By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star
---- — Citizen Voices, a self-described pro-growth group formed by area business leaders, is entering its second year this month after 12 months of making its point of view heard at public meetings throughout Otsego County.
“We’re just a group of business people who are trying to make a difference,” group co-founder Tom Armao said Tuesday.
“This started last December,” he added. “And it really started when we began to become concerned about unintended consequences of some good intentions.”
The group’s primary focus during the past year — although not its only one — has been to oppose attempts to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process that taps natural gas deep underground.
Armao asserted that some of the moratoriums “went beyond just fracking.”
“It was some limitation of business,” he said. “And then the county took up road-use regulation for truck traffic. It seemed as if, at that point, there was no public conversation; nobody was discussing the concerns of business. It was well-intentioned people trying to be responsible, but not thinking about, if implemented, what were all the unintended consequences we’re left to deal with.”
“Unintended consequences” is something of a rallying cry for the group. A search of articles in The Daily Star and other publications during the past year shows it being used to argue against fracking bans, road-use regulations and home-rule legislation sponsored by state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford.
“Our goal is pro-growth,” Armao said. “We need to have more jobs, more businesses to shoulder the burden of an ever-increasing tax load.”
Many of the Voices members also hold memberships in the Otsego County Chamber, Armao said. While the chamber is involved in many programs, he said, “it just seemed to be like nobody was doing this, so we just decided to do it.”
“It’s a narrow focus of just one thing: pro-growth,” he said of Voices. “And then it grew into a voice for business, which wasn’t being strongly spoken.
“We’re apolitical. Our biggest focus now is trying to ensure in the public conversation around the water cooler or wherever that somebody is talking about more jobs in the area. Nobody is talking about that.”
The group doesn’t have a formal membership, Armao said. “Our email list is a couple of hundred.”
But it does have a steering committee.
The committee members are Armao, who is a partner in Country Club Auto Group; Robert Harlem, president of Oneonta Block Co.; Richard Harlem, a partner in the Harlem & Harlem law firm; Wayne Hymers, owner of Otsego Auto Crushers; Christine Amos, an assistant vice president at NBT Bank; Steve Harris, president of Royal Chrysler; and Richard and Michelle Eastman, president and chief financial officer, respectively, of Eastman Associates, a general contractor.
Also, Mike Zagata, environmental protection commissioner in the administration of Republican Gov. George Pataki; Rebecca Lloyd of Oneonta Block Co.; Steve Lutz of Lutz Feed; Becky Thomas, co-owner of the Benson Real Estate Agency; Mike Pentaris, chief executive of Custom Electronics Inc.; Jamie Reynolds, vice president at NBT Bank; and Bill Mirabito, vice president of Mirabito Holdings Inc., a director of Corning Natural Gas and a member of the Oneonta Town Board.
Citizen Voices has invited numerous experts and officials to its meetings to explain their positions. This week, two experts will discuss the implications of the Affordable Care Act.
Ralph Morse of Kaatirondack Benefit Planning Inc. will discuss what is known about new regulations resulting from the act and the estimated timetable for releasing the remaining details, according to a media release from Citizens Voices. George McLain of George C. McLain Tax & Payroll will talk about the known and expected effects that the law is likely to have on small businesses.
The meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m. this morning at the Carriage House at 790 Southside Drive in Oneonta.