On November 11, 2020, our Enfield Town Board unanimously welcomed Michael Miles back to our Town Board. Miles previously served briefly, during 2016, as Councilperson, temporarily filling a one-year vacancy.
Here’s what I wrote about the appointment, including the words I quoted from others:
Michael Miles named to fill Enfield Councilperson Vacancy after straw poll split
by Robert Lynch, November 11, 2020; updated Nov. 12, 2020; 6:47 PM
Michael Miles wasn’t Stephanie Redmond’s first choice. But he was the favorite of the Enfield Town Board’s two other members.
So after a non-binding straw poll of sorts split two-to-one in Miles’ favor, the resignation-crippled Town Board of three voted unanimously Wednesday (Nov. 11th) to name Miles, an Aiken road information technology specialist, to fill the Board’s 14-month vacancy, the seat left open when Mimi Mehaffey resigned as Councilperson October 5th.
Councilpersons Virginia Bryant and Robert Lynch (this writer) made clear prior to the vote that they favored Miles because of his qualifications. Councilperson Redmond, now Enfield’s Acting Supervisor, said she favored the only other candidate, James Ricks, because he is African-American.
“It’s very important for us to walk the walk if we’re going to talk the talk,” Redmond told the Board. “I’m going to cast my vote for James because I do feel that we need to create a Board of inclusion.”
Prior to Wednesday’s vote at a Town Board zoom meeting that stretched three-and-a-half hours, former Supervisor Beth McGee—who resigned as Supervisor September 30th—weighed in as well. “I do like Michael Miles a great deal,” McGee acknowledged. But she made it clear she favored Ricks because of the racial diversity he’d bring to Enfield government.
“I’m literally sick to my stomach right now listening to this white-privilege excuse-making,” McGee said in admonishing her former Board colleagues. “When given an opportunity to use your white privilege to put an end to white supremacy in local town government… you decide to use your white privilege to put another white person in office. I’m stunned and so ashamed for this Board.”
Countering Bryant’s and Lynch’s argument that Miles was simply more qualified, McGee insisted both men were equally qualified in that the law requires only that an applicant be 18 years of age and an Enfield resident. Both men, she reasoned, satisfied the only standards that matter.
Wednesday’s vote ended more than a month with the Enfield Board holding only the bare minimum number of members required to transact business. Should any member have become ill or otherwise unavailable, the Board would have fallen short of the legal quorum.
Miles and the 71-year old Ricks, who describes himself as an “activist,” were the only two people to file expressions of interest with the Enfield Board by its November 4th deadline. Each described his qualifications and expressed his interest to serve at the Town Board’s October 27th meeting. Each did so again Wednesday. Each indicated they’d be comfortable were Board members to choose the other candidate.
Voicing her preference for Miles, Bryant recalled how she’d served with him when he previously held a one-year Councilperson’s appointment in 2016.
Miles service occurred during the contentious Black Oak Wind farm debate. Carrying that recollection to the current moment, Bryant said, “I really feel that Mike would fit in with what we need right now.”
For his part, Lynch, in a prepared statement, said the Board needs the benefit of Miles’ experience.
“We need someone who knows a little bit about Town Government, who can hit the ground running; who need not be instructed about the rules of basic Parliamentary Procedure, Budget schedules, or what it means to sign the monthly vouchers,” Lynch said. He noted that only Bryant has served on the Board for more than a year. Lynch and Redmond joined the Board last January.
As the Rothermich Road resident acknowledged in his prior presentation, Ricks repeated Wednesday that “it will take me a minute to get up to speed,” to master the ways of town government.
Lynch commended Ricks’ honesty at the last meeting for saying, “I figure that if I get the job, I’ll read the pamphlet.”
“But, sadly, there is no “pamphlet,” said Lynch. “The only true pamphlet is experience.”
Meanwhile, Ricks pointed to the diversity he’d bring the Board. “I know who’s going to speak out for the majority point of view,” he stated. “But the non-white person’s point of view; who’s going to speak for them?”
Urging support for Ricks, Ulysses-Enfield County Legislator Anne Koreman—though not a resident of the Town—took the occasion to suggest “privilege” had accorded Miles the opportunities that now provide him his preferential experience, and that “to level the playing field,” Ricks deserves similar opportunities.
Koreman, who knows Ricks, credited him with passion, adding, “It really takes a lot of passion and caring about people and thinking about who else is not sitting at the table. So if you look around the room, who else is not there?”
Several in Wednesday’s virtual meeting, including Redmond, Bryant, and McGee, maintained that the best solution would be the one repeatedly out of reach; namely elevating Redmond to full-fledged Supervisor, thereby opening up Redmond’s vacated council seat for the other man’s appointment. Lynch, whose vote has been required up to now, has resisted Redmond’s elevation, saying voters want to choose the Supervisor, not have the Board do it.
However, one commenter, Michael Boggs, who lives in Ulysses, not Enfield, and serves there as a Town Councilperson, urged Redmond to break with legal advice and vote to elevate herself, a move that would circumvent Lynch’s objection. No one Wednesday attempted to execute Boggs’ idea.
Michael Miles is scheduled to take his oath of office Friday, November 13th. He’ll join in Town Board deliberations at its next meeting, November 18th.
In other business Wednesday:
- Councilpersons Redmond and Lynch revealed that negotiators for the Town and the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company (EVFC) reached tentative agreement Monday on a new, three-year contract that would replace the pact that expires at year’s end. Terms would keep basic compensation to the EVFC unchanged in 2021, but increase it by increments of two per cent (2%) in each of 2022 and 2023. Additionally, the Town would provide the Fire Company sums of $35,000 in 2021 and 2022, and $10,000 in 2023 to purchase fire-protective outerwear for volunteers. The Town Board has already appropriated the “turnout gear” allocation in next year’s Town Budget.
- The Board and Highway Superintendent Barry (Buddy) Rollins could be headed toward a breakthrough compromise in reinstating the highway worker’s job cut controversially in next year’s Town Budget. Rollins Wednesday proposed the Town move $50,000 from General Fund reserves to keep the fifth worker employed. Two members rejected Rollins’ idea, but suggested the possible alternative of tapping similar reserves from the Highway Fund. The Board will revisit the proposal in December.
Note: Board of Elections records confirm that Michael Boggs, who addressed the Enfield Town Board, serves as an elected Ulysses Councilperson. Boggs did not disclose his elected status in his comments before the Enfield Board. This updated story recognizes Boggs’ status./ RL
Why I Supported Michael Miles
As often occurs in this world of COVID and Zoom. I’ve never met Michael Miles face to face, except, perhaps, last year on the campaign trail. My records show he signed my Independent (non-Democrat) One Enfield petition for Town Councilperson. Then, ironically perhaps, he put up lawn signs for the other guys.
To me, it matters not. Wednesday, November 11th, I endorsed, voted for, and thereby helped select Michael Miles as our newest Enfield Councilperson.
It was a tough decision. An eager, passionate alternative stood in waiting. His selection would have added racial diversity to our Board. At least one of my Board colleagues supported him. She had her reasons. I had mine.
What follows is the statement I read to our Board before I cast my vote:
First things first. We as a Town Board should seek racial, ethnic, and gender diversity within our ranks—and yes, political diversity as well. We who are white are wisely counseled that racial prejudice can find its home deep within us—even when we might otherwise believe we’ve been cleansed of that impurity.
Our selection tonight forces us to confront diversity directly. So, the first effort I undertook when balancing the qualifications for office of these two aspiring candidates and evaluating their fitness to serve was to recognize my propensity for prejudice. I may not be capable of cleansing my person of that pernicious toxin. But to me, its recognition serves as the poison’s best antidote.
Were we faced tonight with candidates presenting equal—or close-to-equal—qualifications for municipal service, I would in the spirit of diversity and Affirmative Action, elevate a racial minority to our ranks. It would be an honor to nominate and then vote for someone—regardless of party; irrespective of politics—, who would, most likely, become the first African-American to serve on the Enfield Town Board.
James Ricks, I hope you will join us to participate in making Enfield a better place. You told us last meeting that when you first arrived in Enfield some 16 years ago, you saw “trucks driving around with Confederate flags on them.” You also saw those flags on houses. You thought, “Man, this is going to be a rough place to live.”
James, on behalf of all of us in Enfield, including the members of this Town Board who I’m certain stand more enlightened than were those prejudiced few you saw, I’d like to apologize to you and to your family for the misbehavior of others who may, for all I know, still call Enfield their home. If you ever see that conduct again, please tell us, tell me. Racial bigotry should find no safe harbor in Enfield.
Meanwhile, I stand fully aware of the challenges our Town Board faces at this instant in our long governing history. Our Supervisor has resigned, followed only five days later by a second member of her Town Board. Only one of us who remains holds tenure longer than twelve months.
First and foremost, we need experience. We need someone who knows a little bit about Town Government, who can hit the ground running; who need not be instructed about the rules of basic Parliamentary Procedure, Budget schedules, or what it means to sign the monthly vouchers.
Michael Miles, you served on this same Town Board in 2016. You’ve told us one of your top priorities is to take a “deep dive” on the budget; to “see any way we could put out more money or look at ways to increase our tax base without increasing our tax rates.”
You say, “We don’t get the benefits of being next to an Ivy League institution. We don’t have big box stores or lakeside homes. We can’t move a lake next to us. But maybe there’s something we can do to look at the budget in ways to figure out how to keep it going,”
As for our former Supervisor, to her credit, she knew the workings of the budget and municipal finance. In that regard, Beth made the trains run on time. Her departure to address greater challenges leaves a hole in Enfield Government that we who remain stand duty-bound to plug.
Michael Miles, you, like Stephanie and me, may be a governmental novice of sorts—you only served one year—yet our Town Hall is not foreign to you. And Virginia and others on our governing team have worked with you. I’d welcome working with you as well. You come recommended by several I’ve talked with who’ve governed by your side when you served.
You’ve told us you attended “numerous meetings”—presumably during your former tenure—“when there were shouting matches back and forth” on this Town Board. You didn’t like them. I don’t blame you. Neither do I.
You say you “would reach out to Buddy, Ellen and other Town officials and try to get understanding from their point of view.” Good. Because, as it’s said, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”
Meanwhile, James, you were brutally honest with yourself last meeting. “I don’t know much about government,” you said, adding, “I figure that if I get the job, I’ll read the pamphlet.”
But, sadly, there is no “pamphlet.” The only true pamphlet is experience.
Two-thirds of our current Board has held office for less than a year. Yes, I covered my first Town Board meeting as a reporter exactly 50 years ago. But I’m still learning. And before assuming this office, I attended virtually every Enfield Town Board meeting for a full year. It helps. I would recommend you do the same.
But moreover, I would urge you to join one of our Town Committees; on the environment, on community services, whatever suits your interests. And yes, please consider running for a seat on this Town Board in 2021. Petitioning should start little more than three months from now.
Whichever candidate a plurality of our Town Board prefers tonight to fill the Mimi Mehaffey vacancy I will support. We need to fill this vacancy and fill it tonight.
But I believe we must place experience and readiness to serve as our first priorities. Therefore, I would endorse Michael Miles as my preferred candidate for Councilperson.
Beth McGee resigned as Enfield Supervisor September 30th. Wednesday, November 11th, during the Enfield Town Board’s discussion and subsequent vote toward selecting its newest Councilperson to fill a vacancy for the next 14 months, McGee weighed in with her opinions.
Whereas a plurality of Town Board members preferred Michael Miles to fill the vacancy—and the Town Board subsequently appointed Miles to the position unanimously—ex-Supervisor McGee made it clear she’d favor Miles’ arguably less experienced alternative, namely the other candidate who applied, African-American James Ricks.
What follows is a verbatim transcript of McGee’s remarks, taken from the meeting’s audio minutes:
“I’m literally sick to my stomach right now listening to this white-privilege excuse-making. I honestly—I’m so upset. When given an opportunity to use your white privilege to put an end to white supremacy in local Town Government in a town I’ve lived in for over 40 years, before it is 200 years old next year, you decide to use your white privilege to put another white person in office. I, I’m—Actually, I’m stunned and so ashamed for this Board if that is the course that you take.
[Referring to Town Clerk Ellen Woods’ opinion that Michael Miles, an Independent, not affiliated with any party, holds a political disadvantage in Enfield politics]:
“Elections are popularity contests. And the idea that the Town Clerk would suggest that an Independent has a lower shot than a person of color to be elected in a town where one has never been elected or appointed in local office is absurd. It is absolutely absurd.
“And I would contest Robert’s [Robert Lynch’s] comments that racial bigotry has no harbor in our town, or should have no harbor in our town. And I would point to this Town Board meeting for evermore to contrast that. And that is all I have to say….
“Except for: I do like Mike Miles a great deal, and he actually was appointed to serve a time on the Board when—to fill my elected seat when I moved for a year. And Mike, I think you’re fantastic, and I really valued the way that you stood up to the Black Oak Wind Farm, and really worked hard at looking into those issues.
“But I know James Ricks, and I know his commitment; the passion to the things that are important to him. He has been an activist for a very long time and worked really hard to make change in the world, and his qualifications are actually exactly the same as what Mile Miles is [offering]. Because the qualifications are only two: A resident and 18 or over. So those are the qualifications you should be looking at there.
“And I’d really like to see some real change in Enfield.”