ONEONTA _ The year 2009 was one of change at City Hall.
A highlight of the year was a lively three-way campaign to replace Mayor John Nader, who is stepping down after one term. City Hall also said goodbye to three longtime department heads.
The year featured a scandal in the police department about alleged officer misconduct; a controversial makeover of Neahwa Park; the beginning of one major downtown development project; and the nearcompletio of another.
Oneonta town officials tangled with cell-tower regulations and Canadian Pacific Railway.
Both communities dealt with declining revenues and increased expenses while managing their municipal budgets.
Mayor’s race grabs city’s attention There were few news stories about the city or town of Oneonta that received as much coverage as the 2009 mayor’s race.
Former Hartwick College President Richard Miller, 66, an independent running on the Democratic line, beat Third Ward Alderman Erik Miller, a Republican, by a slim margin. Both men ran strong against State University College at Oneonta student Jason Corrigan, 21, who took about 8 percent of the vote on his independent party line.
Campaign coverage began early in the year when Nader announced March 23 that he had been appointed provost at the State University College of Technology at Delhi and would not seek re-election. Third Ward Alderman Erik Miller, one of two Republicans on the eight-member Common Council, said the same day that he was considering a run for mayor.
Corrigan officially announced his candidacy April 23 and immediately began a series of campaign events, including YouTube videos and speeches.
Richard Miller ended weeks of speculation when he announced that he was entering the race May 10.
The campaign featured an unprecedented use of the Internet, both officially from the campaigns and unofficially from supporters.
One of the final election-related stories came two months after Election Day when Corrigan was arrested and charged with allegedly harassing former Mayor Kim Muller, a Richard Miller campaign aide, and harassing and fondling a female SUNY Oneonta student. Those charges are still pending.
Year marks end of careers for several retirees
City Engineering Administrator and Community Development Director Joseph B e r n i e r , Fire Chief R o b e r t Barnes and C h amb e r - lain David Martindale retired this year. Together, the men gave more than 70 years of service to the city.
The first two chamberlains hired to replace Martindale, who retired June 30, each quit shortly after they took the job. Meg Hungerford was later given the job in September.
The Common Council also filled the vacant code-enforcement officer position by appointing Robert Chiappisi in October.
Chiappisi fills a void left by the retirement of Peter F r i e dma n nearly two years ago.
A n Oneonta Public Transit director hired in March, Joe Richards, left under fire in September. His position has not yet been filled.
The Common Council replaced Barnes with Capt. Patrick Pidgeon and has not yet decided on how to fill Bernier’s positions.
Longtime city Judge Walter L. Terry III also retired, and Judge Lucy Bernier won election to his seat in a race against City Prosecutor Michael Getman. Mayor-elect Miller must fill Bernier’s appointed seat on the city bench.
Police scandal shocks community
A scandal allegedly involving on-duty officers, sex and alcohol rocked the police department and the city beginning in early October.
The resignations of two police officers and the suspension of a third were named by Nader in The Daily Star as the low point of his four years in office. Police Chief Joseph Redmond said the days he has spent dealing with the crisis have been the most difficult of his career.
City officials have only publicly described the events as conduct “unbecoming an officer” and misuse of city property. Other sources and documents associated with the investigation indicate the allegations involved on-duty sex with women, on-duty alcohol consumption and allowing intoxicated women to drive patrol cars.
With one officer, Daniel Fetterman, fighting the allegations and a hearing planned for Feb. 23, the story will continue to unfold in 2010.
Memorial Walkway begins construction
City officials and veterans’ groups had quietly plodded away for several years on a plan to turn a part of Neahwa Park into a memorial walkway linking various war and other monuments.
However, opposition to the plan arose in the 11th hour after some citizens questioned the removal of mature trees in the area south of Hodges Pond. Other questions also were brought up regarding the cost of the project.
But Nader and other city officials, working with veterans’ groups and city residents, engineered a compromise that saved several trees and cut the cost of the project.
The Memorial Walkway is slated to be finished next spring. But enough work was completed by Veterans Day on Nov. 11 that a ceremony there attracted about 200 people.
Bresee’s facade is removed
Although much has been done behind the scenes, the first obvious work on the former Bresee’s complex took place last month.
The aluminum facade that had adorned the front of 155-161 Main St. since 1959 was removed in a matter of days.
The 75,000-square-foot complex has sat largely vacant for more than 10 years and has significant roof damage and other structural problems.
But a redevelopment effort launched by Nader and led by the city Community Development Office and Otsego County Development Corporation is expected to transform the building, with the bulk of the work beginning next year.
The leading options for the redevelopment include the creation of between 20 and 30 apartments and mixed-use spaces, including retail, according to Bloomfield/Schon, a private Ohio contracted to develop the property.
A deal with the new owner of the Oneonta Theatre and the nonprofit group dedicated to saving it was reached this summer. The 675-seat theater built in 1897 has undergone some renovations and is hosting regular events.
Foothills Performing Arts Center also opened the doors to its theater building this year and began hosting a variety of events in the atrium area.
The actual 624-seat theater is expected to open some time next year. A production center at the site was completed in 2005. Break-ins, heroin concern residents There were no murders in Oneonta in 2009.
But the city had its share of thefts, break-ins and even a few robberies.
Two brazen daylight robberies struck downtown businesses. A holdup at the Sears store in June on South Main Street remains unsolved. Smokers Choice on Chestnut Street was robbed in July, and an arrest was made in that case.
Heroin was also identified by the Oneonta Police Department and the Otsego County Sheriff’s Office as a growing problem.
There were a string of break-ins in the Sixth Ward, and some residents said they believed the burglaries may have been tied to heroin use.
Plans for cell-tower defeated, project for bridge stalls In the town of Oneonta, a proposal to build a Verizon cell tower in the West End was defeated. But a public hearing on the matter brought out several sides to the issue, including concerns about the impacts of cell towers on the landscape and a purported need for increased wireless service in the town.
The town board responded with a moratorium on cell-tower development and the crafting of cell-tower regulations.
A bridge over Canadian Pacific railroad tracks that links state Route 7 with Pony Farm Road was expected to be replaced this fall after negotiations that have stretched on for two years. But higherthan- expected bids for the work have put the project on hold.
The state closed the bridge in January 2008, which limited vehicle access to an area of the town with 33 homes and businesses to one road at the east end of the Pony Farm Road Industrial Park.
Supervisor Robert Wood easily won re-election against town Constable Anthony Natalini.
In a closer race, incumbent William Mirabito and Scott Gravelin won the two open seats on the town board, edging out John Frisch.