Posted June 12, 2020; subsequently updated June 17th:
To my neighbors, constituents, and friends:
Important Update; June 17th:
At the request of Town Supervisor Beth McGee, following consultation with the Town’s legal counsel, the Town Board’s Public Hearing, originally scheduled for June 30th, has been postponed until a later date.
Postponement, said the Supervisor, will enable the Board to further study these alternative laws and determine “what the board intends by proposing them.”
This further discussion will take place at the June 30th Special Meeting. I urge you who are interested in this sea change in Town Governance to attend and take part.
Now, to our earlier discussion:
June 12, 2020,
At our Enfield Town Board’s marathon four-hour meeting June 10th, over my passionate objection, our Board voted 4-1 to advance to a Public Hearing, now scheduled for June 30th, as many as seven different proposed Local Laws that would alter or abolish elective offices within our Town.
Two alternative proposals would eliminate the elective position of Highway Superintendent, either at the end of this year, or in December 2021, when incumbent Barry (Buddy) Rollins’ two-year term would otherwise expire. Another two alternative options would similarly terminate the elective position of Town Clerk, now held by Ellen Woods. Should the offices cease to be elective, the Town Board would fill those positions by appointment.
The fifth Local Law would extend, beginning in January 2022, the elected Town Supervisor’s term from two years to four.
The two remaining proposals, advanced by me and discussed previously on these pages, would similarly extend the elected Highway Superintendent’s and Town Clerk’s positions from two years to four. I advanced these latter two proposals “without endorsement,” only to, as I’ve stated, “complete the circle,” to accord voters the largest range of options should any or all of these Local Laws go before a public referendum.
Should the Town Board, after the Public Hearing, approve certain of these terms-of-office changes, State Law requires that you, the voters, decide at referendum whether they should take effect. Any referendum would likely take place this November.
To frame the debate with my view on this issue—and to underscore my opposition to making either the Highway Superintendent’s or Town Clerk’s offices appointive—I addressed the Board under Privilege of the Floor. I’ll call my story, “Elevator Ride.” Here’s what I said:
I watched the Democratic Assembly candidates’ debate last night. Maybe you did, too. Near the end, the moderator asked, “If you had your ‘Elevator Moment’, a minute or two with a stranger in an elevator, how would you sell your candidacy?”
Each of the seven candidates talked about themselves. Their answers don’t matter. But I got asking myself, “How would you do it, Bob?”
In an instant, it came to me: I wouldn’t start with a statement, but a question: “What don’t you like about politics, whether in Washington, Albany, or here in Enfield?” I bet I’d know the answer.
“I don’t like the fighting; the rancor; the tribalism; the ‘I win, you, lose’ smash-mouth mindset.”
I’d respond, “You know what, I don’t like it either. That’s why I’m running—or here tonight, serving—as Councilperson.”
“I’m not a career politician, a lawyer, and no, I’m not an activist. I’m just an old radio guy from Gray Road who was reporting on town boards when our Supervisor was in diapers… and her heir-apparent wasn’t yet born. I know how good town boards serve people and how bad ones don’t. And right now, this board isn’t serving you.”
First, there was the Black Oak Wind Farm debate that ended last year with a rule-laden effective ban on commercial wind power. Then, just as the dust settled, came the unnecessary and senseless deletion of the Pledge of Allegiance. Now tonight, this Board will consider stripping Enfield voters of the right to elect a Town Clerk and Highway Superintendent just because some people on this Board can’t play in the sandbox with the incumbents.
No, that’s not the way to do it. To quote former Congressman Gary Lee’s gaffe—a highly apt description here—don’t throw out the bath water out with the baby. If you don’t like Highway Superintendent Rollins or Town Clerk Woods, find someone better to run against them in 2021. Don’t upend the whole system, leaving the Highway Department and Town Clerk’s office under the control of any three-vote majority on the Town Board… rather than the voters.
Let Democracy Breathe! “We need a uniter, not a divider,” is the national call. I say, it applies in Enfield, too. Let’s deal with addressing the pandemic, patching roads, saving our school, helping the Food Pantry… not tearing this Town and each other apart, yet again.
I will proudly vote tonight against advancing to hearing the office changes the Supervisor proposes … and do so for the good of this Town… and for all of us.
There, elevator ride’s over. We’re at the top floor, I hope. Let’s get off together, as friends.
Thank you, Board.
Now, following our long meeting’s conclusion, and the action we took, here’s what I wrote:
Enfield Board advances plan to make Town Clerk, Highway Super appointive; lengthen Supervisor’s term
by Robert Lynch, June 10, 2020
In a return to the contentious atmosphere of the recent past, the Enfield Town Board Wednesday (June 10th) moved forward measures that would move the Town Clerk’s and Highway Superintendent’s positions from elective to appointive, and extend future terms of Town Supervisor from two years to four.
By identical 4-1 votes, with Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer) the lone dissenter, the Board first agreed to discuss the change in method of selection for the two independent offices, and then scheduled a legally-required Public Hearing for June 30th, the next step toward moving any changes to a November referendum.
“I would like to hear what people have to say,” said Councilperson Stephanie Redmond, who if she became the next Town Supervisor—speculation runs rampant that she will—might become the first to benefit from the longer town officer’s term.
Councilperson Lynch, on the other hand, shouted, “Proudly No!” when Town Clerk Ellen Woods called for votes on the Hearing’s scheduling.
Referencing first the years-long controversy over wind power in Enfield, and more recently, the Board’s controversial deletion of the Pledge of Allegiance from meeting agendas, Lynch paralleled the Town’s turmoil to current national debates over racial justice, disputes where many call for unity, not division.
“Now tonight, this Board will consider stripping Enfield voters of the right to elect a Town Clerk and Highway Superintendent just because some people on this Board can’t play in the sandbox with the incumbents,” Lynch stated. “No, that’s not the way to do it.”
As many as seven separate proposed Enfield local laws would face public comment at the month’s-end hearing. Two each would remove the Clerk’s and Highway Superintendent’s future terms from control by the voters, and instead make them subject to selection by the Town Board. One of each pair of laws would actually cut short the current terms of Clerk Woods and Highway Superintendent Barry (Buddy) Rollins, ending each term at the end of this year, rather than in December of 2021.
A fifth proposed law would lengthen the Supervisor’s terms to four years. Two more proposals would apply the longer four-year terms to the Clerk and the highway chief as well. Lynch advanced these latter two measures, he’s said, “without endorsement,” seeking only to “complete the circle,” that is, to maximize the public’s options.
With seven measures up for discussion, “It’ll be a very active Public Hearing,” Supervisor Beth McGee predicted.
During the debate, McGee let slip what most have predicted, namely that she will not seek a third term in 2021.
“I’m not going to be one of the people benefiting from it,” the Supervisor said of the term-lengthening proposal. “Except that I’m going to be a Town resident,” purportedly benefiting from the longer term’s advantages.
Wednesday’s debate produced the sharpest exchanges between McGee and Woods. The Clerk predicted McGee—who first announced in March her intentions to resign, then walked back her resignation supposedly to address COVID-19—will manipulate election law to quit just in time to enable Redmond, her presumptive successor, to become Supervisor without running in a special election.
Woods accused McGee of “sabotaging the electoral process,” thereby anointing Redmond with “the political power of incumbency,” potentially catapulting her successor into “a five-and-a-half-year appointment.”
Asked at one point by McGee whether the Clerk would be present for the June 30th hearing, Woods shot back, “I will definitely be in attendance. That will be a joy for me to do!”
Just before the second vote, Woods asked to interject a further comment. McGee wouldn’t let her and appeared to mute her microphone on the zoom video conference.
“When you’re elected to the Town Board, you can comment,” the Supervisor retorted. Councilperson Lynch then asked McGee to let Woods speak, but to no avail.
Highway Superintendent Rollins, with whom McGee has sparred at recent meetings, and did so elsewhere during Wednesday’s marathon, four-hour session, took a diminished role to Woods in the Wednesday debate.
Other Board members coalesced around the Supervisor in supporting the laundry list of term-changing measures.
“I’ve never felt comfortable with how the Town has operated,” said Councilperson Virginia Bryant, who said elective administrative offices don’t jibe with her own business background.
“There are pros and cons to a longer, versus shorter, Supervisor’s term, voiced Bryant’s colleague, Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey. A Supervisor has a “huge learning curve,” she observed.
But Lynch took a different view. “What if you have a bad Supervisor?” Lynch asked, suggesting the voters might want to remove their Town’s leader, but couldn’t until his term finally ran out.
Of Tompkins County’s nine towns, only the Town of Ithaca has an appointed Highway Superintendent and Town Clerk. Most towns have four-year Supervisors, Enfield and Danby the lone exceptions.
And there you have it. Please attend the June 30th Public Hearing—Sorry we have to have it at all—and voice your opinion. I hope that your voices will stop this divisive initiative in its tracks. Let’s get on to doing better things, more constructive things, for Enfield. Let’s get off that elevator at the top floor as friends. And let’s all Let Democracy Breathe!