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February 7, 2013

Miller pushes unity, progress

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — Relocating police and fire departments, beautifying park entrances and assuring the cleanliness of downtown were among many issues pitched Wednesday night as priorities for Oneonta this year and beyond.

The review of tasks to do, plus a few wish-list items, included familiar topics, but the mayor and city manager emphasized a need for cooperation among Common Council members, city department heads and staff to see projects developed and completed.

About 30 people, including council members, department heads and residents gathered at the Sixth Ward Athletic Club to hear Mayor Dick Miller and City Manager Michael Long review city projects and needs.

Long reviewed projects, associating them with council committees and department heads. For example, revising the city’s multiyear plan to eliminate a structural deficient falls under the Finance Committee working with Finance Director Meg Hungerford he said.

The list ranged from financial matters and union contracts and to marketing of the airport and replacement of buses and fire department equipment. The emphasis was for progress this year, Long said, but some areas will involve multi-year phases.

“The key to making an organization like this work is the term ‘we,’’’ Long said.

Miller concurred.

City governance is like an orchestra, Miller said, though it wasn’t clear if he was the conductor or first violin to Long’s baton. Parts may be individual, Miller said, but the composition is performed as a whole.

“There’s percussion, there’s brass — there are strings,’’ Miller said. “Working together, they’re something wonderful to hear.’’

The city will seek to prepare projects for grant applications, Miller and Long said.

Miller said Wednesday’s meeting was the third such session held since he took office in 2010. Previous meetings led to formation of the Oneonta Fire Department Task Force and re-organization of the Department of Public Works, he said.

Fifth Ward council member Madolyn Palmer said Wednesday’s meeting was “great.’’ The presentation makes everyone feel part of the problem and part of the solution, she said.

Miller said the city already has progressed on its to-do list for this year by reaching a proposed agreement with the Civil Service Employees Association.

Linda Stiefel, vice president of CSEA City of Oneonta Unit 8101, said the proposal was ratified 27-0 during a meeting Wednesday. The agreement, effective from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, increases compensation by 2½ percent, which was satisfactory, she said, and the union and city will work out health care benefit issues later this year.

The union’s 48 members include clerical workers, dispatchers, and employees in parks, recreation and water and sewer department, said Stiefel, who attended Wednesday’s meeting. The agreement goes to the Common Council for approval, she said.

After the formal presentation by Miller and Long, listeners gathered around tables to eat pizza and discuss city matters, then Miller asked for feedback.

Fourth Ward council member Michael Lynch said the Public Safety Building has posed many challenges and should be considered a priority for possible re-siting.

“I just don’t think that building works anymore,’’ Lynch said.

Miller agreed, saying the city has been trying to perform many functions in an “unusually configured’’ structure. “It’s a critical issue,’’ he said.