ONEONTA — The Common Council met in person Tuesday, July 6, with an atmosphere of visible joviality and relief after spending a year meeting via Zoom.
“This is something we haven’t done in a long time,” Mayor Gary Herzig said, which elicited some appreciative chuckles.
Some of the agenda items passed included motions authorizing the acceptance of a state grant for the development of Hartwick College’s Grain Innovation Center, which would be located at the future Lofts on Dietz Street, as well as motions that appointed candidates to the recently formed Public Arts Commission and the Housing Commission.
Except for Council member Scott Harrington recusing himself, Tuesday ’s vote for Kerriann Harrington to succeed City Clerk Nancy Powell was smooth.
Kerriann is Scott’s wife.
“As an older person, I knew I wouldn’t be here for 20 years,” said Powell. “My goal was to build a team to make that transition seamless, and we were able to accomplish that.”
Among those who joined her team in 2015 was Harrington, the deputy clerk and now airport manager as well.
“Nancy put us in a really good position,” said Harrington. “We’re still going to work and serve our customers very efficiently.”
Powell, who moved to Oneonta as a young woman when her mother relocated from the Albany area, became one of the city’s first female firefighters in 2002, alongside Michele Daley Pearsall.
“After 9-11, I wanted to become an EMT,” she said. “But Chief Burns said that in order to do that, I also had to become a firefighter.”
Alongside Pearsall, she worked as a call firefighter, eventually becoming the city’s first female part-time firefighter.
When she saw an ad for an administrative clerk position at City Hall, she took the civil service exam. “While I was there, Bonnie Molinari, the deputy clerk, was retiring, and so was the city clerk,
Jim Koury,” she said. “They started looking through applications, and because I had been a notary, mine stood out.”
She was hired as the deputy clerk in 2013, and was appointed city clerk in 2015, succeeding Doug Kendall.
Like Powell, Harrington, who grew up in Middleburgh, had a background in emergency services, meeting her husband when she was taking paramedic training in Cooperstown.
She was hired as a dispatcher for Otsego County Emergency Services and then, under Chief Joseph Redman, as the dispatcher at the Oneonta Public Safety Building.
That was where, she said, she discovered her true passion. “I love technology,” she said.
She brought the Nixle system – which can send out mass alerts on anything from snowstorms to road work – to public safety, as well as updating the police department’s Facebook page.
As deputy clerk, she continued to work on developing the city’s technology, revamping the website and handling all the social media.
She also wrote a $45,000 grant to have their records digitized for easier access. “We can look at records dating all the way back to the 1900s in a matter of minutes,” she said. “And we can print them and have them certified right away too, when before you’d have to come back or we’d have to mail them. It’s saved us so much time and money.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic set in, Harrington was tasked with setting up and maintaining the city’s Zoom and live-stream meetings, something she’s aiming to work towards implementing even after the pandemic is over.
“I’d love to see a scenario where we can set up a camera and stream the meeting from Council Chambers,” she said. “Hundreds of people are able to see meetings that they might not have otherwise gone to.”
Even her daughter Meghan, 14, watches the meetings. “She’ll text me from the other room and say she’s watching me on the TV,” she said. “I could never get her to go to a meeting, but I’m hearing more and more of younger people tuning in, which is what we want.”
She and Scott also have a 9-year-old daughter, Addison.
Harrington took over as airport manager when City Manager George Korthauer retired in February; with her new appointment as clerk, it is unsure of what will become of that position.
In her immediate retirement, Powell plans to “not obligate myself” to any immediate roles, but to pursue her hobbies, including baking and, when the pandemic is over, travel. But she doesn’t anticipate staying idle for too long.
“Out of the blue, opportunities have always presented themselves,” said Powell. “I feel like that’s going to happen here.”
ONEONTA — The traditional swearing-ins were Wednesday, Jan. 1, in Common Council chambers, but swearing-in with a hand on the Bible was one tradition that may be waning.
When each of the nine candidates approached the podium, City Judge Lucy Bernier asked them if they would like to place their hand on the Bible, or on the U.S. Constitution.
Three of the nine – seven Council members and two county reps – chose the Constitution.
“I figure upholding a political office and upholding the law of the United States, which is the Constitution, relates more to my job politically than the Bible does,” said Jill Basile, sworn in as the city’s District 14 county board representative.“I understand and value the tradition of swearing on the Bible, but I also understand and value that people are different, religions are different, and being able to make a choice is powerful.”
Basile hopes others feel the same. “I think that folks should embrace differences and someone swearing-in on a Constitution shouldn’t affect how people perceive them doing their job as an elected official,” she said.
Council member John Rafter, Seventh Ward, who also swore on the Constitution, insisted “people can use anything to swear on. They don’t have to choose between two. It’s simply a swearing-in, and where my hand is is irrelevant. I can swear on ‘Finnegan’s Wake’” – the James Joyce classic – “if I want, because I believe in it very strongly.”
Sixth Ward Council member Scott Harrington, however, chose the Bible out of habit. “I didn’t give it a thought,” he said. “I think it’s both tradition and my personal belief. Like when I got married. You make the promise. When I make that promise I’m answering to honesty and integrity.”
And there’s family heritage . “When my dad took the oath of office, he got sworn in on the Bible,” he said. “Maybe it’s just my upbringing.”
The most youthful member of the county board, Clark Oliver, made a stand for tradition “mostly out of respect for my family. I was raised Christian and I’m currently a member at the First Presbyterian Church in Oneonta,” he said. “I recognize that there’s a separation of church and state and totally respect my colleagues. It was a personal choice. I think it’s a choice that every official should be able to make,” he said.
But according to Otsego County Judge Brian D. Burns, swearing-in on the Constitution is relatively new.
“I’ve personally never seen anyone swear-in on the Constitution,” he said. “From my experience, that’s new.” In 20 years administering oaths of office in Cooperstown, everyone’s sworn on the Bible.
From a legal standpoint, however, signing a state-required form, not the oath, affirms elected officials’ status. “Each public official has to sign a sworn oath and that’s the action that really counts,” he said.
Historically, at least three presidents did not use the Bible for their oath of office. John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce both used a book of law and Theodore Roosevelt raised his right hand in place of a text.
“There is no issue about putting your hand on the Bible or the Constitution or the
Koran,” said Council member David Rissberger, Third Ward. “When you are sworn into the office you are promising to the people that elected you that you will uphold the constitution and do the best job possible. When you put your hand on something you are saying that this what you believe in. I swore on the Bible, but I would feel just as comfortable swearing on the Constitution.”
And Mayor Gary Herzig echoed this perspective.
“There is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, but it’s not a requirement,” he said. “We have people serving office of many different religions and some who don’t follow any religion, so for that reason we are not going to tell people that their only option is to put a hand on the Bible.”
By JIM KEVLIN & LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
The Republicans rained on the Democrats’ parade on Election Night, Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Republican Rick Brockway won Laurens-Otego’s District 3, 697-548, turning back a Democratic effort to take control of the county board for the first time in memory.
“Otsego County is red,” declared a jubilant Republican County Chairman Vince Casale. “It has always been red. It will always be red. People in Otsego County will always reject the extreme liberal agenda that is attempted to be forced upon them.”
County Democratic chairman Aimee Swan had this riposte: “Otsego County is purple. Otsego County voted for (Congressman Antonio) Delgado in 2018. Democrats can win here. Democrats do win here. And Democrats will win here. If Otsego was so red, we would not have a split board.”
During a victory celebration at the Oneonta Vets’ Club, Brockway said, “I’m exhausted. I’m glad it’s over. And I feel really good.” He added, “My family’s always been in politics in Laurens. I was a councilman for eight years. It’s a logical step to go to the county.”
If the margin in District 3 holds, Brockway’s victory over Democrat Caitlin Ogden assures the Republican, allied with Conservative county Rep. Meg Kennedy, Mount Vision, will continue to control county government for another two years.
However, Kennedy can ally on individual issues with the Democrats and shift the majority in that direction, as she likely will as main architect of the county manager form of government.
The county board was expected to vote Wednesday, Nov. 6, on approving a public hearing for its December meeting, after which the concept of professional management could be implemented.
The Democrats had appeared bullish about Ogden’s chances – a Laurens resident, she is a grantsman at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown – particularly following a stealth write-in campaign that knocked Brockway off the Independent line in the June 26 primary.
Brockway, a farrier and newspaper outdoors columnist, would succeed Republican Kathy Clark, a former county board chairman.
In other county races, as expected, incumbent Democrat Michele Farwell, District 2, decisively held her seat over Marcia Hoag, 636-246. And Democrat Jill Basile, District 14, beat Libertarian Wilson Wells, 199 to 48.
“This community has served my family well,” said Basile. “And now, I can serve them back.”
In the City of Oneonta, Republicans Len Carson won the Ward 5 Common Council seat, and Scott Harrington, Ward 6, doubling GOP representation in City Hall. Both are former Otsego County Representatives.
“My goal was always to get here,” said Carson. “I’m going to work hard, not just for my ward, but for the whole city.”
Both pledged to hold Town Hall meetings. “The best way to represent is to get feedback,” said Harrington. “I want to be very open.”
In other races in the Democratic city, two Democrats beat two Republicans: It was Kaytee Lipari Shue over Jerid Goss 157-22, and Mark Drnek over Josh Bailey 102-73.
“This is something I’ve always dreamed about,” said Shue. “I got to shake the mayor’s hand and we started our partnership together. 2020 will be here before I know it!”
And in the Town of Richfield, a Republican triumvirate, Nick Palevsky, Fred Eckler and Ed Bello Jr., turned back one Democrat and two other non-affiliated candidates tied to the Protect Richfield neighbors.
In Richfield Springs, while Palevsky, the former supervisor, led David Simonds, 296-291, the Republican pointed out its only five votes.
“I hope it holds,” he said, noting there are 100 absentee ballots out there. “That’s the only thing I can say right now.”
Usually, it takes a week to count the absentees and affirm the results; this year, he said, with all the changes the state Legislature made in election laws this year, it is expected to take two weeks.
Of Palevsky’s fellow Republican runningmates, incumbent Fred Eckler, with 326, was reelected, as was newcomer Ed Bello Jr., with 363.
Simonds runningmates, Democrat Jeremy Fisher (203) and incumbent Kane Seamon (284), who lost the June 26 Republican primary, both lost by sizeable margins.
Palevsky was drawn into the race for supervisor by a comprehensive plan and zoning code developed by adherents of the Protect Richfield moving to stop the five-turbine Monticello Hills Wind Farm.
I have known Scott Harrington since he was a boy. Now he is a responsible husband and father. He was raised by two hardworking people, Stan and Mary Jane Harrington. Scott saw first-hand the ideals of true volunteerism and dedication to the task at hand.
Unfortunately, Stan, a county representative for Wards 5-6, passed away at a fairly young age. Both he and Mary Jane Harrington gave to Scott a love for the Sixth Ward and dedication to perseverance. I know this full well.
I am writing to all registered voters of the Sixth Ward and asking each one to vote for Scott Harrington as their next Sixth Ward representative on Oneonta Common Council.
Scott sees the needs of the Sixth Ward and the City of Oneonta. His dedication to “sticking with it” will be a huge asset on the City Council.
Scott’s experiences have prepared him well to sit on the Common Council and make wise decisions. He is a former county representative, is a member of the city’s Zoning & Housing Board of Appeals, has nearly 20 years of public safety experience, and is facilities liaison at Hartwick College.
Scott Harrington has the ability and know-how to make people’s opinion count. Scott values people no matter how rich or poor you are, or how long you have been in the Sixth Ward. You can be assured he will represent you well, no matter what political party you align with.
Scott’s stated goals during this campaign reflect the concerns of those in the Sixth Ward, which shows that he will not be manipulated by those with a hidden agenda outside the Sixth Ward and outside the City of Oneonta. Scott has goals that have been publicly stated in regard to public safety, economic development, business growth, infrastructure, town hall meetings in the Sixth Ward, working with our two colleges, working with our YMCA in regard to programs for youth, and gaining revenue for the City of Oneonta without placing the burden on property owners.
Scott is very proud of businesses in our ward and aims to keep them here. Their stability and growth is of great importance to him. Improving the housing stock already in existence within the ward is a priority for him. He also aims to spearhead an effort to beautify entrances to the Sixth Ward.
Scott Harrington is solid and has the ability to stand up for what is right. He possesses a kind heart and is able to work cooperatively for the general good. Your vote for Scott Harrington will enable a good person to sit in the Sixth Ward seat at City Hall and represent you. Please vote for Scott Harrington on Nov. 5.
“Cities like mine have maintained taxes at the state-mandated cap of two percent – even at zero percent, but state aid to municipalities have not increased in 10 years,” said Mayor Gary Herzig during a Town Hall with Oneonta’s Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, in Council chambers this evening. “Why won’t the legislature not step up to and provide aid to cities who are fighting to renew their infrastructure, economic development, maintain services, attract new people and prevent people from leaving?”
Salka began his answer suggesting the lack of state aid increases to cities was because the legislature was controlled by “downstate interests,” legislators did not understand what Upstate New York needed, and the governor thought “there were too many towns and cities” and “wanted things big.”
ONEONTA – Another former Otsego county rep, Scott Harrington, is running for Common Council in November.
He will seek the Sixth Ward seat, which Council member and Deputy Mayor Russell Southard has held for two terms.
Yesterday, Len Carso announced he would run for the Ward 5 seat, which Council member Dana Levinson is vacating at the end of the year.
Five of the Council’s eight members, all of whose terms are ending this year, are not seeking re-election. Earlier today, Mayor Gary Herzig said he didn’t know why so many of the current office holders decided not to run again. Carson and Harrington are the only two Council candidates so far.