Updated: Wishna, Rollins top Fire Commissioner picks

Town Board coin toss settles terms; firefighters capture four of five seats

by Robert Lynch; December 13, 2023; Updated December 14, 2023

The moment begged for the drama it lacked.  In seconds it all ended; not even time to snap a picture. Enfield Supervisor Stephanie Redmond took a coin and tossed it onto the floor near the start of her Town Board’s Wednesday night meeting.  Unconstrained and impishly independent, the little guy rolled under a chair a few feet away, close to where Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins and his wife were sitting.  It landed tails up.  That settled it.  Rollins would not win the most coveted prize he’d been seeking that day, the longest term on Enfield’s Board of Fire Commissioners, Robyn Wishna would.  Coin picked up, set aside.  Next item of business, please.

She threw the coin; it landed tails up; Supervisor Redmond. (file photo)

Wednesday’s drama-in-but-a-day suspense most likely—though not necessarily—wrote the final chapter of a tumultuous first year story for Enfield’s fledgling, newly-formed Fire District; just four-and-a half months now, yet filled with all too many calls for people to run to the polls.  Tuesday’s annual election, one in which all five permanent Fire Commissioners were chosen, marked the third time since September that town voters have been asked to determine fire service matters. 

The Fire District was only formed in August after Town Board members gleefully tossed to Commissioners the fire service oversight they’d shouldered for decades.  These past four months have challenged the Fire Commissioners Board, and the public, for that matter.  One senses community fire-fatigue.  Perhaps 2024 will prove smoother; saner.

But the Fire Commissioners election had to be held this week, and it was.


Robyn Wishna and Buddy Rollins often disagree over Enfield Fire District policy.  Wishna, a long-time volunteer firefighter, EMS responder, and professional photographer, and Rollins, the elected Enfield Highway Superintendent, have sat together at the table for the past four-and-a-half months as two of five interim members of the Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners, members appointed by the Town Board in August.  They’ll likely sit together at that table for a while longer, together for as long as four more years. Tuesday’s election determined that.

But there was one ballot the tellers couldn’t count that night.  And it became the election’s wild card.  Because one person’s registration couldn’t be verified by poll workers, the ballot was sealed and set aside until the Tompkins County Board of Elections could confirm his or her professed Enfield address.  The next morning, Wednesday, they did.  The ballot was opened.  Yep, they’d voted for Rollins.  Race tied.  Coin flip needed to decide the length of term.   It set the stage for Wednesday’s less-than-climactic conclusion.

Poll workers count paper ballots in the Enfield Fire District’s first-ever Commissioners election, December 12th.

Amid procedures that one reporter quoted Supervisor Redmond as calling “a little confusing”—a decided understatement—Wishna and Rollins came out as the two  top vote-getters December 12th  in the Fire District’s first annual Election.  When tellers counted ballots at the fire house election night, Wishna led Rollins by just one vote for the longest term at stake, five years. The second place finisher, Rollins, would need to settle for a four-year term.

But perhaps Wednesday night’s subsequent outcome was only fitting.  It underscored the election’s overall trend.  In Tuesday’s ten-person race for all five seats on the new Board of Commissioners, those who are volunteers in the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company (EVFC) did well, exceptionally well.  Aside from Rollins, all of Tuesday’s winners were EVFC volunteers.  Winners included Enfield Fire Chief Greg Stevenson, who finished third with 33 votes and who earned a three-year term as Commissioner.

To serve as Commissioner, Stevenson will need to resign as Fire Chief.  And at a closed meeting of the Fire Company’s Board of Directors, one that immediately followed Tuesday’s vote-count, Stevenson may have tendered his resignation.  But he has yet to announce it publicly.  All that Alan Teeter–another Fire Company volunteer elected Commissioner Tuesday—could tell the Town Board Wednesday was that Stevenson’s deputy, Jamie Stevens, would likely succeed Stevenson as Fire Chief. [See further update, posted below.]

Wishna and Rollins had tied Tuesday’s election at 45 votes apiece.  With the coin flip later giving Wishna the five-year position, Rollins four-years, and Chief Stevenson three, Teeter’s fourth place finish (30 votes) earned him two years as Fire Commissioner.  Chris Willis, a recently-recruited Fire Company member and this year’s challenger to Rollins for Highway Superintendent—a race that Rollins won handily—took fifth place, with 22 votes, just two more than did the next-place candidate.  Willis’ term of only a single year means he’ll have to run again in 2024.

“I’m grateful to the community that the people understand the importance of this and showed up to vote,” Robyn Wishna commented at the Enfield Fire Station Tuesday night following announcement of her presumed first-place win.  She viewed the Tuesday turnout—nearly 250 Enfield voters—as quite an accomplishment for what she termed “this small town.”

Wishna saw the election as good for the community and good for the Fire Company.

“I’m looking forward to moving forward in January to establish policies and procedures,” the newly-elected top vote-getter said.  “We’re all looking forward to getting trained and to being the best that we can be for the Fire Company and the community.”

A complication could arise, however, in actually seating the five top candidates elected Tuesday.  That complication involves election law, or more appropriately put, the lack of any such law.  First-ever elections for fire districts, like Enfield’s, are a rarity; and the statutes that govern their conduct are poorly-written and ambiguous.  It becomes the Wild, Wild West of procedural uncertainty.

Together at the table. Fire Commissioners Robyn Wishna and Barry Rollins, October 23rd.

Upon the advice of their attorney, Brad Pinsky, Enfield’s appointed interim Commissioners decided December 4th to allow only one Commissioner’s vote per voter in Tuesday’s election.  That’s even though five positions had to be filled and though the statute remains silent on whether each voter would be entitled to one vote or five.  Wishna voted against the procedure employed Tuesday; Rollins supported it.  With Commissioners’ Chair Jim Mathews attending online that night and unable to vote, the Rollins-backed procedure passed three votes to one.

But when Enfield residents turned out to the polls Tuesday, as many as 20 voters—including this Town Councilperson—filed Letters of Objection, opposing the restriction imposed on their voting.

“I wholeheartedly object to being so limited to cast my vote for a only one candidate when this election seeks to fill five seats on the Board of Fire Commissioners,” a commonly-filed, identically-worded Letter of Objection stated. 

“I believe the principles of law and equity dictate that I be permitted to vote for as many candidates as there are Board of Fire Commissioners positions to be decided in this election,” the letter continued.  The objection letter also stated that the voter’s compliance with the attorney-recommended and Board-adopted procedures did not “preclude or foreclose” a voter’s right to “further legal action.”

Some of the strongest objections to the one-vote-per-voter rule came from Enfield Volunteer Fire Company members and their leadership, some of whom have raised additional concerns about the format of Tuesday’s paper ballot and the lack of absentee voting opportunities.  Yet given the victories secured Tuesday by many EVFC volunteers, one speculates that some within the Fire Company may now brush aside their previous concerns and bask in victory any way they can find it.

Aside from Wishna and Rollins, the only remaining appointed incumbent on the Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners who chose to run in Tuesday’s election was Marcus Gingerich, a non-firefighter who finished second to last in the 10-way contest.  Appointed Commissioners Chair Mathews and Commissioner Geoff Hollister, a former fire commissioner in Richford, chose not to run.

In your mailbox and mine; the anonymously-sourced pre-election flyer.

Those who fell short of victory in Tuesday’s election were Donald Gunning with 20 votes; Larry Stillwell with 19 votes; Robert Harvey with 18 votes; Gingerich with 11 votes; and Alexis Comparetta with five votes.  Comparetta has served in recent months as Fire District Secretary.

Of those who lost, only Stillwell and Comparetta hold membership in the Fire Company.  Indeed, an “us versus them” campaign strategy emerged during the Commissioners election’s latter days.  An anonymously-sourced mailing—the second such mailing to circulate Enfield addressing Fire District election issues in recent months—placed “Residents” in one column and “Fire Company” in the other.

“Pick the one that will serve the tax payers,” the mailing stated.  “This is your chance to have a voice in picking a commissioner that you want,” the mailing proclaimed boldly.  One could easily draw the inference that those most critical of current fire service operations authored and circulated the flyer.

After Supervisor Redmond tossed the coin at Wednesday’s Town Board  meeting, Buddy Rollins made no comment.  His only conversation with the Town Board that night concerned Highway Department matters.  Robyn Wishna did not attend the meeting.  Yet she’ll have many volunteer firefighter allies at the table when the Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners reorganizes come January.

The Enfield Volunteer Fire Company’s most ardent critic, Rollins, on the other hand, could find himself a lonely minority of one at the Commissioners’ table.  The power dynamics next year may shift considerably from those of the past four months, times when Wishna was the only active volunteer at that table; two other members had firefighting experience only in their past; and the remaining two clearly stood on the outside looking in.  Different dynamics, most likely; less drama, perhaps; yet lingering controversy, no doubt.  Wednesday’s coin roll was an anomaly.  Face it, this is still Enfield.


Subsequent Update (December 16, 2023):  At the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company’s Annual Banquet, Saturday, December 16th, Greg Stevenson was sworn in ostensibly for another full year as Enfield Fire Chief.  After the ceremony, Fire Company President Dennis Hubbell clarified that, presuming the December 12th election results remain undisturbed, Stevenson will serve until the final days of this December and then resign, as he must, to join the Board of Fire Commissioners.  If and when he does, Hubbell said, the Fire Company intends to elevate Jamie Stevens to Fire Chief. / RL