the Democrat-dominated city.
He’s a veteran – an able president of the Oneonta Vets’ Club – a distinguished firefighter and EMS leader, who in retirement from the Oneonta Fire Department founded DC Marketing,
the electronic billboard company.
And still a young man – in his 50s – he remains creatively involved in civic life as a future-looking member of the Oneonta Airport Commission.
As a former county rep, he knows his way around county government, and,
as former chairman of the county board’s Public
Safety Committee, the sheriff’s department.
Plus, in the turmoil in the sheriff’s department of his final year, he no doubt learned more about its inner workings than he wished.
There are positives for Carson in the negatives.
Incumbent Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr., the Republican nominee, while often serving ably, has been embroiled in controversy for 18 months now, unable to resolve serious allegations surrounding his son, Ros.
Ros was accused of threatening an “incident” at Milford or Oneonta schools so he, unhindered, could commit suicide in front of a supervisor critical of him.
It might happen, but it’s conceivable the case will still be hanging out there on Nov. 6, when voters go to the polls. If so, would you want to vote for Devlin?
The Democratic designee, retired state trooper Bob Fernandez, has an albatross hanging around his neck: As county board chair, his wife, Kathy Clark, R-Otego, did significant damage to the welfare of her constituents, evident dramatically in the past few days when two top executives of the county nursing home – privatizing it was one of her signature achievements – were hauled into court on felony charges of endangering patients.
Plus, some Republicans believe that Clark led the charge against Devlin to open the way for her husband’s candidacy? With that nagging question, would you want to vote for Fernandez when you go into the polling booths Nov. 6.
The positives for Carson are also in the positives.
While defeated for reelection by a mere five votes, Carson left office squeaky clean. He was generally admired by his colleagues, and very well may have been elected county board chairman if only three voters had cast ballots the other way.
There’s plenty of time to run as an independent. The independent candidate would have to collect a mere 795 signatures. He and his no-doubt many supporters could begin circulating petitions July 10, and submit them by Aug. 14-21.
Plus, a three-way race means someone could win with perhaps as little as 35 percent of balloting; a quarter of the county’s population lives in Carson’s home city.
We have a president who’s seeking to drain what he calls “the swamp” of Washington D.C. – Godspeed! But we have a little swamp here, and – arguably – both Devlin and Fernandez are part of it.
Let’s drain our little swamp. Elect Len Carson sheriff of Otsego County on Nov. 6, 2018.
People generally recognize Otsego County’s geographic schizophrenia. (Schizophrenic, in the best possible way, of course.)
To the south, there are 10 Interstate exits – 11 if you count Sidney’s – largely undeveloped (except Exits 14-15, at Southside Oneonta), ideal for commerce, manufacturing, distribution and other job-creating uses.
To the north is the pristine Glimmerglass watershed, a national environmental icon, surrounded by pretty hamlets and villages, most of them in sad states of deterioration. (Wouldn’t Westford and Westville, to pick two, be delightful with an influx of young families and new incomes?)
Jobs on the highway. Homes amid lovely hills and valleys. An ideal future to contemplate.
The Otsego Land Trust, which achieved its goal of bringing 10,000 acres under conservation easements by 2010 (a little late, but no matter), is an important piece in achieving the happy equation: When the jobs inevitably arrive (fingers crossed), entities like the Land Trust, it is to be hoped, will have ensured sufficient protections are in place to avoid ruination.
So how nice, on the one hand, is it to reflect on Princeton, N.J., developer Harry Levine’s successful conclusion of 12 years as Land Trust president, and his succession by Caleb Wertenbaker, a ninth-generation member of a family that has tended Glensfoot farm in Cherry Valley since the 1790s. (Currently, Todd Gohde is managing production of certified organic hay there.)
Glensfoot now encompasses some 1,200 acres, and Wertenbaker underscored the importance of the Land Trust’s mission the other day during a walk on rolling hills at the top of Graves Road, the latest 500 acres added to the family’s holdings, now being placed under conservation easement.
At the top of a meadow, less than two miles from busy Route 20, and half that from the Village of Cherry Valley, there was no sign of human habitation in any direction, only fields, forest and blue sky.
“It’s always been here and will always be here,” said Wertenbaker, who since graduating from Oberlin in 1996 has made a living in set design in New York City and Boston, escaping up to these parts whenever he can.
Harry Levine, by all accounts, has been an activist Land Trust president. Foremost, he raised staffing from a sometimes half-time executive director to five professionals, including the latest executive director, Pat Szarpa, about to mark her first anniversary. She served for six years as executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy, based in East Aurora, the Buffalo suburb, before moving to Cooperstown in 2012.
To the heartfelt thanks of many, Levine and the Land Trust board stepped up and saved Brookwood Gardens, 23 acres on Otsego Lake a mile north of Cooperstown, from falling into private hands and, thus, lost to the public forever. A businessman, though, he was particularly concerned about the P&L.
Making Brookwood financially sustainable requires $25,000-40,000 a year, depending what Land Trust overhead is assigned to it, Wertenbaker said. Shortterm, Levine had lined up a handful of donors to keep Brookwood going.
But it’s no surprise that Szarpa, when asked for her three top priorities, listed Brookwood as one of them. Some of that will be generated by giving a franchise to Brent Baysinger’s Canoe & Kayak Rentals of Portlandville to enable canoe rentals at Brookwood.
Additionally, the northern half of the property, the deteriorating home there razed, the two bridges over Leatherstocking Creek repaired, will soon be reopened, enhancing weddings and other uses on the southside – and, meanwhile, available for birding and other passive uses.
For the Land Trust to flourish, the general public has to care, and Szarpa is working with the national Land Trust Alliance “to create strong images so we can tell our story,” an outreach effort in its early stages. Plus, she is preparing for reaccreditation and taking other steps to make sure the organization is as strong as it might be.
(Plus, expect additions to the “Blueway,” a trail of publicly accessible sites from Deawongo Island in Canadarago Lake to where Oak Creek meets the Susquehanna, (near the site of David “Natty Bumppo” Shipman’s cabin.)
Whereas Levine, out of necessity, took the lead, Wertenbaker inherits a more mature organization, and sees his role as helping the Land Trust work. “I’m not going to be the driver. I’ll play a leadership role, but ‘leading from behind’,” he said. “The day-to-day business is 100 percent in the hands of the staff.”
As a set designer – and, mostly recently, as creative services director for productionglue, a New York City events company – Wertenbaker as manager helps “creative projects and creative people” accomplish their goals, rather than his agenda. “What I want (in the Land Trust) is a group of people to work together on a common goal.”
The right leader at this particular time, wouldn’t you say?
Editor’s Note: The column, Money Talk, by Tom Morgan of Franklin, the retired Oneonta investment counselor, is syndicated nationally. Here is this week’s column.
Did earthquakes churn Europe into rubble? Did The Plague descend upon Britain? Did skyscrapers topple? Did the Queen scamper naked ‘round Picadilly Circus?
Europeans are screaming at the Brits. Calling them everything but Nazis. Half the British are screaming at the other half. In fact calling them Nazis. What cataclysmic event has brought about such rancor?
The people said no.
What do you mean?
Politicians asked Brits if they wanted to stay in the EU. They said no.
This was not an easy decision, but it was the right one. Many geologists and industry leaders believe that the deep shale formations underneath the state’s southern tier, known as the Marcellus Shale, contain bountiful supplies of natural gas. But extracting the gas, the governor concluded, carried — at least for now — unacceptable risks to the environment and human health. READ MORE
FORBES: In Fracking Ban, Politics Trumps Science
After hemming and hawing for five years, the state of New York decided to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing of shale to extract petroleum. Apparently, the state health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker believes “we lack the necessary data.” This is a copout used all too often (including in bizarre cases like justifying opposition to gay marriage), and is especially odd given the increasing number of studies that have support fracking if well regulated. READ MORE
JOURNAL NEWS, Westchester: NY Wisely Skips Fracking
The decision stemmed from scientific data (or the lack thereof) that left too many unknowns about environmental impact. Economic factors came into play, too. But a pile of expected lawsuits will claim politics was at the root. READ MORE
BEFOREITSNEWS.COM: Liberals Can Celebrate Job Loss
Oh well, now the liberals can all celebrate the lack of job creation and infrastructure improvement in this once great state. READ MORE
PRESS & SUN BULLETIN: Region’s Economy Needs Boost
Gas extraction at the price of risking the public’s health is no bargain. We’ll thank Albany for looking out for the future health of our families and neighbors. But with that thanks comes a question about the economic futures of our families and neighbors: Now what? The region needs a lot of sparks to reignite its economic engines, and Wednesday’s decisions in Albany have left us with more questions and few answers about our future. READ MORE