News of Otsego County

SUNY Oneonta president

In COVID Year, Leaders Did Step Up

In COVID Year,

Leaders Did Step Up

The choice of Heidi Bond, “General in the Fight Against COVID-19,” as we put it, has been seconded by many since the “Citizen of the Year” edition appeared last week. She and her team at the Otsego County Department of Health rose to the challenge.

All of us thank her for her tireless contributions in 2020.

Otsego County has been lucky in leadership this year. Here are four other individuals who shone, and there are many others who, unheralded, have as well.

Many county leaders stepped up during the COVID Year, among them, from left, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, Bassett Healthcare Network CEO Tommy Ibrahim, SUNY Oneonta President Dennis Craig and SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras.

One, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, who returned Jan. 20 from a 12-month deployment in Djibouti with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, Army Reserves, expecting to settle back into civilian life with wife Amy, daughter Mia, now 12, and son Cooper, 7.

Instead, he went from one foxhole to another.

By the end of March, he was in the midst of COVID-19, and county government found itself in a financial crisis, laying off 58 FTEs, and looking ahead to a hefty tax increase.

Then came the Ruffles Plan, which the first-term treasurer developed in consultation with colleagues in similar-sized counties: one, cuts; two, borrowing; three, chase limited money still flowing from Albany.

The plan reduced the deficit from $13.5 million to $5.4 million; borrows $4 million over 20 years at a historically low interest rate (1.0033 percent), and front-loads road work next spring (CHIPS money is still flowing from Albany).

This kept the county 2021 budget under the 2-percent tax cap.

Ruffles could have been buried under county-budgeting minutiae, but was able to see the big picture: COVID isn’t going to last forever – it could be at bay in weeks, certainly months. Then, tourism will return, sales tax will return – and the county will be able to fulfill its obligations.

Two, Tommy Ibrahim, recruited from nine-hospital Integris in Oklahoma with a goal of elevating quality and efficiency at the eight-county Bassett Healthcare Network, and returning it to profitability.

He arrived in June, and by December announced implementation of “OneBassett,” flattening the five “silos” – the five hospitals – and managing them horizontally, by discipline.

It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around, but Google “Bassett Hospital HR” and see how hiring, formerly scattered across the system, has been unified, a one-stop shop to getting a job at Basset, if you will.

Think it through. You can see how organizing and managing Bassett services individually – enabled by technology that wasn’t there a few years ago – could raise efficiency and lower costs across the board.

This isn’t just theoretical. Bassett has lost money for four years. Ibrahim – “call me Tommy,” he’ll say when you meet him – expects “OneBassett” to put the system at break-even by the end of 2021 and in the black after that.

A prosperous Bassett is essential to our aggregated health, prosperity and quality of life. Important stuff.

Three and Four: SUNY Oneonta’s new president, Dennis Craig, and the new SUNY chancellor, Jim Malatras.

A “super spreader” event on Friday, Aug. 21, the first weekend students returned, had pushed on-campus “positives” to 107 within a week.

Sunday, Aug. 30, the new chancellor was at SUNY Oneonta, trying to figure out what went wrong. And he acted, suspending classes for two weeks. As positives went over 300, he closed the campus for the semester.

By mid-October, campus President Barbara Jean Morris had resigned and, to succeed her, Malatras named Dennis Craig, who as president of SUNY Purchase kept a campus outbreak to seven cases in New Rochelle.

Craig’s action team came up with a plan of reopening within two weeks, and he successfully quelled a faculty revolt, and lined up enough support to aim at reopening on Feb. 1.

This is leadership.

In crisis, leaders emerge. And that happened here. Happily, identifying Heidi Bond and four other high-profile leaders doesn’t take anything away from the many others.

County Board chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield, as he does so well, brought together the talent around him – Ruffles, Meg Kennedy, Bond, Brian Pokorny and many others.

The mayors of Oneonta and Cooperstown, Gary Herzig and Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch respectively, Bill Streck in his final weeks at Bassett’s helm, and his COVID team, were all great.

And this doesn’t mention all of our fellow citizens who soldiered on – businesspeople and non-profits alike – and church, and schools, and police, and …

The point is, there are a lot of people we can thank as Otsego County begins to come back to life in 2021.

‘Super Spreader’ Caused Outbreak, Morris Tells Reps


‘Super Spreader’

Caused Outbreak,

Morris Tells Reps

DOH’s Bond: ‘It Spread Like Wildfire’;

SUNY Cases May Hit 450, Lapin Says

SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris beamed in to the county board meeting in Cooperstown today via Zoom from her fifth-floor office of the campus’ Netzer Administration Building.

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

COOPERSTOWN – The “super spreader” did 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.”

SUNY-O President Says Reaching African Summit Tribute To Friend Who Died

SUNY-O President Says

Reaching African Summit

Tribute To Friend Who Died

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Barbara Jean Morris transmitted this image back to Netzger from Kilimanjaro’s summit.

FROM TANZANIA – For Barbara Jean Morris, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was the fulfillment of a promise made to a friend.

“A high school dear friend had decided to summit on his birthday three years ago,” the SUNY Oneonta president said over email. “But he unexpectedly passed away, so the trip was canceled.  I decided that it would be special to summit on my 60th birthday.”

On Friday, July 26, Morris, now finishing her first year as SUNY Oneonta’s president, made it to Kilimanjaro’s summit, Uhuru Peak, 19,340 feet. A photo on SUNY Oneonta’s Twitter account showed her in front of the peak sign, holding a cardboard figure of Red, the college’s Red Dragon mascot.

SUNY President Reports ‘Treacherous Conditions’ On Hike Up Kilimanjaro


SUNY President Reports

‘Treacherous Conditions’

On Hike Up Kilimanjaro

In a tweet at 9:03 a.m. EDT today, SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris reports she is encountering “treacherous conditions” en route up Mount Kilimanjaro: “ice, loose gravel and mud.” She’s at 13,000 feet; the mountain is 1,931 feet tall. In Tanzania, it is Africa’s tallest peak. Above, the image on the right is the route she planned to embark on today. Her ascent, which began July 17, may be followed at #DrMorrisTakesKilimanjaro
New SUNY President Named Parade Grand Marshal

SUNY President’s 1st Duty:

4th Parade Grand Marshal

Barbara Jean Morris

ONEONTA – As she begins her new job today, SUNY Oneonta’s news president, Dr. Barbara Jean Morris, has already assumed her first civic assignment: She will be Grand Marshal of the city’s Hometown Fourth of July parade this Wednesday.

The parade marks the first public event for the new president, who arrived on campus last week to begin her tenure as SUNY Oneonta’s eighth president.

Morris, the former provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., is the college’s second female president – after Nancy Kleniewski, who completed her 10-year tenure June 22 – and proud of her Native American ties.

Administrator From Colorado To Lead Campus






For Exclusive Interview, See

This Week’s Hometown Oneonta

Barbara Jean Morris

ONEONTA – The State University of New York Board of Trustees today appointed Dr. Barbara Jean Morris, a higher-education administrator from Colorado, as SUNY Oneonta president, effective July 1.

She succeeds Nancy Kleniewski, president since 2008, a student-centric administrator who also reorganized the college under five deans, and implemented an energetic program of construction and renovation that transformed the campus.

Dr. Morris has served as the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fort Lewis College, in Durango, Colo., since 2011.

President Named At SUNY Oneonta


President Named

At SUNY Oneonta

ONEONTA – SUNY Board of Trustees today named Barbara  Jean Morris as SUNY Oneonta’s new president.  She is currently provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fort Lewis College, in Durango, Colo.


SUNY Oneonta Announces President Will Retire In ’18

SUNY Oneonta Announces

President Will Retire In ’18

Nancy Kleniewski

ONEONTA – SUNY Oneonta President Nancy Kleniewski has announced her plan to retire from the college in July 2018.

She informed members of the College Council and other campus leadership groups before communicating her decision to members of the campus community and parents of students via email earlier today, according to a press release.

“SUNY Oneonta is a wonderful institution, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to serve as president,” she was quoted as saying in the announcement.

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