The Otsego County Board of Representatives re-elected its leaders Wednesday, Jan. 6, but not without some beginning-of-the-year political drama.
Several Otsego Democrats voiced their opposition to Board Rep. Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, who has served as the county’s legislative leader since 2018. Only three voted against him, however, and Bliss was re-elected by a large margin.
The weighted vote for Bliss to remain board chair was 4,690 to 1,190, with Rep. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, (348 votes) abstaining. Rep. Michele Farwell, D-Butternut, Morris, Pittsfield, led the objection to retaining Bliss, reading a long prepared statement faulting him for poor communication, partisanship and a lack of vision on how to survive a budget crisis without resorting to austerity budgets.
“Government in Cooperstown should not be about inside baseball,” Farwell said.
Oneonta Democrats Jill Basile and Clark Oliver joined Farwell in voting against Bliss.
The two parties each have seven members in their caucus, but the GOP faction has a weighted vote majority. Three Democrats, Andrew Stammel, town of Oneonta, Andrew Marietta, town of Otsego, and Adrienne Martini, Oneonta, voted for Bliss. Stammel said Bliss has been a big improvement over former Board Chair Kathy Clark in terms of communication and partisanship. He said the rushed nomination process to replace former representative and new state Sen. Peter Oberacker Jr., who resigned in December, was a regrettable backslide to less cooperative days.
Marietta said he wanted to refocus his caucus’s anger toward the entire board working together to make sure a county administrator is hired in 2021. He said Bliss has been a supportive partner in that effort and had earned some goodwill with his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.
Rep. Keith McCarty, R-Richfield, Springfield, said in his many years on the board he has seen many leaders, but none of them had been thrown into as stressful a situation as Bliss and Vice Chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, Milford, New Lisbon.
“My opinion is he did an excellent job and I think he deserves the chance to move us all the way through this,” he said.
Bliss thanked the members who voted for him and said he hoped the ones who did not would still be willing to work with him to help the county.
After the nomination vote, the members did not cast another negative vote all day, voting unanimously on the consent agenda, all other resolutions and on the re-election of Kennedy. Lapin dropped off the online meeting at some point and did not vote at all.
The meeting was held via Zoom, because of the coronavirus pandemic, and can be viewed on the county’s Facebook page.
In other business Wednesday:
• Bliss said he would keep the committee leadership and membership largely intact, but Rep. Ed Frazier Jr., R-Unadilla, would replace McCarty as the chair of the Public Works Committee. McCarty had been the temporary chair following Oberacker’s resignation.
He also named Oliver to Public Works and Wilber to the Administration Committee.
• Treasurer Allen Ruffles and Highway Superintendent Rich Brimmer made a detailed presentation on how the 2021 budget will be made fluid by the use of state road projects that get bonded and repaid over time.
Ruffles asked the board to approve nearly $7 million in various bonds, but said the construction schedule and state approval would dictate how much work gets done and how much money the county actually borrows.
He said the county got an unexpectedly large sales tax check, about $2.1 million, from the state to end the year, which turned out to be an adjustment. He said New York City had been overpaid earlier in the year and most of the counties got large adjustments.
The year-end check left the county at a 2020 sales tax loss of about $3.5 million, which was far below worst-case scenario projections midway into the pandemic. Ruffles said the 2021 budget has projected sales tax revenue equal to 2020’s near-final numbers, so if there is any type of economic rebound, the county will be in solid financial shape in 2021.
County Route 54 in Cherry Valley is among the roads to be fixed under the plan. Bliss said the road, which leads to Cherry Valley-Springfield Central School, is dangerous to the school and village communities.
Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7218.