Friday, March 18, 2011

Please, Trustees New And Old, Get Along For Good Of All

Jim Kevlin/The Freeman’s Journal
IN THE FINAL HOURS:  With Election Day at hand, Kate Donnelly, Lindsey Trosset, Margaret Schuermann and Kate Trosset helped host the Republican rally Sunday afternoon, March 13, at the redone Agway on Railroad Avenue.
Congratulations to Jim Dean, Walter Franck, Jeff Katz and Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, the successful trustee candidates on Tuesday, March 15, in the village elections.
But everyone should offer appreciation and thanks to Phil Lewis, Jim Potts, Matt Schuermann and Joan White for ably competing. 
Regrettably, not everybody can win.  But it’s been widely recognized that the combined slates comprised the most impressive field of candidates in memory.
Well done to you all, and to the Democratic and Republican chairs, Richie Abbate and Mike Trosset respectively.
Now the work begins, and it is formidable.
Mayor Joe Booan has taken a new approach this year to budgeting, and the result must be filed with Village Clerk Teri Barown by Monday, March 21.
In recent years, department heads submitted their budgets, and trustees have gone through the compiled document line by line, cutting here, adding there, then starting again when the percentage increase appeared to high.
This time, the mayor met individually with department heads, who surely have the best understanding of the tasks at hand and the resources required to accomplish them; Booan brings the rigour of priorities.
The mayor appears to be aiming for a stable tax rate yet again, at the same time intending to push forward much-needed repairs to streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure, central to his successful campaign in 2010.
Booan will present what is truly a “mayor’s budget,” subject, of course, to review and revision by the whole Village Board before a final document is adopted by the end of May.
That’s just the beginning of the beginning.
It surfaced at last month’s Village Board meeting that there is no salary scale, per se, for village employees.  A system of reviews and raises needs to be put in place, so workers have a sense of what they can expect if they perform above, below or at par.
Also, the trustees need an understanding of what a standard benefits package is these days, to guide decisionmaking.  The trustees may decide to be more generous than the standard, and this may be fine; but they need a starting point.
At the League of Women Voters’ candidates night, resident Stephanie Bauer observed that the candidates included a predominance of “bosses,” an interesting point.  Among those elected, Dr. Franck managed a $30 million-plus budget at Bassett, and that experience is needed.
Understanding how large operations work is good, not bad.  People with an understanding of best practices in large entities is what’s needed right now.  The Village of Cooperstown, with its $5 million budget ($1 million raised locally) is relatively small, but certainly well beyond the Mom and Pop stage.
Pointing this out, and noting that village has been unclear at various points about how much money it may or may not have, has been considered implied criticism by some.
In that light, consider an story on NPR’s “Planet Money” the other day, about Gordon Mann, a consultant to the State of Pennsylvania, who individual towns and cities can call in when they realize their finances are out of control.
Allentown, York, Johnstown, Easton, Scranton and Reading have all turned to Mann.  In Reading, “hundreds and hundreds” of checks were found in a shoe-box in the zoning office; no one had gotten around to cashing them.
The point is that we can do better than that.  Why shouldn’t Cooperstown be the trailblazer in this area, as it has been in so many others?
To do this, mutual respect is necessary.  Please, trustees, new and old, embrace a new beginning.  Accept, for the shortterm, that everyone’s motivations are above board.  Avoid one-upmanship.  Instead of criticizing or clashing, bite your tongue; if it’s still an issue at the next meeting, make your point then.
Happily, this very sentiment was made emphatically by successful candidates and Mayor Booan on election night.
While Cooperstown has generally been well-served by its community leaders over the decades, we’ve hit a bit of a rough patch lately.  With this brainy and varied Village Board in place, let’s start making up for lost time.

Diane Greenblatt, left, and Rosemary Abbate roll meatballs for the Democratic Party’s spaghetti dinner Monday, March 14, at the Vets’ Club, to benefit the Cooperstown Food Bank.

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