July 2020 TCCOG Report

Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) Report

For the Enfield Town Board

July 8, 2020

By:  Robert Lynch, Enfield TCCOG Representative

The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) met virtually June 25th.  Detailed presentations included those from its Water Quality Subcommittee and its Energy Subcommittee.  No TCCOG Resolutions flowed from either report.  Of note from the Water Quality Subcommittee, a long-range goal is the appointment of an intermunicipal watershed administrator to coordinate regulations affecting the Cayuga Lake watershed.

As it stands, the municipal authorities that draw water from Cayuga Lake hold the regulatory authority.  While the subcommittee expressed the desire that regulations be updated so as to “have regulatory teeth,” the presenter acknowledged there remain “power struggles at the State level,” and that enacting any change will be “a long process.”

TCCOG took two major actions, the first of which I initiated with the assistance of Dryden County Legislator Martha Robertson.  TCCOG unanimously recommended that the County Legislature reconsider a Resolution on which it had deadlocked at its June 16th meeting.  The Resolution, if adopted, would have speeded redistricting of the County Legislature by authorizing the County Attorney to write a Local Law to temporarily shorten legislative terms, thereby allowing a redistricted Legislature to take its seat as soon as January 2024, rather than in January 2026. 

All seats in the County Legislature come up for election in 2021.  Under TCCOG’s favored plan, the one earlier recommended by the County Legislature’s Government Operations Committee, legislative terms of office elected next year would run for only two years, not the customary four.  An alternative plan, recommended by Legislator Mike Lane of Dryden, would cut next year’s elected terms to just one year.  Lane’s option found less support within the Legislature’s overall membership.  Legislators have agreed they will not have 2020 census data in time to redistrict next year.  Lane has warned that if nothing is done, he’ll initiate steps toward imposing weighted voting. Legislators Lane and Robertson, as well as TCCOG and I, all support reapportioning the Legislature sooner rather than later.

With one exception, the Legislature’s tie vote in June effectively killed the speedy reapportionment initiative.  However, with procedural deadlines approaching, members could reconsider.  Last night (Tuesday, July 7th), the County Legislature’s Chair invited her colleagues to reconsider their earlier action, as TCCOG had recommended.  I’d submitted a written comment on behalf of TCCOG and myself urging they do so.  Only those who’d voted last month not to proceed with the local law were permitted to move reconsideration last night.  No one did.  Therefore, as it stands, the County Legislature will almost certainly remain with its current—and presumably imbalanced—districts through at least the end of 2025.

The second TCCOG action recommended that Governor Cuomo extend his Executive Order suspending portions of the New York Open Meetings Law so as to continue online public meetings. As reflected in the recorded minutes, the TCCOG Resolution requested the Governor extend the directive beyond July 6th—which he subsequently did—and grant “the ability for local municipal governments to allow attendance of meetings remotely that would continue to allow for a combination of attendance in-person and remotely at meetings.”

The Resolution passed unanimously with one abstention, mine.  I have no quarrel with the language now stated in the TCCOG Minutes.  However, that day’s TCCOG discussion gave me the impression that membership had called for a more permanent relaxation of the State’s Open Meetings Law, one that could permit virtual municipal meetings in perpetuity.  I could not support that degree of sweeping change.  Nor did I have specific authorization from our Town Board to speak for the Town of Enfield so as to endorse permanent abandonment of in-person meetings.

During discussion, the Resolution’s sponsor, Caroline Supervisor Mark Witmer, touted the benefits of virtual meetings.  He spoke to its many “positive effects.”  “There’s a lot less paper and a lot less driving,” he said.  Members talked of urging permanent legislative change.  Not knowing the precise boundaries of TCCOG’s initiative, I abstained and will do so unless and until this Town Board expresses a clear directive and TCCOG remains within its boundaries.

I expect that the TCCOG Transportation Subcommittee, which I chair, will hold its first meeting later this month.  I’ve proposed we use County Legislative Chambers.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert A. Lynch, Councilperson