Oneonta City Manager George Korthauer – Oneonta’s first successful city manager – announced Monday, Jan. 13, that he’s heading off into a well-earned retirement.
He should go with all our thanks and best wishes.
He proved that even the City of Oneonta – feisty, argumentative, proud of its heritage, sure of its opinions – can eventually come to terms with a professional from out of town, and benefiting from what, in this case, he had to offer.
Commenting on Korthauer’s pending Feb. 7 departure, Mayor Gary Herzig cited “a wealth of knowledge regarding municipal equipment,” which sounds like faint praise.
But Deputy Mayor David Rissberger put some meat on those bones: Retired from 25 years as city manager in Petoskey, in Michigan’s lake-effect zone, Korthauer knew about snow removal, advising the use of more effective attachments on city snow plows, and instituting alternate-parking on some streets to ease plowing.
Use to dealing with freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, he introduced the “Pothole Killer,” developed by, yes, Patch Management Inc. of Bucks County, Pa., which has a device that pounds a specially developed aggregate into potholes, extending the life of repairs.
Most of all, though, “people in City Hall liked him,” said Rissberger. “He was a nice guy. He was very knowledgeable. I think he’s gotten us over the hump of getting used to having day-to-day management.”
That speaks to it. Low-key experience and amiability allowed folks in City Hall to relax and, little by little, finally accept that things are going to be different.
After Mayor Dick Miller’s hard-driving administration squeezed out the first city manager, Mike Long, and after second City Manager Martin Murphy’s hard-driving personality put him at odds with too many people, Korthauer was a relief.
Oneonta was the first local governmental entity – outside public schools – to hire a professional manager, (although the Village of Cooperstown briefly tried it in the 1990s, an experience everyone there seems willing to leave forgotten.)
Since, Cooperstown revived the village administrator job, providing a contrast to Oneonta: Village Clerk Teri Barown got the job. It was a different job from Korthauer’s, but both had expertise. Neither he nor she is a table-pounder.
She’s a local girl, which gave her some instant cred, but the right local person isn’t always available.
But the City of Oneonta continued to struggle. When the County of Otsego was considering a professional manager last year, dubious onlookers pointed to the City of the Hills’ travails.
As the county now begins the search process on its first administrator, there are lessons that can be drawn from George, and Teri too.
Local is good, if the right person can be found locally. The Oneonta job description may be over-credentialed, required an import, but the county appears to have avoided that trap.
Temperament is huge – the professional has to win over an array of constantly changing elected officials. Expertise and experience are huge too, and Korthauer’s won him the credibility Barown was granted.
George Korthauer was 66 when hired in May 2017, is 69 now, so this wasn’t expected to be a 20-year deal.
With a house in Petoskey and grandkids in Denver, he and wife, the lively Brenda, are responding to different pulls now; you can understand why they’re ready to leave a few months before his contract expires.
The point is, his job is done. That’s particularly the case, since he’s readied his department heads to aspire to succeed him. Herzig expects applications from the ranks.
Mayor Miller was known to say when an initiative was nearing its end, “You have largely fulfilled your commitment.” He likely would have said something like that to George Korthauer.
Let’s go a step further: Well done. Farewell. And God speed.