Facebook Post, Email From Coccoma
Heightened Security, Sheriff Reports
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – The Otsego County Board of Representatives met under high security this morning after, authorities said, a posting on a Facebook page of Bob Force, whose Gilbertsville home was auctioned off at the county’s 2014 tax sale.
The board’s monthly meeting was moved from the County Office Building at 197 Main St. to the adjacent courthouse, which is more secure. Two sheriff’s deputies were at the door, double-checking people entering the facility.
Inside the high-ceilinged historic courtroom, two deputies were stationed by the door, and three other uniformed officers stood at various points. Other officers patrolled the sidewalks around the county complex. Undersheriff Cameron Allison was at the scene overseeing the activity.
The cause of all this concern, apparently, is the aggrieved property owner who has brought a federal lawsuit against the county following the sale of his Gilbertsville home and farm at the 2014 county tax auction, the first where the county declined to accept payment up to the day of the sale.
Force, who spoke at the county board meeting today, said deputies took him aside and search his vehicle for firearms when he arrived at the courthouse. They found nothing, he said, adding whatever posting was of concern, he intended no harm.
He maintains at least two personal Facebook pages, for “bob force” and “Robert Force,” as well as a “save the force farm” Facebook page. A quick review a view minutes ago saw nothing overtly objectionable or threatening.
Meanwhile, District Attorney John Muehl, who was also at this morning’s meeting, said, at Force’s request, he had directed his investigator to look into whether the county had broken any laws by taking his property. Muehl said he intended to meet with Force at 1 p.m. today to advise him on the outcome.
County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr., said he ordered the extra security after receiving an e-mail from County Attorney Ellen Coccoma last evening saying county reps were concerned about a posting. His department, assisted by Village Police and the court administration, “took some precautionary actions today because of that,” the sheriff said.
“This morning we did locate and interview the individual who made the post,” said Devlin, “and the individual stated there was no threat intended or implied.” He said his approach was “to err on the side of caution.”
County board chair Kathy Clark, R-Otego, who is vacationing in Florida in the week before the Nov. 7 elections, and vice chair Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, did not attend today’s meeting. County Rep. Craig Gelbsman, R-Oneonta, who as chair of the Administration Committee presided in their absence, said he wasn’t aware of anything untoward until arriving for the meeting this morning.
During the “privilege of the floor” part of the meeting, Force read a statement detailing what he said were legal shortcomings in the taking of his property. “Nothing would have happened if they had followed their own laws,” he said. And he berated the board for lacking consideration for his long military service or for his wife, who was ill and confined to a wheelchair when she missed the tax deadline.
Maria Ajello, whose Town of Richfield property was taken in the same tax sale even though she arrived with a check to pay her back taxes, spoke in support of Force, and called what happened to her “the most traumatic experience of my whole life.” Her friend, Russ Ahrens, repeated his criticism, “You sold it to another county employee with a rental business. It’s just wrong.”
Devlin said he does not routinely post deputies at county board meetings, although he does so when requested. For a while, concern emotions were running high on the tax-sale issue caused him to assign a deputy to the monthly meeting, but “we’re not doing this on a regular basis.”