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.
The Otsego County Board of Representatives was scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, on a historic matter: Whether to pass its executive authority to a hired professional, a county manager.
As of presstime the evening before, it appeared certain – as certain as these things can be – that a coalition of Republicans, Democrats and the sole Conservative representative would create the $150,000 a year position.
For the first report on what happens, go at late morning or early afternoon – and for continuing coverage throughout the afternoon – to www.allOTSEGO.com
By the time you read this, it’s very likely Otsego County will have created a job of county administrator, joining all but a handful of counties around New York State.
Heading into the Wednesday, Dec. 4, monthly meeting of the county Board of Representatives, the momentum to professionalize government was clear.
Six of the seven Democrats were firmly in favor, plus two Republican leaders – chairman David Bliss and Schenevus’ Peter Oberacker.
Add in Meg Kennedy, the Hartwick Conservative who chaired the committee that firmed up the idea, and it’s a go and then some.
The final tally may include that seventh Democrat,
and perhaps two of the other four Republicans. Only Republicans Ed Frazier and Kathy Clark have been outspokenly against the idea that it takes a pro to administer a $120 million operation.
That said, the nays – Frazier, in particular – have raised cautionary issues in two Letters to the Editor published on www.AllOTSEGO.com.
One, it’s a big job. Two, a manageable expense – salary and benefits are expected to cost $150,000 a year – can get out of control.
Greene County, Frazier reported, “realizing one person couldn’t fulfill all the requirements of the position, … hired a deputy. There, annual spending for the office is now in excess of $350K.”
He concludes, “We have a lot of other line items in the budget that we could spend $350K on.” (Among them, perhaps $40,00-70,000 in costs being absorbed by the Susquehanna SPCA; but that’s for another day.)
Still, the consensus grew behind hiring a county manager as county reps recognized there’s too much to do, and much of it is too complicated for 14 non-expert citizens to accomplish at one monthly meeting and a half-dozen committee meetings in between.
It’s OK if you don’t want – or need – to do anything. But the Energy Task Force, a crisis in rural ambulance service, a complex (and, it’s hoped, cost-effective) renovation of county buildings, a possible new multi-entity highway garage, a stubborn (but, thankfully, not too big) homeless problem, changing tech needs, not to mention day-to-day administration.
It’s a lot; that’s hardly all.
To avoid mushrooming costs – that’s the county board’s job going forward: to prevent empire-building.
Accepting the county manager can’t do EVERYTHING is essential to his/her success. That means recognizing all things aren’t equal and setting priorities.
Further, there’s a lot of staff, brainpower and energy in place now, in 24 department heads and their deputies, in the Planning Department in particular, in the clerk of the board’s office, etc., that can be repurposed or “tasked” as necessary.
Not easy, but possible. It’s impossible now.
Attention will now shift to finding the right guy/gal.
Happily, at chairman Bliss’ insistence, the job description is wide enough to ensure a deep field of candidates.
If an MPA, fine. But brains, experience, healthy ambition, diplomacy (in dealing up to 14 bosses and down to department heads) are essential qualities.
If the vote goes as anticipated here, it’s only the beginning.
Who gets the praise for professionalizing Otsego County government?
Foremost, probably county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick.
The idea caught fire with her, evident in her close questioning of SUNY New Paltz Vice President Gerry Benjamin, keynoter at “County Manager v. County Executive,” a forum on the idea Dec. 14, 2017, at Springbrook’s new community center.
In the months that followed, she became the first local county representative ever recruited to New York
State Association of Counties’ board, and tapped her new connections – Executive Director Steve Acquario and his network – in two years of study by her Intergovernmental Affairs Committee that led up to this week’s vote.
She did the heavy-lifting, but the concept would have gone nowhere without the consensus-building chairman, David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, who took the helm in January 2018, just as Kennedy’s effort began. Bliss has smoothed the way for a lot of progress, with this effort potentially foremost among them.
Kennedy’s IGA committee members: from the majority Republicans, Schenevus’ Peter Oberacker;
from the Democrats, Fly Creek’s Andrew Marietta, Gilbertsville’s Michele Farwell and Oneonta’s Liz Shannon. They attended a second monthly meeting 20 months in a row, absorbing the expertise Kennedy brought before them. They were sold.
Some credit should go Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, an Administration Committee member who little doubt votes nay. He engaged in the issue, and – as the grain of sand in the oyster – his challenges no doubt made the resulting concept stronger.
Of course, none of this happened overnight. Kay Stuligross, now retired outside Philadelphia, marshalled a League of Women Voters’ push for a county manager in the 1990s. That motivated her to run for the county board, where she served admirably for more than a decade.
The great Dave Brenner, former county board chairman, then Oneonta mayor, is also a scholar, and he prepared an exhaustive study in 2008 on the county board’s behalf that endorsed the county manager idea.
At the time, the board was particularly divided – Otego Rep. Ron Feldstein had cobble together a Democrat-dominated majority by enticing Worcester Republican Don Lindberg to accept the chairmanship.
Everyone was furious at everyone else, and Brenner sagely advised bringing a county manager into that turmoil would guarantee failure. Wait for a better day, he said, and so we have.
This has focused on praise, but some will look to blame the very same innovators. Praise – and hope – are more apt today. But the county representatives are embarked on a meaningful and – word of the year – potentially fraught experiment.
Surefootedly, Bliss, Kennedy et al can make it work, but success isn’t inevitable. Prudence, limits, economy, restraint, diplomacy are qualities needed in the months ahead.
COOPERSTOWN – Richard Sternberg, saying he was acting on behalf of the Susquehanna SPCA, told what appeared to be a partly surprised county Board of Representatives this evening that the Shelter will begin unilaterally levying fees Jan. 1 on county entities and towns that require its services.
“We will be initiating a billing system,” said Sternberg, the retired Bassett surgeon and Cooperstown village trustee, who said he was acting as an adviser to the Shelter’s Board of Directors.
Speaking at the public hearing on the 2020 county budget at the county courthouse, he said when Executive Director Stacie Haynes’ time is required, a fee of $80 an hour will be levied, with quarter-hour increments. For other staff members, it will be a $40 hour fee, plus $30 per day for caring for each animal housed at the shelter, and 65-cent-per-mile mileage if staffers’ or Shelter vehicles are used.
Sometimes, the county Sheriff’s Department drops off dogs; in that case, the Sheriff’s Department would be charged, Sternberg said. If 911 makes the placement, 911 would be charged. Some towns have contracted with the Shelter; but those that haven’t would be charged according to the same schedule if local dog control officers ask for help. In places like the Village of Cooperstown, which has its own police force, it would be charged if its officers drop off a dog or asked for the shelter’s services.
Sternberg reported the Shelter’s operating budget – not including construction costs – amounted to $719,499.01 in 2018, and said about 10 percent of usage comes from the county, meaning – if this approach stands – county government could expect to be charged $70,000 next year.
At the end of Sternberg’s presentation, county board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, told Sternberg the public hearing was just for the budget as it stands, and since no money is now in the budget, the issue could not be discussed in that forum.
County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr., who was in the audience, said he believes the Shelter deserves some county support. However, he said he’s unsure if the unilateral fee schedule is enforceable.
During his presentation, Sternberg mentioned a meeting with a county board committee last Friday.
There, he said later, retiring county Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, when presented with the SSPCA ultimatum, asked that a detailed list of donors’ names in the current Shelter Us fund drive and the amount donated should be supplied to the county before any decision is made.
COOPERSTOWN – Even with $230,000 in emergency funding allocated by the Otsego County Board of Representatives to fix the leaking roof of the county’s Public Safety Building, it could still be six to eight weeks before inmates are returned to the jail.
“We have one estimate done and we’re waiting for another,” said Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. “We’ve also asked the architect that’s working on some other projects at the jail to give us a price for expanding services.”