The following stories were posted on the Bob’s Local Reporting webpage with datelines during May and June 2019:
Ellen Woods secures Democratic nomination for Enfield Clerk; McGee widens lead for Supervisor
by Robert Lynch, Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Ellen Woods secured the Democratic nomination for Enfield Town Clerk Wednesday (June 26th), based on a count of absentee and affidavit ballots at the Tompkins County Board of Elections. The afternoon ballot count also widened incumbent Beth McGee’s lead over challenger Amanda Kirchgessner in the Democratic Party race for Enfield Town Supervisor.
Meanwhile, the count of seven absentee and two affidavit ballots left races for Enfield Councilperson essentially unchanged from the machine totals released at the close of Tuesday’s primary. Councilperson candidates Robert Lynch and Stephanie Redmond will advance to the November General Election as Democratic nominees, each maintaining comfortable leads over two other candidates.
At the close of machine voting Tuesday, Ellen Woods’ vote total for Clerk stood at 103. She’d led her opponent, Mary Cornell, by just one vote. Wednesday’s count of absentee and affidavit ballots, however, added six votes to Woods’ total, but only two votes to Cornell’s. As a result, Woods secured the Democratic nomination with 109 votes (51.2%), compared to Cornell’s 104 (48.8%).
Three absentee ballots, mailed out by the Board of Elections, have yet to be returned, and may legally be received by the Board until next Tuesday, July 2nd. But even if all three outstanding ballots were cast for Cornell, the Town Clerk’s nomination results would not change.
In the Democratic race for Town Supervisor, Beth McGee widened her lead over Kirchgessner by securing six of the newly-opened ballots compared to Kirchgessner two. The results leave the incumbent with 147 votes (66.2%) to Kirchgessner’s 75 (33.8%).
In the four-way race for two Councilperson positions, Stephanie Redmond secured the biggest vote gain in the Wednesday ballot opening. Redmond gained seven votes, Lynch two, Darren McGee four, and Paul Norman three.
The additional votes left Lynch (this writer) in the lead with 142 votes, Redmond next with 132, Darren McGee with 80, and Paul Norman with 72. Since two Councilperson seats are up for election, Lynch and Redmond will each enter the fall race as a Democratic nominee.
Based on filings to date, each of the candidates for Supervisor, Councilperson and Clerk will still compete in the fall as each has secured an additional ballot line. Therefore, Tuesday’s primary election results determined only who will carry the Democratic Party’s nomination. The primary did not eliminate any candidate from the fall ballot.
Wednesday’s review of the Enfield absentee and affidavit ballots was uneventful. Supervisor McGee, Town Clerk candidate Woods, and Lynch (this writer) attended. There were no objections or challenges. All submitted ballots were accepted and counted.
Enfield Town Board Weighs Ending Burial Plot Sales at Town Cemeteries
by Robert Lynch, June 17, 2019
A majority of Enfield Town Board members Monday (June 17th) voiced support for eventually ending the sale of burial or cremation plots at Enfield’s four town-owned cemeteries.
Members’ discussion followed the Board’s rescission of a contract approved only last Wednesday (June 12th) for the mowing of those four cemeteries by a private contractor, an owner of which is the Town Supervisor’s stepson.
B & B Lawn Services, owned in part by Brandon McGee, had initially offered to mow the cemeteries monthly for $600 per mow, or $3,600 total including a mowing in May it had already completed. But B & B withdrew acceptance of the Town’s contract, according to Supervisor Beth McGee, because B & B had not been aware that the contract would include mowing the cemeteries’ older back areas. After rescinding the B & B contract, the Town Board accepted the only remaining mowing offer it had received, that of Matt Lincoln. Lincoln’s offer is 50 per cent higher than B & B’s, or $4,500 for the remainder of the year.
The substitution of mowing contractors, the only agenda item for Monday’s hastily-called Town Board Meeting, led to a free-wheeling, largely informal member discussion as to whether and how the Town could extricate itself from the cemetery business. At least three Board Members, namely Supervisor McGee, and Councilpersons Michael Carpenter and Mimi Mehaffey, voiced support for winding down burial plot sales. Carpenter moved an impromptu resolution, seconded by McGee, to limit sales to cremation plots only, to price them at $50 apiece, and perhaps to end those sales after two years.
Mehaffey said she’d prefer to “vote on it” now and only later “work on the details.”
At that point, Supervisor McGee acknowledged Town Councilperson candidate Robert Lynch (this writer), the only member of the general public to attend. Lynch argued that in his opinion immediate action by the Board would be inappropriate since the cemetery closure item had not been placed on the agenda and the public had not been accorded an opportunity to comment.
Following Lynch’s statement, Board members tabled action on the resolution, and Carpenter later apologized to both Lynch and to the Board for having failed to follow established Town procedure.
Board members, nonetheless, did indicate that the cessation of burial plot sales would be discussed at the Board’s next meeting and perhaps voted on at the meeting thereafter.
Deputy Town Clerk Sue Thompson, a member of the Town’s Cemetery Advisory Committee, estimates that approximately 80 burial plots remain for sale, all in the “Christian” cemetery on Enfield Main Road. The Town’s other cemeteries, “Presbyterian,” “Rolfe” and “Budd” cemeteries, have few, if any, remaining plots for sale, she said.
As for maintenance, aside from one mowing before Memorial Day, the town’s cemeteries have not otherwise been mowed this year and are now heavily overgrown. Supervisor McGee acknowledged public concern, saying, “It’s pretty amazing the number of people that are complaining,” despite the fact that “they don’t want to be told what to do with their own yards.”
McGee urged more people to volunteer for cemetery cleanup and repair.
Town Board Rejects Candidate’s Offer, Approves Spending for Cemetery Maintenance
by Robert Lynch, June 13, 2019
The Enfield Town Board Wednesday night (June 12th) approved a contract to resume the mowing of four town cemeteries for the remainder of 2019. In so doing, the Board rejected an offer by Town Supervisor candidate Amanda Kirchgessner to mow the cemeteries herself for little or nothing.
By a vote of 3-0 (Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey was absent), the Town Board selected B & B Lawn Services, the apparent low bidder, to mow the four cemeteries monthly at a rate of $600 per mow. Brandon McGee, Town Supervisor Beth McGee’s stepson, is an owner of B & B. Supervisor McGee abstained from the vote selecting B & B as the preferred contractor. However, the Supervisor did vote on a unanimous measure to approve terms of the contract under which Brandon McGee’s service would operate.
The issue of cemetery maintenance first confronted the town in May after Supervisor McGee informed the Board that the Town’s Highway Superintendent had informed her that his department was no longer interested in mowing the plots. Highway Superintendent Barry (Buddy) Rollins had agreed to provide his staff to mow the cemeteries during 2018. At the time, Town Minutes had never stated that Rollins’ commitment would be limited to one year. The Highway Superintendent has never stated publicly his reason for declining to mow the cemeteries during 2019.
During the Board’s introductory Privilege of the Floor, Supervisor candidate Amanda Kirchgessner rose to offer her personal services to mow the cemeteries. Kirchgessner did not address potential compensation in detail. However, she implied she would expect only nominal compensation, if any payment at all.
Before the Board’s votes, Supervisor McGee, Kirchgessner’s opponent, rejected Kirchgessner’s offer of assistance.
“Having a volunteer is not an appropriate way to do it,” Supervisor McGee said. She added, “If [the volunteer] was a cemetery association, it would be different…. We began the process [of contracting for mowing services], and we need to use this process.”
During the contractual discussions, McGee was critical of her Town’s Government having to shoulder the cost of cemetery maintenance. McGee insisted that she holds no firm opinions on the issue, nor allows it to occupy much of her mind. Nonetheless, McGee said she resents people burying their dead in a cemetery and then abandoning the parcels for the Town to maintain.
The four small town cemeteries have been mowed only once so far this year, shortly before Memorial Day, when the same firm, B & B, was contracted on a one-time basis. Town Clerk Alice Linton confirmed to the Board Wednesday that relatives of those buried in some of the cemeteries have complained to her about the overgrown conditions.
The contract terms, approved Wednesday night, envision once-per-month mowing of the four cemeteries from June through October. The total cost for the six mowings (including May’s) would be $3,600. No provision has been made for maintenance during 2020.
Only two mowing bids were received by the Town in its Request for Proposals. The higher bidder, that of Matt Lincoln, would have cost the town 50 per cent more, or $900 per month.
Town Board Delays Setting Date for Public Hearing on Solar Law
by Robert Lynch, June 13, 2019
The Enfield Town Board Wednesday (June 12th) delayed setting the date for a Public Hearing on a new Local Law to regulate commercial solar energy installations.
While Town Supervisor Beth McGee stated that her original intention was to have set the Public Hearing for the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting on July 10th, McGee and other Board members concluded that more time was needed to resolve minor provisions of the new Solar Law. Those issues, McGee expects, will be settled at a special working meeting of the Town Board now planned for Monday, July 1st.
Town officials indicated that the most likely revised Public Hearing date would be August 14th, though no specific date was set.
At a Special Town Board meeting May 29th, members reviewed a 12-page draft of the solar regulations, a draft handed up by the town’s Renewable Energy Advisory Committee. At the time, the Town Board’s modifications to the Committee’s recommendations were minor. Councilperson Michael Carpenter, who sits on both the Town Board and the Advisory Committee, predicted Wednesday that public comment on the Solar Law at a future hearing would be limited. Carpenter quipped that sometimes hearings are opened, then closed, within minutes if not seconds.
Less certain, however, is a timetable toward a Public Hearing and subsequent adoption of the more detailed, and likely controversial, law to regulate commercial and individual wind facilities. The Board gave further indication Wednesday that the Wind Law would likely not be ready for adoption before a Town Moratorium on both commercial wind and solar facilities is set to expire August 31st.
The wind and solar moratoria, originally set to last only one year, were imposed in June 2017. They have been extended twice, and Supervisor McGee has previously stated she does not support further extensions. Others, including Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey, not in attendance Wednesday, have warned expiration of the Wind Moratorium without a tougher law in place, could leave Enfield unprotected.
Supervisor McGee gave no indication Wednesday whether she might modify her prior stance in view of the increasing likelihood of the Wind Law’s delayed adoption.
Enfield Town Board Proceeds Toward Finalizing New Wind and Solar Laws
by Robert Lynch, May 30, 2019
For three hours Wednesday evening, May 29th, four members of the Enfield Town Board held a working session on alternative energy issues. (Councilperson Mike Carpenter was absent.) The meeting’s primary purpose was to review, edit and revise draft submissions of proposed town Wind and Solar Laws, drafts submitted by the town’s Renewable Energy Advisory Committee.
The Town Board took no formal action on either draft proposal. Wednesday’s review of the proposed Wind Law was not completed in the time allotted. Discussion will continue next month. No persons spoke during the Board’s Privilege of the Floor.
Board members’ discussion during the session made it clear that the Wind Law, as opposed to the Solar Law, is by far the more controversial. Members also suggested that the Wind Law will not be ready for adoption before the Town’s twice-extended Moratorium on Commercial Wind and Solar Energy Facilities (the “Moratorium”) expires at the end of this August. In the opinion of one leading Councilperson involved in the Wind Law’s formulation, Mimi Mehaffey, the Wind Law may not be ready for adoption until December.
Discussion of the Advisory Committee’s 57-page draft of a proposed Wind Law was at times pointed and revealed an ideological split between Town Supervisor Beth McGee, and her otherwise reliable political ally, Mimi Mehaffey, a member of the Advisory Committee. Councilperson Becky Sims frequently sided with Supervisor McGee in the discussion. Councilperson Virginia Bryant provided only limited input. (Councilperson Carpenter, an Advisory Committee representative, was absent.)
Most controversial was the Advisory Committee’s recommendation for a full one-mile setback of any proposed commercial wind turbine from the property of a non-consenting owner. Supervisor McGee equated such a large setback as an effective “ban” on any commercial wind power facility in the town. McGee, and also Councilperson Sims, indicated that such a prohibitive restriction would be unacceptable.
Mehaffey, joined by Jude Lemke, a member of the Advisory Committee, passionately defended the proposed one-mile distance restriction, citing issues of health and public safety. Supervisor McGee, by contrast, quoted 1,600 feet (three-tenths mile) as the “industry standard” for setbacks, adding that Tompkins County interprets that distance as beginning from a neighbor’s property line.
Said McGee, “I can’t agree with a one-mile setback…. A mile is a ban!”
But insisted Mehaffey, “Our job is to protect the community. It’s not to help developers make money.” Mehaffey suggested developers go elsewhere. “There are places that are a whole lot windier than Enfield,” she said.
Alternatively, Mehaffey suggested that wind farm developers could “pay the people off,” and compensate neighboring property owners for the farm’s proximity. Supervisor McGee argued that given the nature of lot sizes and lot shapes in Enfield, such pay-offs would be impractical.
McGee argued that the current Wind Law draft effectively creates “zoning,” in Enfield, something the town does not have.
Answered Mehaffey, “Our job is to protect the people. I believe in the precautionary principle.”
Supervisor McGee, increasingly irritated, responded by referencing Enfield’s previously-enacted town-wide ban on hydrofracking. Said the Supervisor to Mehaffey, “If you have the guts to say a [fracking] ban is appropriate, why don’t you have the guts to say that here?”
In answer to the question and a similar inquiry by Councilperson Sims, Mehaffey warned that with a ban, “You’re setting yourself up for a Supreme Court fight.”
McGee and Sims also took issue with the conclusory opinions embodied within the Advisory Committee’s draft in its describing wind farms’ impacts on health, safety, property values and aesthetics.
Said Sims, “I appreciate the hundreds of hours of work you’ve done to this point.” But, she added, the language “strikes a pretty specific tone. It’s not a tone I’m comfortable with.”
Questioned Sims, “What’s the basis for these statements? These statements are pretty strong.”
Supervisor McGee concurred. “I think the language is really subjective.” McGee suggested some of the draft’s more opinionated adjectives could be removed. For example, said McGee, “Not everybody thinks [wind turbines] are ugly.”
After the meeting, Mehaffey conceded to this reporter/candidate that the Wind Law would probably not be ready for adoption by the end of the moratorium in August. Mehaffey said she would prefer a further extension of the original 12-month Moratorium, soon to enter its third year. But Mehaffey was uncertain whether her Town Board colleagues would agree to any further extension. The councilperson worried that, instead, Enfield will end the moratorium without a tougher Wind Law in place, at least not for several months. She said that in her opinion, the lapse would leave Enfield unprotected.
At Supervisor McGee’s direction, the Town Board will continue discussion of the proposed Wind Law at another special meeting, likely in June.
By contrast, Board discussion of the much-briefer (12-16 page) draft Solar Law, indicated that its adoption is possible before the Moratorium expires. Supervisor McGee stated that it’s her plan to finalize the Solar Law’s language at the Board’s June meeting (language subject to revision later), send the Solar Law to Tompkins County’s planners for review, and set a required Public Hearing for the Solar Law, a hearing likely to be held in July.
Solar Law provisions discussed by the Town Board Wednesday were confined to minor specifics; matters relating to minimum property line setbacks for solar facilities, de-commissioning procedures, abandonment compensation, and a tentative prohibition on using herbicides or pesticides at commercial solar installations.
The Renewable Energy Advisory Committee’s Wind and Solar Law draft submissions have been posted on the Town of Enfield’s website. They may be viewed at https://townofenfield.org/town-board-meeting-agendas-minutes-and-public-documents/