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April 16, 2014

Common Council puts manager search into motion

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The Oneonta Common Council passed motions initiating a search for a city manager and a review of the City Charter during a meeting in City Hall on Tuesday night.

Also, the mayor and some council members raised concerns about the impact of the pending closure of the inpatient psychiatric unit at Bassett Medical Center, quizzing the police and fire chiefs who were present to give monthly department reports.

About 25 people, including some city officials, attended the meeting in Common Council Chambers.

Mayor Dick Miller said while Bassett saves money by closing the unit in Cooperstown, the city is left with additional police personnel costs and unreimbursed expenses to transport mental health patients to a facility outside the area.

Questions remain about the impact of the closure on the college student population, said Miller, a former college president. Although Bassett is coping with a national shortage of psychiatrists and the state has been closings its facilities, the public policy debate is pointing to issues about where funding will be cut next, he said.

For Oneonta, providing “good health care services” locally is a factor to be addressed not only for the existing community but also in regard to economic sustainability, whether the approach is attracting students, jobs, tourists or other development, he said.

Maureen Hennessy, First Ward council member, said the lack of commitment to help mentally ill people is outrageous.

Police Chief Dennis Nayor told the council he remains concerned about an increased burden on the department, which is answering more calls involving mental health issues. Local mental-health-care professionals are arranging for a mobile assessment unit. Nayor said such a team could address despondent people and not patients in crisis, which he said will require police intervention.

Regarding the search for a city manager, the council approved the mayor’s memorandum regarding the steps. The council’s Human Resources Committee, with Russ Southard as chairman, will be responsible for the search, and the mayor and city personnel director will provide staff support.

The Human Resources Committee will review search materials and consider the mayor’s recommendation to hire a consultant.

The city paid $22,324 to The Mercer Group for consulting work in the previous search, Meg Hungerford, city finance director said. The group’s proposal was $15,000 for services with expenses capped at $8,000, she said. 

On May 30, Hungerford, acting city manager, will assume duties of Michael H. Long, who is retiring May 29.

On Tuesday, the council also approved a motion supporting a review of the Oneonta City Charter. Miller in a memo has asked the Charter Commission to reconvene for the task, with Laurie Zimniewicz, a former commissioner, as chairwoman.

In November 2011, voters adopted the revised charter, which established the position of city manager and took effect Jan. 1, 2012.