Strained Separation

County, City cut cord with police-critical Reimagining group

[And Posted After: TC3’s Budget and new President win praise and approval]

First, the Reimagining story:

Reporting and Analysis by Robert Lynch, June 26, 2022

The political correctness of it all sounded strangely sweeter a year or two ago than it does today:

“The path forward towards justice requires that we fight for what we believe. This is what we believe….

[First bullet point of three]:  “The vicious legacy of White supremacy is a root cause of suffering across the globe.  Systems that support White supremacy must be resisted and dismantled.”

Strong words.  And words credited to the “Center for Policing Equity” (CPE), a Yale University-based, left-of-center—and some would assert, police-hostile—non-profit organization that with its consulting arm helped the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County craft their joint Reimagining Public Safety Report submitted last year.  “Reimagining” is the overly-expensive, endlessly-long, appendix-laden, academically-obfuscated exercise in self-flagellation that’s prompting the City to transform its Police Department into a civilian agency, while also fulfilling an impulsive Andrew Cuomo command of the George Floyd era that municipalities contemplate their navels, root out supposed, systemic badge-on-blue racism… and churn out scores of pages of aspirational circumlocution that Albany promptly puts on a shelf to gather dust.  That report.

While no one dares say it directly, times appear a changin’, at least here.  On June 21st, the Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature and the City of Ithaca’s Acting Mayor, showed the Center for Policing Equity the door.  And Chair Shawna Black took to her Legislature’s floor to make sure everyone got the message.

“Today, Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis and I informed the Center for Policing Equity that we are no longer going to be working with their organization on Reimagining Public Safety,” Chair Shawna Black told County lawmakers in public session, a meeting sadly few bothered either to attend or to watch. 

Legislature Chair Shawna Black

“We thank CPE for their work and their staff efforts and contributions,” Black continued. “I feel very strongly now that we have our feet under us, having a homegrown process for Reimagining will be the best as we move forward.”

The message was clear:  Thank-you, CPE, for the date.  Just please, don’t call me again.

Some might think we should see this as just an anecdotal outlier; the severing of a tie that no longer serves any purpose.  But look again.  An objective, somewhat detached read of Black’s words tells us more.  Clearly, for many, the bloom is off Reimagining Public Safety’s police reconstruction rose.  Just don’t speak it too loudly.

The 96-page joint City-County Reimagining Report’s key (and most controversial) recommendation, that of converting a traditionally-structured Ithaca Police Department into a two-tiered, civilian-led Department of Community Safety, has driven the sharpest of wedges down Ithaca’s electorate and has openly pitted IPD’s armed officers against City Hall politicians.  What’s more, so many of the 2020-21 Reimagining plan’s initial architects have either passed through the exit, or will do so soon.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, a preening, prime initiator of Reimagining’s police repurposing—and a man now mired in controversy over how he tried to spend public money to advance it—is gone .  So is County Administrator Jason Molino, the take-charge, no-nonsense executive who dragged Tompkins County into its partnership with Myrick.  And County Chief Equity and Diversity Officer (CEDO) Deanna Carrithers, the mid-level staffer who sources indicate contributed greatly to Reimagining’s bold narrative, quietly tendered her own resignation in early-June.  She’ll leave both County Government and the community at month’s end after spending less than two years in her cutting-edge job.  County officials never discuss Carrithers’ future professional plans.  Neither does she.

So perhaps quite rightly, to jettison CPE from the Reimagining mix is to capture the perfectly-timed moment.  Mind you, nearly everyone in power still lauds Reimagining’s local achievements.  But many of those same leaders also appear equally eager to run quietly and fast from the troubled process that brought those reforms to fruition.  The people now in charge, including Legislature Chair Black, Acting Mayor Lewis, and current County Administrator Lisa Holmes, find themselves, one can envision, picking up the broken pieces of Ithaca’s frangible, police reform flower pot and paving over a rutted road that despite its bumps still reached its intended destination. 

“A press release on this topic will be going out this evening,” Chair Black advised her County Legislature upon disclosing her and Lewis’ joint decision to divorce their community governments from CPE.  Technically correct.  Yet the only “press release” that night from the County was an 1800-word laundry list of the evening’s “legislative highlights,” a jumble that relegated Black’s verbatim comments to a single paragraph buried near its bottom.  The release revealed no additional facts or opinions.

A search of the City of Ithaca’s governmental website nearly one week after Black’s disclosure revealed nothing at all in print there.  The message couldn’t be clearer.  Keep severance with CPE as low-key as possible.  Maybe no one else will notice.

****

The Center for Policing Equity might still have remained an ongoing player in the City-County police Reimagining process if not for the dogged intrepidity of one woman, Ithaca City Alderperson Cynthia Brock.

The First Ward Alderperson’s focus on CPE gained prominence by way of the April 4th Op-Ed she wrote for The Ithaca Voice.  “My concern,” Brock stated, “is that it is unclear to what extent the restructuring will be influenced by privately-funded advocacy groups’ agendas.”

Going where no others will go; Alderperson Cynthia Brock

Brock singled out the Center for Policing Equity as one such advocate.  Mayor Myrick invited CPE to the table, she asserted.  CPE was “[i]nvolved in every step” of the two-year process, Brock wrote.  They provided “hundreds of hours of CPE staff time,” and provided it for free.  Yet, she maintained, “There was no selection process abiding by NYS procurement laws, no public review of CPE’s qualifications.”  What’s more, she added, “There was no real discussion of CPE’s impact on the work of the City and County, or CPE’s agenda in ‘working for free.’”

Perhaps most provocatively, Brock’s Op-Ed faulted CPE’s CEO, Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, for jumping to conclusions regarding what her Common Council had yet to decide, Goff allegedly telling media outlets that Ithaca had “voted to dissolve its Police Department,” and that the police union had endorsed the dissolution.   Neither statement, Brock said, was correct.

In her Op-Ed, the Alderperson quoted Goff from a purported August 2021 Chicago public radio station interview.  Brock wrote:

“Dr. Goff recalled a text and phone exchange with Myrick where Goff suggested that Ithaca didn’t need a police department, to which Myrick responded ‘Yeah, cool. Let’s make that happen.’”

Alderperson Brock’s complaint against CPE comprises just one finger of her many-tentacled allegations.  Perhaps her principal concern relates to payments Mayor Myrick allegedly promised two local facilitators in the City’s more recent efforts to actually implement the 2021 Reimagining Report’s recommendations; to transform visionary platitudes into what one might call police reform “deliverables.”

Brock has alleged Myrick made his promises without Common Council authorization and in violation of ethics standards.  She’s also requested the ex-mayor be investigated for potential conflicts of interest between his former elected office and a side-job he held with the advocacy group, People for the American Way, a part-time position that blossomed into his becoming PFAW’s Executive Director last February, a promotion that prompted Myrick’s resignation as mayor.

A “witch hunt?” Mayor Myrick’s Reimagining Portrait

Brock’s allegations aplenty have dragged the matter before the Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board, a sleepy, seldom-used tribunal that took its first look at the Alderperson’s complaint June 7th.  Deliberating mostly in secret, the Ethics Board decided to issue “requests for information” to so-called “interested parties,” most of them remaining, for now, publicly unidentified. 

The Ethics Board did, however, name the City and County governments as two such parties.  But whether the Board’s reach will extend to such people as Myrick, Goff, Molino, or Carrithers, the public has yet to learn.

According to media reports, in remarks drawing striking parallels to the January 6th Investigation, Ethics Board Chair Rich John, a Tompkins County legislator, said he’d prefer those contacted appear voluntarily, rather than be subpoenaed.

And there’s another strange parallel to the January 6th Committee.  In a May 9th tweet, quoted by the Ithaca Voice, former Mayor Myrick described the Brock-initiated investigation against him as “a smear campaign” and asserted that “A fair, independent investigation will clear our names and end this witch hunt.”

Question: Was that the wisest choice of words for an ethically-embattled liberal Democrat to use at this precise moment?

For its part, the Center for Policing Equity has not taken Cynthia Brock’s allegations lying down.

“CPE hopes that there will be a renewed focus on the valuable and evidence-led recommendations outlined in the report itself rather than specious accusations from a disgruntled few seeking to derail the process of justice,” the organization said in a May 4th statement.  “We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the Reimagining Public Safety Working Group and all who are committed to building a safer, healthier, and more just Ithaca,” the statement continued.

But now, as they say, that won’t happen.  Shawna Black and Laura Lewis made sure of that.

Still, much of the Brock-Myrick foray brushes Tompkins County government only peripherally.  In the nearly 15 months since Ithaca Common Council and the Tompkins County Legislature concurrently endorsed and dispatched that Reimagining Report to Albany in March 2021—to, of course, sit on that proverbial shelf—most media, political and community focus has zeroed its attention upon the Ithaca Police restructuring.  By contrast, Tomkins County’s policing reform has proven relatively modest; yawningly boring, in fact.

At its June 21st meeting, perhaps in a valiant attempt to deflect attention from the County’s severed ties with CPE, Chair Black noted progress in Sheriff Derek Osborne’s recruitment of two Sheriff’s Clerks for the Department’s newly-launched “unarmed pilot program.”  The program employs deputy-like officers— one man and one woman, for now—who, without guns, will respond to benign matters like car-deer accidents. 

“I’m excited to hear about the program as their work begins,” Black told legislators.

An “Interested Party?” Former Administrator Molino

“I’m glad we’re getting the ball rolling with this program.” Sheriff Osborne said in a media release two days later.  “This is a chance to look at what we’re doing differently and continue to work toward being a more inclusive law enforcement agency.”  The program, Osborne said, “goes live” in early July.

The unarmed officers, clearly put, create an initiative without controversy; a most convenient of distractions.  And the program’s inception serves as County Government’s principal policing reform under Reimagining.  As a cautious politician might observe, best keep it that way. 

And unless people like the former County Administrator or the departing CEDO become implicated in legislator John’s ethics probe, County hands remain clean.  Alderperson Brock’s complaints occur in the City and stay in the City.  Time will tell whether they do.  Yet because of last Tuesday’s joint City-County announcement, that pesky little Center for Policing Equity stands nowhere close to get in the way.  

“The work we do to improve the systems we have should not impede the work we do to create the systems we need,” Dr. Goff wrote on CPE’s page of the City-County Reimagining Report.  He continued, “And any workaccomplished inside systems should not be used as a shield against, or as an off-ramp away from, the work communities are doing.”

I guess.  Whatever.  Dr. Goff, you’ll have to practice that philosophy somewhere else.

###

TC3: New Budget; Better Boss

by Robert Lynch, June 27, 2022

Passing an annual operating budget for Tompkins Cortland Community College has become a mundane late-springtime ritual for local county legislatures; hardly ever big news, unless—as occurred with Cortland County a few years back—lawmakers balk at the price tag.

TC3’s new President, Dr. Amy Kremenek, with college V.P for Finance, Bill Talbot, at a June 13th committee meeting.

No problem this year.  Nonetheless, last Tuesday’s budget ratification by the Tompkins County Legislature became more newsworthy than normal.  It was because the college got to show off its newly-appointed president, a leader local legislators decidedly like.

Dr. Amy Kremenek is that new TC3 President.  She came to the college on the first of June, moving down I-81 following her long-time tenure holding not one, but two successive vice presidencies at Syracuse-based Onondaga Community College.  Kremenek attended the Tompkins County Legislature’s June 21st budget-passing session.

“One thing that I’ve heard from the community is feedback from the hiring of Dr. Kremenek, and it’s very positive,” Legislature Chair Shawna Black remarked.  “I’ve spoken with a few of the faculty that were part of the interview process, and you definitely bring a breath of fresh air to TC3.  And I wanted to pass that on.”

That’s the tactful way for a politician to compliment college trustees for making a much-needed course correction. 

In 2017, the TC3 Board went out-of-state, to Minnesota, to recruit Kremenek’s predecessor, Dr. Orinthia Montague, the college’s first president of color.  Montague’s appointment was then heralded as a milestone.  But most now privately admit that Dr. Montague, put politely, underperformed expectations.

During the previous president’s four-year tenure, key personnel quit or retired; staff benefits were cut; morale slumped.  Though others may deserve some of the blame, the person at the top always becomes the target.

The predecessor; Dr. Montague

In August of last year, Montague resigned the TC3 presidency to become president of Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee.  As she departed, the TC3 Board launched a nationwide search for her successor, one that narrowed to four finalists.  Quite obviously, the TC3 Board reasoned that after their failed prior effort, their best-choice candidate lived close to home, someone top officials at TC3 already knew as a neighbor and a worked well with as a colleague.

As for the TC3 Budget, it sailed through both Tompkins and Cortland County Legislatures last week, in each instance following uneventful public hearings.  Tompkins’ lawmakers gave their unanimous approval June 21st.  Cortland County’s Legislature did the same two nights later.  “That was easy,” one Cortland legislator was heard to remark following his board’s vote.

While Cortland’s body adorned its vote with no discussion, Tompkins County’s Mike Lane took time to dwell on spending priorities prior to casting his affirmative vote.

“The sponsors and New York State aren’t doing what they ought to do,” insisted Lane, when it comes to community college funding.  “We’re kind of limited in what we can do because of our connection with a county (Cortland) that’s not as well-heeled as Tompkins County.”

The $33.6 Million TC3 operating budget approved by both counties calls upon Tompkins County taxpayers to contribute $3 Million toward the budget’s total.  Cortland County pays just over $1.85 Million.

Community colleges are “where the rubber meets the road,” Lane observed.  “It’s open enrollment.  We don’t get to choose who we want to educate at TC3.”

The Dryden lawmaker lamented New York lawmakers often talk about raising state subsidies to community colleges, yet never do.  Instead, they favor SUNY’s four-year schools.  Lane urged a change in Albany’s attitude.

In the Tompkins Legislature’s other business June 21st:

  • The Legislature received, but did not act upon, the Tompkins County Independent Redistricting Commission’s recommendation that it increase the legislature’s size from 14 to 16 members with the 2025 election, and adjust district boundaries to reflect the 2020 U.S. Census.  The Legislature referred the plan to a committee that will consider it in early July.
  • Legislators endorsed a committee’s recommendation to pump 200,000 more County dollars into the Lansing-mall based COVID-19 surveillance testing program to make up for expected federal funding shortfalls.  The subsidy will likely continue the testing program through year’s end. (See story posted here June 13th.)
  • Lawmakers restructured the long-discussed Community Recovery Fund so as to tap federal American Rescue Plan moneys for the human service subsidies the plan envisions, rather than use County fund balances for the program.  Using local funds, lawmakers have now been told, may be illegal.
  • And knocking back one legislator’s valiant effort, the Legislature rejected, 4 votes to 10, a largely-symbolic resolution that would have urged Starbucks to reopen its College Avenue coffee shop and also accused the chain of “union busting” for closing it.  Debate occupied more than three-quarters of an hour.  Legislator Veronica Pillar’s single-handed and deadline-submitted initiative won praise from Ulysses-Enfield’s Anne Koreman.

“It has no weight,” Koreman acknowledged of Pillar’s resolution.  “We can’t make Starbucks do anything.  But we have our voice, and I’m speaking up in favor of unions.”

Lansing Republican Mike Sigler took the other side.  “If I want to walk a picket line, by all means I should do that,” said Sigler.  “But I don’t think we as a body should do that.”  Sigler further faulted his liberal colleagues for setting a double-standard in not faulting “a union-busting mayor” (obviously, Ithaca’s unnamed Svante Myrick) when the mayor famously sparred with Ithaca’s Police Benevolent Association.

After all the talk—and a failed attempt to soften the measure’s language—only Pillar, Koreman, Henry Granison and Chair Black supported the Starbucks-critical resolution.

###

Posted Previously:

Pretty in Pink (and Blue)

Our New Enfield Salt Barn Takes Shape

(Photos from Thursday, June 23):

Side view of our new Salt/Sand Storage Building at the Enfield Highway Department Garage)
One of the Salt Barn’s end walls; note the blue side coloring our Town Board chose.
What it’s starting to look like inside.

Bonding’s set. The Bond money’s in the bank. Our Town Board plans to pay the contractor’s first invoice Friday, June 24th.

Good work. Good progress. Our Town invests in a long-needed piece of infrastructure. It works for the environment. It works for those we serve.

Bob Lynch

###

Posted Previously:

Testing on Borrowed Time?

Mall-based COVID-19 testing site may close by fall

by Robert Lynch, June 13, 2022

More subsidies for the mall sampling site; Kruppa, Hendrix, and the Budget, Capital and Personnel Committee

Tompkins County’s popular, well-patronized, and governmentally-subsidized COVID-19 testing site at Lansing’s Shops at Ithaca Mall may close as soon as this fall, as the pandemic continues to wane and the site’s usage diminishes.  And unless Tompkins County infuses some additional cash within weeks, the sampling site’s shutdown could happen even sooner.

“We’ve seen a steady decline in testing at the mall over the last couple of months, and we expect that to continue over the summer,” Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa told a committee of the County Legislature Monday.   The committee responded to Kruppa’s appeal by recommending the Legislature move an additional $200,000 from its contingent fund to keep the mall sampling site open, if needed, through year’s end.  The full County Legislature will likely act on the Budget, Capital and Personnel Committee’s recommendation June 21st.

Deputy County Administrator Amie Hendrix told the committee Monday that 300 to 400 persons now visit the mall testing site weekly, a significant drop from earlier numbers.  The site, operated by Cayuga Health Systems, opened shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in spring 2020.  The County began its subsidies that fall.  The money has enabled the site to provide free testing for Tompkins County residents whose insurance, for whatever reason, fails to cover the cost.

Eventually, the federal agency FEMA reimbursed Tompkins County for its funding outlays.  But beginning this July, FEMA will likely reduce its support to just 90 per cent of the total expense.  Hendrix told the committee she’s “not 100 per cent sure” that FEMA will cut its support, but she expects it will.

Faced with the prospect of renewed taxpayer subsidies, committee Chair Deborah Dawson posed the question, “Why can’t they (the county’s residents) use the home testing kits that we’re giving out free?”

“They could,” said Kruppa.  “But they’re not.”

Hendrix acknowledged that for some, it’s personal preference.  For others, she said, residents may first test at home, but then go to mall, to verify the home test’s validity.

But by year’s end—maybe sooner—a home test or one at a doctor’s office may become the only test available.

“My hope would be that by the end of the year,” said Kruppa, “we might be in a position where COVID’s in a different phase with everyone, and we can stand the mall down and push things back to the health care system.”

In fact, the Director suggested, that if case numbers “go to virtually zero” soon, the mall site could shutter as soon as this summer.  But that, he said, would leave an uncertain future this autumn; when colder weather arrives, and so do students.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure we have the infrastructure in place in the fall to do the testing,” Kruppa told the committee.

Should the local subsidy not be approved and testing numbers continue to drop, “we could be in a position where it’s not financially feasible for the mall to remain open over the summer,” Kruppa warned.  And then what happens if large scale testing becomes needed come September, he questioned.  Cayuga Health might need to reopen its sampling site somewhere else and find staff anew to operate it.

When it comes to a sampling site, “It’s easier to stand it down than to stand it back up,” Kruppa warned the committee.

****

Following a brief introduction by newly-named college president  Amy Kremenek, her Vice President for Finance and Administration, Bill Talbot, briefed the Budget Committee on the proposed 2022-23 operating budget for Tompkins Cortland Community College.  The committee responded by recommending approval of the $33.6 Million TC-3 spending plan, the recommendation also expected to see full action by the County Legislature June 21.

“Student enrollments were our greatest challenge,” V.P. Talbot with newly-named TC3 President Amy Kremenek

“Student enrollments were our greatest challenge,” Talbot told lawmakers of the academic year now ending.  Amid the challenges of COVID, full time equivalent enrollment fell by 3.9 per cent.  But the more important “core enrollments” fell a full 10.7 per cent.  Core enrollments measure attendance once high school students taking college courses are subtracted from the total.

During COVID, “students were unsure if they could actually come to school or whether or not they were required to be vaccinated,” Talbot said.

The year ahead, predicted the financial chief, looks brighter. “Core” revenues, Talbot said, predict a three per cent growth.  New fall enrollments, he added, are up 17 per cent.  A two per cent tuition increase will help replenish the $1 Million in lost tuition last year.  And Talbot forecast a $1 Million growth in TC3’s fund balance, up from $1.2 to $2.2 Million.

As endorsed by the committee, TC3’s next year’s budget calls on Tompkins County to contribute just over $3 Million toward the college’s support, a sponsorship share no higher than last year.

“I am comfortable with where we are,” Kremenek told the committee Monday, the new college president in only her eleventh day on the job.

###

Previously Posted:

Holmes: Staff “Stressed and Traumatized”

Shootings, then stabbing rock staff, heighten security at Human Services Building

by Robert Lynch, June 7, 2022; updated June 8 @ 1:05 AM

“Multiple factors make this a ‘hot spot’ downtown.” County Administrator Lisa Holmes.

Update; Wednesday evening, June 8:  As she provided the Enfield Town Board a monthly update on legislative business Wednesday (6/7), Tompkins County legislator Anne Koreman clarified Legislature Chair Shawna Black’s ambiguous comment of the night previous about the second violent incident in or near the County’s Human Services Building.  Koreman, in answer to this writer’s question, stated that the June 6th stabbing incident occurred outside, not within, the structure.  But, Koreman added, the incident happened “very, very close to the building.”

****

County Administrator Lisa Holmes first sounded the alarm last September.  “We know that there has been an increasing frequency of incidents occurring in the… West State Street corridor in and around the Human Services Building,” she told a county legislative committee in an ominous report that gained little coverage then, except here.  Now Holmes worst fears have come true.

First, on the Friday before Memorial Day, an incident well-reported, an assailant shot two men inside a house on West Seneca Street just doors away from the County’s Human Services Building.  The multi-story brick facility, housing Social Services and Probation departments, was put on lockdown, Chair Shawna Black first disclosed publicly Tuesday evening.as she addressed the Tompkins County Legislature.

But then, Black revealed, crime hit even closer.

“Yesterday, as we were at our leadership meeting, Black said somberly, at times almost crying, “Lisa takes the call and lets Deb (fellow legislator Deborah Dawson) and I know that there’s been another incident, and this time it was a stabbing at our Human Services Building.”

Black’s statement failed immediately to make clear whether the stabbing occurred within the building or outside it. Media  reports, quoting police prior to the Tuesday’s session, had stated only that a single victim with multiple stab wounds had been found on West State Street Monday morning at about 8:50 AM. 

Danger zone; the Tompkins County Human Services Building

“While none of our staff were targeted or injured, it is upsetting to me that two individuals were shot and one individual was stabbed multiple times in the past few weeks,” Black continued.  “This violence is impacting our employees, community members, local families and organizations in the area, and has got to stop.”

Though details of the two separate incidents remain sketchy, authorities have stated that all three victims survived their attacks.  Each was transported to a trauma center for treatment.  As of the Legislature’s meeting, none of the assailants had been arrested.

Both Black and Administrator Holmes indicated the crimes have and will lead to heightened security, not only at the Human Services Building, but also at other County facilities.

Holmes told the Legislature that staff at the Human Services Building are “feeling stressed and traumatized.”

And as a result of the recent crimes, Holmes reported, the Sheriff’s Department has increased patrols in the area.  She said that internal security measures are also being addressed.

“Not all staff were notified in a timely manner, the Administrator admitted to legislators.

Holmes said an “after-action meeting” was convened shortly after the May 27th double-shooting.  “Walking away from that first meeting, I recognized that we have more work to do,” she conceded.

Some work, Holmes assured lawmakers, is already underway.  The Departments of Emergency Response, Human Resources, and Information Technology are developing better employee lists.  They’ll update them every two weeks.  Staff will be trained on use of notification systems, and a troublesome overhead intercom will be replaced.

But factors external to the County complex will need attention as well.  The County will work with staff at a neighboring facility to take “pro-active measures” to make crime less attractive.  The County will seek better fencing and additional staffing at that facility “particularly on Fridays, which seem to be days of high activity in the area,” Holmes said.

But the heightened attention won’t limit itself to Ithaca’s troubled West End.

“We’re currently updating building safety and security plans across all County buildings,” Holmes told lawmakers, and she made it clear what’s planned at present may not prove sufficient.

“There’s a need for a further consideration of additional building security options throughout the County,” the Administrator said, “and we’ll be assessing those options.”

Both Black and Holmes recognized how the latest twin incidents of crime have rattled a workforce, one that may serve clients within a modern structure, but one that’s still too close to the cruel world as near as its sidewalk.

A troubled look? Of course. Kit Kephart administers Social Services

“While I’m not blindsided to the crime that we’re seeing in the City,” said Black, this specific incident,” the May 27th shooting, “really hit home,” she acknowledged.  “I believe many of us feel it’s our job to protect our staff and our community.”

“We also have to tend to the need of our employees,” stressed Holmes.  “Several of them,” she said, “have expressed feeling stressed and traumatized from these most recent incidents that have occurred near their work.”

But aside from safety measures here and there, plus the increased Sheriff’s patrols, something both leaders appreciate, a solution to safety at the big brick State Street edifice where probationers intermingle with assistance-seekers may elude them both.

“There are really multiple factors that make this area a hot spot downtown,” said Holmes.  And a “hot spot” not in a good way. 

“There are issues of poverty, substance abuse, mental health and expectations for law enforcement response all coming to a head in this area which require a more thorough and ongoing response from all of us in the longer term, ” the Administrator observed.

Yet it’s a balance.  Shawna Black recognized that. 

“We want everyone who walks through our doors, whether it’s to sign up for temporary assistance or check into probation to feel welcome,” she said.  “We want our community to feel safe and to retain their dignity when receiving services.”

Perhaps a balance more easily sought than obtained at the West End’s present, troubled moment.

###

More from the County Legislature:

Party lines split Tompkins legislators on the “Nuclear Option”

by Robert Lynch, June 8, 2022

The ghost of Bell Station, a once-heralded, then abruptly dispatched proposed nuclear power plant to have been sited on Lansing’s Cayuga Lake shoreline a half-century ago, spirited its way through Tompkins County’s legislative chambers Tuesday night.  So, too, perhaps, did the ghost of Lansing legislator Mike Sigler’s recently-abandoned campaigns for not one, but two seats in Congress.

They may call you a jerk, but you live with your vote; Mike Sigler, defending the “nuclear option.”

In a move that drew support from only his two fellow Republicans, yet also sliced a sharp divide between himself and environmentalist Democrats, Sigler Tuesday yanked from the County Legislature’s consent agenda an expectedly-routine endorsement of a State agency’s Draft Climate Action Plan, and subjected that 350-page document to the political equivalent of an anal examination.

And among the many faults Sigler found in the long-winded report—with goals he termed “aspirational,” yet “unrealistic”—was its failure to seriously address nuclear power as a viable option to wean New Yorkers off fossil fuels.

“You can’t talk about electrification, without how you make the electricity,” argued Sigler, who claimed he’d read all of the report’s 350 pages, including its authors’ decision to give nuclear power short shrift.  “You can’t say we’re going to electrify all homes for heating and not say where the electricity is going to come from.  It’s like talking about a refrigerator and not talking about food.”

“So you’re setting yourself up for failure,” the Lansing legislator admonished his colleagues.  “And I don’t know why we would endorse a plan like that…. If (climate change) is the existential threat that they say, and you’re not looking at nuclear, then I don’t feel you’re really serious about the issue.”

When the debate finally ended, Republicans Randy Brown and Lee Shurtleff joined Sigler in opposing the effectively toothless local declaration of support.  All eleven Democrats supported the endorsement.

Tagged onto Tuesday’s support Resolution, the Legislature attached a Department of Planning and Sustainability 10-page, single-spaced evaluation of the State agency NYSERDA’s Scoping Plan.   Itself long-winded, the evaluation looked generally favorably on the state document.  Yet its local authors cited a half-dozen alleged “omissions” that the plan had allegedly overlooked.  Most notably, County planners faulted the state agency for not addressing the climate risks imposed by cryptocurrency mining, harmful algal blooms, and methane leakage, as well as the report’s failure to give wind energy fair emphasis.

“The Clean Energy Siting Recommendations are generally geared toward solar and largely silent regarding wind and hydroelectric energy,” the local planners wrote.  “We suggest amending the recommendations, where possible, to be renewable technology neutral.”

But in none of their bullet points did local planners address the nuclear option that Sigler and his colleagues so want to make part of a climate-conscious solution.

“I think it’s a risk for us militarily,” Newfield-Enfield legislator Randy Brown said during the debate, Brown faulting the Climate Council’s de-emphasis of nuclear.  “The Chinese are building nuclear plants right and left, and we’re building none?” Brown asked rhetorically.

The Chinese build nuclear plants, why not us?’ Newfield-Enfield’s Randy Brown

“Even the person who founded Greenpeace said that nuclear is the answer,” Brown continued.  “So by saying that you’re not going to look at that is a big mistake.”

But Democrats took a different stance.  Dryden’s Mike Lane resurrected the memories of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

“I’ve got to comment on nuclear,” Lane interjected.  “I know there are people out there who are saying that’s our only savior for electrification.  I hope it’s not true.  I’m very thankful that we don’t have a nuclear power plant… on Cayuga Lake.”

Lane reminded legislators of Chernobyl’s implication in the Ukrainian war and of Russians firing upon nuclear plants elsewhere in Ukraine.

“Well, you can say that’s just war,” Lane observed.  “Well, if it could be done in war, it can be done by terrorists, both domestic and foreign, on our own soil.”

Sigler pushed back on Lane’s doomsday scenario and of nuclear power’s risks.  Sigler maintained Lane’s information is “dated” and that Chernobyl “was a dated Russian plant that they didn’t take care of.”

“Nuclear power’s not our ‘savior.’ Don’t go there.” Legislator Mike Lane.

Sigler also tossed aside Legislature Chair Shawna Black’s largely-fruitless attempt to intervene and downplay the importance of her group’s vote on the Scoping Document.  Black insisted legislators weren’t even voting on legislation, but rather on, as she termed it, only “a thought.”

“No,” responded Sigler, “This attaches to you personally.  This is a vote you are taking on something, and it will follow you.  It may not follow you badly.  You may be able to hold it up later and say, ‘Hey, look what we did.’”

Then, Sigler referenced his own aborted campaigns, first for a congressional seat to his north; and more recently, for another seat to his west.

“I just ran for Congress, you know,” Sigler reminded all who were listening.  As for past votes attaching to his record, he said, “That’s happened many times.  And there were other things that people said.  ‘Look what that guy voted for.  He’s a jerk.’  If you want to vote on state issues,” Sigler admonished Black, “that’s what you’re voting on.”  

And just why, one might ask, were the 14 state experts who drafted the Climate Action Council Scoping Plan, so reluctant to give nuclear alternatives closer consideration?

“I think topics like nuclear energy tend to be a little more divisive, so I think they tried to skirt that a little bit,” Terry Carroll, County Sustainability Officer, and a member of the Planning Department team, answered when questioned by a legislator about how deeply the Scoping Plan chose to address nuclear energy.  “They’re leaving the door open,” Carroll said.   “They certainly didn’t close it, but they also don’t go into any sort of exhaustive illustration of what that might look like.”

****

The Climate Action scoping plan wasn’t the only party-line vote cast during Tuesday’s long, issue-intensive Legislature meeting.  Later, after less discussion, lawmakers again split by party on what’s often a formalistic, annual vote to reserve the right to override New York’s now penalty-free tax cap.  Democrats supported the measure.  Republicans opposed it.  Republicans saw a symbolic need to stand firm against tax increases.  Democrats, by contrast, viewed the override as an ”insurance policy,” one to be applied should financial reality push the County’s tax levy beyond the percentage increase Albany later sets as the cap.

###

Posted Previously:

The Three-Day Campaign that Imploded

Mike Sigler Out, Jacobs too, in Wild Republican Reed-Replacement Friday

by Robert Lynch, June 3, 2022; updated Saturday morning, June 4

Update: As the dust settles on Mike Sigler’s announced withdrawal from the NY-23 District race, it appears that Sigler first disclosed his decision in a late-afternoon Friday interview with WIVB television, Buffalo. The news anchors were as surprised as the rest of us were. You can view the interview here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzNEhltORwM

****

Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler, for the second time in as many weeks, ended a congressional campaign Friday…. this time apparently his last.

In a one-paragraph statement on social media, acknowledging that intra-party competition had proved just too hot to handle, the Lansing Republican withdrew from a race he had begun only three days before, the race to succeed the recently-resigned Tom Reed in Congress.  Sigler would have run in the realigned 23rd Congressional District, a district in which, if elected, he wouldn’t even have lived.

Petitions that went one place, then another, now nowhere. Mike Sigler on his first filing day.

Sigler’s departure from the volatile contest followed by only about two hours a more high-profile exit, the decision by Buffalo area Congressman Chris Jacobs to no longer run for the Reed seat either.

But Jacobs’ campaign floundered for a much different reason.  Republican leadership and a significant swath of the GOP base had soured on the Orchard Park incumbent after he’d come out in favor of tighter gun control.  Jacobs spoke out following the deadly Buffalo supermarket shooting a stone’s throw away and the killing of 19 elementary school students and two teachers in Texas.

As Sigler and Jacobs withdrew, party faithful appeared to coalesce around state Republican Chair Nick Langworthy as their likely choice for the 23rd District’s nomination.  Nonetheless, the GOP race remains fluid.  More candidates could enter.

“After talks with the Chairman of the NY Republican Party, I’ve decided to end my campaign for Congress,” Sigler posted on Facebook at about 7:30 Friday evening.

Defending his short-lived revitalized campaign, having just three days earlier migrated his party designating petitions from the Syracuse-based 22nd District to the Southern Tier 23rd, Sigler continued, “I decided to file this week in the 23rd because I have ties there and I want the Southern Tier represented. I also faced a (May) 31st deadline to use my ballot access.”

But then came the Lansing lawmaker’s reality check, recognition as the weekend approached that GOP Chair Langworthy is out front.  Though officially, Niagara County’s Langworthy has yet to declare for the congressional nomination, Sigler conceded the chairman is running… and probably will prevail.

“Chairman Nick Langworthy is passing petitions right now, will have enough by the 10th, and plans to use them to run for Congress,” wrote Sigler on Facebook.  He continued, “Plans change as we’ve clearly seen this year, but Nick would represent this district well.  He was Erie County Chair for ten years and was born and raised in the Southern Tier. He won’t forget those folks.”

With that, Mike Sigler folded his tent and went home.

Likely the man to beat; Nick Langworthy.

After State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister signed off on re-drawn congressional district maps May 20th, Mike Sigler found himself in a bind.  Since late-February, the three-term Tompkins County legislator had planned to run in the home-based congressional district that Democratic-led gerrymandering in Albany had created, a blue-leaning, redrawn 22nd District.  It would have included all of Tompkins County and stretched north to Syracuse.  Sigler had won support from most of the district’s Republican chairs.  His nomination appeared a lock.

But after Judge McAllister assigned a special master to cleanse congressional maps of their partisan taint, and the lines significantly changed, Sigler found himself with few good choices. 

Running in his newly-assigned home district, the 19th, would have put Sigler in a primary contest against former New York Gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro.  Staying in the 22nd would have brought a tough primary fight too.  Well-bankrolled, Trump-friendly rock star Claudia Tenney planned to run in the 24th District just to the north of Lansing.  Likely sensing it the best of many bad options, Sigler picked the Southern Tier’s 23rd District, the one that represents Tompkins County at present, but come next year will do so no longer.

On May 23rd, Sigler withdrew from the 22nd District sweepstakes.  Eight days later, he entered the 23’rd District contest.  Now he’s ended that too.

Like Mike Sigler, Congressman Chris Jacobs had a reality check of his own Friday.  Yet compared with Sigler’s, Republican Jacobs’ downturn of fortune is far more serious.  For Jacobs, it will likely end his career in Congress. 

Just before the dinner hour Friday (June 3), Jacobs, heretofore the presumptive Republican frontrunner, the incumbent expected to switch districts and then win the 23rd District’s party nomination, succumbed to pressure from his conservative flank and abruptly withdrew from the race. 

Jacobs’ surprising about-face followed his statement of support one week earlier for tighter national firearm controls.  Jacobs, though a longtime supporter of gunowner rights, altered his stance in reaction to the fatal shooting of ten people in a Buffalo supermarket May 14.

Likely a lame duck. Congressman Chris Jacobs.

Conceding his withdrawal in a statement to The Buffalo News, and recognizing it involved firearms regulation, Jacobs told the paper:

“This obviously arises out of last Friday, my remarks, statements on being receptive to gun controls.”

The Congressman continued, “And since that time, every Republican elected [official] that had endorsed me withdrew their endorsement. Party officials that supported me withdrew, most of them, and those that were going to [support me] said they would not. And so obviously, this was not well received by the Republican base.”

Jacobs’ withdrawal demonstrates the power hardline Second Amendment supporters in the Southern Tier and suburban Erie County-bound 23rd District hold on the GOP.  But the Orchard Park Congressman, now an instant lame-duck, said his was a personal decision, one tempered by the Tops Supermarket killings.  And if a ban on AR-15 rifles came to the House floor, he, Jacobs, would vote for it.

“Being a father and having young children,” Jacobs told The Buffalo News, “and visualizing what those parents are going through and, I guess, being able to feel it more personally certainly has had an impact as well.”

A wild card? Carl Paladino.

As Friday evening wore on, Spectrum’s Capital Tonight reported Buffalo businessman and flamboyant conservative Carl Paladino, who lost the 2010 New York Governor’s race to Andrew Cuomo, may also enter the 23rd District’s congressional race.  Others have declared or shown interest in the crowded—yet thinning—contest as well.

Nonetheless, Nick Langworthy remains the candidate of the hour, the man to beat.

The Democratic Party side of the ledger stands far more stable.  Max Della Pia, who nearly beat Tracy Mitrano for the right to face Congressman Reed four years ago, should cruise to the Democratic nomination without opposition.  Still, Della Pia faces an uphill fight in the crimson-red 23rd District come November.

****

Mike Sigler has come back home.  And with his departure from the 23rd District race Friday, perhaps the rest of us in Tompkins County should do so as well.  We’ll exit the 23rd District ourselves next New Year’s Day.  Their district’s candidates are somebody else’s concern—or maybe, their problem.  As Mike leaves, no longer do we have a dog in this fight.

****

Mike Sigler’s withdrawal statement of Friday evening, June 3, posted on his campaign’s Facebook page:

“After talks with the Chairman of the NY Republican Party, I’ve decided to end my campaign for Congress. I decided to file this week in the 23rd because I have ties there and I want the Southern Tier represented. I also faced a 31st deadline to use my ballot access. Chairman Nick Langworthy is passing petition’s right now, will have enough by the 10th, and plans to use them to run for Congress. Plans change as we’ve clearly seen this year, but Nick would represent this district well. He was Erie County Chair for ten years and was born and raised in the Southern Tier. He won’t forget those folks.”

###

Enfield, We Build Progress

Our under-construction Salt and Sand Storage Shed, from the construction consultant’s Field Observation Report of June 2, 2022:

No problems, the engineer reports. All’s good and on schedule.

Yes, progress feels good. We move forward.

Thanks, Town.

Bob Lynch

###

Justice Scalia’s Own Words

Excerpt from the Majority Opinion; Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008):

III

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose…. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues…. Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms.  Miller [United States v. Miller,307 U.S. 174 (1939), which Justice Scalia explained elsewhere in this case affirmed the Federal Government’s right to ban sawed-off shotguns under the National Firearms Act] said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons.” [The Court’s numerous citations omitted here for sake of brevity]….

It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty.  It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right….

[From Section III of the Majority Opinion.  Only the legal citations have been omitted for sake of brevity. (Image courtesy of Ballotpedia.)]

****

District of Columbia v. Heller was a landmark Supreme Court decision, and a controversial one.  In Heller, a five-justice Supreme Court majority held that the Second Amendment protects a personal right, albeit a limited one.   In Justice Scalia’s words, it held that the District of Columbia’s “ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.”

May we remember. (Credit: The Los Angeles Times)

Some legal scholars maintain Justice Scalia would have gone further if he could have; that he might have expanded gun rights beyond what he wrote, but needed to hold together a fragile coalition of justices—and particularly to placate moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy—to construct his coalition.  But such is speculation.  Antonin Scalia has passed.  We cannot ask him now.  We can only read his words.  And as a textualist, Justice Scalia would be the first to tell us that his words matter most.

Heller went as far as it went.  It went no further.  And neither do I.

Robert Lynch

###

Posted Previously:

A Congressional Primary after all

Rhinebeck’s Cheney blocks Riley’s coronation by Dems in NY-19

by Robert Lynch, May 25, 2022

Down on the farm (and please take notice!) Jamie Cheney with husband, kids, and pet. (photo courtesy of the Red Hook Daily Catch and Jamie Cheney)

A Hudson Valley woman who points with pride to the manure on her boots has just breathed fresh life into a campaign that some had thought would see Josh Riley awarded the Democratic nomination in New York’s newly-drawn 19th Congressional District by default.

In an announcement that took the better part of a week to travel from the district’s most eastern county to its westerly edge, Dutchess County farm partner and businesswoman Jamie Cheney declared last Saturday her candidacy to run against Endicott-raised Riley to represent our newly-redrawn eastern Southern Tier and Hudson Valley district in Congress.

“This is going to be a seat that’s part of the dynamic of holding the House of Representatives this fall, and I don’t believe there is anyone running who can be a strong advocate for rural communities in the way that I have been professionally,” Cheney told The Red Hook Daily Catch, an online publication. “I have a real track record of advocating for rural families in rural communities,” Cheney added.

After another woman, Ithaca environmental advocate and businessperson Vanessa Fajans-Turner, withdrew from the 19th District congressional race late Sunday (5/22), it briefly appeared that Endicott’s Riley might win the once-crowded race to represent Tompkins County’s Democrats in Congress without a primary fight.  Not now, not unless, as always remains possible, Cheney falters in petitioning for the nomination.

Marc Molinaro, a former unsuccessful candidate for New York Governor, will likely clinch the Republican nomination in the 19th District.  Molinaro’s last potential obstacle vanished Monday when Lansing’s Republican Tompkins County Legislator, Mike Sigler, withdrew from the race.

Jamie Cheney and her husband operate Falcon’s Fields Livestock in Rhinebeck, their farm located just outside the redrawn 19th Congressional District in Dutchess County.  And in this topsy-turvy year of redistricting, one in which home towns matter less than do fields of opportunity, the 19th District’s Molinaro also hails from Dutchess County.  Like Cheney, he lives outside the district.  Molinaro is the Dutchess County Executive.

There’s an opportunistic side to Cheney in a second respect.  Media reports indicate that until last Saturday—one day after a State Supreme Court Judge made revised redistricting maps final—Cheney was competing not for Congress, but instead for the New York State Senate.

Before last weekend, Cheney had campaigned to unseat Republican State Senator Sue Serino.  But as redistricting lines kept changing, so, too, did Cheney’s political plans.  When special master Jonathan Cervas’ redistricting maps pitted Cheney in a presumptive Primary contest against a personal friend, State Senator Michelle Hinchey, the unelected Cheney backed out, and switched attention to a congressional bid instead.

According to press reports, Cheney first disclosed her change of course in a Tweet Saturday (5/21).  As this story is posted, Cheney has yet to make her candidacy widely-known districtwide, including in Tompkins County.  Indeed, those locally may have only learned of Jamie Cheney through her solicitations for support on social media. (That’s how this writer did.)

“Democrats have the best intention for every working family in this country,” Cheney told The Daily Catch, but “they often don’t quite understand what it’s like to support your family in a rural community where the nearest job might be 45 minutes away.”

Should Cheney and Riley remain the only two Democrats vying for the party’s nomination in their chosen district, the casual voter might gain the misimpression that theirs is a rural-urban working-class face-off, a campaign by novices holding little more than a high school education.  Not so. 

Though a promotional video champions his family’s industrial rust belt roots on the outskirts of Binghamton, Josh Riley claims credit to a Harvard law degree, and he’s worked inside the beltway with the likes of Congressman Maurice Hinchey and Senators Al Franken and Ted Kennedy.  Jamie Cheney, while truly a farmer, is also a Yale and Harvard Business School graduate.  She’s a founding partner in a Manhattan-based talent recruitment agency, Prokanga

Working Class hero, with a degree from Harvard Law; Josh Riley.

Yet Cheney’s website—at this writing, lean on specifics—puts her farm life front and center.  Her pictures are of barns and cattle, not of board rooms.

Cheney’s introductory biography stands typical of her initial generality.

“I know how hard it is,” Cheney writes on her profile.  “The difficulty of running a small business with no safety net during a pandemic, the struggle of turning a profit on a small-scale farm, and the pressure of balancing work and family.”

On her website’s home page, one finds another example; this under the category of “Democracy is under attack”:

“We need a Congresswoman who is invested in us.  We need a someone (sic) who knows that the current political climate makes it impossible to serve the people.  It is time the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier have a Congresswoman who advocates tirelessly for a government that works for us.”

One would expect, in time, Cheney will put more flesh on those bones of platitude.  Her website initially resembles very much a work in progress. (Writer’s observation: “been there; done that.”)

Yet why, The Daily Catch asked, did not Jamie Cheney simplify her campaign—and avoid Riley’s possibly labeling her a carpetbagger—by running in her home district, the new 18th District, the one that includes Dutchess County just to its south.  She had an answer.

“I don’t think I’m the best advocate for the 18th,” Cheney told its reporter, ceding the district in Dutchess to fellow Democrat, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan.  Cheney described the 18th as “the last district that looks south to New York (City).”  And she’d prefer opting for the perceived country focus of the 19th to the “distinctly suburban flavor” of the district to which her farm sits on its northern fringe.

****

But with new district lines drawn, former candidates gone and now new ones arriving, the Congressional Primary races of 2022 still have nearly three more months to run.  The primary isn’t until August 23rd.  Additional candidates may enter. They have until June 10th to file their petitions.

A choice beats a coronation anytime.  Providing Jamie Cheney secures her needed 1,062 valid petition signatures by the June deadline, a choice we will have.  It should be fun.

###

Inflation Hits Enfield Road Projects Hard

by Robert Lynch, May 20, 2022

The cost of rebuilding an Enfield road just went up… and by a lot.

Though the national inflation rate may be running at 8.3 per cent, revised estimates Enfield Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins put before his Town Board this month project his department’s road construction costs may rise by several multiples of the national figure. 

The price of a facelift; Superintendent’s estimates for Harvey Hill Road rehab jump 71.4%.

In one notable instance, the planned 1.2-mile resurfacing of Harvey Hill Road just west of Route 327, Rollins revised estimates project a 71.4 per cent increase—from $140,000 to $240,000—since his original projections were approved by the Board in January.

For another road slated for upgrade this year, a one-mile stretch of East Enfield Center Road between South Applegate Road and Enfield Center, Rollins projects a 50 per cent increase, from $40,000 to $60,000.

“It’s really the jump in Harvey Hill that caused my jaw to drop,” Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer), said as Board members, at Lynch’s request, discussed the increases May 11th.  Only Lynch voiced serious concerns.

“Well, you want me not (to) do it?” questioned Rollins in response. “I mean that’s all there is to it.  I either do it or don’t do it,” he continued.  “I’m not going to sit here and argue about the money.  The price is the price.  And that’s all there is to it.”

The Superintendent’s cost figures came in a so-called “Amended 284 Agreement,” a one-page authorization form named after the section of New York Highway Law which commands it.  Once yearly, generally in January, members of all town boards must sign a “284 Agreement” to authorize how much money their Highway Superintendents may spend on local road maintenance… and on which roads.  The Agreement provides one of the few legal controls a town board holds over the actions of an independently-elected Highway Superintendent.

Enfield Board members signed the original 284 Agreement Rollins submitted January 12th.  The amended document, its totals increased because of inflation, was submitted by Rollins in an email May fourth.

While Rollins assigned certain road projects major increases—the Harvey Hill Road cost increase could be annualized at 171 per cent—the Superintendent’s overall “284” spending would grow more modestly.  For reasons never discussed during the meeting, Rollins had reduced by more than 20 per cent his projected expenditures for “General Repairs,” the day-to-day maintenance assigned to no specific road, but rather to Enfield’s 86.2 miles of Town-maintained roads in general.  Spending for General Repairs, under the amended agreement, would fall from $145,000 to just under $116,000.  The Harvey Hill and Enfield Center Road projects are assigned to a separate category, called “Permanent Improvements.”

Lynch sought and obtained from Supervisor Stephanie Redmond assurances that the Town’s budget could handle the increase.

“We’re actually doing pretty well,” said Redmond of Town finances, though she conceded Rollins’ figures would leave less money in Highway Reserves.

“Mr. Lynch,” Rollins said tersely, “I don’t go over my budget, and the money that I got allocated is in my budget.”

Apologizing to Rollins for “a lot of bad blood” that had spilled between the Town Board and the Superintendent in the past, Lynch said he was only pursuing curiosity as to why, with single-digit annual inflation nationally, one road project had risen by over 70 per cent in five months.

“If you take fuel costs alone,” replied Redmond, “the inflation is a lot higher.”

“Not 71.4 per cent,” Lynch answered.  “Not in five months.  My cost of gas hasn’t gone up that much.”

At Lynch’s urging, the Town Board passed a largely-symbolic resolution to accept the Superintendent’s changes. It included Lynch’s stipulation that Rollins “will not spend the entire amount if he does not need to.”  Though the law requires members only lend their signatures, the Enfield Board has of late preferred to back up those signatures with official action.

Estimates Rollins provided under the 284 Agreement apportion Highway Department spending only by road.  Rollins need not provide a detailed cost breakout, and he did not.  The superintendent stated the estimates calculate only maximum costs, not necessarily what he will spend.

****

The Enfield Town Board spent money in other ways that Wednesday night.  As the second act to a contentious Board discussion in April—yet one far more placid this time—the Town Board unanimously voted to award contracts for installation of heat pumps on the upper floor of the Town Courthouse, where the Town Justice holds court and the Town Board conducts in-person meetings.

The multi-stage project, made far more complex and expensive by environmental rules, would cost nearly $46,000.  Supervisor Redmond assured the Board a State grant will cover the expense.

Though the heat pumps’ contractor would charge less than $18,000, the project’s price tag was raised significantly by the need to reinsulate the Courthouse attic and remove the existing vermiculite insulation through asbestos-abatement protocols.  Indeed, the asbestos abatement became the costliest expense.

Councilperson Lynch, who strongly opposed the Courthouse project a month earlier, supported awarding the contracts this time.  Given the Courthouse building’s uncertain future, Lynch reiterated his own reluctance.  But he yielded to the Board’s majority opinion that the project should proceed, concluding the matter had been settled.

In other business:

  • The Town Board considered, but then tabled, Councilperson Lynch’s initiative to alter a 12-year old practice governing how Enfield receives its share of Tompkins County sales Tax revenue.  Since 2011, the Town has chosen to credit Sales Tax receipts to reduce the County’s share of Property tax, rather than take the money directly. 

While direct payment of Sales Tax could simplify Town budgeting in this tight financial year, Lynch acknowledged he’s had second-thoughts about his idea, after learning the proposed change may reduce Enfield’s share of so-called “PILOT” revenues received from solar farms.  “We don’t want to cut off our nose to spite our face,” the Councilperson said.

 The Sales tax change will head to the Town’s Finance Committee for more study.

  • And as to solar farms themselves, the Town Board, following a sparsely-attended Public Hearing, continued for an additional six months a Town-wide moratorium on approval of new commercial solar installations.  The Board imposed the moratorium last December to permit a committee to study changes that could bring the Town more revenue from future solar farms.  “I’m in favor of extending so we can get it all done and done right,” said resident Marcus Gingerich, the hearing’s only commenter.

###

Posted Previously:

Tompkins Does It One Way; Enfield Another

Public Transparency and the ARPA Awards Process

Posted by Robert Lynch; May 13, 2022

“I think the Town Board is going to wish that they’d put that $348,000 in the center of town and burned it.”

A well-known Enfield leader in an email to this Councilperson, April 14th.

****

Shawna Black

On Tuesday, May third, the Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature appointed a committee to assist its consultant in awarding funds under the “Community Recovery Fund,” Tompkins County Government’s back-door answer to the federal American Rescue Plan (ARPA).  Some three weeks earlier, the Enfield Town Board established its own, citizen-based ARPA Advisory Committee. Which of these committees will be open to public view, and which will stay locked behind closed zoom-room doors?  Take a guess.

On this more recent night, Chair Shawna Black appointed the County Recovery Advisory Committee’s five members.  Danby Legislator Dan Klein will chair the group.  Legislators Lee Shurtleff, Anne Koreman, Veronica Pillar, and Black, herself, will join Klein.  As the appointments were read, Budget Committee Chair Deborah Dawson, attending remotely from her often-frequented living room couch, waved desperately to get Black’s attention.

“There’s an important distinction to be made,” Dawson sought to clarify.  “This is not a committee.  This is a Working Group.”  (Working Groups, it seems, meet in secret.)

“No, Deb,” Black said to correct, “It actually is a committee.”  The Chair explained she’d reclassified the panel following conversations with County Attorney Bill Troy.  And she did it for a reason. 

“Isn’t it a Working Group?” No, Deb. It’s a “committee;” where sunlight shines aplenty, said Chair Shawna Black.

“Ideally,” Black stated, “we really want to make sure it’s as transparent as possible to the people applying, to our community, so that they understand the conversations.  And we should not be having the conversations behind closed doors.”

“So we will have staff there,” the Legislature’s Chair continued.  “It will be available on zoom.  We will have to have somewhat of an agenda in order for us to be as transparent as possible with this process.”

Enfield Supervisor Stephanie Redmond, you could learn a lesson from Shawna Black’s tip of the scales to transparency.  So, too, could three other members of our Town Board.  I suggest Black conduct a seminar of sorts.  But when you meet, you need not necessarily invite me, although I’d gladly attend.  You see, I’m already a convert to the cleansing power of legislative sunlight.

Tompkins County has some $6.5 Million to give out in its first round of the Recovery Fund.  We in Enfield hold a meager $348,000 in ARPA promises.  We must spend our money wisely.  We must do so fairly.  We cannot satisfy every applicant’s request.  We cannot make everyone happy.  But neither should we make anyone mad.  That, my friends; my constituents, will be a challenge.  Given how we’ve framed the process at the start, I fear this will not end well.  Worst case, it could tear our community apart—yet again.

At our Town Board’s April 13th meeting, over my lone objection, our Board created the “2022 American Rescue Plan Act Advisory Committee.”  Initially numbering eight members, but already growing, the Enfield ARPA Committee is populated by a mix of prominent local residents and chosen elected officers.  Supervisor Redmond appointed herself to the committee.  She also named Councilperson Jude Lemke.  The committee will meet in private.  Nonetheless, after its first session, it did release meeting minutes, an encouraging sign. 

The Board gave the Advisory Committee a mission: “to increase engagement with residents” and “to advise the (Town) Board on how to expend these funds.”  One easily sees the committee as a funding gatekeeper; as a first point of triage.  It will likely sort through and order agency funding requests, and presumably do so in confidence.  Most recently, it has sought to marshal others—including me—to identify backup options for applicant support; to seek matching funds and maybe to write grant proposals.  Well, that’s a new one for me. 

Most troubling, however, the committee elevates the opinions of just two Town Board members above those of the other three.  It heightens their power and prominence.  The double-standard created only reopens a wound torn wide by past controversies.  It allows critics to envision the specter of an Enfield “Shadow Government.”  Moreover, it provokes jealousy and envy when collegiality and equality of input should prevail.

As one prominent—and I will respectfully leave unnamed—Enfield community leader wrote me the morning after the committee’s formation:

“This reminds me so much of a happy family that ends up hating each other once the parents die and money and possessions need to be divided, greed!  This committee has got the potential to be the worst mud throwing committee I have seen in a while.”

My constituent was not through. “I think the town board is going to wish that they put that $348,000 in the center of town and burned it.”

That, my community, is not a good start.

At the “Public Forum,” that began our April 13th meeting—our Board chose not to assign it the formality of a “Hearing”—we invited comment on how Enfield’s $348,000 in ARPA funds should be spent.  Worthy agencies stepped forward; three in particular. 

  • The Enfield Volunteer Fire Company sought $207,000, the vast majority of it, $194,579, requested to construct new facilities to house up to six Fire or EMS personnel in what’s commonly called a “bunk room.” The goal is to speed response time and increase manpower for emergency calls.  A much smaller portion of the requested total, $8,500 would update the company’s aging audio/visual training equipment.  The request also included two lesser items.
  • The Enfield Food Pantry, in an appeal supplemented by a petition bearing 137 names, sought $150,000 to acquire property as the site for an expanded Food Pantry and Community Garden.
  • The Enfield Community Council asked for moneys to underwrite as many as four projects at its new community center:  1) to replace its roof; 2) to install an emergency generator; 3) to upgrade its kitchen to commercial grade, capable of serving every Enfield resident two meals per day under emergencies; and 4) to replace a water-damaged, attached trailer with a permanent “teen space” addition.  ECC officials did not supply cost figures at the forum that night, but the generator’s installation estimate has since come in at $66,000. 

One additional commenter mentioned headstone maintenance at town cemeteries. Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins urged funds be spent on the Town’s “inner-structure,” presumably Highway Department facilities.  Rollins argued inner-structure investments would benefit “all the people of the town,” not just a few.

“Obviously, the requests we’re getting exceed the amount of money that is available,” observed Councilperson Lemke.  “So it’s not going to be possible to accommodate everybody, and it’s going to be a tough choice.”

And there lies the problem.  Enfield is a small town.  Neighbors know neighbors.  Our intimacy can work to bring us all together or with equal strength to pull us each apart.  As consultant Ronald Mendrick wrote last year about Enfield, in a report commissioned and paid for by Enfield:

“The consensus of the information gathered is that the Town has a long history of controversial relations at meetings and among some Town officials who have in some instances come and gone…. The history of controversy as reported by many includes yelling and profanity at Board meetings, disrespectful comments back and forth among the public and public officials, attribution by some that others have personal, political, and/or unseemly motives, and much less than civil relations.”

So to avoid the errors of the past, we must not tempt ourselves to revisit the places of the past where dissention and hostility breed.   And one of the surest ways to step temptation’s way is to create the slightest perception that Enfield’s voters have assigned a few of their elected leaders or, perhaps, one or more of their high-profile service agencies special privilege and influence over others.  That’s my worry.

The EVFC would like $194,000 to build a “bunk room,” one of several big-ticket proposals advanced to use Enfield’s ARPA funds.

“The Town Board is going to have the ultimate authority in deciding where the funds go,” Supervisor Redmond reminded us all as the funding forum concluded.  “They are just an advisory committee that brings information next to the Town Board,” she insisted.

Maybe so.  But opinions matter.  And just as Justice Alito’s leaked draft marked the Supreme Court majority’s course in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, so, too, will the Enfield ARPA Committee’s final preferences impact subsequent Town Board decisions.

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I had a plan that April Enfield night, at a meeting that for many reasons and on many levels I’d rather block from memory.  Note that it’s taken me a month to re-visit the audio archives and retrieve the exact quotes to reconstruct the narrative.  It was a meeting better forgotten than recalled.  We, Enfield’s Town Board, did not serve you well that night.

I held no doubt that the Board’s majority would create the ARPA Advisory Committee, whatever I said.  But prominent voices urged me to seek change.  They advised me to purge the committee of elected officials. They instructed me to strip politics from deliberations as much as I could.  When lay citizens calmly weigh the facts, finding no need to posture or to troll for votes, a more equitable, even-tempered outcome may blossom.  So I had hoped.

I offered my carefully-crafted substitute resolution that would have reconstructed the ARPA Committee.  As often occurs, my amendment died for lack of a second.  I then opposed forming the committee altogether.  I had no other choice

But before the final vote, I offered a second amendment; one shorter, and one Shawna Black would have liked:

“Resolved, that all meetings of the American Rescue Plan Act Advisory Committee shall be open to the public, properly noticed and recorded, with public attendance and participation not only permitted, but also encouraged.”

Likewise, of course, only silence greeted my motion.  No second; no action.  Yet I was not through.  Our audio record will confirm the words I then spoke—and with passion.  As you can tell, I was not pleased:

“I will be very respectful of our Civility Resolution, so I will not say things that I might like to say but don’t think it‘s appropriate to say.  But it’s inappropriate that we have meetings that will be closed evaluating this funding mechanism, and that only two of the five Board members will be permitted to participate in those closed meetings.

“We have a Double-Standard Town Board, where some are more favored than others.  And the Supervisor always makes sure she sits on the committee and always picks a favorite Councilperson to sit on the committee, specifically excluding others, including this speaker. 

“And I think the people of Enfield are sick and tired of it.  It smells like a springtime skunk.  And people can smell it all the way from Van Ostrand Road to Iradell; from Buck Hill Road to Sheffield.  And I’ll tell you; this is going to end because people are dissatisfied with it.  And this has the potential—for all the work we’ve done in the past two, three, four years to pull this Town together— the wrong way to handle this procedure has the way to rip this Town apart, and put one institution, one organization; pit it against another for funding.  And I don’t want to see that happen.

“That was why I wanted to have the Committee be of civilians only; of non-politicians only, who would sit in private, perhaps, and review these applications, and come to us as a group of citizens, not politicians, and say to us, ‘This is what we recommend, and this is how we want to parse this money out to this agency, this organization—maybe give this organization more than this other organization.’  And it would keep us as a Town Board from tearing this community apart.

“But I tell you, this is going to be a bad thing; to have this kind of committee with two of five Board members on it, and only two, to make these recommendations, and it’s going to seem like a stacked deck.  And I will vote against this Resolution.”

And I did.  But why, then, did I later smile when Shawna Black, weeks later, made her pitch for transparency and set Deborah Dawson straight?

Good luck to the Enfield ARPA Committee.  I wish you well.  I will work with you.  I welcome reading your minutes.  I trust you will be fair… and objective.  Yet I wish I could meet with you as you meet, and do so in real-time.  Or in the alternative, I would wish each of our five Town Board members were kept equally in the dark until your recommendation is ready.  Neither option will occur.  I know that.  I regret that.  I only hope that we as a community of friends can survive this ordeal.  If we do not, Uncle Sam, you did us no favor.  Take your money back.

Bob Lynch

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A Tool for the Toolbox:

“Wracking our Brains” to Find a Firefighter

Essay, Posted May 15, 2022

“It’s a small price to pay for the benefits you derive.” As I addressed the County Legislature April 5th.

This Councilperson, Robert Lynch, as I addressed the Tompkins County Legislature April 5th on a new Enfield initiative:

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“We have a problem in Enfield with too few people volunteering for the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company and its Rescue Squad.  And we’re trying to solve that problem. 

“Last December first, Governor Hochul signed a law that permitted Monroe County to provide a ten per cent (10%) real estate tax exemption to volunteer firefighter or emergency workers who have been part of a volunteer organization within that county, Monroe County, for at least two years.  And as far as I know, Tompkins County doesn’t have a similar law on the books….  I won’t get into the details, but there is some brake on that system for that exemption.  But it’s a good exemption, and we’d like to have it here….

“If sought by your Legislature and approved by the State, the exemption would not just benefit Enfield, but every volunteer fire company in Tompkins County, whether it be Dryden or Groton or Danby or Trumansburg; wherever.

“I know these initiatives, because you’re cutting the assessment for some, might raise the taxes a trifle for others.  But I think that’s a small price to pay—a small price to pay—for the benefits that you derive by having a better, well-staffed volunteer fire service in this community.  And face it, it would cost a lot more if we, the rural communities, had to fund with our tax dollars, a paid fire department, or we had to contract with the City of Ithaca for fire services….”

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Credit my sister, Marcia Lynch, a former Volunteer Coordinator for the Ithaca Fire Department and a one-time contract instructor at the National Fire Academy, for prompting my curiosity.  She pointed me in mid-March to a story in the Finger Lakes Times that reported on Seneca County’s efforts to secure a similar exemption for its own volunteers.  The Seneca County Board of Supervisors quickly and unanimously approved the initiative April 12 and sent it on to the State.  I spoke briefly to the Seneca County Board that night and expressed Enfield’s interest.  Board members, in turn, encouraged me, Enfield, and Tompkins County to pursue the exemption as well.  Why, the Supervisors asked, would anyone oppose it?

Will a 10% assessment exemption attract and keep volunteers? Worth a try.

The next night, our Enfield Town Board adopted its own call to make the measure law.  On this matter, we all agreed, and I’m glad we did.  We, the five colleagues who serve you in this town, recognize how important a well-staffed EVFC is to our community and what it means to you. 

I’ve since taken our resolution to two county legislative committees, most importantly to the Government Operations Committee meeting on May 5th.  Legislative deliberations take time.  Lawmakers want to get the measure right.  But I sensed committee support.  Given that the New York State Legislature will likely adjourn in early-June, and that I’ve heard of no plans for a Special Session, expect no Albany approval until next year.  Be patient.

The Ithaca Voice has picked up on this story. https://ithacavoice.com/2022/05/amid-volunteer-crisis-enfield-pushing-for-a-tax-exemption-to-attract-emergency-responders/

The Voice reporter Jimmy Jordan asked me some questions about it.  Jordan later reported:

“Lynch said that he didn’t know if the property tax exemption is the best way to retain and incentivize volunteers to join Enfield’s EMS and fire services, ‘but it’s one way, and it’s a way that other communities and other counties have proposed and some have granted, and it’s worth a try.’”

And for this next moment, I’ll step aside and let reporter Jordan describe how the Government Operations Committee greeted our Enfield initiative May 5th:

The crisis of the volunteer shortage was recognized by many of the Legislators attending the committee meeting, including Legislators Lee Shurtleff (R-District 9), Travis Brooks (D-District 1), and Dan Klein (D-District 7).

“We have a real crisis here, which is the rural communities are losing ambulance service and fire service. It’s a fact. It’s widespread. I feel like we need to address it,” said Klein.

He added that he was in favor of the approach, but raised the issue that the exemption might not be “equitable,” since it only applies to and incentivizes property owners, but that this shouldn’t be a distraction from getting something done to address the problem.

“I am in favor of this approach. It doesn’t resolve everything. I don’t know if it’s completely equitable, and there’s a lot of things it maybe doesn’t do, but it does something,” said Klein

But committee discussions that day also raised whether equity demands New York expand its volunteer firefighter income tax credit, rather than a benefit restricted to property tax.  To that idea, Director of Assessment Jay Franklin had a warning.  Franklin cautioned that any expanded income tax break, as opposed to that for property assessments, would likely apply statewide.  Albany probably couldn’t particularize them to a single county.  One can easily foresee how the higher total cost of a statewide income tax cut would lessen the prospects for adoption.

But legislative mechanics aside, what we each should focus attention on is community need—the essential requirement for a robust, ready-at-the-moment Fire and EMS service; paralleled with the equal necessity to keep volunteer services truly volunteer so as not to break a local municipal budget, including Enfield’s.

“We’re wracking our brain in Enfield as to how to solve the problem,” I told the County Legislature April 5th.   And I more than welcomed my presumed three-minute Councilperson’s report expanding into a nearly 20-minute back-and-forth where legislators and I took a deep-dive into the recruitment plight facing emergency services.

“I agree with you completely, that the towns and villages are heading toward real crisis in their EMT service and in their firefighters,” said Public Safety Committee Chair Rich John.  “We should be thinking about doing something….” 

Admittedly, Rich John stood hesitant over the suggested remedy.  Granting property assessment exemptions alone, he warned, could leave volunteer firefighters who rent their abodes gaining nothing. 

I looked at the problem differently, and from my Enfield perspective.

“I think in Enfield, a lot of people are home owners to a certain extent, as opposed to renters,” I said.  And the exemption “may provide just a little more of a benefit when finances get tight, for people to say maybe this is a reason to volunteer.”

The Monroe County law that we in Enfield propose Tompkins County mimic would provide the ten per cent assessment exemption only to owner-occupied residential properties and only to Fire and EMS volunteers living within the community in whose district they serve.  It would extend benefits to retired volunteers.

At the April meeting, Dryden Legislator Mike Lane commended us in Enfield for advancing our idea.  And we do not stand alone. Lane said he’s discussed a similar benefit with his home town leaders at the Neptune Hose Company.

“This means a lot trying to figure out how to get more people involved in volunteer services,” Lane told our meeting.  Of fire company volunteers, he said, “They’re wonderful servants for our communities.  They are beloved in our communities.  And we hope that this or some other method like this will help add numbers of people to these rosters.”

“Volunteer firefighter numbers have shrunk to a fraction of what they used to be;” Groton Legislator Lee Shurtleff

Beloved they are; but dwindling too.  Groton legislator Lee Shurtleff, former President of the State Fire Chief’s Association and County Government’s retired Director of Emergency Response, shared figures showing that volunteer firefighting manpower countywide once stood as high as 1800, but has since dropped to nearly a third of that.  Shurtleff has taken up our cause.

The solution is “a piece of many things, and I would hope we would look at the full gamut,” Shurtleff told legislative colleagues in April.  And because the Enfield-preferred “Monroe County model” would permit benefits extended to reduce School Taxes “It’s the first property tax exemption that I’ve seen that has a potential to be of value to volunteers,” Shurtleff added.

****

Wednesday, May 11th, I gave our Enfield Town Board a status report. “I suspect the Government Operations Committee, which meets once monthly, may need several more meetings to finalize any resolution to convey to the County Legislature, and then the State,” I said.  “Apparently they—and we—have ample time to get this right.  Delayed legislation is better than no legislation at all.”

Mind you, I remain grounded.  This lone assessment exemption provides no miracle cure to volunteer recruitment’s ills.  It stands merely as one partial, potential solution among many.  It’s “one tool in our tool box,” I told someone.

Or as Jimmy Jordan quoted me in The Ithaca Voice, “I think the gain outweighs any pain.” 

Yes, I’d like to give it a try.

Bob Lynch

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