Mayor Southard Vows Hard Work, Prudence
By JIM KEVLIN • HOMETOWN ONEONTA
Edition of Friday, Nov. 21, 2014
If he follows the lessons he learned from his father – “work hard and stay within your means” – City Hall promises to be well served by Acting Mayor Russell A. Southard Jr. over the next year.
He learned those lessons early on, when Russell A. Southard Sr. moved his young family – six daughters and one son, the fifth of the seven children – from Oneonta back to the family farm in Otego.
As a boy, Russ spent his summers baling hay and mowing lawns. If something was going on in the village, he never asked his folks for a ride; he hopped on his bike and pedaled there.
The father, now 94 and living on River Street with his son and daughter-in-law Tammy, bolstered that example by his own work ethic: The World War II veteran was a carpentry foreman on such major projects at the Downsville and East Sidney dams. At night, he built homes.
Oneonta’s citizens can also expect hard work will be tempered by other qualities. His brother-in-law, Paul Catan, proprietor of the city’s Sears store, described Southard as “hardworking, open minded, patient – and very supportive of community life. He’s a lifelong resident of the area and he loves Oneonta.” (When asked, Russ listed similar qualities, then, with a grin, added “fun-loving.”)
Southard believes that, on agreeing to become deputy mayor, he made a commitment to Dick Miller, and “he had to abide by his word that he would take care of the city,” said Catan. “I give him a great deal of credit.”
His Common Council colleagues, outright, could have appointed Southard – or any other citizen of Oneonta, according to City Attorney David Merzig. But they agreed with his preference to be “acting mayor.” “I wanted to continue to represent the Sixth Ward,” he said in an interview.
If Mayor Miller had passed away before Sept. 20, Merzig said, the office would have been filled in the Nov. 4 elections. As it is, he said, the position will be filled in the Nov. 3, 2015, elections, where the winner will serve the two-year balance of Miller’s term, then run again for a four-year term. Said Southard, “I don’t really, at this point, have any intention to become mayor.”
His first challenge, said the new mayor, is “to try and get my arms around everything Dick was involved in.” Southard said he will do what he can to keep all initiatives going, and his Council colleagues have offered their help. “We’re going to try to keep everything covered as a group,” he said.
Growing up, young Russ attended Otego Elementary and Unatego High School, graduating in 1974. “In a small school, you played football, basketball” – at 6-foot-4, he played center – “baseball,” he said.
He received a business degree from SUNY Morrisville, then entered the business world, selling cars at Country Club Automotive, working on Interstate 88’s construction, then spending five years at Amphenol. When his department was transferred out of Sidney, Southard joined a boyhood pal, Bob Underwood, building homes in Atlanta. He was married by then to Tammy Georgia, and their first child was born in the South.
After two years, though, the couple missed family. “We wanted our children to know their grandparents – and their cousins.” That turned out to be about two dozen first cousins. (In addition to Russ’ six sisters, Tammy was one of six sisters.) And so they returned.
Today, daughter Reisa, 28, is an LPN in Schenectady, and Russ and Tammy are expecting their first grandchild next month. Son Brandon, 25, Saratoga Lake, is a contract carpenter with a company that builds Panera Breads and Red Robins, and renovating malls.
Tyler, 23, just out of Syracuse University, is living in Charleston, S.C. – the Southards were en route on learning of Mayor Miller’s passing. He is pursuing a career in sports management.
Back in Oneonta, Southard joined NYSEG, conducting energy audits and, over 14 years, working his way into the sales force, specializing in natural gas. He shifted to Mirabito’s sales force 14 years ago now, and in recent years has been the regional sales contact in the company’s Oneonta offices on Carbon Street.
Facing a new set of challenges in City Hall, Russ Southard is drawing strength from a frequent observation of his boss, company president Joe Mirabito: When things are good, they’re never as good as they seem. And when they’re bad, they’re never as bad.