COOPERSTOWN – After last month’s hour-long fiery debate at the county board meeting over resolutions expressing contrary views on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, both resolutions went through routinely at today’s meeting as part of the consent agenda.
County Rep. Rick Brockway, on Zoom from his West Laurens home, answered a question his wife was relaying to him from a caller.
“We didn’t pull either of them,” replied Brockway. “They didn’t pull theirs, so we didn’t pull ours.”
“Rick, you’re not on mute,” one of his fellow Zoom meeting participants called out.
Editor’s Note: For an hour at its monthly meeting, Wednesday, Feb. 3, the Otsego County Board of Representatives debated two resolutions: H, condemning the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. And G, condemning both the attack on the Capitol and summer-long riots that followed George Floyd’s death.
RESOLUTION NO. G
RESOLUTION: CONDEMNING VIOLENCE IN THE UNITED STATES AND REAFFIRMING THE BOARD’S COMMITMENT TO THE RULE OF LAW, FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS, AND THE PEACEFUL TRANSFER OF POWER
Introduced by Republican Reps. Ed Frazier, Dan Wilber
WHEREAS, on January 6, 2021, pursuant to the 12th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, the House of Representatives, and the Senate met at the United States Capitol for a Joint Session of Congress to count the votes of the Electoral College; and
WHEREAS, the results of the 2020 election were lawfully certified by Republican and Democratic election administrators in all fifty states; affirmed in dozens of court cases; and formalized by the vote of the Electoral College; and
WHEREAS, thousands of individuals sought to and did, in fact, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive and seditious acts; and
COOPERSTOWN – The county Board of Representatives voted unanimously today to give Public Health Director Heidi Bond the resources she may need.
Acting on a resolution from the floor presented by county Rep. Michele Farwell, D-Morris, the board approved three LPNs or three health workers, or a combination of the two, to ensure Bond has the resources she needs to continue combatting COVID.
At the board’s Health & Education Committee last week, Bond reported her county Department of Health staff is “working overtime and weekends,” adding “I haven’t worked out what staff would be most beneficial.”
COOPERSTOWN – Democrat MacGuire Benton confirmed a few minutes ago he plans to challenge the dean of the county board Democrats, Andrew Marietta, for the Cooperstown/Town of Otsego seat in next June’s primary.
“Primaries are the sign of a healthy democracy,” he said, adding he’s looking forward to “an exchange of ideas.” He added, “It’s early, and I look forward to sharing my platform with District 8” when it is fully developed.
For his part, Marietta, who has been working with his colleagues on creating a county-manager position, said, “I have a job that I feel is unfinished.” The 2021 county budget, recently approved, includes $50,000, with the idea the manager position can be revisited next as COVID retreats.
COOPERSTOWN – With three of seven Democrats voting nay and one abstaining, Oneonta businesswoman Jennifer Mickle was appointed a few moments ago to succeed state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker on the county board.
COOPERSTOWN – With Democratic county Reps. Adrienne Martini and Andrew Marietta saying they will vote for her, it appears Republican Jennifer Mickle will be appointed to succeed state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker on the county board, assuring Republican control of the board.
COOPERSTOWN – A third candidate, Andrew Hamill, a Libertarian who has run for Maryland town supervisor, emerged this morning to fill state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker’s District 6 county board seat.
As the county board’s Administration Committee went into session this morning to interview former Worcester town supervisor Diane Addesso, a Democrat, for Oberacker’s seat, county board Chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield, was seeking to arrange an interview with Hammil as well.
As it did in interviewing Jennifer Mickle, the Republican candidate for the vacancy, the committee also went into executive session to interview Addesso as well.
SCHENEVUS – After a week of political wrangling, two women – one Republican, one Democrat – have emerged as prospective successors to state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, on the county board.
The Republican is Jennifer Mickle, an Oneonta businesswoman who lives in the Town of Maryland, where she has chaired the town Board of Assessment Review.
The Democrat is Diane Addesso, former Worcester town supervisor who operates a graphic-design studio there.
County Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick/Milford/New Lisbon, who chairs the county board’s Administration Committee, scheduled a special Admin meeting for 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 30, after Democrats called the process hurried and unfair.
“My goal in having that meeting,” she said Tuesday, Nov. 24, “is to allow the questions and answers for both candidates … even if it doesn’t come to a vote.”
She added, “The process did not allow both sides to be heard, and I’m trying to remedy that.”
What followed was set in motion Monday, Nov. 16, when Oberacker resigned from his District 6 county board seat.
The next evening, county Republican Chairman Vince Casale convened a meeting of District 6 Republican committee members, and they endorsed Mickle, Oberacker’s choice to succeed him.
Wednesday, www.AllOTSEGO.com reported the news, and Democrats responded with dismay that they weren’t briefed. “I had to read about it on AllOTSEGO.com,” one of the Democratic reps said at the Thursday Admin meeting.
That day, Admin Committee members and county reps in attendance from both parties participated in a Zoom interview with Mickle. The committee then voted 3-1, along party lines, to send her name to the full board at its next meeting Dec. 2.
That evening, the county Democratic Committee convened and selected Addesso as its choice to succeed Oberacker. And the next morning, Kennedy announced her decision to vet Addesso as well.
“Hearing from both sides, and giving the opposition ample time to field a candidate and vet them is the right and fair thing to do,” said Democratic County Chairman Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta, on hearing the news.
Casale demurred, saying both Republicans and Democrats knew on Nov. 3, Election Day, that Oberacker would have to resign. “The Democrats are acting as if they are victims to politics, when they are actually victims of their own ineptitude and lack of planning,” he said.
In an interview, Mickle, who operates United Student Rentals with her husband, Ron, and chairs the Northern Otsego Relay for Life Committee, said joining the county board would be “a wonderful opportunity. I’ve always believed in public service and giving back to the community. I hope my experience will not only be a benefit to District 6, but to the county as a whole.”
In another interview, Addesso said that, while Worcester town supervisor, she streamlined polling places from four to one. That, in addition to her predecessor buying a gravel pit as a savings measure, led to a state citation for good governance. Kennedy said she isn’t sure if the second Admin meeting will achieve anything concrete, since the committee has already recommended Mickle to the county board. The committee’s makeup is three Republicans, two Democrats.
An added wrinkle: With Oberacker having resigned, neither Republicans nor Democrat have a majority of votes. If no Democrat will vote with the Republicans, Mickle can be confirmed.
If that happens, County Attorney Ellen Coccoma has ruled the reps would have to petition Governor Cuomo for a special election, but there’s no guarantee he would OK it.
District 6 is considered a Republican district, so if Mickle had to wait until next November’s election, she might have an advantage.
The county Board of Elections reports there are 1,624 Republicans in District 6, compared to 789 Democrats.
However, there are other voting parties as well: Conservatives (72), Working Families (11), Green (13), Libertarian (15), Independence (225), non-affiliated (704) and “other” (3).
In 2017, you may remember, the Village of Cooperstown dipping its toe in the “sanctuary” pond.
The Village Board passed a resolution telling the federal government it could not depend on the cooperation of Cooperstown police if ICE – U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement – were to launch a local raid.
Happily, ICE was occupied with real hot-spots and the resolution sort of faded away.
Now, another idea is on the table: A “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” presumably where the state’s SAFE Act, toughest in the nation, it’s said, won’t be enforced.
Last week, outdoor columnist and county Rep. Rick Brockway, R-West Laurens, on behalf of the 2AS organization, presented petitions with 3,925 signatures to the county Board of Representatives, asking it to reject any law that is “constitutionally repugnant.”
Appropriately, county Board Chairman Dave Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, deftly assigned the measure to a committee – Public Safety & Legal Affairs, chaired by Dan Wilber, R-Burlington – where it will stay for a while.
Curiously, some folks who were enthusiastic about the first “sanctuary” have no enthusiasm for the second.
Which gets to the nub of the whole “sanctuary” concept.
First, there’s a practical point.
In the first case, did anyone – the trustees foremost – want Cooperstown, getaway from the hustle and hubbub of city life, to become a magnet for illegal residents and a center of immigration conflict?
Likewise, does anyone really want to see a gun on every hip?
Second, there’s the rule of law.
If you don’t like something, there’s a process to change it. Perfection is probably off the table, so any reform in any area would be imperfect in some other way.
So it is with the SAFE Act.
Here’s a modest proposal. Perhaps Wilber’s committee and the 2AS can identify two or three of the most egregious elements in the SAFE Act, and make common cause with other counties to reform the reform.
Most of the complaints about the SAFE Act, it seems, have to do with a too-complicated process, inconvenience and expense. Can’t that be tinkered with?
Can the ferment generated by my-way-or-the-highway sanctuary movements – guns, immigration or whatever – be channeled in to sensible, incremental reform?
That would be the American Way, at least as we used to consider it.
There have been large parties, even larger, at other SUNY campuses, campus President Barbara Jean Morris told the county Board of Representatives this morning.
The difference here was the one individual – a “Typhoid Mary” of COVID-19, as county Rep. Danny Lapin would describe him (or her) – who attended a particular party on Saturday, Aug. 23, hosted by upper-class athletes who invited some freshmen.
“We believe that was the epicenter of the super-spreader event,” Morris told the county board via Zoom at its September meeting. “We saw an uptick in waste water (being monitored on-campus for traces of COVID) almost immediately.”
In our May 29 edition, County Rep. Clark Oliver of Oneonta was tweaked in this space, along with his fellow Democrats who voted against 59 layoffs without offering an alternative.
They ducked a hard decision, thus losing credibility with their colleagues, it was argued.
Last Wednesday, Aug. 5, the county board was considering a measure to set aside New York State’s 2-percent property tax cap – yes, something that’s bound to be unpopular with a majority of voters.
(As County Attorney Ellen Coccoma explained, the idea isn’t to necessarily go beyond the cap but, if forced to do so, to avoid penalties that would be imposed unless the cap is lifted in advance.)
The county board’s leader, Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, as appropriate, put the measure on the table, but it required a second.
Who stepped forward? One of the county board’s junior members, Clark Oliver, District 11 (Oneonta Wards 1 and 2). He explained, “If we don’t raise property taxes, we’ll just have to think about cutting crucial services.”
The board as a whole will now have to act on the tax-cap question at its September meeting on the 2nd.
Oliver’s decision to provide the second is in line with his arguments against the layoffs: That people being laid off will be hurt, and also citizens at large who require county services.
In this space, we support the layoffs as necessary, but – as always – we respect – in fact, welcome – people’s opinions to think otherwise.
Last week, Clark Oliver stepped up and made a tough decision that was in line with his previously expressed opinions. Guts and consistency. Not bad for a freshman – or a
veteran, for that matter.
COOPERSTOWN – As at every meeting since the coronavirus threat arrived, all the financial news was bad when the county Board of Representatives met this morning.
As state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli emphasized when he spoke to the county board last month, the state has yet to decide what funds will be sent out from Albany this year.
Reporting on a presentation by NYSAC budget expert David Lucas, County Attorney Ellen Coccoma said a 20 percent cut in state aid to counties is still anticipated. However, if Albany decides to keep education, Medicaid and public assistance “whole,” the rest of county government would face a 50 percent reduction, Lucas estimated.
Last week, the Otsego County Board of Represent-atives made the tragic decision to terminate 59 employees, amounting to hundreds of years of institutional knowledge and public service.
While the euphemism “layoff” continues to be used, it doesn’t accurately reflect what occurred. These jobs have been eliminated. To return, multiple committees and the full board would need to re-create, fund and then fill these jobs; an unlikely prospect for the foreseeable future.
It is unfortunate that this newspaper cavalierly glossed over these individuals, some with decades of service, and instead cynically focused on the perceived gain or loss of “clout” by politicians who voted for it.
This was by far the most difficult vote any representative has taken and each tried to do what our conscience and judgment told us was right. I don’t believe politics or clout factored into this decision for my colleagues – I know it didn’t for me. While we can disagree on the merits of this vote, we all acknowledge the devastation of overturning the lives of 59 families in our community.
Budget decisions the county board makes in any given year reflect our values and priorities and also have lasting impacts on future budget years. In December 2018, this paper printed a letter of mine in which I expressed concern that the county board was voting to approve a half-million dollar raise for management, including a raise for themselves of nearly 30 percent. These votes took place just weeks after the board endorsed the county treasurer’s plan to accelerate the tax foreclosure process on local struggling homeowners.
In addition to my concern that these actions reflected a tendency of the board to prop up those with power while making it harder for those struggling, the letter also warned about timing.
I wrote, “Economic storm clouds may be gathering. The county is disproportionately reliant on bed and sales taxes, which track volatile consumer spending. It appears the stock market is set for its worst year since 2008 and economists predict a recession within two years. These raises are essentially locked into future budgets. When the economy falters, the board will need to raise taxes or cut services.”
While no one expected the suddenness or magnitude of the current recession, clairvoyance is not required to predict a recession. All economic expansions eventually come to an end
at some point. The choices we make in the good times will reverberate when hard times come.
Last week I stated that while job cuts may become necessary, I could only vote for them if they were strategic and a last resort. Neither factor was present at the time of the vote. Looking only at the departments reporting to my committee, it is counterproductive to cut a significant proportion of employees working on issues of public health and mental health/addiction during a time of pandemic and rising community trauma. Some of these employees even generate revenue for the budget, more than paying for the expense of their position.
As evidence that the job cuts were not a last resort, we pointed to the over $1.1 million being funneled to external agencies and semi-private entities. While the Administration Committee voted to cut 59 jobs, amounting to 25 percent of some departments, it only voted to cut by 15 percent payments to agencies doing work outside the county’s core mission. Included in this was over $600,000 to a private tourism agency advertising for a largely non-existent tourism season. This agency is supposedly supported through the County’s bed tax. With a loss of 70 percent of bed tax, how can we only cut our payment by 15 percent? These concerns and others were brought up repeatedly throughout the decision-making process and should have been resolved adequately prior to terminating employees.
It is on all Otsego County residents, both elected officials and voters, to think about what kind of government we want. In recent decades, we’ve greatly reduced the number of our neighbors working locally in public service, while at the same time transferring millions of taxpayer monies to out of town consultants and private corporations and agencies. COVID-19 has only accelerated this trend.
Do we continue further down this road? It may result in not just job losses for our neighbors but also valuable losses in services, as has been evidenced by the County Clerk’s recent closure of the Oneonta DMV. Through your voice and your vote, let your county know what kind of government you want to see. In the meantime, let’s all support our loved ones and community during this difficult time.