Utica Observer Dispatch - 11/30/1981
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NOCCOG's Beginnings and a Thumbnail Sketch:

In 1981, NOCCOG had its beginnings: with the notion that rural municipalities, managed by part-time officials, needed professional guidance at times. This idea of guidance was formed on the basis of assistance, not directives or mandates. The last paragraph of the article above perhaps sums up NOCCOG's philosophy best - "to be available to the member communities if they need help with any facet of planning or government". When organized in 1981, NOCCOG staff consisted of one full-time local government advisor, usually referred to as a "circuit rider". The circuit rider attended municipal meetings and responded to questions or requests for assistance. For inquiries beyond his/her immediate knowledge, the resources of the NYS Tug Hill Commission are called upon, with additional resources drawn from Oneida County Planning, the NYS Department of State, Office of the State Comptroller, Real Property Services, Cooperative Extension, Soil & Water Conservation, and on and on. While an effective circuit rider clearly doesn't know everything, the talent can be in knowing where to go to get answers, and then how to present them in a simple, understandable and usable manner to the local government officials. During 1982, NOCCOG's office operated out of Circuit Rider Linda Bush's home in Forestport. It was then decided that a more profession office setting would be appropriate, and space was rented in the upstairs of a commercial building in Boonville. This space was given up a few years later, however, with the realization that the circuit rider's job was mainly out in the community meeting and working with municipal officials at their place of business, not NOCCOG's. NOCCOG's Executive Board, made up of three elected officials from member towns and villages, felt that the Council's limited budget was better spent on the delivery of services than on the rental of office space. Linda Bush served as NOCCOG's circuit rider until the end of 1983, when she accepted a planning position in central Connecticut. Joan Manzelmann, a member of the Oneida County Planning Department since 1972, became NOCCOG's new circuit rider in April of 1984, and provided sound support for the member communities until her retirement in June of 1992.

Staffing Expands: In 1987 the effort of trying to meet the requests of several municipalities showed the need for more manpower. Armed with a temporary grant from the Tug Hill Commission, an experimental program added three part-time municipal assistants to the council's roster. Each assistant circuit rider was assigned two to four municipalities to work with, in addition to specific projects of research or workshop coordination. The first part-time circuit riders, hired in 1987, were Mark White of Boonville, Leonard Reuss from the Town of Lee, and Stephen Hunter of Holland Patent. While the pilot program proved very successful, funding became a problem when the grant ran out. At the end of two years, the part-time circuit rider roster was trimmed to two, with the wages and support expenses being shared by the member communities and Oneida County. A staffing of one full-time circuit rider and two part-time assistants continues to the present time.


The Region Expands: The "official" Tug Hill region of New York State was somewhat arbitrarily set by the state legislature in 1973. In Oneida County, it included all of the towns and villages north of the State Barge Canal and Deerfield and Marcy, with the exception of Remsen and Forestport, which proved an awkward situation because of the closeness, similarities, and regional coherence of the two towns and their surrounding neighbors, Trenton, Steuben, and Boonville. In 1991, with legislation sponsored by then-freshman State Assemblyman Dave Townsend, and Senator Ray Meier, Remsen and Forestport were officially added to the Tug Hill region.


Current Staff: In 1992, Joan Manzelmann retired and Stephen Hunter, who had served as part-time circuit rider for 5 years, was selected by a 7-member screening committee to succeed her. After the job interview, Hunter commented, "It's kind of awkward trying to exaggerate your capabilities when everyone in the room knows you!" NOCCOG Assistant Circuit Riders included Gerry Ritter of Forestport, appointed in 1995, and Harlan Moonen of Verona, hired in 1997.


The Office: NOCCOG's office was a crowded, very cluttered, but technologically well-equipped room in Circuit Rider Hunter's residence. The arrangement allowed the savings of normal office rental and utility expenses, while helping to accommodate a circuit rider's unusual, unpredictable, and frequently long hours. After 13 years of devoted and outstanding service, Steve Hunter retired in May 2005. The search committee, composed of the NOCCOG Executive Board and several Tug Hill Commission staff members, screened many outstanding candidates. Maria Fibiger from North Bay was selected as Hunter's replacement in June 2005. Maria brought to the position a variety of experience from both the private and public sector as well as energy and enthusiasm. Maria decided to move on to other opportunities in February 2006. Gerry Ritter was selected by the NOCCOG Executive Board to be the full-time circuit rider in March 2006. Gerry a life-long resident of Forestport is well-known in the NOCCOG area with her 12 years experience as a part-time circuit rider. The NOCCOG office was run from Ritter's Forestport home. Harlan Moonen continued as a part time circuit rider, covering meetings in the western section of Oneida County. Susan Martin from Barneveld was appointed in January 2007 to the part time circuit rider position formerly held by Ritter. Martin covered meetings in the central part of the NOCCOG area. Ritter retired in the summer of 2014, and in January 2015 Jennifer Armstrong of Taberg became the full time circuit rider, bringing knowledge of local government after several years working as a newspaper reporter in the region. Moonen continues to provide technical assistance as a part time circuit rider for NOCCOG. Martin left her position in 2017. In 2018 John Healt from West Leyden was hired as the second part time circuit rider.

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