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May 1, 2013

CSEA takes aim at Manor sale plan

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — The central legal argument against a plan by Otsego County lawmakers to sell the Otsego Manor through a local development corporation deals with the fact they would have to declare the home no longer has a public purpose, a spokesman for the facility’s unionized workers said Tuesday.

“We take issue with the legality of them saying it has no further public use when it very clearly does have a public use,” said Mark Kotzin, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association. The state’s largest union of public employees has more than 200 employees at the 174-bed Manor.

Kotzin said CSEA lawyers are already gathering information about the Board of Representatives’ plan to act on a resolution today that would approve the creation of the local development corporation (LDC).

The board is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. today at the Otsego Meadows, just south of Cooperstown.

Kotzin said the union has already initiated legal action against three other county governments that have moved forward with plans to sell their public nursing homes — Onondaga, Saratoga and Steuben counties.

“We believe this is not the way to go about selling a nursing home,” he said of the LDC.

The LDC is a pathway to privatization that has been recommended to the county by Shawn Griffin, an attorney with the firm of Harris Beach who has been retained by the Board of Representatives to guide it in selling the Manor. Because of escalating costs, pension obligations and reduced reimbursements from government health programs, the Manor has strained the county’s finances to the point that most board members argue it’s no longer sustainable for the county to operate it.

The plan to sell the Manor has stirred up protests not only from the union but also from advocates who say privatizing the operation will lead to inferior patient care. The organizer of those advocates, Maureen Culbert of Springfield, warned the representatives in a letter Tuesday that they will face “yet another legal conflict” by “summarily voting to create” the LDC less than 48 hours after they held a public hearing on the proposal.

Rep. Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta, the chairwoman of the board’s Manor Committee, said she believes the board is on solid legal ground.

“The fact of the matter is we aren’t mandated to have a nursing home,” she said. “We know we need one, but it’s not mandated that it be a public one.”

Stuligross said several individuals have already agreed to serve as officers of the LDC. She said they will likely be appointed at a special meeting that has not yet been scheduled.

An opponent of privatizing the Manor, Keith Schue of Cherry Valley, asked board members in an email Tuesday to refrain from transferring the Manor to the LDC until after the LDC had identified a qualified buyer. This would allow the board to retain its authority over the home during that period, he suggested.