Tompkins to stay in a “redder” NY-19, Commission says

Ready to vote? Eight of the 10 members of the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission captured by camera, Feb. 15

by Robert Lynch, February 15, 2024

Tompkins County Democrats, who’d hoped their super-blue bastion would finally wrest itself from Republican dominance and become the southern anchor of a more progressive-friendly Congressional district, found disappointment Thursday when the bipartisan New York State Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) released, adopted, and sent to the New York Legislature its revised district lines to cover this November’s election and likely those for the rest of this decade.

How the IRC would carve up Congressional Districts

The Commission, by a vote of nine-to-one, its members evenly-divided between the two parties, voted to keep all of Tompkins County within the sprawling, eastern southern tier 19th Congressional District, the district narrowly won two years ago by Republican Congressman Marc Molinaro.  The Commission changed NY-19 only at the edges—literally—but the revisions it’s made by some accounts could make it harder for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Josh Riley, to beat Molinaro this November.

Neither Riley nor Molinaro had commented on their websites about the Commission’s recommendations, as of Thursday evening.

“The process was not without its challenges, but I am proud to say that we have worked cooperatively and collaboratively to address those challenges, and so will be voting on a single consensus plan today,” Ken Jenkins, a Democrat and Chairman of the IRC said.  “This vote is ultimately a victory for the commission process and for democratic—small “d”—democratic participation in the State of New York.”

“We came into existence to solve these kinds of problems, Charles Nesbitt, Republican co-Chair of the Commission, said.  And their solution, Nesbitt added, can only happen “through cooperation and compromise.”

“The process has met both of these challenges, “Nesbitt said.  “And we are here today with a map that we have agreed to and sent to the Legislature.”

The process was not without its challenges;” IRC Chair Ken Jenkins.

But what the New York State Senate and Assembly do with that map handed them Thursday remains an open question.  Democrats hold supermajorities in both legislative chambers.  Two years ago, when a somewhat different Commission scenario played out—taking the form of a partisan deadlock on the Commission with two, partisan-competing maps handed up—legislators played the gerrymander game.  They drew their own maps bound to favor Democratic victories in otherwise swing districts and “packed” Republicans into ruby-red enclaves like Elyse Stefanik’s in the North Country and the western southern tier district long held by former Congressman Tom Reed.

But the Court of Appeals struck down the Democrats’ gerrymandering.  A court-appointed special master drew the more politically-competitive maps that we now have.  And because of that judicially-directed artwork, voters in 2022 elected Marc Molinaro in NY-19 and Republican Brandon Williams to our north in the Syracuse-centered 22nd District.

When a more liberally-tilted Court of Appeals last December concluded that the special master’s maps were good for only one election cycle, the Court charged the Commission to return to work.  It did.  But this time, Commissioners did not deadlock.  So the New York Legislature faces different circumstances now than it did two years ago.  What’s more, lawmakers stand in recess, not scheduled to return to work until about February 26th.  That would be one day before candidates begin circulating party designating petitions. 

“The redistricting process in New York is already two years behind schedule and we’re up against deadlines,” Jeffrey Wice, senior fellow at New York Law School’s New York Census and Redistricting Institute, told the downstate-based website City & State. “I don’t think anybody has the will to really fight this thing out and then get back in court over again and prolong the process any further.”

The only way was through cooperation and compromise; Charles Nesbitt (l) with Chairman Jenkins.

Two years ago, Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris proved to be gerrymandering’s wildest cheerleader in the upper house.  Before the Commission’s vote, Gianaris sounded less ready this time for a fight, with no pre-prepared plan in the works. “I trust that our team can turn around a map quickly if necessary, but don’t know if it will be,” was all that Gianaris would tell City & State’s Rebecca Lewis.

Yet at least one Albany Democrat is bracing for battle.  He’s State Senator James Skoufis, the lawmaker who most recently enraged upstate Republicans by leading the drive to move local elections to even-numbered years.  Skoufis did not mince words.  “These maps are a disgrace and ought to be rejected by the Legislature,” the Hudson Valley Democrat said.

While Tompkins County would remain within Molinaro’s 19th Congressional District should the Redistricting Commission’s maps be adopted, some of our county’s immediate neighbors would find themselves transplanted into different districts.  Cortland County, now wholly within NY-19, would be sliced east-to-west.  Southern towns would stay within the Molinaro District; those to the north, including the City of Cortland, would join Brandon Williams’ 22nd District.  Southern Cayuga County, including Auburn, would be plucked out of Republican Claudia Tenney’s 24th District and merged into Williams’ as well.

How the new NY-19 would shape up. The turquoise boundary is us; note the new NY-22 to the north.

Tioga County, currently totally within the 19th District, would move in total to the western southern tier 23rd District, where Republican Nick Langworthy represents many of Tom Reed’s former constituents.  Schuyler County, like Cortland, would be chopped across the middle.  The Town of Hector and other northern towns in that county would slide from Langworthy’s district to Tenney’s.

Many of the adjustments to the 19th District happen to the east.  Tompkins County would still remain the 19th’s westernmost anchor, and Binghamton and Broome County would remain within its bounds.  But the 19th would expand to include all of Otsego County, plus Schoharie County, and portions of Orange County in the Catskill region.  The IRC’s plans would continue to stretch the district east to the Massachusetts state line.

The adjustments to our district’s eastern fringe could be the product of that “cooperation” and “compromise” that Commissioners Jenkins and Nesbitt talked about.  Republicans may achieve gains for Molinaro.  Yet Democrats may secure benefits for their party’s freshman Congressman in a district to the southeast of ours, Representative Pat Ryan.

Endangered? Maybe. Brandon Williams

But the big prize for Democrats may be that Syracuse-based 22nd District, that Republican Brandon Williams won two years ago by the narrowest of margins and which Democrats would dearly love to flip this time.  Democrats won’t have Ithaca to add to the 22nd to make it more progressive-friendly.  But the IRC’s plan would give them Cortland and Auburn.

The Cook Political Report has rated Williams’ 22nd District a toss-up, and Commission tinkering has probably tipped the scales toward Democrats a bit further.

Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University, told WRVO Radio that the 22nd Congressional District has gotten more Democratic friendly.  But he notes that the district was already Democratic friendly and doesn’t view the new congressional lines as a game changer.

Meanwhile, Brandon Williams is taking things in stride. “I find myself in my 5th congressional race in just two-years,” the generally Trump-loyal Republican said in a statement. “Changing lines won’t change minds—voters want common sense and relief from Progressive fantasies.”

[Expect more to be posted as this story develops.]

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Posted Previously:

Three strikes and out

Cease-fire supporters fall a vote short of victory amidst legislative agony

by Robert Lynch; February 10, 2024

“Globally is impacting locally.  This is our chance to do something,”

Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden)

 “(Constituents ask), What in heck are you doing talking about foreign policy?”

Legislator Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton)

“There is no queer liberation without Palestinian liberation.” Rowan Keller-Smith, one of 38 speakers who supported the Gaza Cease Fire Resolution before the Tompkins County Legislature, February 6th.

Pro-Palestinian partisans were dealt a decisive blow this week.  No, it didn’t happen on the urban battlefields of the Gaza Strip.  Defeat came instead within the comfortable confines of Tompkins County Legislative Chambers.  For those committed activists who’d so passionately pressed their insurgency under the vaulted ceilings of the Gov. Daniel D. Tompkins Building, Tuesday may have marked the final setback and hastened their admission of defeat—maybe.

As they now have done for three meetings in a row, advocates for a Gaza Cease-Fire Resolution journeyed this past Tuesday to Legislative Chambers.  They grabbed every chair, stood in the doorways, and trooped one-by-one to the nearest microphone to implore the County Legislature to do something; make an effort—one perhaps persuasive; more likely merely symbolic—to urge the quieting of conflict in the Middle East. 

“The call that goes up for a cease-fire comes from the human heart,” Ithacan Claire Grady told lawmakers this latest Tuesday night, her comments typical among those who spoke.  “Killing civilians is never OK; not one thousand, not ten thousand, not 30 thousand.  And when it is being done in your name, you have a responsibility to take steps to stop it.”

Activist Claire Grady: “Not 1,000… not 30,000… Killing civilians is never OK.”

Activists insisted that those seated before them at mahogany desks should lean on Congress, President Biden, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and maybe just about anybody else with an ear to listen, to support an end to the Israeli-Hamas War, and to end the war now whether Israel wants to or not.

At this latest meeting, unlike at the last two sessions, proponents of peace had something to chew on.  Four legislative Democrats, including Ulysses-Enfield’s Anne Koreman, had drafted a 12-paragraph, two-page “Urgent Humanitarian and Local Imperatives” initiative and put it on the evening’s agenda.  The measure’s bullet points called for support of an Israel-Hamas cease-fire, the release of all civilian hostages by Hamas, and the “initiation of an international peace process to negotiate a two-state solution” in hopes of a lasting peace.

The resolution came close to passing, yet it didn’t. 

Some thirty-eight public speakers took to the mics that night.  Public comment consumed nearly two opening hours of the Legislature’s session.  Lawmakers then followed with nearly an hour’s worth of trading words of their own.  But when the clerk called the roll, the Koreman-backed Resolution lost by a single vote.

The Resolution secured a plurality, but not a majority.  Seven voted in its favor; six opposed it.  Lansing’s Deborah Dawson didn’t make the meeting, so affirmation never reached the eight-vote threshold. 

Resolution co-author Pillar: “This is about life versus death…”

Though Dawson at a future session could seek reconsideration of what got voted down, she’s unlikely to do so.  The Lansing Democrat has criticized like initiatives on prior occasions.  She’s viewed the effort as ineffective posturing with words certain to fall on deaf ears.

“This is about life versus death and destruction,” Veronica Pillar, one of the three who assisted Koreman, spoke of the proposal she’d helped write. “Our constituents are not ignorant or deluded,” Pillar continued.  “They know that we don’t directly change foreign policy.  What they also know is that our statements ring louder than their statements.”

“Globally is impacting locally,” Resolution co-author Greg Mezey argued in defense of the Legislature’s weighing in on a war far away.  “This is our chance to do something.”

“How anybody can think that taking a stand against—standing up for what’s right for humanity is not our place, I don’t understand that.”

Mezey spoke the longest; argued the hardest in favor of the measure that failed.  He said he, Koreman, Pillar, and Travis Brooks had tried to make their submission even-handed; to deliberately moderate the more Palestinian-favoring, Israeli-critical position taken in a mid-December model document handed up by the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission.  The Commission’s call had ignited the discussion that drew Palestine’s supporters to Legislature meetings beginning in early-January.

Legislator Mezey: “Challenge us to do the right thing.”

The Resolution is “very unbiased” and “a good place for us to start,” former Legislature Chair Shawna Black, one of the measure’s eventual seven supporters, stated.  Black quoted a 12-year old Palestinian boy, who’d lived locally two years ago, but who’d sent her a post card urging that America should stop sending weapons to the conflict.

“I’m just asking my colleagues to think about our constituents,” Koreman commented.  “You might not think it’s your job, but they’re asking us to do this.”

Well, maybe.  Koreman’s assessment bases itself more on optics than a formal head count.  To be sure, each of the 38 who turned out and spoke at the meeting that night supported a cease-fire and the Resolution endorsing it.  But legislators also had received up to 700 letters and emails.  And most of the writers, we’re told, had urged the Legislature not to get involved.  Mezey sought to discount many of the written submissions, finding their pleadings repetitive and formulaic.  He also said the objections had subsided once he and his three partners had toned-down the Human Rights Commission’s more partisan proposal.

“A Resolution like this will never make our constituents happy,” Mike Lane, the Legislature’s longest-serving member, opined.  “It will make some constituents happy.  It will make other constituents very unhappy.” Lane wondered aloud whether pro-Israeli speakers, present at earlier sessions but not lately, had felt “intimidated” to stay away by the hostile reception given them by Israel’s critics seated amongst them.

Dryden’s Lane: “A Resolution like this will never make our constituents happy.”

“I think that the best thing to do here is nothing, frankly,” Lane concluded, “because I don’t think this Resolution speaks to the majority of the people.”

Legislator Mike Sigler felt Mike Lane’s fears fell a little too close for comfort.

“Something else somebody said that concerned me was that they said they would ‘remember you in the street,’” Sigler recalled.  “I’m not exactly sure how to take that.”

Sigler, a Republican now running for State Senate, also took issue with those he’d heard talking about Hamas “in colorful terms, in positive terms… as if those folks didn’t bear any responsibility for what happened.”

“I think cease-fire has been marketed as a word that’s very symbolic in this debate,” Sigler asserted.  Sigler’s starting-point toward peace would be straightforward for Hamas:  “Release the hostages; Step One.  Do it today.  That’s already a war crime from the jump… release them!”

Just about every legislator addressed the Cease-Fire Resolution last Tuesday.  Ithaca’s Rich John reprised his opinion, stated days earlier in a committee meeting, that resolving foreign policy lies beyond his own skill set.

Sigler: “Remember you in the street?” How do I take that?

“We have none of the authority (that we) bring to a local issue on something like this,” John told colleagues and spectators.  “We have no better judgement than those of you in this room,” he added.  “I can’t tell you that this is the right course of action.”

Newfield’s Randy Brown insisted that regardless of how locals vote, Biden and Israel will do what they please, and the war will not end.  Brown urged everyone to drop the recent time-wasting discussions, and get back to what local legislators were elected to do.

“Two-and-a-half hours we just spent on this; and the two hours before and the two hours before, and all the emails; I get the frustration and the helplessness of the people,” Brown acknowledged.  “So my issue is local:  Let’s spend two hours on homelessness.  Let’s spend two hours on youth mental health, on youth programming; let’s focus on youth stuff.” 

And to those in the gallery, our local legislator had some advice: “Help your neighbor and spend time on that.”  Knock on a door; plow out a driveway, because, Brown said, “Nothing we do in this Resolution is going to help.”

From Brown’s cross-county district, Republican Lee Shurtleff, agreed.

“I’m not sure I can have a strong impact on changing foreign policy,” Shurtleff conceded.  But repetitive, drawn-out discussions over a distant war, he said, have distracted him and others from local concerns like EMS coverage, food insecurity, airport revitalization, and an unresolved contract with corrections officers.

“I think there’s a lot here that we haven’t paid attention to for the last two or three months,” Shurtleff argued.  “And I’m also listening to the constituents stopping me on the street and saying, ‘What in heck are you doing talking about foreign policy?’ And I have a lot of them asking me that question.”

Greg Mezey got the last word in before the vote.  Nearly three hours into a meeting where this single topic dominated, Mezey’s passion rose to a near-boil.

Groton’s Shurtleff: “Talking about foreign policy?” When the airport needs help and corrections officers lack a contract?

To Mike Lane:  “Some people are going to be upset by some of us voting on the right side of history, and I’m OK with that.”  (The gallery applauded.)

To Lee Shurtleff:  “This is not comfortable.  This is uncomfortable, and this job should be uncomfortable because every day should challenge us to do the right thing.  Right now, this is what’s in front of us.  We have the opportunity to do the right thing.”

To Randy Brown: “Tomorrow, gosh, I sure hope it’s homelessness; then I hope it’s child care; I hope it’s economic development, food security and all the other topics that we have to address.  And I hope we give it as much time and we hear little to no complaint about the time we spend creating those subjects, because it’s equally as important.”

And to All: “So don’t have any shame. You’ve got to go to sleep at night.  You have to sit with how you’re going to vote, and I respect that.”

Even had it secured Dawson’s unlikely endorsement, the Mezey-Koreman-Pillar-and-Brooks Resolution, passing by one vote or two, would never have commanded much persuasive power beyond the Tompkins County line. It might have quieted a conscience or two, but done little else.  Face it; a recommendation that just squeaks by bears the consistency of oatmeal.

The Tompkins County Legislature reconvenes February 20th.  Will the pro-Palestinian crowds return?  Will their passion punch through?  Will something revised be put onto the floor?  Or will this just all die now?  Principle has a way of outweighing pragmatism, of course.  And for some, hope always springs eternal.

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Allegiance’s Last Call at City Hall

Analysis & Commentary by Robert Lynch; February 8, 2024

The Pledge of Allegiance died at Ithaca’s Common Council Wednesday night.  I was there only hours before it took its final breath.  No doubt, a few in the room had wished I’d not been there.  They’d rather I’d declined to provide patriotic reverence any final comfort.  To a few of the City of Ithaca  leaders whom voters recently elected, it would have been far better that words of  national pride and loyalty had departed quietly; expired in the darkness without friends around and absent any fitting eulogy.

Alderperson Pierre Saint-Perez joining this Councilperson in the Pledge of Allegiance, Ithaca Common Council, Feb. 7th (Grainy photo courtesy of City Hall)

Had I not chosen to attend, my detractors would have gotten their wish.  I’m glad that I was there, that I led in what was likely the Pledge of Allegiance’s final recitation at City Hall.  I only regret that no one else—like someone who actually lived in the City—had stepped up first and beat me to the punch.

We’re told Common Council meetings haven’t employed the Pledge of Allegiance for a while now.  It’s supposed to be recited, yet conveniently always gets overlooked.  No one seems to care.  To wedge-in what I needed to say, I employed privilege-of-the-floor as my chosen—and my only—procedural tool.  Twelve people spoke to Council before I did.  The others had other things to talk about.  I had but one topic.  It mattered most:

“Good Evening.  Robert Lynch; I’m a Councilperson in the Town of Enfield.  I appreciate being at your meeting tonight.  I would like to start by inviting anybody in this room who is willing and able to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance:

[I stood up, put hand on heart, and pledged allegiance to the Flag positioned at the front of the room.  Approximately half of Common Council, including Mayor Robert Cantelmo, joined me in the recitation.  The others remained seated.  Five or six persons in the visitors’ gallery behind me also joined and recited the words.  I returned to my speaker’s chair and continued my message:]

“And I said that.  Some people may say, ‘Oh, that’s performative.’  No, it’s not.  It’s demonstrative.  It demonstrates how short the Pledge of Allegiance is and also how important it is to some people in this community who care about tradition, who care about patriotism, and care about setting a good example for the county seat of  Tompkins County. 

“This is the Number One municipality in this county, and it does set a standard.  Tompkins County Government, they start the meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance.  I attended my first Common Council meeting back in 1970, as a reporter.  And we always started the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance.  It gives a good framework to the meeting, and it makes a good point.  And I hope when you consider revising your agenda in the course of setting your new Rules of Procedure tonight that you consider keeping the Pledge a part of it….”

A few persons behind me in the gallery clapped as I concluded.  I sensed some reluctance to their revealing their true beliefs.  And all the time I sat in Council Chambers that night, a sensed a pungent aroma of political discomfort pervading the place, at least it did for me.  This is not Enfield, I thought.  This is not our Town Board, not even during some of our worst moments.  This may not even be the United States of America.  This, to me, is somewhere else, a foreign land not my home; certainly not the Ithaca I’d grown to love for now a half-century; a town liberal; yet still sane.   Is this the new reality that Ithaca and its City government has now become?   If so, somebody, please change it.

A portion of Common Council’s revised agendas; notice what got cut out.

I excused myself to attend a meeting back in Enfield, one for which I was already a half-hour late.  But when I returned home from that Planning Board session, I captured Common Council’s closing minutes on City Hall’s web stream. The decision I cared most about I found far too predictable.  Indeed it was worse than I had feared.

Nearing the end of its clogged, four-hour agenda, Common Council took a mere twenty seconds a to cast aside the Pledge of Allegiance with amazing dispatch and profound disregard.  As it did, City lawmakers also ushered in new, sweeping Rules of Procedure, and did so without a wisp of critical analysis or reasoned dissent.  If you hadn’t known what was happening, you would have missed its true impact.  First, one Alderperson moved; another seconded; zero discussion; and a unanimous vote. And with that, the Pledge of Allegiance was gone… and a whole lot of other things changed too.

True, Common Council hammered out many of the procedural nuts and bolts at a laborious working session two weeks earlier.  When they did, members toyed with finding a fitting substitute for the Pledge.  They couldn’t find one, and so they simply gave up.

The meeting’s video replay shows Alderpersons Margaret Fabrizio, Patrick Kuehl, Clyde Lederman, and Pierre Saint-Perez joining Mayor Cantelmo and me in honoring Old Glory.  That’s it.  Members Phoebe Brown, Kayla Matos, Tiffany Kumar, Ducson Nguyen, and David Shapiro remained in their seats.  Kris Haines-Sharp, though mostly off-camera, appeared to be seated as well.  

Mayor Cantelmo with Alderpersons Matos, Brown and Haines-Sharp (off camera) joining the unanimous vote to kill the Pledge.

No other members of the public spoke to the Pledge of Allegiance that night.  But after public comments had ended, three members of Council took their turns.  They included both of Council’s African-American members, Phoebe Brown and Kayla Matos.  They spoke to me, though in my absence. Their words were not kind:

Phoebe Brown:  “(To) the Gentleman from the Town of Enfield:  How dare you!  How dare you.  I think of myself as a 6-year old, 5-year old going to school, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and it had been built in me that this was something that I’d do that I would start to cry, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, until I became older and understood what was being done to me, what was happening to me, that I was being forced to believe in something that didn’t say nothing about me.  When I walked out of my school and back into my house and the conditions that we lived in with something that tells us how much they care for us and how much—what the Pledge of Allegiance… what it’s done to people who look like me; come on:  How dare you; How dare you.  You give people a chance to say what works for them.”

Kayla Matos: “I would like to address the Council member from Enfield as to how it is—how not saying or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is unpatriotic.  Personally, being a person of color and being with the (unintelligible) systems that has literally destroyed and stoked down my people, I don’t think that it is fair to say that our country has devoted themselves… or any of their policies to people of color who have literally built the country that we are on.  That’s why we’re having conversations now about reparations and things.  And also talking about traditions; this country is also built on traditions that aren’t working (unintelligible) for my people of color.  The reason I ran for the seat and I won this seat was because I’m trying to be a voice and an advocate  for those people, that I’m trying to tear down these systems that don’t work  for these people and rebuild them.  And the best way to do that is politically in the government.”

Tiffany Kumar (a Cornell student): “On the subject of patriotism: Dr. Martin Luther King, himself, who said in the Letter from the Birmingham Jail; he argued that we have a patriotic duty to stand in opposition to oppressive institutions and policies, especially ones that are created in times when not everybody had an equal say in them.  But that is the best way to honor the laws and traditions we have in this country that are democratic and just, like Black History Month.”

Tiffany Kumar (c): “Dr. King said ‘We have a patriotic duty to stand in opposition….'”

I will leave it to others to categorize the agendas, parse the logic, and ascertain the motivations underpinning the objections expressed by my three Common Council critics that night.  Yet I find it hard to equate perceived grievance or progressive guilt with disavowing the banner of the nation that accords us the freedom to right our society’s wrongs and lift up those oppressed.

Moreover, I never recall the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. having refused to pledge to the flag.  And I believe our nation’s highest-currently elected African-American leader, Vice President Kamala Harris, still places hand over heart.  So rejecting the nation’s symbol because of our country’s flawed past and imperfect present, for me, fails to register.  Beyond that, others may judge.

But win or lose, I did something good Wednesday night.  I challenged group-think.  I held open for public examination a lockstep, politically-fashionable ultra-liberal ideology and placed it in contrast with the traditional, mainstream patriotic values that I find most people embrace, except, perhaps, in the bowels of Ithaca.  Had I not been in Council Chambers, nobody would have heard my point of view, nor Phoebe Brown’s, for that matter. 

When personal opinions go unchallenged, one never learns, one never grows.  Ithaca politics, I fear, has traveled to Berkeley and maybe beyond.  I harbored no illusions Wednesday night.  Common Council was going to expel the Pledge of Allegiance from its meetings.  But the random applause a few people provided informs me that Council’s view is not everyone’s view. 

Ithaca, you’re more or less on your own, now.  I likely won’t revisit another Common Council meeting for a while.  I did what was needed, but I find the air down there not to my liking.  I’ll stay in Enfield, instead.  Yes, we in Enfield may say the Pledge of Allegiance only by request.  But at least we have it at the ready.  I intend to use it, more so now because Ithaca no longer does.

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Posted Previously:

Minding Our Own Business

County legislators give first thoughts to muzzling themselves. Don’t expect it.

Reporting and Analysis by Robert Lynch; February 2, 2024

[Update; February 6, 2024: By a razor-thin margin, and with one member absent, the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday defeated the Resolution, advanced by four of its members, that would have supported a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war and urged a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. The February 6th vote followed nearly two hours of public comments in favor of the Resolution, then nearly another hour of debate among legislators themselves.

Though seven legislators endorsed the measure’s passage Tuesday, and only six opposed it, the Legislature’s rules require eight votes to constitute a majority. Lansing’s Deborah Dawson, absent from the meeting, could have cast the deciding vote toward adoption. But Dawson has voiced prior criticism of Tompkins County’s taking a position on the Gaza war and would likely, if present, have joined the Resolutions opponents.]

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It’s so hard for activist lawmakers to keep their mouths shut and their opinions to themselves, especially here.

“John Doe,” one of a score of Pro-Palestinian activists who addressed the Tompkins County Legislature January 2nd, urging an Israeli cease-fire in Gaza.

Whether it concerns raising the minimum wage, imposing single-payer healthcare, outlawing the oil furnace, or saving the honeybee, the Democratic supermajority on the Tompkins County Legislature always has an opinion. And over recent years, they’ve spoken freely on those issues and to others by adopting Resolutions that may travel no farther than to the circular file of some legislative point-person’s office in Albany or Washington.

But what’s happened during the past month may have brought our local elected leaders to the breaking point… and their legislative practices to a turning point.  It’s unlikely, yet possible.

During nearly a quarter-hour of unplanned discussion near the end of a routine committee meeting Thursday, five of the County Legislature’s 14 members wrestled about whether—and if so, how—to set some boundaries on expressing their own legislative preferences to decision-makers who reside far beyond the county line, or even, in one case, across the ocean.

“We do our homework, and we have access to information that we do tap into that we can make pretty informed decisions,” legislator Rich John asserted as he sparked Thursday’s debate among members of the Government Operations Committee.  “Absolutely none of that is true for us in the Middle East,” John cautioned.  “We are mere mortals.  We have no expertise greater than anybody in the general public, and I don’t know that our opinions should carry any additional weight.”

“We are mere mortals.” we have no greater expertise; Rich John (photo from the Jan. 2 meeting)

Rich John got pushback from others that day.  But his frustration arises from events at the two most recent meetings of the County Legislature.  At each of those sessions, dozens of speakers, mostly left-leaning Palestinian sympathizers, have packed the visitors’ gallery.  Speakers took their three-minute moments denouncing Israel, promoting Palestinian statehood, and urging local lawmakers to endorse a cease-fire to end the war in Gaza.

Thursday’s discussion also came five days before the full Legislature will take up a Resolution drafted by four of its Democratic members, including Enfield-Ulysses representative Anne Koreman.  The resolution, slated for action February 6th, would answer activists’ call.  It would endorse an Israeli-Hamas cease-fire, plus urge the “release of all civilian hostages by Hamas,” and the “initiation of an international peace process to negotiate a two-state solution” in the Middle East.

Prospects for the Resolution’s passage remain uncertain.

“I think it’s pretty good language,” Rich John said of the so-called “Urgent Humanitarian and Local Imperatives” Resolution.  But “I still don’t think it will satisfy everybody,” he conceded.

“I think we’re going to have a lot of consternation about it, anyway,” John predicted.  “And I’m at a point (where) I just don‘t know that we add a lot of value by doing this.”

In response to his concern, Rich John floated an idea; actually two.   His first suggestion would confine County legislative endorsement resolutions to “policies or actions for legislation” by other governmental entities that “have a direct and substantial impact on Tompkins County.”  His second proposal would require a two-thirds vote to pass such intergovernmental endorsements.

The Legislature’s clerk said moving to a two-thirds vote on such matters would require amending the Legislature’s Rules of Order.

“An eight-to-six vote doesn’t really say very much,” Rich John concluded.

At the Legislature’s present size, a two-thirds majority requires ten of its 14 members’ support.  When the Legislature expands by two members in 2026, eleven legislators would need to concur.

“Rich, I 100 percent understand where you’re coming from,” Dryden’s Mike Lane responded.  Yet Lane just as firmly opposed John’s suggestion.

“We’ve heard the consternation for years about these issues,” Lane recognized, “but we still do them because they’re not that frequent and because they take the pulse of the community; it gives them a microphone to use.”

By his words, Mike Lane quite obviously thought not so much about the lawmakers themselves and their own pet initiatives, as he did the activist communities, those whose members rarely attend County Legislature meetings, yet only do so when they seek legislative endorsement of the cause they promote.

Tompkins County’s residents are “highly educated,” Lane said.  They’re engaged.  They’re opinionated. And the County Legislature, Lane said, should provide them an outlet.

“They take the pulse of the community.” Mike Lane praising the public comments that clog some meetings.

“We don’t say they have to come in and speak on something that’s on the agenda like some counties do,” Lane reminded the committee.  “We say they can come and talk about any topic, and I personally have always thought that was a pretty nice thing that we did.”

Compared to adjacent, more buttoned-down, conservative, counties, Tompkins County’s meetings drag on far longer, and they arguably run less efficiently.  In a place like Seneca County, committee resolutions come to the floor, face next-to-no discussion, and receive rubber-stamp approval.  In Tompkins County, public comments flow more frequently, and many a measure subjects itself to extensive legislative speechifying before the clerk calls the roll.

“We have not stopped the business of Tompkins County,” Dryden Democrat Greg Mezey insisted.  He’s , one of the four who drafted the “Local Imperatives” Resolution.  Meetings might run a little long, staff might tire, Mezey admitted, but it’s all in service to a good cause.

“We’re really at the front door of government and accessibility for our community,” Mezey observed.  And of his Legislature, Mezey said, “It’s really the first interaction where they can see and touch in a meaningful way and interact with elected officials that then can hopefully amplify their voice.”

Mezey insisted a County-backed Resolution, even on the Gaza war, provides such amplification.  “We do carry some weight behind our voice,” he maintained.

Two dozen public attendees consumed nearly 90 minutes of the County Legislature’s first meeting of the year, January 2nd, discussing the Gaza war, most of them taking the Palestinian side.  Legislators, themselves, then took nearly an additional hour discussing the issue.  A meeting two weeks later brought to chambers many of the same people who said many of the same things, just for not quite as long.  In neither instance, did legislators have anything on which to act those nights.  But from the seeds sown during the first meeting’s discussion came the Resolution that now stands on the Legislature’s February 6th agenda.

Legislator Mezey: “We’re really at the front door of government…”

The two-page, 12-paragraph “Urgent Humanitarian and Local Imperatives” Resolution, in addition to urging an Israel-Hamas cease-fire, a hostage release, and a two-state solution to the Mideast conflict, also calls for “the unrestricted entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza” and “the acknowledgement and respect for the right of all Palestinians to reside securely and peacefully in a recognized state of Palestine and for Israelis to live securely and peacefully in the state of Israel.”

Legislators Travis Brooks and Veronica Pillar, both from the City of Ithaca, joined members Koreman and Mezey in the Resolution’s drafting.  And though the authors may have attempted balance, critics could argue the text leans toward Palestine. 

“The only chance for a secure and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians is with a two-state solution, without which the conflict will remain ‘…an engine of instability and insecurity and human suffering’ for generations to come,” the Resolution states, purportedly quoting the U.S. Defense Secretary.  “The Legislature has heard a plethora of relevant requests, information, and pain from dozens of community members, highlighting the complexity and trauma of the current situation,” the measure’s drafters also took note, and by so doing tipping their hats to activists.

But behind the scenes, there’s been Inbox overload.  At the committee meeting Thursday, legislators acknowledged having received as many as 700 emails on the subject.  And according to Dryden’s Lane, most of those messages’ writers took a viewpoint at odds with that of January’s meeting speakers, an opinion likely pro-Israel.

Given partisan biases, the February 6th Resolution’s adoption may hold better-than-even odds for passage, though maybe not by the ten-vote supermajority Rich John would assert assigns it credibility.  Lansing Republican Mike Sigler has faulted pro-Palestinian speakers at past meetings for failing to recognize that Hamas started the war last October, that Hamas is a terrorist organization bent on Israel’s destruction, and that Israel holds the right to defend itself.  Sigler may find supporters Tuesday among his legislative ranks.

One of the many: A “Living wage” advocacy before the Legislature, March 2023.

“This is a federal issue; people should be writing their federal representatives and trying to get them to act,” Rich John told his committee colleagues Thursday.  “And that’s the reason why I’m saying we shouldn’t do this.”

“The amount of time we spent on this, I believe has impacted our ability to do the work that we’ve signed on for the residents of Tompkins County to do,” John continued.  The Legislature oversees a nearly quarter-Billion dollar budget, he noted.  “We do have things we really need to pay attention to, and that’s where we should be focused.”

But can the Tompkins County Legislature’s activists restrain themselves?  Probably not. 

“We always talk about these feel-good resolutions.  Do they work?  (Do) they not?  Do our representatives put them in the recycle bin the second they read that it’s from Tompkins?” Shawna Black, the Legislature’s former Chair and now its Vice-Chair, asked January 2nd after she’d heard all the talk.  Nonetheless, Black then answered her own question by laying the groundwork for the Resolution now set for action next Tuesday. “But I think if there’s something we can do that gets eight votes, then let’s try and work on that.”

See, the effort hasn’t stopped yet.  And in Tompkins County, it likely never will.

###

Posted Previously:

The Republic(s) for which it stands…

Common Council drops the Pledge; what it tells us

Analysis and Commentary by Robert Lynch; January 28, 2024

The lazy answer:  Our big sisters downtown just followed in the Enfield Town Board’s progressive footsteps, Ithaca’s Common Council marching wayward—and leftward—a full four years after we did.  But to say that is to pay disrespect to us in Enfield.  I was there for what happened to our town in 2020.  Indeed, I was in the thick of it.  I remember.  I can compare.  It was different.

Alderperson Phoebe Brown: “The Pledge of Allegiance didn’t give my people liberty and justice.”

Last Wednesday night, January 24th, at a torturously boring work session that wasn’t ever intended to touch the hotplate of controversy, the all-too-young, all-too-unseasoned Ithaca Common Council removed the Pledge of Allegiance from its meeting agendas.  Not one of the ten persons on the legislative body that purportedly governs our county seat provided the Pledge a decent defense. 

The time-honored recitation was sent to the landfill just like one of those many Collegetown houses the wrecking claw now pulls apart.  Tradition matters no longer to those in City Hall.  Nor does patriotism.  Maybe generations Millennial and younger never learn patriotism in school.  Maybe they no longer practice it in life.

Reporters tell us Common Council has ignored the Pledge for years.  The agenda’s command was skipped over “both because of its symbolism, but also to save time,” Alderperson Ducson Nguyen gave as his retired colleague Donna Fleming’s excuse for skipping the recitation as past meetings began.

Now, first, let’s address the time factor:  I replayed a recent opening of the Tompkins County Legislature.  They still say the Pledge over there. I brought a stopwatch.  Legislators honored Old Glory in just twelve short seconds.  On the other hand, at meetings of Common Council, discussions typically drag on for three or four hours.  Precious time gets frittered away by repetitive public whinings and self-serving political preening.   No, Fleming’s efficiency rationale fails the time test.  “Symbolism” is what truly mattered to her, and now what matters to just about everyone else down there.

Common Council plainly hadn’t intended to make the Pledge’s demise the most newsworthy nugget of the night.  It only did so because The Ithaca Voice covered the meeting.  Ithaca’s new Mayor, Robert Cantelmo, seemed annoyed that the topic had even come up.  But amid a procedural discussion of agendas, meeting nights, and the City Manager’s newfound power to filter the advice of department heads, Alderperson Patrick Kuehl, a Cornell student, woke the sleeping dog that others would have let lie.

Ithaca Alderperson Patrick Kuehl (campaign photo)

“On the order of business, I really like the Pledge of Allegiance,” Kuehl said, thereby providing the Pledge of Allegiance its only—and shortest-lived—endorsement of the night. “I might be the only one here,” Kuehl apologetically continued, “but I like when that was an order of business.  Everywhere in the United States does that.  I think that it’s kind of unifying across all states and localities.”

Well, maybe every other locality except, of course, Enfield.  Enfield’s Town Board excised the Pledge of Allegiance from its formatted agendas in January 2020.  Following public outcry, the Board partially walked back its decision a month or two later.  Enfield Town Board attendees can still recite the Pledge, but now only under privilege-of-the-floor.

As Alderperson Kuehl provided the Pledge of Allegiance his tepid support January 24th, Alderperson Phoebe Brown, attending via Zoom, was seen shaking her head as though she’d just tasted lye.

“I am not in favor of bringing back the Pledge of Allegiance,” Brown emphatically responded.  Minutes later, Brown, African-American, explained her reason.

“I remember as a child doing the Pledge of Allegiance,” Brown recalled.  “I remember crying to it; feeling this strange urge to do it.  However, as I got older, it (the Pledge) didn’t give my people liberty and justice for all.”

Now, stop one minute and contemplate Phoebe Brown’s chosen words.  I am certain she cannot be the only one in her racial community to speak them or to think them.  To Alderperson Brown, the nation to which our flag symbolizes is not truly her nation, not a nation that embraces and respects and draws its resilience from persons of all colors and all beliefs.  Her perception, my readers, is wrongly placed.

No matter how much blood was shed in the Civil War; no matter how many attempts have been made and successes achieved over the decades and centuries to infuse racial justice into this nation and to elevate minority voices into the national debate, Phoebe Brown will not be satisfied.  Alderperson Brown does not see this nation as her own.  She does not see it as a nation worthy of the respect that pledging to its flag symbolizes.  This is troubling.  This is sad.  And this is dangerous.  Phoebe Brown listens to the wrong voices.  Alderperson Brown views this country through a far different lens than I do.  I wish she did not.  We must build a bridge between her America and mine.

But if not a Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, then what?  Common Council wrestled with that question… until it gave up.

“I would think sort of a ‘pledge to liberty and justice for all’ I sort of like,” Alderperson Clyde Lederman said in offering Patrick Kuehl a little bit of help, though not much.  And with Lederman’s few words, the Pledge of Allegiance pretty much died for the rest of the night.

First Ward Alderperson Kayla Matos wanted no part of the Pledge.  Neither did anyone else.  Even Kuehl retreated from his earlier support.

“I am not married to the Pledge of Allegiance, by any means,” Kuehl clarified as the discussion (sort of) progressed.  “I really like the idea of like having something that grounds us… I think it really brings everybody together to a focused space.”

“I don’t need any preamble”… Just “jump right into business.” Ducson Nguyen.”

Kuehl said he’d be satisfied with Lederman’s suggestion that Council substitute a statement affirming Native American land rights, words Lederman claimed begin “all meetings at Cornell,” including those of the Faculty Senate.  It’s “a nice and perhaps more culturally-sensitive way to begin our meetings,” Lederman suggested.

But, please notice how blithely everyone that night cast off the patriotic import of what they’d chosen to discard.  The only thing Common Council really searched for was a formalized bookend to start its meeting.  Substance devolved into whatever the prevailing activist mentality demanded for the moment.

And what predictably took hold was a most conflicted wandering through the weeds of political correctness, a journey where each and every footstep tripped over an unwanted invasive species deserving rhetorical Roundup.  One could easily have written the script for a lame episode of Portlandia.

“At LACS (Lehman Alternative Community School) we balanced this by having both a Pledge of Allegiance and an Earth Pledge in sequence,” Alderperson Pierre Saint-Perez, a proud LACS graduate, told Council.  Kuehl said he liked Saint-Perez’s idea.  “I think that’s great,” Kuehl said.  (So much for any prior support he’d given the Stars and Stripes.)

“A moment of meditation to ground us” was Kris Haines-Sharp’s suggestion.  She wanted no part of the traditional Pledge.

“I’d like a moment of reflection,” David Shapiro offered.  “But I love all of it; so however people want to think of it in their own moment of silence, it all makes sense to me.”

But Lederman’s idea of a Native American land rights tribute became the favorite among some—though not all.

“I don’t think it is our position to do the Gayogoho:no’ Pledge if we’re not pledging back some land,” Phoebe Brown insisted.  “I’d rather be giving them their land back than saying a pledge of theirs.”

Brown preferred a moment of silence.  Colleague Tiffany Kumar, like Kuehl, a student, found silence insufficient.

“I think we’ve spoken before in Council about how moments of silence can often be performative,” Kumar observed.  “And I do kind of want to bring back up the idea of a land acknowledgement,” she said “although it is not nearly enough to reckon with our history here on this land with the Gayogoho:no’ people.

Kumar quickly added, in predictable P.C. fashion, “I do think that if we want to have some sort of centering statement to the meeting, (Council’s acknowledging Native American land rights is) a great way to not only recognize who the land belongs to, but also raise awareness  about the crucially important issue of returning land to them.”

“If that’s not performative, I don’t know what is,” Brown fired back.  “We’re honoring the land that they cannot even have back.  Now that’s performative!  A moment of silence you can use it as you like, because it’s your moment.”

Let’s leave until another day, and another essay, challenging the hypocrisy and gutlessness of Tiffany Kumar, Phoebe Brown and her like-minded advocates.  They give up not their own land to correct a perceived social injustice.  They give back the land of an elusive, never-identified somebody-else.  Enough said for now.


“Moments of silence can often be performative.” Alderperson Tiffany Kumar, flanked by colleagues David Shapiro and Patrick Kuehl, January 24th.

The short-lived, buried-amidst-a-heap-of-nothingness Common Council Pledge of Allegiance debate ran out of steam fast.  Ducson Nguyen ended it with a predictable default remedy.

“I don’t need any preamble to our meetings,” Nguyen put forth.  “I’m happy to jump into business and start the work of the evening.”

And so it will be; silence; nothing more.   Mayor Robert Cantelmo, who’d grown increasingly impatient with his lawmakers’ side-trip into symbolic posturing, was eager to move on.  “Absent a consensus on an item,” Cantelmo concluded, Common Council will delete the Pledge from its meetings “as we have done for the last many years.”  Discussion ended… unless it resurfaces at some future meeting.

Yet, back to the central point here, Enfield handled the Pledge of Allegiance differently.  In Enfield, the deletion was not relegated to some parliamentary footnote in a meeting surrounded by blah.  The Pledge was not dismissed as an irrelevant ritual long-ignored in the past and not likely to be revived in the future.  And never did Enfield Board members agonize so exhaustively over finding some fitting replacement.

At this writer’s first meeting as Councilperson, the Enfield Town Board stripped the Pledge of Allegiance from its agendas, yet did so only with a fight.  Then-Councilperson, now Town Supervisor Stephanie Redmond moved first to delete “under God” from the Pledge’s wording.  When Supervisor Beth McGee thought total elimination the better option, the Town Board voted 4-1 for total removal.  Mine was the only vote cast to keep tradition—and patriotism—in place.

Enfield in 2020: Our Pledge controversy made big news (Photo courtesy of The Ithaca Voice)

A firestorm of controversy followed weeks later.  News articles got written.  Residents came to meetings.  Each year since, as agendas are organized in January, I’ve politely moved to reinstate the Pledge of Allegiance to its rightful place at the agenda’s top.  Each time, no one seconds my motion.  We move on.  Under a compromise Enfield’s objectors insisted we add, you can still recite the Pledge of Allegiance at our meetings, but only if you ask to do so first.

Ithaca is different.  No doubt, few will seek to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at future Common Council sessions.  Old Glory’s respectful words already died through inattention there years ago.  In Enfield, the Pledge still gets recited at most meetings, even if this Councilperson is the only person in the room to request it.  I believe that pledging to our symbol of American democracy still matters.  I have good justification.

Despite its many blemishes, inequities, and pressure points, I believe that our republic remains the best on this Earth.  “Liberty and justice,” that some may fault as remaining far from perfect, are only as strong as we, ourselves, choose to make them.  And if we sense our liberty or justice is crumbling away, it only means we must work harder toward their preservation or enhancement.  Our system of laws and freedoms provides us that vehicle.  Our flag is that vehicle’s symbol.

Here is the problem:  Most now on Ithaca’s Common Council take America for granted.  Many of their like-minded liberals do as well.  For some, the Cold War is something they’ve only read about in textbooks; 9/11 happened when many were just kids.  These critics dwell on our nation’s imperfections, rather than celebrate its strengths.  For those like Alderpersons Brown, Matos, Nguyen, and even Kuehl, pledging to American liberty, heritage and opportunity isn’t worth their time to say it; not worth twelve seconds at a meeting. 

As just a few on Common Council realized that night, convening a public meeting that lacks a ceremonial preamble somehow leaves one feeling naked.  But it matters not just that you choose to say something, but also that you say something that matters.  Those on Common Council last Wednesday night failed to grasp the distinction.  Sadly, many of us in Enfield have failed to grasp it as well… and have for four years.  Yes, there are some comparisons that fit.

###

Posted Previously:

New Attorney, New Attitude

Fire Commissioners trade 20-year bonding for shorter terms, fewer trucks

The Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners, four of its five members tackling bonding business, January 23rd.

by Robert Lynch; January 24, 2024

Anyone who’s covered the newly-formed Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners both this year and last can sense a recent shift in political winds.  And for this writer, attending the Board’s latest meeting January 23rd felt at times like waking up from a bad dream that had caused your psyche so much angst for no good reason. The dream was last year. The relief is now.

This year, the Commissioners’ meeting place has changed. The sometimes-snarky, heavy-handed legal guidance has disappeared.  And a more congenial, less-adversarial mood has taken hold.  One feels the Enfield community is now working together here, and not—at least not in this instance—at cross-purposes.

Sweeping aside legal advice from the past, Enfield’s four attending Fire Commissioners Tuesday informally, yet firmly, agreed to rescind last fall’s decisions by their predecessor Board, decisions that would have bonded two fire trucks for as long as 20 years.  In principal alone, the earlier agreed-to long-term obligation would have saddled Enfield Fire District residents with $1.05 Million in fire apparatus debt for two decades.

Instead, the newly-reconstituted Board made clear it intends to bond only the newer, more expensive $825,000 pumper engine, the one purchased last year.  And the Board would bond it for no longer than ten years, maybe for even as few a number of years as seven.

It was “too long, too much, and doesn’t work,” Board of Fire Commissioners’ Chairman Greg Stevenson told fellow attendees Tuesday, Stevenson relaying the advice of the Board’s new legal counsel, Mark Butler. At their prior meeting, Commissioners retained Butler to replace attorney Brad Pinsky, to whom they unapologetically showed the door.  The Town Board, not the fire service, had recruited Pinsky last year to shepherd Enfield into formation of a Fire District.  And it was Brad Pinsky who’d most persuasively advocated for long-term bonding of fire trucks.

Pinsky’s initiative, applauded by several previously-appointed Commissioners no longer on that Board, led voters to approve narrowly the two trucks’ bonding in a closely-decided referendum last October. Both the new pumper engine, as well as a 2020 tanker truck, the latter vehicle already partially paid off, were set to go the bonding route.

But with Pinsky gone, and with Mark Butler the lawyer having earned Commissioners’ newfound trust, the Board Tuesday made an abrupt—and largely unexpected—course correction.  No votes were taken that night.  But votes will come later.  And the Board’s new direction stands undeniably clear.

The new consensus directs that the Fire District not bond the less-costly of the two vehicles, the tanker. Instead the District would pay off the tanker’s remaining loan year-by-year.  Members pointed out that the tanker’s current loan carries a lower interest rate than that of any bond they would likely secure for it.

Counsel Mark Butler (from his attorney’s website)

And as for the more expensive pumper engine, all four of the Commissioners present Tuesday indicated no interest in bonding it for longer than ten years.  Three Commissioners said they’d consider paying the truck off in just seven years.

Attorney Butler had given Commissioners a five-year bonding option as well.  but Stevenson discarded that choice, conceding that a half-decade payoff would impose too much short-term taxpayer pain.  Nobody supported a 20-year payback, like what Pinsky had proposed.

“I’m more comfortable with ten years,” Commissioner Robyn Wishna said.  And she added, “it’s a great idea not to bond (the tanker).”

Wishna also suggested that the Board investigate securing one-year Bond Anticipation Notes for the pumper.  Wishna raised the prospect that interest rates may fall before the truck’s longer-term debt would later be locked-in with a multi-year bond.

Stevenson said he believes the Board can make the revised financing decisions work within this year’s Enfield Fire District Budget.  He’d move money around to make the changes match the numbers.  If the pumper were bonded this year, Stevenson indicated, its first bond payment wouldn’t come due until 2025.  And any money the budget had set aside this year for bonding could be directed instead toward retirement of the tanker’s soon-to-sunset bank loan.  That loan remains a relative bargain; holding an interest rate of just 3.74 per cent.

On the other hand, Butler estimates bonds may carry interest of about four per cent.  Last year’s initial loan on the pumper, secured by the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company (EVFC)—which the Enfield Fire District now oversees—carries a much-higher, 5.74 per cent interest rate.

Stevenson remarked that the 3.74 per cent rate is “one more reason not to bond the tanker.”

And to get the tanker fully-paid, Commissioners would only need to come up with $72,449 in each of three years: 2024, 2025 and 2026.

Stevenson’s logic is straightforward:  “Let’s save the most interest that we can while still meeting our obligations.”

The Enfield Town Board transferred fire service oversight from itself to a newly-formed Fire District in August of last year.  The Town Board then appointed the District’s first five Fire Commissioners, as New York law demands it must.  Of the five appointees, only three of them later stood for election to become permanent Commissioners.  And only two of those three later won in last December’s Fire Commissioners election.  Therefore, 60 per cent of the Commission’s membership this month is brand new.  And four of the five members, including recent Fire Chief Stevenson, are fire service volunteers.

Robyn Wishna and Enfield Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins remain the only hold-overs from the originally-appointed Board.  Rollins did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, his absence likely due to his Department’s attention to a nuisance snowstorm that made Enfield roads that night treacherous.

Truck 622; The Enfield tanker no longer slated for bonding.

Two former Commissioners who chose not to seek election, Geoff Hollister and former Chairman Jim Mathews, became last fall’s loudest cheerleaders for long-term fire truck bonding.  Mathews most adamantly promoted long-term financing so as to avoid a sudden, painful, escalation in fire taxes.

In a district-wide referendum held last October 31st—one which drew criticism for having been called on short notice and scheduled on Halloween—Enfield residents approved, by a vote of  77-69, the purchase of the pumper engine from the EVFC and its subsequent bonding for up to two decades.  By an almost identical margin (79-66), voters also supported the tanker’s purchase and bonding of its $220,000 estimated unpaid balance.  In some circles, the closeness of the outcome amid the circumstances led to post-election public bitterness.

Although the voters last year directed the bonding of both trucks, Stevenson indicated after Tuesday’s meeting that Butler would likely conclude that Fire Commissioners can legally back away from the referendum’s financing choices should they choose to do so.

Stevenson forecast that bonding for the pumper could come as soon as “late-February or early-March.” The chairman plans to convey board consensus to Butler, who could firm-up resolutions in time for a Commissioners’ vote as soon as February sixth.

One nagging question was never answered before the Halloween referendum.  Now it somewhat has been.  The question involved how much additional money bonding either or both of the fire trucks might cost Enfield over the long run.  Attorney Butler has finally assembled some numbers.

On a spreadsheet Stevenson shared after Tuesday’s meeting, the newly-retained attorney projected that 20-year bonding for the pumper alone would, assuming a bonding interest rate of four per cent, add $346,703 to the pumper’s $825,000 price and heighten its overall taxpayer cost to nearly $1.2 Million. 

By contrast, ten-year bonding would put the truck’s total cost at just over $1 Million.  Seven-year bonding would trim it to $957,000.  Were the Commissioners to opt to bond for only a half-decade, the number would shrink to $924,000.

But as any homebuyer knows, the downside of short-term financing is a higher yearly payment.  A 10-year bond at four per cent would only drain $115,500 from the annual fire budget; a seven-year bond just over  $150,000; and a five-year bond considerably more.

The five-year option has its advantages, Stevenson acknowledged, “but we don’t have the budget.”

When Brad Pinsky (back to the camera) first started guiding Fire Commissioners last August.

Enfield’s new crop of Fire Commissioners has tactfully chosen not to air complaints in open session. Yet members have implicitly made clear their dissatisfaction with the direction in which Brad Pinsky had pointed the Enfield Fire District during its earlier, formative days.  At its organizational meeting January 9th, Commissioners directed their Secretary to write Pinsky that “his service is no longer needed by the District.”

At that same meeting, the Board replaced a policy manual that Pinsky had provided the appointed Board last fall with an alternative manual employed by the Enfield Fire Company.

At a late-October Commissioners’ meeting, Stevenson had described the cut-and-paste Pinsky submission in plain-spoken language he felt pressure later to retract.  Yet he held firm to his opinion that for a “market-rate attorney,” the manual “should have been better (and) cleaner.”

With its cutting of all ties, the current Board asked Pinsky for his bill.  The attorney responded.  And Stevenson reports Pinsky’s invoice now tops $15,000.  Until the tax warrant’s returned, Stevenson acknowledges, the Fire District has too little money to pay it.

****

The Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners handled other business Tuesday.  Most notably, it authorized application for two, separate fire service grants.  It authorized an Assistance to Firefighters grant application through a federal agency, and also application for a slice of Governor Kathy Hochul’s much-heralded $25 Million capital funding program intended to aid volunteer fire departments, moneys distributed through the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

The Hochul-promoted grant, if obtained, would likely underwrite at least partial cost of a volunteer training center, typically seen as a concrete fire tower.  The Board authorized spending up to $2,000 to hire a grant writer for the application.  Commissioners concede that tapping the Governor’s money remains a long shot.

###

Essay and Analysis; posted previously:

A Right to Water… But for Whom?

Subdivision rule rewrite splinters Enfield Board

Reporting, analysis and commentary by Robert Lynch; January 16, 2024

“It’s very NIMBY to say that people can’t come here because they might affect our water.”

Enfield Supervisor Stephanie Redmond, Town Board meeting, January 10th.

“I think first and foremost we have to protect the interests of the people who live here.”

Enfield Councilperson Robert Lynch, same meeting.

The shadow of Breezy Meadows hung over the Enfield Town Board near the end of its first meeting in January.  For this writer and Town Councilperson, it certainly did; for Town Supervisor Stephanie Redmond, maybe not so much.

The first of many; a tiny house on Lot 25, Breezy Meadows, Tucker Road.

For me, New York Land and Lakes Development’s new 33-lot, 337-acre large-lot housing project—the one straddling Tucker Road and reaching as far west as Podunk and as far east as Halseyville—underlay everything I placed before my fellow Town Board members that night as we began our review of a 39-page draft of Subdivision Regulations, revisions handed up last September by Enfield’s Planning Board.

For several months, Supervisor Redmond has urged us to start review of the document, only to have our labors kicked down the road to a later meeting, often by me.  Frankly, I wanted some time to put my own thoughts together and also to invite newly-elected Board member Melissa Millspaugh to join in the discussions.  From impressions I drew at our January 10th session, not many others on our Board had given the draft regulations as much thought as I had.  I’d thought about them plenty.

To me, subdivision regulations serve as the tool that towns can use to force developers to behave.  And in my opinion, Land and Lakes has not behaved well.

“Are there any changes to the definitions?”  Supervisor Redmond asked us.  It was the “definitions” section that she’d wanted us to study first.  “I felt like there wasn’t anything in particular that I saw that was inappropriate or should have been explained more.  But I’d be open to other ideas,” Redmond said.

I had ideas.  Indeed, I’d scripted them in red.  I’d later hand them to Redmond and to others on the Town Board.

“We can treat this two ways,” I advised my fellow lawmakers.  “We can treat this as just an editorial exercise… or we can take this as an opportunity, an opportunity to really answer some of the problems that I feel were raised by Breezy Meadows and raised in a way that brought me concern, which I have expressed previously.”

Supervisor Stephanie Redmond (at a prior meeting)

They were concerns I’d been vocal about ever since the Land and Lakes project first came to light in December 2022 and continued thereafter as resident complaints arose at Planning Board meetings during the early months of last year.  That review culminated in June with the Planning Board having given the developer pretty much everything it had asked for.

“Do we take Major Subdivisions and chop them into two categories?” I asked my Town Board colleagues this recent January night.  “Do we involve the Town (Board) as the lead agency in those larger categories?  That’s a separate question.  And the third question is whether we embody within our Subdivision Regulations what can basically be described as the Right to Water.

A “Right to Water,” my innovative request that would establish a resident’s right to plentiful ground water.  It’s my baby.  I conceived it.  I campaigned for re-election on it.  According to last year’s Planning Board banter, it may be the first-of-its-kind in New York State.   My initiative predominated the remainder of our Board’s much-longer-than-expected, 48-minute discussion.  And what that discussion revealed, rather unexpectedly, was the sharp ideological divide between Supervisor Redmond and myself; differences not just over whether ground water rights deserve regulatory protection, but also, perhaps more importantly, over whom we in elected Enfield Town Government should answer to first.

“Here’s my concern,” responded Redmond.   “With Climate Change, things are going to change drastically as far as water resources go.  We could experience heavy floods.  We can experience extreme drought. That can change annually.  And it seems unfair—(rather) un-uniform to use that as a measure when it can be the one year it floods, there’s plenty of water, and they can do 20 different subdivisions; and the next year, two years down the road, there’s a drought; there’s no water anywhere, you can’t subdivide five parcels  and get adequate water.”

A fair point, perhaps.  But I’ve got an answer.  My draft provision puts the developer on the hook to plan for the worst-case scenario.

Here’s the core requirement I wrote as part of the five-paragraph “Right to Water” provision I’d proposed to add to Enfield’s Subdivision Regulations.  That key paragraph states:

“[A]s a condition to the sale of any proposed subdivision lot, the subdivider/seller shall certify to the prospective purchaser in writing prior to closing on that parcel’s sale, absent the existence of any readily-available public water supply, that the lot to be sold holds sufficient groundwater production capacity to support the use intended, and that in no instance it holds less capacity than that required to support the needs of a three-bedroom, single-family residence, a capacity standard based on the established or generally-accepted standards employed by the Tompkins County Health Department at the time of sale.”

Tucker Road; lonely now. A bustling boulevard someday?

Straightforward, I would argue, and also consumer-friendly.  I would not apply the requirement to minor subdivisions where only a handful of lots are being created.  Nor would I apply it to land sales where the buyer’s intent is to farm.  The buyer could still roll the dice and waive the water requirement when purchasing the land.  But the seller, the subdivision developer, could not waive the requirement absent the buyer’s consent.

“This is just a starting point,” I advised my Board colleagues.   “And it’s a question if we want to think expansively with regards to these subdivision regulations.  If we don’t, then we don’t.”

I explained the problem:  “The problem is that New York Land and Lakes made no representations of water,” I said.  “They said it’s a buildable lot.  When pressed at the Planning Board meeting as to what a ‘buildable lot’ is, they said it will meet the County sewage disposal requirements.  There was no guarantee of water.  And that is a concern.” 

New York Land and Lakes Development began marketing its Breezy Meadows subdivision in late-September.  Nearly all of the 33 lots, big and small, have already been snapped up, according to Town Clerk Mary Cornell, who receives change-of-ownership forms for tax purposes.  Clerk Cornell reports most of the purchasers provide downstate or New Jersey addresses.

At times, last spring, I waged a one-man fight before the Enfield Planning Board to force New York Land and Lakes to work harder in exchange for the millions it made.  First, I pleaded with the Planning Board to require the developer undertake a detailed Environmental Impact Statement complete with a water study so as to scientifically affirm the company’s own assertion that its new lots would not deplete neighborhood wells.  When that attempt failed, I urged planners append to their approval a water sufficiency clause similar to what I’d placed before the Town Board on Wednesday.  The Planning Board thought the requirement unnecessary.

Planners rejected that latter recommendation, in part, on grounds that my requirement might burden developers to drill test-wells to demonstrate compliance, and to drill them in places not wanted.  “Maybe I want to put my house where you stuck that stupid well,” Planning Board member Ann Chaffee famously remarked at the final meeting, her placing words into the mouth of a lot’s prospective purchaser.

But Breezy Meadows is a done-deal.  The land’s been sold.  The people will come.  The homes will go up.  The well drillers will drill down.  But what about our future?  At this point, that’s what worries me.  And Supervisor Redmond’s comments at our January meeting did nothing to quell my anxiety.

The Enfield Planning Board, the night it approved “Breezy Meadows;” June 7, 2023.

“We very much are going to, in my opinion, experience severe development pressure as people are climate refugees and come here,” Redmond said, cautioning the rest of us not to erect regulatory barriers that would discourage her predicted flood of new arrivals from coming here. 

“We have to expect that, our climate change reality” Redmond told us that night.  “We have to expect that coastal cities with billions of people are going to go underwater, and they’re going to need a place to live, and they’re going to come here because we have fresh water resources that we need to really protect.  So I’m on board that we need to protect it.  But I also understand that we have to accommodate places for people to live.”

Quite honestly, I do not live in Stephanie Redmond’s reality.  I do not envision parched, thirsty “climate refugees” streaming west across Sheffield Road into Enfield like Venezuelan migrants swimming the Rio Grande into Greg Abbott’s Texas.  And if those flood-displaced masses actually do eventually migrate, don’t you think they’ll first go to someplace where there’s public water?  I doubt they’ll head toward the Enfield shale where wells yield maybe two gallons per minute at best.

No, more likely a good many urban emigres to the likes of Breezy Meadows will be 21st Century Eddie Albert’s and Eva Gabor’s who envision some sort of idyllic “Green Acres” in northwestern Enfield.  Good luck with that.  And when they finally do get here and figure out what they’ve bought, let’s hope they keep the water-wagon driver on speed-dial.

The damage to be done here will likely be the damage done to those who now call Enfield their home.

“The problem that I have been confronting the past year in dealing with Breezy Meadows are people who have been telling me, ‘We live here in Enfield already, and we have those wells down in the shale, and we’re worried that all those homes in Breezy Meadows are going to drain our well dry,’” I told the Town Board that night.

“And the neighbors, the people who aren’t in Breezy Meadows, a lot of them are scared,” I said.  “A lot of them say, ‘I’m not going to build anywhere near here because I don’t want to have no water.’”

“In all honesty, none of us are guaranteed water,” Redmond responded.   And if that’s the case, “There’s no development at all,” she concluded.  “That’s the reality that we’re facing.  Climate Change is real.  It’s very much going to affect our area.  And what way that goes, we don’t know.”

“I’m open to looking at it on a much broader sense, I am,” Councilperson Jude Lemke interjected.  “But we need help.  It’s not an area we know a lot about.”  Both Lemke and Redmond proposed we call in experts to address the Town Board on best practices and water conservation.  They asked for presentations.  Lemke wondered if someone at Cornell could help.

“It seems to me that tackling this without some guidance from people who know a lot more about this than our Board does would be foolish,” Lemke concluded. 

But talking a problem to death can kill it.  Presentations and studies can also redirect the whole process and dead-end  what my “Right to Water” stipulation in the Subdivision Regulations was intended to accomplish; in its purest sense, to give the land purchaser a waivable assurance that he or she was not being scammed by a fast-talking agent.  The purpose was to burden the developer, not to burden you.

Instead, the January 10th water rights journey, to me, found itself traveling down dangerous side roads heading toward uncharted destinations and unwanted outcomes the likes of which I’d rather not visit or experience. 

“I am opposed to like a developer coming in and doing what they did in Lansing where it’s just McMansions everywhere,” Redmond reacted.  “I would rather see small houses everywhere, efficient houses being built; people that make it a possibility for people—for more people to live here in a sense that is more sustainable.”

“I don’t think that limiting housing is necessarily the way,” Redmond said.  “I think limiting foolish water usage—wasting is probably a better way.  And limiting house size might be a better way to creating a more sustainable community.” 

“Thinking about water usage,” the Supervisor continued, “Does everybody need to have a perfectly monoculture lawn and water it every day during a drought?  What kind of regulations can we put in there for what I consider foolish water usage?”

Whoa!  Regulations?  Foolish water usage? What are we talking about here?  One’s temped to let spontaneous comments like Redmond’s fly into outer space; never captured; never examined; never debated.  But capture them, please.  Supervisor Redmond is trading-in one Councilperson’s idea that would bridle irresponsible developers for a very different idea: that of a controlled society, one that bridles every one of us.

“We have to be able to share this water resource with the rest of the world,” Redmond argued.   “And yes, it might harm us.  We might not be able to wash our car or fill up our pool, and that might hurt.  Climate Change is going to hurt.  You can bet Climate Change is going to hurt.  And you might not be around for it.  But I bet my kids are going to be around for it, and it’s going to hurt.”

Hurt, it may.  But what the Supervisor aspired for that night is not the Enfield that you know.  It is not the Enfield that I know, nor want to know.  It would be a different type of town.  Yes, I want your shale-rock well to pour forth water.  But I do not want to have to call the Town Supervisor or some Town Water Resource Officer on a Saturday morning just to gain permission to wash the dog.  Nor do I want to plead before the Town Board in order to build a house that’s just a little bit larger than tiny.

“I do think that we need to deal with the housing crunch that New York State is going to face,” Redmond said, brushing aside my initiative on grounds it might stifle local housing growth.  “And I don’t think that saying that, ‘It’s ours; we live here; and therefore, you can’t come in’—it’s very NIMBY to say that people can’t come here because they might affect our water.  Well, they’re coming from places that don’t have water at all.  They need water.”

Enfield’s Supervisor continued:  “I don’t feel like we can be, ’These are our waters because we were here first.’  I don’t think that’s appropriate.  Otherwise, we should give all of our land back to the Native Americans and walk away.”

I disagreed with the Supervisor’s assertion and called her on it. 

“I think first and foremost we have to protect the interests of the people who live here,” I said. “And I know that sounds like being NIMBY, but I’m trying to be responsible.  I’m not trying to say that nobody can come in here.  But you can’t come in here and hurt your neighbor by drawing his well dry.”

“Enfield is not set up to have high-density subdivisions,” Planning Board Chair Dan Walker reminded us that night.  “That’s just the way it is right now.”

“And if we wanted to spend $15-20 Million, we could probably get the infrastructure started to have some areas of higher density development,” Walker told us.  “But that’s not what we want.  We want to maintain the agricultural aspects of Enfield.”

And the Planning Board Chair’s observation—an observation likely shared by most of us in Enfield—deflates the argument that our town should become some wide-open refuge for the climate-displaced.  Not only do we lack the infrastructure to support large-scale housing development.  We don’t want countless Breezy Meadows-clones to gobble up what precious farmland we have left. We’re Enfield, not Levittown.

Yet, again, I circled back to the central issue I’d first raised: the issue of water.

“I think in places where you’ve got low-producing shale wells like this, you either go the route that I’ve proposed or you go the expensive route and bring a water pipe up from the standpipe down on Iradell and Van Dorn, and you bring public water in,” I said.  “And you’re going to get some resistance from people saying, ‘I don’t want to pay the benefit charge for that.’  But I think you’ve got one choice or two, or you are going to have people who are scared to live here anymore because they’re worried their wells are going to run dry.  And I hear that.”

Supervisor Redmond and I did most of the talking that January night.  Councilperson Lemke commented some.  Councilpersons Hinkle and Millspaugh stayed mostly on the sidelines.  Perhaps they enjoyed the best vantage points to hear the back-and-forth.  

Our costly, someday salvation? The Ulysses-owned standpipe at Iradell and Van Dorn.

“We’ve got a fork in the road; which way we go in terms of these regulations,” I said.   “Do we just more-or-less tidy up and pass and adopt what the Planning Board has revised and do minor changes?  Or do we make major changes like I have suggested for the sake of argument, if nothing else?”

Reading my colleagues’ reaction that January evening, small-ball won the night.

“I would like to see these adopted mostly as they are right now,” Redmond concluded.  “But I do think we need to continue this discussion.”

“We shouldn’t abandon the work that’s been done,” Lemke concurred.   “We should move [the Planning Board’s draft] forward and adopt it because it’s better than where we are.  And then we should build on that and look at all this other stuff.  And that’s what amendments are for.”

Before we moved on toward adjournment, the Supervisor made it clear she thought my initiative—the subdivider-limiting “Right to Water,” while worthy on some level, was a leap much too far.

“I really can’t move on those right now,” Redmond said.  No one else, other than me, disputed her.

Our Town Board will tackle another section of the draft Subdivision Regulations come February.  I predict a more boring, less pointed discussion then.  If nothing else, I’ll make it that way.  I sense I’ve played my hand and more or less lost—again.  Yet if a “Right to Water” for those in Enfield is “my baby,” and if you make the metaphor work, rest assured that tonight that baby does not sleep soundly.  Why?  Because trust me, there will be more Breezy Meadows.  And your well cannot work miracles.

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Dan’s County; Klein’s Style

Commentary by Robert Lynch; Posted January 18, 2024

Should you have been looking for some broad, sweeping vision for our community in 2024, you wouldn’t have found it in newly-named Chairman Dan Klein’s “State of the County” address to the Tompkins County Legislature this week.  In fact, the Danby lawmaker—for whom a suit and tie are foreign objects—seemed uncomfortable with what he read. “I guess we call it the State of the County; it sounds a little funny calling it that,” Klein observed.

“The state of the County is excellent,” Klein’s statement began, “and at the same time there are plenty of areas that need a lot of attention and need a lot of help.  We are doing a lot, and there is a lot more to do.”

But isn’t that what everyone almost always says?

What followed in the speech was a laundry list recitation of governmental goals and accomplishments, ongoing endeavors that the official press release wisely put as bullet points:  Work toward a Center of Government; put the county-wide flycar system in place; hire a County Attorney; and oh, yes, prod advisory boards to update their bylaws.  So it went. 

Many of Klein’s 1600 words built him a platform to name committee chairs.  Only after Klein had reached the end of his 12-minute script— and applause followed—did spontaneity emerge:

“I believe strongly in our County Government,” Klein then ad-libbed, “So that’s what I was trying to express.”

We each do things differently.  But my advice to Dan is this:  Speak from the heart, not the page, whenever you can.  Passion works.

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Crash Corner

Enfield Board seeks to bring safety to Applegate at 79

But reaping less success down south

They drive so fast; and you’ve got to look left and right and left and right before you cross; and they can still “be right on you.” The NY 79 centerline at Applegate Road.

by Robert Lynch; December 29, 2023

Many decades, long, long ago, my Dad worked at Morse Chain with a man we’ll call “Vince” (not his real name). Vince lived near Applegate Corners, the intersection of Applegate Road and Mecklenburg Road, State Route 79.  Vince had a teenage son who loved go karts.  One day Vince’s son drove his kart across Route 79 and was struck by an oncoming motorist.  He died of his injuries. Vince’s son may not have been the only life lost at Applegate Corners over the years.  But it’s the loss that’s left an indelible imprint on my mind.

On December 13th, following the second of two recent non-fatal, yet injury-producing accidents at Applegate Corners, the Enfield Town Board took action.  By the unanimous vote of the three members then attending, the Board urged the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) to study the crash-prone intersection and take steps to make the dangerous crossroads safer.

Under its Resolution, the Town Board requested Department staff to “consider any and all improvements that would enhance traffic safety at that intersection, improvements that may include, but are not necessarily limited to, upgraded signage, pavement modifications, and/or the installation of new traffic control devices, such as an overhead blinker.”

As protocol mandates, the Enfield request must first go through the Tompkins County’s Highway Department, whose Director, Jeffrey Smith, will refer it to New York State.

“It’s a terrible intersection if you’re on Applegate from either direction,” this writer, Councilperson Robert Lynch, said after introducing his Resolution at the December meeting.  “It has to be made more obvious to people on Applegate (that), this is where you stop.”

What makes the Applegate/Route 79 intersection a worse hazard than than most is the restricted view that motorists on Applegate Road have to approaching Route 79 traffic from the east.  Likewise, Route 79 westbound drivers may find they have too little time to react to vehicles crossing from Applegate Road.

“That hill has a fairly short sight distance,” Enfield Planning Board Chair Dan Walker remarked during the Town Board’s discussion.  “And a car traveling at the rated speed coming down the hill, and somebody coming out of Applegate and looking up and then looking back again, and then not looking up again; and the amount of time it takes to look back and forth, somebody can be right on you.”

“You’ve got to look left and right and left and right before you cross, because the traffic on 79 is so fast, and there’s such a limited sight distance,” this Councilperson, Robert Lynch, concurred. “And I think at least the State should study it.”

See how little you can see looking east?

Enfield Fire Chief Greg Stevenson, soon to become a Fire Commissioner, made his concern known about Applegate Corners at a Board of Fire Commissioners meeting November 6th.  Stevenson called Route 79 and Applegate “our hot corner,” then telling Commissioners, “We have had significant accidents at that intersection recently this year.” 

One multi-vehicle crash at the corner in late-August prompted Chief Stevenson to engage the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response to encourage improved notification procedures to aid the Enfield Rescue Squad’s response to accidents of that type.  But a second Applegate Corners two-car accident occurred in late-October and prompted Stevenson’s report to Fire Commissioners.  In that second accident, the Fire Chief said, three ambulances were deployed to transport three patients, two of whom had suffered injuries serious enough to require hospitalization in Syracuse.

What State engineers may do to calm Route 79 traffic, remove visibility barriers, or alert Applegate Road drivers of their need to stop, will become known in time.  But it’s unlikely that what we may get will be anything more than a yellow-and-red blinker.  And if so, we may be lucky.

“Is there any reason we wouldn’t ask for a traffic light there?”  Councilperson Jude Lemke questioned during the December 13th discussion.  Lemke suggested that a three-way light that alternately stops traffic on both roads would be better.

Would a blinker help? Or maybe something more? Accident-prone Applegate Corners

 “You can’t stop on that hill when it’s icy,” Supervisor Stephanie Redmond warned, the Supervisor pointing to the likely impracticality of halting Mecklenburg Road eastbound travel during inclement weather.

“The amount of traffic on Applegate Road, the volume, would not meet the requirements,” Walker interjected.  Moreover, he said, “If we can’t get a three-color light at (Miller’s) Corners, we can’t get one at Applegate.”

The busier Miller’s Corners intersection, located one mile west of Applegate on Route 79, has had a blinker for decades.  Transportation officials resist upgrading it to a traditional stoplight.

While safety improvements at Applegate Corners hold promise, a much different traffic problem frustrates Enfield’s leaders down at the Town’s southern border.

In response to a resident letter sent in September, the Enfield Town Board weeks later requested the State DOT to consent to lowering the speed limit on Van Ostrand Road, the gravel roadway that divides Enfield from Newfield on the town line.  But now, the Department has refused to honor that request.

Jennifer Greenawalt, who resides on the Newfield side of Van Ostrand, described Van Ostrand’s state-defaulted 55 MPH speed limit as making her road “extremely unsafe.”

“The road is a dirt road that has many little inclines making visibility dangerous,” Greenawalt wrote Enfield in September, “not to mention the dust clouds that are kicked up due to the high rates of speed.”

“I have just like many others have, almost been hit numerous times,” Greenawalt warned the Enfield Board. “The most recent was yesterday morning,” she stated in her September letter.  “Had (the other driver) not swerved he would have hit me head on,” she reported.

Fit for 55? DOT thinks so. Van Ostrand Road near Thomas.

Yet logic and first-hand observations aside, the State Department of Transportation has proven to have a counter-intuitive way of evaluating such problems.  Its reasoning has bedeviled Enfield’s leaders in the recent past.  New York’s traffic planners notified Enfield in late-November that they reject categorically any immediate prospect of reducing speeds on Van Ostrand Road.

“NYSDOT follows the practice of not posting speed limits on unpaved roadways,” Scott Bates, the agency’s Regional Traffic Engineer, wrote the Town.  “Studies have shown that lowered speed limits on gravel roads have negligible impact on improving safety and operations.”

Bates’ letter continued with even more questionable logic: “Additionally, the conditions of the (unpaved) road can deteriorate quicker than those of a paved road which may cause the posted speed limit to become inappropriate.”

The engineer said his agency would reconsider a reduced speed limit only after Van Ostrand Road is paved, an improvement that stands many years, if not decades, away.

“I’m really disappointed with how the State does stuff,” this Councilperson told the Town Board.  Lynch suggested Enfield should lobby Albany lawmakers to grant it the same authority that cities already have to lower speed limits unilaterally, thereby circumventing the State Department of Transportation.  By doing so, he said, “we don’t always have to go begging to New York State.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Bob,” Enfield Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins objected.  “You’re going to have to have equipment like the State has; you’re going to have an investigation; you’re going to have a count of traffic,” Rollins maintained.

“If the Town has authority, we don’t necessarily have to do it with all that equipment and all that testing,” this Councilperson rebutted, Lynch noting that a recent change in state law now permits Ithaca and all other cities to cut their city speed limits to 25 miles per hour, a change Ithaca will soon implement.   

“I’m sure the City of Ithaca didn’t do a whole lot of those studies to determine that Dey Street needs to be 25 miles per hour,” Lynch told Rollins.  “But they’re going to do it anyway because the state law says they can do it.”

 In other business at the Enfield Town Board’s December 13th meeting:

  • In yet its third attempt—this one likely to succeed—the Town Board authorized purchase of a standby generator for the Highway Department.  The new, 80 kilowatt generator Highway Superintendent Rollins located will be secured through state contract, thereby eliminating the need for bidding.  But it also carries a nearly $68,000 price tag, a cost considerably higher than the $50,000 in American Rescue Plan funds the Town had set aside for the purchase.  The Board solved the problem by pulling $18,000 from a Highway Equipment line upon Rollins’ recommendation.  Rollins said generator delivery could take six months.
  • The Town Board unanimously adopted a Councilperson Lynch-sponsored Resolution that strikes a middle-ground of sorts in the ongoing controversy over whether Tompkins County towns should contribute toward the Pilot Rapid Medical Response (PRMR) flycar rescue units that County Government will position in early 2024 to supplement the services of volunteer rescue squads.  The Enfield Resolution recommends that the County, not the towns, bear the full cost of the PRMR in 2024—as now appears virtually assured—but that Enfield remains open to discussing cooperative support for future years.  The adopted Resolution urged Tompkins County to negotiate with towns collectively, rather than one-by-one.
  • And the Enfield Town Board marked the impending departure of James Ricks, the first African-American Town Board member in Enfield’s history.  It did so by adopting a “Statement of Inclusion,” a Resolution submitted by Ricks and scripted with the assistance of the community group “Antiracists in Enfield.”

“[T]he Town of Enfield commits to promoting inclusivity in all aspects of our organization,” the Board’s unanimously-adopted Resolution states.  The Statement of Inclusion commits the Town to ensure that Enfield Town policies and practices are inclusive and equitable.  It also pledges to train staff and volunteers in the importance of inclusion; and to work toward “celebrating diversity and promoting cultural awareness through events, activities, and programs.”

“James joined the Board two, maybe three years ago; and I think it’s been a learning experience, it’s been a helpful experience,” this Councilperson remarked as he wished Ricks the best during opening comments at the December meeting.  “We are a rainbow community, with people of all colors and all races and all backgrounds; and James, we appreciate your presence, we appreciate your service,” this Board member said.

In January, Melissa Millspaugh will replace James Ricks as Enfield Councilperson.

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