Remember - blog posts migrate downward, so the most recent post is at the top; the oldest at the bottom.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Raises are Back!

Looking back over previous posts, I see we left the "raises for M&C employees" story in a perilous position.  Things are looking up.

I am on the Budget Committee this year, as well as Admin, and between the two, we managed to establish an M&C salary raise for 2018.  This was a very good budget year, compared with the last ten years or so, with a lot of financial issues falling the right way for us (including a robust sales tax report).  This led some other Board members to be a bit more accepting of the idea of giving our management their second raise in nine years.

Everyone (except elected officials) gets a raise; those who have been in their current positions longer get larger raises.  This coming year, the PRGS Committee will spend whatever amount of time it takes to develop a perpetual salary scale for M&C employees, so we won't have to do this again, and so our management staff get the raises they deserve on an onging basis.  We'll either find a consulting firm who can help us develop the scale, or develop it ourselves (the more likely, and less expensive, option), with the help of our outstanding Personnel Director, Penney Gentile.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Time

Below is a list of current issues that the Otsego County Board of Representatives will be addressing, in the short or long term, in the new year. PLEASE let me know if you have any questions, concerns, ideas or suggestions regarding any of them. These are the things we'll be spending time and energy on, and we'd like to get them right.

One issue that may come as a surprise is the time of day that the Board meeting is held. In Otsego County, the Board meets as a whole on the first Wednesday of each month, at 10:00 in the morning. This means that, in general, people who have regular nine-to-five or other types of weekday jobs probably can't attend our meetings, either to speak their minds, as they have a right to do, or just to watch, observe, listen and learn.

In addition, of course, this restriction applies to anyone thinking of running for the Board, as well. With daytime meetings, you'd really have to own your own business (including a farm), be retired, or have a job with very flexible hours. Not surprisingly, those are the kinds of folks the Board is populated with. Nothing wrong with that, except that the daytime meeting time is keeping a lot of people with other kinds of jobs from running. I was actually looking into running in 2005, before I retired, and my boss – OCSD Superintendent Mike Shea, a great lover of history and government – had to ask me not to, as he felt the daytime meetings would have too great an impact on my work.


About half of all upstate rural NY Counties have their full Board meetings in late afternoon or the evening, so it can be done. It's time we opened the democratic process in Otsego County to everyone.

County Issues as of Now

CURRENT ISSUES – Late 2017

To be addressed before Jan 2018 Board meeting:
  • Leadership – determining how everyone in the coaliton communicates and collaborates to develop an agenda and process for going forward.
  • Committees – Assignment of committee chairs; assignment of Board members to committees. Committee structure – Maintain current committees as is, or make changes? Ag Committee, or centralize Ag work in one committee – SWEC?
  • Meeting times – Daytime meetings close many people out of participation, either from attending meetings or running for Board seats. Change Board meetings to 6PM? How about Committee meetings?
Issues requiring longer-term planning, starting soon:
  • County Manager – how to begin talking/acting on this? Task Force? Assign to Committee? Lots of data has already been gathered.
  • Salary Study – Either contract with a consultant to create a perpetual salary scale, or make one up ourselves. PRGS Committee?
  • Strategic Plan – How to go forward with this. Continue with current process (separate Committee)? How to establish clear guidelines for implementation?
  • Communication with Department Heads – How to encourage regular, significant communication, empowering them and using their expertise to address current issues and to see what's coming and how to plan for it. Planning in general – How can we elicit and organize large amounts of information to facilitate medium and long-term planning in all areas of County function? How can we enroll Dept Heads and management staff in this process?
  • Jail: Upgrade, expand, replace?

New systems to routinely monitor and assess, and report regularly to full Board
  • Onondaga County – Otsego Co. Purchasing Dept. - Need a Rep, or a staff person, or a Committee to be dedicated liaison
  • Enterprise Fleet Management – Public Works? Need to support a seamless transition and keep our eye on costs.
  • Towers – Finish the job, sell the Rose Hill land. Assurance that both the function of the towers and their maintenance are working as planned. How can we monetize the towers?
  • Economic development – Obviously, a big issue and a lot of work. Otsego Now must be reformed and empowered. Existing jobs that are not being taken by local people: Springbrook/ARCOtsego; agriculture; hospitality.
  • Budget – Planning for 2019 – new Treasurer, new process? Does it make sense to find ways to keep track of the budget process all year long? Do we need a Finance Committee that also does the Budget?
  • County Forester (Soil & Water) – SWEC tracks progress toward explicit goals
  • Ethics Board
  • Various litigation issues

Going Forward

It's been a long time, again, and a lot has been done.

Since August, I have been working with the Democratic candidates for County Rep; other than Andrew Marietta and Andrew Stammel, they were all new to the work of the County Representative. I provided a lot of background regarding Board structure and function, as well as very extensive communications and conversations about particular issues that the Board has been working on. This work intensified during the run-up to the debates, which were held in a variety of places throughout the County.

Four of the new candidates, as well as Andrew and Andrew and I, were elected, and we had what turned out to be a pretty joyful election night celebration. As of January 1 there will be seven Democrats on the Board, although the Republicans represent a slight majority in weighted votes. But the Republicans may not be unified regarding Board leadership as we go forward, and there is a distinct possibility that we Democrats will be participating in what can only be called a coalition government when the gavel comes down on January 3.

I try to avoid partisan politics in these messages, but at this point I think it's important to lay out how things stand. There are some Republicans who have expressed dissatisfaction with current leadership. However, they cannot prevail without Democratic votes. So we will all be talking about how we can go forward, supporting each others' vision for the County and the major issues we are facing.


I think we will be able to work out a plan which will satisfy everyone. There's a lot of work to do, and I think that with a commitment to transparency, communication and bipartisan cooperation, we'll get that work done. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

XNG CNG Truck Crash

Here's the report of our 911 coordinator regarding the crash of the XNG CNG truck that overturned just out of Hartwick (please forgive the formatting errors which are apparently inherent in the cut/paste process):

Good Morning,
At the request of Mr. Frazier I am forwarding to the full Board a summary of Tuesday's incident in the Town of Otsego that was provided to the Public Safety & Legal Affairs Committee on Tuesday evening. 
I want to take an opportunity to update all of you on the accident this morning.  At approximately 8:20 this morning I monitored the Fly Creek Fire Company dispatched to a one car Motor Vehicle Accident on St. Hwy, 205 near the intersection with Bristol Road with information that it was a gas truck on it's roof.  At the same time I was notified of the same and was only approximately 5 minutes from the scene.  Upon my arrival, I discovered an XNG tractor trailer on it's roof in the ditch on the right hand side of the road.  The driver had somehow climbed out of the truck and was seated in another vehicle being treated by a paramedic that was travelling through.  The driver confirmed that he was "empty" and traveling to PA.  I contacted the 911 Center who advised they had made contact with the Gas Company's 24 hour response line and they would have personnel there within 90 minutes.  Two other XNG drivers also stopped and provided information about the truck and stayed at the scene until the Company representatives arrived on the scene.  There were no residences within a 1/2 mile radius.

Working with the parties represented at the scene, it was determined that there was no damage to the tanks within the trailer and no leak was present.  Tow companies (Chuck's Towing in Richfield and Clinton Collision) were notified to begin working on recovering the truck and trailer.  NYS Department of Transportation was notified to respond and close State Highway 205 to ensure a safe work zone.  It was decided to perform a controlled release of the compressed gas that the tractor operates on prior to recovery.  During the controlled release, the road was closed and all individuals retired to a safe zone.  Gas monitoring was performed during the release to ensure safety.  The highest recorded reading of gas during the release was approximately 0.4.  To put this in perspective a reading of approximately 5.0 is the lower range of the "zone of concern".  

Agencies on the scene included the Fly Creek Fire Company, Otsego County Sheriff's, State DOT, Verizon, tow companies and XNG.  The Hartwick Fire Department was utilized in assisting with the closure of State Hwy 205 at the four corners in Hartwick.  All agencies worked well together and the situation was successfully resolved with no other issues noted.  The last units cleared the scene at approximately 4:45PM.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the office number below or via cell at 437-4247.
In addition, I have attached several hand-outs that were provided by XNG to the folks that attended the classes hosted by this office.  The safety features on the trailer performed as they were designed and there was minimal damage to the trailer itself.  While not being complacent, there was a comfort level with this situation due to the knowledge that we had received in the training offered by the company.  

I encourage any of you to speak with members of the Fire Departments in your respective districts that may have attended the training.  In addition, if there are any local governments or groups that may want additional information I would be happy to attend any meetings that may be arranged to ensure accurate information is provided concerning this incident.

Arthur R. Klingler Jr.
Emergency Services Coordinator-Otsego County
Phone (607) 547-4227
Fax (607) 547-4377



This truck crash enjoyed every bit of luck possible:  'empty' (which is a relative term), no breaches, driver not injured, no other vehicles involved, no buildings involved, no houses within half a mile.

The next one, given the laws of probability, will not enjoy every one of these benefits.  Which one(s) won't we benefit from?



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Raises: Slip-Slidin' Away

We got some bad news recently regarding our proposed salary study, which should institute a salary scale and an orderly progression of raises for our Management and Confidential (M&C) employees.  But first, some background.

Last summer, the Performance Review and Goal Setting Committee (PRGS) developed a one-year raise plan (details here) in order to begin the work of salary justice among our M&C workers.  In September, a special meeting of PRGS was held, with all Board members invited, to hear Ronni Travers, from Public Sector HR Consultants, outline the consultant services her company could provide in this regard:  a comprehensive salary study including recommendations for an ongoing salary scale, including comparisons with other similar County scales - not just salary, but benefits, hours, working conditions, job titles and descriptions, etc.  They would also fully integrate a County Manager into the study.  To most of us, it sounded like the best approach to an ever-growing problem.

The County can't just decide to contract with a consultant - we have to send out a Request for Proposals (RFP) and invite a wide variety of consulting organizations to respond with their plans and pricing.   The RFP for the salary study finally went out early this year (after a completely unnecessary delay), and because of the way it was written - by 'our purchasing department,' which is the Onondaga County Purchasing Department - Ms. Travers' company did not respond.  The two organizations which did respond really weren't qualified, primarily because they had no experience working with Counties.  One, it seemed, had no experience at all, and the other wanted to charge us twice the rate noted in the RFP.

So after further unnecessary delay, a second RFP was "put out on the street" in July, this time written with more care and clearly encompassing what PSHRC had offered to do.  However, just last week, we received a response from PSHRC, informing us that they were not able to take our project on at this time.  

We will see if we get any other responses this time that are any better than the ones we got last time.  But the truth is, we will have spent an entire year in a fruitless attempt to solicit a professional salary study that a respected organization had offered us at the beginning of that year.  This seems incredible to me, and suggests that there are major problems in the way we do government.

What makes this even worse is the fact that the salary study was our single, focused initiative for moving forward on the County Manager.  So - unless we get a wonderful proposal out of thin air in the next few weeks, we have no plan for establishing an M&C salary scale, and no plan for moving forward with a County Manager.

This does not mean that plans will not emerge.  They will, and, given the timing, they will be substantially affected by the results of November's elections.  But for now, this does not look like the way to run a County.

To the Heart of the Matter

...and here is the rest of the letter begun below.  Andrew uses the difficulties in managing the NTS closing as an example of the real inadequacy of County government, as it is currently structured, to manage large numbers of these types of issues in a coordinated manner.  We are largely working in silos, semi-independent Committees made up of a handful of laymen, operating without clear lines of communications or procedural guidance, trying to oversee twenty-some-odd departments without providing any overall direction or coordination.  We're a $110,000,000 organization without a CEO.

I don't agree with everything that Andrew says here, but our disagreements are minor and often just a matter of scale.  I believe that a County Manager is part of the solution to these fundamental structural problems, but only one part - we have quite a bit more to do even after a manager is in place.  

In reflecting on these recent developments about the upcoming closure of NTS and the notification process, I
have come to realize the situation facing Otsego County government operations is a true crisis. Otsego County
government is dependent on an ineffective committee and leadership structure, and immediate action is required to
strengthen and improve the County for success to result. First, it is important to remember that the County’s operating
budget is well over $100 million and hundreds of people are employed, and yet, the County has no central authority,
manager or administrator. Thus, all operating decisions are funneled through a group of committees carrying out a
duplicative approval process where a home committee votes on actions like a new hire or purchase request first, then
this same action is voted on and approved by the Administration Committee, and finally the full Board votes on this
resolution at a Board meeting. This system of management by committee is significantly limited by committee and
Board meetings that are held once a month. The end result is that the Otsego County Board is mostly approving
operating transactions. Hiring a new employee, making a budget transfer, carrying out a purchase of supplies, or
attending training are common examples.

The County Board’s focus on transactional decisions limits the opportunity to address other policy
considerations. Committee meetings require Department Heads to provide detailed background information on actions
like a budgeted new hire, while leaving little to no time for other policy considerations and discussions. Compare this
situation to most other companies or organizations of similar size (or smaller) where a manager can move forward with
this hire based on approval by budget or from the company president or organizational executive director. Overall,
many County committee meetings are lengthy, lasting hours.
Another challenge resulting from the County’s committee structure is the micromanagement of general
operations. Over the last year and a half (and longer in some cases), committees have struggled to complete various
projects, like a workplace violence investigation, compensation study of department heads, fleet management program,
the management of tower site leases, and even the Onondaga purchasing partnership. Where committees have
specifically taken it upon themselves to carry out general operations, the structure and limitations of the committee
system have been obstructions to decision making and taking action. Ultimately, Department Heads, who are the
experts and carry out the day-to-day operations, are the key to successful implementation of policy decisions the County
Representatives approve. Thus, when the County decided to repair and renovate the Northern Transfer Station, the
implementation of this decision rests with the Director of Planning, Karen Sullivan, and the Planning Department. If the
SWEC Committee were to have taken a direct operations role in managing this process, the construction decisions would
have been clearly limited and slowed or even not completed in timely manner.
Finally, the County’s leadership structure is insufficient to support County operations. There is a County Chair,
who is elected annually by the Board, but the Chair is not a full-time position. The County Chair is not positioned as a
County manager or administrator, nor does the Chair supervise Department Heads on a daily basis. The County Chair
also does not convene any management meetings with all Department Heads. There is no coordination of the
committees or committee chairs either. Committee chairs are not convened as a group, and there is not a standard
committee operating approach. The County Chair position exists more so as a mechanism to set the committees, make
appointments, run Board meetings, approve contracts and serve as a point of contact. It is a position offering
coordination, but there is no primary focus on policy development, nor focus on management. Thus, the current
position structure creates a shortfall in both areas negatively impacting County operations.
The future success of Otsego County depends on embracing change. The current system is failing us, and we
must take immediate action. First, the County should not delay any longer in approving a County manager or
administrator position. Otsego County needs a central point of contact who will supervise and convene Department
Heads, while supporting them in their positions. A County manager will also guide the implementation of policy set by
the County Board of Representatives and bring it into action. Committee meetings can be streamlined and focus more
on policy discussions. The County Chair position will be improved and allow more focus on policy setting. The County
Chair can also better coordinate the committee chairs and provide more direction. Overall, these changes will allow the
County to be more effective and achieve greater success with its committee system and County Chair position.


I need to make it clear that none of these problems is the result of any failing on the part of our Department Heads or management staff.  In fact, it is they who have held us together as County leadership kind of stumbles forward from crisis to crisis without a way to truly lead everyone.  I give them all - what did we do to deserve such talented leaders? - enormous credit for the hard work and ingenuity they exhibit day in and day out to keep the County moving in the right direction.

Northern Transfer Station

Andrew Marrietta, County Rep from the town of Otsego, recently prepared this letter in order to clear up the confusion, created primarily by a political opponent, regarding the closure of the Northern Transfer Station, outside of Cooperstown on Rt. 28.  The facility, which has been deteriorating for years and was, originally, poorly designed, leading to safety and traffic issues, will be updated and improved, resulting in a much better experience for all concerned.  The renovation will, however, required a six week closure, which is, naturally, of concern to residents.
     For the last year and half, I have received many phone calls about the disrepair of the Northern Transfer Station
in Cooperstown. I have had local Cooperstown residents call me about punctured car tires, and they have related how
they no longer visit the Transfer Station or bring their recycling because of the poor quality of the entrance road and
paving around the building. I’m a frequent visitor to the Transfer Station myself, going there weekly. There is no
question that the Transfer Station is in need of significant repairs and shows the impact of years of deferred
maintenance.
     Since being appointed to the Solid Waste and Environmental Concerns (SWEC) Committee in January of 2016, I
have continuously learned about the County’s solid waste management operations, including the significant repairs
planned for the Southern Transfer Station in Oneonta and the Northern Transfer Station in Cooperstown. The SWEC
Committee received updates on these construction plans and coordination between Casella Waste Management and
Cobleskill Stone, including that the general rollout was to occur sometime in 2017. This construction information shared
with SWEC also made clear that the scope and scale of the work at the Northern Transfer Station would require some
limited closure. Although the question was raised about trying to allow some kind of access during the repair and
renovation, the safety and logistical challenges were stressed and outweighed any such option.
     I also have learned through the SWEC Committee that the County supports a number of Drop-Off Centers, which
are listed on the County website (
www.otsegocounty.com/depts/sw/OCDropoffCenters.htm) , and include Cherry
Valley, Decatur, Exeter, Hartwick, Maryland, Morris, Oneonta, Pittsfield, Richfield, Springfield, Unadilla, Westford and
Worcester. Many of these Drop-Off Centers offer recycling and bagged garbage disposal options. More specifically, I
learned that the Drop-Off Centers in Exeter, Cherry Valley and Richfield Springs offer recycling and bagged garbage
options, while Hartwick offers recycling only.
     Otsego County’s solid waste management information and efforts are guided by the County’s Planning
Department Head Karen Sullivan and her staff. The SWEC Committee members are supported and informed by these
essential County employees. With this in mind, the July 31
st announcement that the Northern Transfer Station closure
would occur August 21
st and last until September 30th was not ideal. I myself actually learned on July 31st of the
Cooperstown Transfer Station upcoming closure first from a constituent, John Phillips, who called me from NTS about
notices being given. I then called Karen Sullivan about this notice, which she confirmed and explained the reasoning for
the action and her Department’s plans to notify residents and work to make the most of the 3 week timeframe. She
indicated Board notification and a press release were being sent, which all County Reps received that day (July 31
st).
     Overall, this news was unexpected, but regardless of the timing, I understood this was a difficult decision made by our
Department Head in the best interest of Otsego County, so I contacted the Town of Otsego Supervisor, the Mayor of
Cooperstown and my additional contacts about the closure on July 31
st. I emphasized the scope of the work being
carried out (relocation and replacement of 30 year old scale; improving the scale entry and traffic flow; new drainage
catch basins; removing the “mound” that exists adjacent to the existing scale house with a smaller unit; road
improvements; and new signage), and I pointed out the Drop-Off Centers. I also encouraged people to attend the
August 2
nd County Board meeting, including John Phillips, to share their feedback and concerns about the closure. It was
at this meeting that expanding the operating hours of Exeter to mirror the Cooperstown Transfer Station (Mon, Wed,
Friday 7am to 12pm and Saturday 8am to 2pm), which was already a County Drop-Off Site, was discussed and then
finalized the next day.

Friday, July 28, 2017

American History

History was made last night. The Republican Congress, after nearly seven months, failed, for the last time, to pass a tax bill that they called a healthcare bill, a bill that all of them were elected to pass. It was one of the most reprehensible, cynical and dishonest bills of our time, for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it would have had a devastating effect on a large number of the people of Otsego County, and their children and grandchildren.

Very few votes take place in Congress without the leadership knowing where every vote is going. It was clear that all Dems would vote against, with Linda Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) also voting against. That would result in a 50-50 split, and Vice President Mike Pence, also Constitutionally appointed President of the Senate, would vote to break the tie (the only time he can vote). But then this happened.

My take on this clip: The roll call vote is called alphabetically, and McCain was out of the room when his name came up. They're on the 'P's when he reenters (bottom right). He walks up to the desk and gets the secretary's attention, between Peters and Portman, and gives his vote. No. Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, hangs his head; his career may be over. Kirsten Gillebrand, in the black dress, one of our NY Senators, jumps up in astonished delight. Elizabeth Warren, already standing, in the blue/green jacket, applauds spontaneously. Bernie Sanders pokes the guy next to him in glee. The Republicans (left side of chamber) seem frozen in shock.

This is how history is made.

I am so grateful to John McCain and Linda Murkowski and Susan Collins and all the Americans who called and wrote their elected officials and crowded into Town Halls and spoke their minds. When we talk about America and freedom, that's what we're talking about: citizens taking risks in order to participate in their own government, without fear of reprisal. And 'thank you' also to all the Congressional Democrats who never wavered, never budged an inch, even those elected from red states and tossup districts.

I am grateful because millions of Americans, and thousands of Otsego County residents, can continue to hope that good healthcare is within their reach, and within the reach of their children and grandchildren. One vote would have taken that all away.


By the way, the failure of the Senate bill kills the Faso-Collins Amendment, which was attached to the House bill. The House bill, of course, goes nowhere unless there is a corresponding Senate bill to send to the Conference Committee, and that's what failed last night. Two or three of those bubbles rising from the ooze that the Republican tax-bill-they-called-a-healthcare-bill sank into are from the Amendment, and good riddance to it in its final resting place.  

Friday, July 21, 2017

Long Day

Lots happened yesterday.

It wasn't a surprise, as three of the most interesting and influential Committees met, all in the same room, one after another: Strategic Plan Implementation Committee at 8:30, Administration at 10:00, Budget at 2:00 (scheduled for 1:00, but Admin went on a little long...). I am on all three, so it was a long day.

The StratPlan and Budget Committees' purpose are clearly indicated in their names; Admin is like the Ways and Means Committee of the County, providing general oversight and approval for most actions to be considered by the full Board (it is also the policy-making arm of County government).

A quick dip into each meeting, to pull out one thing of consequence. The Strategic Plan committee is taking the Plan and moving it into the implementation phase, mostly by prioritizing issues and sending them off to the proper committees. However, yesterday the Committee decided to keep the issue of the County Manager and do some research into how to proceed, including inviting comment from officials working in similar counties. This is good news, as it is the first actual action on the subject, other than the fact that the Salary Study will include a slot for this position.

The Admin Committee has a widely-ranging agenda each month, and if you can only attend one meeting a month, this is the one to go to. It's as close to the place “where the sausage gets made” as any, although “the sausage” tends to get made, to at least some extent, behind closed doors. Transparency is a topic I hope I can explore in an upcoming post.

At any rate, the Admin Committee, at my request, had a conversation with County Attorney Ellen Coccoma about a series of suits that a number of other NY counties are bringing against pharmaceutical corporations regarding the opiod epidemic. New York counties are to a great extent responsible for public health, mental health and addiction services, so the cost to the county in dollars (not to mention the human cost) has been significant.

There has clearly been wrongdoing on the part of the pharmas, and they can clearly be faulted for a large part of the problem. The question is, can their culpability be articulated in the lawsuits in such a way that they are held legally responsible? That is still to be seen. There is some similarity to the lawsuits that the states brought against the tobacco companies all those years ago, although in those suits, victims were harmed while using the product for its intended purpose, whereas in the case of opiods, they were misued. However, the pharmas have cheerfully assisted victims to misuse their products for decades. The question for the Admin Committee was whether we want to consider joining the suits. Mrs. Coccoma will contact the law firm that is leading the initiative, and ask them to come and answer our questions.

And finally, Budget. I went into the meeting with two items to add to the budget before we even began: the M&C raises, and the financial partnership with the Susquehanna Animal Shelter. Long story short, the SAS request will go to the Public Safety Committee, who will find a department budget – perhaps the Sheriff – to put it in. And Len Carson, another Rep from Oneonta, along with Treasurer Dan Crowell, have developed a model for an M&C raise, costing somewhere around $150,000, which, although just a start toward parity, is a start. We'll shepherd the raise through Budget Committee and the Board. Count on it.