The violence in D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, which led to the deaths of five people, have clarified the one question that needs to be asked of our country, state and regional representatives: Are you for the democratic process or are you for insurrection?
There is no longer any nuance, thanks to the actions of a group of pro-President Trump protesters who chose to break into the U.S. Capitol, loot it, call for the deaths of both the sitting Vice President Mike Pence and the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and kill Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.
Their attempt to overthrow a free and fair election — the election managers of all 50 states (who are a mix of Democrats and Republicans) have found no evidence of fraud — has made it abundantly clear that there is a faction of Americans and elected officials who only trust an election when their side wins.
While we shouldn’t have to point this out, we will: That isn’t what democracy is. These actions are abhorrent.
Remaining silent is the equivalent of condoning the actions of a minority that believes violence and destruction have a place in America.
This is a question we never thought we’d need to ask our fellow elected officials to publicly answer, because we mistakenly thought the answer was obvious: Are you for the democratic process or are you for insurrection?
We support democracy and call on all of the City of Oneonta, Otsego County, and our state representatives to make their positions clear.
Clark Oliver, Dist. 11 Adrienne Martini, Dist. 12 Danny Lapin, Dist. 13 Jill Basile, Dist.14
Otsego County Board
Luke Murphy, 1st Ward Mark Davies, 2nd Ward David Rissberger, 3rd Ward John Rafter, 7th Ward Mark Drnek, 8th Ward
Oneonta Common Council
As elected officials, you of all people do not have the luxury of deciding which laws you will uphold and which you will ignore, much less willfully and publicly flaunt as a partisan political stunt.
If you adopt this scofflaw “gun sanctuary” ordinance, you will be sued for failure to uphold New York State laws – laws that you are free to challenge in court, but laws that you cannot selectively ignore or flaunt to the detriment of the rule of law, to the loss the trust that has been placed in you, or to the breach of your oath of office.
County Staffing Increased As Deaths, COVID Infections Keep Growing
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Help is on the way after county Public Health Director Heidi Bond lamented that her department is “overwhelmed.”
“We’re barely keeping up with the cases coming in,” she said. “With contact tracing, that means you might not get a call if you’ve been identified as a close personal contact in a timely manner.”
On Monday, Dec. 14, the county Board of Representatives voted unanimously on a resolution from the floor presented by county Rep. Michele Farwell, D-Morris, to approve three LPNs or three health workers, or a combination of the two, to ensure Bond has the resources she needs to continue combating COVID.
With Bond and five nurses working nights and weekends, she hopes to expand the staff to eight to assist in interviewing positive cases and providing additional contact tracing.
“It’s definitely a relief,” she said. “All of us have been working six days a week.”
As of Tuesday, Dec. 15,there were 153 cases reported over last seven days, with 16 hospitalizations and two deaths, 10 deaths total.
Both of the deceased were women over 55, including one elderly woman who caught the virus from an employee at her assisted living facility after the employee was exposed at a private Thanksgiving gathering.
But with the lack of contact tracers, Bond said it could be days before her staff can reach those who may have been exposed to let them know they need to quarantine.
Bond defined “close contacts” as a person, including household residents, co-workers or friends, that the positive case spent more than 15 minutes with, either masked or unmasked.
“Normally we want to contact those people within 24 hours to let them know they should quarantine,” she said. “Now we’re asking people if they know they’re positive, that they take personal responsibility and notify their contacts, as well as tell us those names.”
And that personal responsibility extends to those notified, she said, who need to quarantine at home for 14 days. “That means no going out to the store, no going into work, no seeing friends,” she said. “You just stay home and wait.”
Bond said that if not contacted by the Health Department within five days of quarantine, to reach out in order to get the paperwork needed to approve time off work through the CARES Act.
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?
The run of bi-partisanship on the county Board of Representatives has been interrupted by the Republican caucus’ recent efforts to steamroll through a replacement for Representative Oberacker.
During my two and a half terms on the county board, cooperation between parties has ebbed and flowed. Since the 2017 election it has been split 7-7 between Democrats and Republican-affiliated members.
Thankfully, a bi-partisan governing coalition and leadership team was ascendant and the board increased its productivity and collegiality. There was an understanding that it was in the county’s interest for the party caucuses to work with each other. Representative Bliss has been selected as chair three years running, in votes that relied on support from both parties.
Some cracks began to show in January 2020 as the leadership team became fully Republican after two years of shared leadership with a chair and vice chair from different parties. But cooperation mostly continued until this month.
With Representative Oberacker’s recent election to state Senate, he is set to take office in January 2021. This will create a vacancy in his county district because his board term runs through December 2021.
The board’s Rules of Order and local law clearly outline how to fill vacancy, within 30 days and with nominees submitted by both major parties, to be voted on by the Administration Committee and then the full board.
Unfortunately the Republican caucus apparently coordinated to prevent Democratic input into this process, rejecting bi-partisanship.
Representative Oberacker inexplicably submitted his resignation letter a month and a half prior to commencing his new position, unexpectedly vacating the board prior to important votes on the annual budget and other matters.
His resignation letter was dated Nov. 13 to take effect the 16th; but it was not received by the board clerk until Nov. 17 (according to the date stamp). The clerk did not share the resignation with the Board members until the 18th, a day after the local Republican Committee met to nominate a replacement.
Upon receipt of the resignation letter, the Democratic board members inquired with board leadership about the process for moving forward and how the Democratic Committee could submit a name (the committee had a regular meeting scheduled for the 19th).
These inquiries were ignored by leadership, and the Administration Committee voted on the morning of the 19th, along party lines, to approve the Republican nominee.
Does this sound like collegial bi-partisanship? It sounds like a fishy partisan power move to me, contrary to the letter and spirit of county law.
The county board now has seven Democratic members, six Republican-affiliated members, and one vacancy. Democrats have a plurality in weighted voting on the board but neither party has a majority. Bi-partisan cooperation will be required to move forward on any items, including the filling of this vacancy.
It had been my expectation that the board would fill the vacancy as I believed that to be in the county’s best interest. I also expected that the board would choose a Republican, as this is historically a conservative district.
But now I ask myself what the Republican plurality would do if the shoe were on the other foot. Would they keep open a vacancy in a traditionally Democratic district and press their advantage to maintain their plurality and greater control over the Board?
If you had asked me a year ago, I would opine that the Republicans would probably do the right thing and fill the vacancy. Today, after their latest maneuvers, I’m not sure.
The success of our county and board depends on restoring bi-partisan respect. With the county still fighting a pandemic and dealing with a likely double-dip recession, we need a high-functioning and fully staffed board.
Although the timing of the filling of this vacancy is unknown, I do not plan to keep the position vacant for over a year and I expect some of my Democratic colleagues feel similarly. But we also need the GOP caucus to work to rebuild bridges and trust.
Like any relationship, this one requires work and good faith on both sides. I hope the holidays and New Year allow my Republican colleagues to reflect on their recent actions and consider how they can contribute to restoring trust and collegiality.
District 4, Town of Oneonta
COOPERSTOWN – Peter Oberacker, elected state senator on Nov. 3, will be leaving the Otsego County Board Dec. 31 at the latest and is blocked by the county board’s Rules of Order from voting on his
Absent bipartisanship, that creates a deadlock.
There are 6,228 “weighted votes” distributed among the 14 county reps, and without Oberacker’s 534 votes, the Republicans don’t have the 3,115-vote majority to fill his seat unilaterally.
Democrats control 2,807 weighted votes, also insufficient to fill the seat.
County Board chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, anticipates things may fall into place.
“There will be a couple of candidates brought forth by the committees,” he said. “A couple of people have reached out to me. Pete has someone he’s likely to recommend. I would take his recommendation highly, just as we did when Senator Seward recommended Pete.”
Since Republicans dominate in Oberacker’s District 6 (Schenevus, Worcester, Westford and Decatur), the GOP town committees there should propose his successor, in the view of county Republican Chairman Vince Casale.
“The people of that district overwhelmingly elected a Republican to represent them,” said Casale. “I don’t see any reason why the board wouldn’t work together to replace the representative in the will
of the voters.”
The county Democratic chairman, Clark Oliver, who is also county rep from District 11, Oneonta’s East End, said the county board rarely makes decisions on strictly party lines, and he hopes it follows that precedent here.
“What I’m hopeful for is that we will agree to appoint a candidate with some sort of bipartisan support,” he said. “If there seems to be a clear path forward, I assume somebody will break the tie.”
Meanwhile, “In the planning process, it would seem Republicans would want to bring Democrats into the discussion.”
Asked about a Dec. 2 decision, Bliss replied, “That’s possible.”
It would depend when Oberacker decides to resign, he said. Rule 6 of the board’s Rules of Order calls for a replacement to be made within 30 days of a resignation, Bliss said, adding he’s not sure if that’s a guideline or has the force of law.
Despite having seven county reps to the Republicans’ five (plus one Conservative, Meg Kennedy of Hartwick, Milford and New Lisbon), the Democrats – four from the City of Oneonta’s smaller districts – only control 2,807 votes, well short of a majority.
The first forum on the issue will be the county board’s Administration Committee, which will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 19.
Kennedy, who chairs Admin, said she likes Casale’s proposal. “I hope people would be agreeable. I hope the county board as a whole could respectfully agree to the local people’s choice.”
In the 2019 county board election, Oberacker was unopposed, and garnered 884 votes, vs. 11 write-ins.
In 2017, when challenged by Democrat Chad McEvoy, Westford, Oberacker chalked up a 1,007-701 victory.
According to the Rules of Order, the Republican and Democratic county committees may each recommend a replacement to Oberacker, but county board members and, presumably others, can do so as well.
Casale said he will convene a meeting of the 8-9 District 6 committee members shortly. Oliver said the Democratic Committee also will meet on the 19th.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to let the people of that district go without representation,” Casale said. “Why not do it sooner rather than later?”
ONEONTA – Citing the domestic violence and homeless shelters “essential services,” the Otsego County Board of Representatives and the county’s Department of Social Services have reopened both buildings.
“We’re happy that they have reopened and that they are helping these vulnerable populations in our community,” said county Rep. Adrienne Martini, D-Oneonta, chair of the county board’s Human Services Committee. “It’s so important that they be open and operational.”
LAURENS – Due to the Coronavis threat and Governor Cuomo’s restrictions on gatherings, the Otsego County Second Amendment Rally planned this Sunday at the VFW Post 1417 on Ellis Road has been postponed, according to Pat Brockway.
Meanwhile, the 2AS group seeking to have the county declared a sanctuary where the SAFE Act would not be enforced is continuing to compile petitions, and by March 27 hopes to have signatures verified and ready to be presented to the county Board of Representatives at its April 1 meeting.
Opponents of turning Otsego County into a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” are faster on the draw than proponents, at least when it comes to petitions.
On their behalf, Mary Anne Whelan, the retired Bassett physician, was planning to turn in petitions with “many hundred” signatures to the county Board of Representatives when it met Wednesday, March 4.
“We … respectfully ask the county Board of Representatives to declare support of the current state regulations concerning gun control,” it reads. “…Sanctuaries are for people, not for guns.”
Whelan said she alone had 200 signatures on petitions she circulated, and she was hoping for several hundred more from others circulating petitions.”
She is acting now because she anticipated county Rep. Rick Brockway, R-Laurens, who has championed the “Second Amendment Sanctuary” idea, would be presenting petitions with perhaps thousands of signatures at this week’s meeting.
However, he said he is now waiting until the April 1 meeting.
Brockway said the Facebook-based “2A Otsego County Sanctuary Group” is planning a meeting of its supporters Sunday, March 22, at the Morris VFW, to compile a master list.
“I’m guessing we’ll have 6,000 signatures, I’m not positive,” he said.
He expects Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, to be at that meeting, as well as county Rep. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, who is running for state Senate. “We’ve invited county board members as well,” he said.
A freshman representative, he’s learned that if he introduces a resolution to create a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” during a county board meeting, the rules of the board will require a two-thirds vote for approval.
However, if he introduces the measure in a committee, and it is approved and sent on the full board, it will only require a majority vote for approval. He plans to go that route this month, with the idea the resolution will be ready to go to the full board on April 1.
At first, Whelan, who was soliciting signatures Saturday, Feb. 29, at the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market along with Sam Wilcox of Cooperstown, said she didn’t believe the county board had the authority to create a gun sanctuary, where the state SAFE Act wouldn’t be enforced.
Since, however, she has researched some “reasonably written stuff” and now isn’t sure.
“I don’t think it’s likely the board would vote for Brockway’s proposition: It’s so disruptive,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to me that business of the board isn’t to overturn existing laws of the State of New York.”
So far, 17 counties in New York State are seeking sanctuary status, said Brockway, ticking off Montgomery, Hamilton, Ulster and Lewis, as well as neighboring Delaware. “There’s a bunch of them across the state,” he said. “It’s going to be statewide before it’s done.”
Some petitions have been “stolen” from stores that had them available for signators, including three in Cooperstown. At the gas station in Worcester, two full pages were absconded when the clerk wasn’t looking, an estimated 24 signatures per page, Brockway said.
COOPERSTOWN – Otsego will now have a county administrator. Now, the question is how to fit the new job into the current system, and how to adjust the system for the new job.
“We have a few things to iron out,” said county Rep. David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield/Cherry Valley, in an interview as he enters his third one-year term as Otsego County board chairman.
For instance, who’s in charge when the county administrator is out of town or sick? Perhaps the board chairman, the chairman said.
Now, county Treasurer Allen Ruffles, due to return at the end of this week from a year’s National Guard deployment in Djibouti, and his assistant, Andrew Crisman, have put together two county budgets now, and well, Bliss said.
The new administrator – “we have an optimistic timeline: six months” – will take the lead on budget preparation, but should take advantage of Ruffles and Crisman’s experience and expertise, Bliss said.
The position of clerk of the board, now held by Carol McGovern, provides services to the county reps that must be meshed with the county administrator’s.
Foremost, Bliss said, the county board has only added one single job, no more.
During the county administrator debate, county Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, issued a letter to the editor reporting that Greene county executive’s budget quickly ballooned from one person to a $350,000 staff.
That’s not going to happen here, and existing clerical staff and others will be repurposed to avoid budget creep, the chairman said. As needs arise, “maybe somebody would be transferred,” he said. “We’re not anticipating any new positions.”
He affirmed he is assigning the task of recruiting the first person to fill the $150,000 job to the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, the board’s new vice chairman.
Perhaps IGA will seek a consultant to assist the search, but maybe not, Bliss said. He expects Kennedy, who is on the board of directors of the state Association of Counties, will be able to tap into NYSAC’s expertise as the job search ensues.
He cited other issues he expects to pursue:
• The Energy Task Force: “If we keep the politics and activism out of it, there’s a lot of room for common sense.”
• The county jail, now undergoing extensive repairs: the question of replacement, renovation or building an addition will be studied. And bail reform must be taken into account. “If the population stays low,” Bliss said, “maybe we can get along.”
• A consolidated highway garage: The county is in talks with BOCES to replace the building on Linden Avenue, Cooperstown, with a new one at the Area Occupational Center in Milford. It would be more centrally located, and BOCES mechanics students could be trained to keep the fleet in repair.
• Trane: The county has contracted with the national HVAC company for $2.3 million in energy-efficiency upgrades on all its buildings, from headquarters on Main Street, Cooperstown, to 242 Main St., Oneonta, the former city hall. The deal was structured so that savings would cover the costs.
By LIBBY CUDMORE & JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.COM
COOPERSTOWN – The Otsego County Board of Representatives, 9-4, with one absence, today elected Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick/Milford/New Lisbon, as vice chairman.
David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/ Middlefield/Cherry Valley, was elected chairman for a second two-year term.
Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, nominated “our Citizen of the Year” for the post, a reference to Kennedy receiving that designation last week from Hometown Oneonta, The Freeman’s Journal and wwwAll.OTSEGO.com.
Voting nay were Democrats Andrew Marietta, Cooperstown/Fly Creek, and three Oneonta reps, Danny Lapin and two freshmen, Jill Basile and Clark Oliver.
Editor’s Note: This profile is the first of three on newly elected Otsego County representatives who will take office Jan. 1.
By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Jill Basile saw her future as her father, Bruce, lay in a hospital bed.
“During that time I watched a lot of news,” she said. “I decided that I didn’t want to be the person who complained behind the scenes anymore. I wanted to do something.”
Her father passed away in April 2017, but his inspiration resulted in Basile’s election Nov. 5 to the Otsego County Board from District 14, which stretches south from the colleges to I-88. She succeeds Liz Shannon, who is stepping down.
“I figured this was my time to help the community that I grew up in. I missed the sense of helpfulness in my life,” she said. “I think people look at the large picture, but they don’t realize how much local politics affect their lives directly, and that’s why I’m here.”
A native of Oneonta, she received a bachelor’s in financial services from SUNY Cobleskill and joined Hartwick College, first as a residential director, then assistant director of Residential Life and Judicial Affairs.
With a master’s degree in student affairs administration from SUNY Binghamton, she joined Opportunities for Otsego’s Violence Intervention Program as a victim advocate.
“I decided on the county board because of my experience with the county,” she said.
For Basile, it quickly became clear that part of her political career would also involve animals. She began volunteering for the Susquehanna SPCA after she adopted her dog there in 2015 and became a board member in 2017.
“I have loved animals my whole life and after spotting Sasha and adopting her from the shelter, I wanted to give back,” she said.
As a board member of the SQSPCA, one of her first goals is to help her local furry friends. “It’s surprising to me that the shelter provides a service to the county by caring for animal victims and they are not compensated,” she said.
The SQSPCA recently spearheaded an iniative to get more funding for animal cruelty cases in Otsego County.
“The sheriff’s department now has $10,000 in the budget for animal cruelty. That’s a step forward for us,” said Basile. “As a board, it’s been something we’ve been passionate about.”
During her campaign, “that was one of my main talking points. People really connected with me on that.”
Yet another mission for Basile is establishing a better protocol for pay raises for Otsego County employees.
Last year, the county board adopted a competitive scale for its manager, but the new rep said, “statistically, Otsego County’s pay rate is lower than neighboring counties. I’d like to see the county come up with a process or policy for providing raises for employees that would allow county board representatives to prepare for the future.”
Additionally, Basile, who now works from home as an academic adviser to SUNY Delhi’s Nursing Program, wants monthly board meetings at a different time, “when people can attend – 10 a.m. is not accessible for most working people.”
With her first county board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 2, Jill Basile is ready to put things in motion. “I think people look at the large picture, but they don’t realize how much local politics affect their lives directly, and that’s why I’m here.”
NEXT WEEK: Rick Brockway, R-District 3, representing Laurens and Otego.
ONEONTA – Kay Stuligross has come a long way, baby.
Growing up in Oberlin, Ohio, in the 1940s and ’50s, the daughter of a college professor, her mother sometimes wouldn’t vote “because she didn’t want to cancel out my father’s vote.”
Raising a family in Oneonta in the 1980s, she and her husband, Hartwick College Economics Professor Jack Stuligross, agreed her time would be better spent raising their five sons instead of holding a fulltime job.
While attitudes of the time may have kept her from a fulltime profession, there was one constant for the inquisitive, engaged woman, who retired from the Otsego County Board of Representatives in 2018: The League of Women Voters.
In the 1960s, she met her husband at college in Detroit, and they married “a year and a month to the day” after their first date. In fact, “I set my wedding date on our first date. It was a good marriage, providential.”
After obtaining a master’s, he joined the Federal Reserve in Dallas and, realizing he was the only one in the office lacking a Ph.D., soon enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, moving Kay and two babies to Norman.
Grocery shopping her third day there, she found the local League of Women Voters’ “Voters Guide” in her shopping bag.
In those days before websites and Facebook, it was common for local Leagues to submit written questions to candidates; the answers would be published in a booklet. “Based on their answers,” the newcomer to the Sooner State said, “I knew who to vote for.”
Even today, age 80, retired to The Meadows, a complete-care community in Lansdale, Pa., she declared in a telephone interview the other day, “I don’t want to vote a straight ticket. I want to be informed.”
She joined Norman’s League, and became involved in collecting local data for a nationwide League study of poverty.
A newly minted, Ph.D., Jack got a teaching job at Central Missouri State, Warrensburg; Kay joined the League. He moved to Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisc.; she joined the League there and, when they departed for Hartwick in 1981, she was president.
“I came prepared to look hard at government here,” Kay said. She soon joined the League of Women Voters, Oneonta chapter, and in the next decade served as president, and also on the League’s state board for two terms.
Her husband died in 2006, struck by a car while riding a bicycle in Southside Oneonta.
In 2007, she decided to run for the county board and was elected, and said her intent was, if possible, to see professional management achieved. In 2009, she was also appointed to the city’s Charter Revision Commission, which created a city-manager job, with mixed results.
Naturally, she declared she was “pleased” on learning the Otsego County Board of Representatives, almost 30 years after the local Leagues’ recommendation, created a county administrator position Wednesday, Dec. 4, by an 11-2-1 vote.
“We need a trained administrator,” she said. “The board members are hardworking, dedicated people, good hearted people who want the best for their county and the taxpayers, but don’t really haves the experience to do it.” (Except, she said, farmers, some who have run sizeable operations before joining the county board.)
“No school board would act without a superintendent,” she said, “and they are much smaller than the county.”
In 2007, David R. Brenner of Oneonta, former county board chair (who then served as city mayor), conducted a study of professional management for the county board, and offered options to pursue.
At the time, however, the representatives were angry and divided after minority Democrats reached an agreement with Republican Donald Lindberg, Worcester: He agreed to caucus with them; in turn, they elected him board chairman.
While supporting the concept of professional management, Brenner recommended against acting at that time: Bringing a manager into such a rancorous situation would guarantee the innovation’s failure.
“It would not be successful until most of the board is firmly on board,” Stuligross recalled Brenner concluding.
Today, with Republican David Bliss’ relatively benign, bipartisan approach, the time may be right. But Stuligross had some advice.
One, department heads will have mixed feeling, appreciating someone who can resolved issues day-to-day, but apprehensive about closer oversight.
“It is important the board not cause confusion by letting department heads come to them,” said Kay. “They must reinforce the administrator is in charge.”
Two, the board must let the administrator fulfill responsibilities outlined in the contract, but should also ensure the “full performance” clause is met.
In particular, “the ability to work with others is crucial,” she said. “Somehow,” before hiring, “they need to observe or otherwise learn about the candidates’ interpersonal skills”
COOPERSTOWN – If – as is anticipated – Dave Bliss is reelected chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives at the organizational meeting Thursday, Jan. 2, one of his first acts will be to name a committee to recruit the first county administrator.
In an interview, he said he sees no reason why county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, who led the effort to create the new position, shouldn’t chair the search as well. “She’s done an excellent job,” said the Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield Republican. “I don’t see any reason to make a change there.”
Serving on the board of NYSAC (the state Association of Counties) gives her contacts and easier access to information that will help guide the recruitment process as it did the two-year study that preceded the county board’s 11-3-1 vote Wednesday, Dec. 4, to create a professional position at the top of the organizational chart.
The county board included $75,000 in the 2020 budget, also approved Dec. 4, with the idea it will take until mid-year to fill the $150,000 position, ($100,000 salary plus benefits and expenses.)
For her part, Kennedy called the vote “monumental,” adding, “it’s exciting – and a little scary at the same time.” That excitement was echoed by long-time supporters of the concept.
Former county board chairman David Brenner (and later, Oneonta mayor) said he was “very pleased” at the vote, and he praised his current successor: “This fellow Bliss, he’s been outstanding.”
Noting the current chair’s 25 years as Middlefield town supervisor, Brenner said, “He’s an old hand, and this looks to me like a skilled hand at work. He’s selective about what battles he cares to discuss. He’s picking the right priorities.”
Also expressing satisfaction was Kay Stuligross, formerly of Oneonta, now retired in Lansdale, Pa., who ran for the county board in 2007 specifically to see a professional administrator hired. The next step – hiring the right first person – is critical she said: “If we get someone who can’t do the job, it will set us back 10 years.”
At the Dec. 4 meeting, former county board Chairman Kathy Clark, R-Otego, held up Allegheny County’s failure – it has had three county managers since 2016, and the job is again vacant – as one reason for her nay vote.
And her former vice chairman, Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, who didn’t attend the critical meeting, has argued $150,000, the estimated cost of the cost, will become double that and more at a county administrators adds a deputy and support staff.
County Rep. Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield, also voted nay.
On the first point, Kennedy said much depends on the success of the hiring process and how the county board welcomes the new hire. “I don’t want to micromanage the new administrator,” she said. “I want to pave their way to establish their authority within the county dynamic.”
She said “our action as a board” will determine success, and anticipates the county reps “becoming a stronger legislative body,” more firmly setting priorities to ensure the county’s best future.
Bliss said he anticipates periods of stability and periods of turnover. “Find one that works, and they end up staying for a long time. Then there may be two or three more before they find the right fit again,” he said.
Both representatives said the ballooning of county manager budgets can be misleading, often simply reflecting how existing resources are adjusted to fit the new model.