Redmond resigns Town Board; assails Lynch for blocking her promotion
by Robert Lynch, December 9, 2020; updated December 11, 2020; 11:30 PM
“I have a thick skin,” Enfield Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer), said at one point during Wednesday’s (Dec. 9th) marathon Town Board meeting. He needed it.
During a nearly four-hour session that began with civility, yet at midpoint, quickly devolved into personal attacks and allegations bordering on charges of racism, Councilperson Stephanie Redmond assailed Lynch for not only blocking her own promotion to the vacant post of Supervisor, but also for, by his inaction, preventing James Ricks from presumptively assuming the Councilperson’s seat Redmond would then vacate and become Enfield’s first African-American Town Board member.
With Redmond irate and Lynch not budging, Redmond then abruptly resigned as Councilperson, effective immediately.
“I am definitely going to resign. I’m definitely going to resign,” exclaimed Redmond. “I will still act as the Deputy Supervisor and therefore be the Acting Supervisor. However, my seat will be open and I will make this seat available to James Ricks because he fully deserves this. And the Town fully deserves a level of inclusiveness from this man.”
“Stephanie, you have no right to bequeath your office to someone else,” responded Lynch.
“I’m not bequeathing my office. I’m opening this seat up. And if you do not vote for him, you will show your own cards to this Town,” an irate Redmond retorted.
So, once again, the Enfield Town Board stands at just three members, its legal minimum. Though Redmond will preside at meetings, she will have no vote.
Each of the remaining Board members; Lynch, Virginia Bryant, and newly named Councilperson Michael Miles, urged Redmond to reconsider her departure. Lynch begged her to change her mind at least three times. “Sleep on it,” counseled Bryant. Nonetheless, Redmond held firm. At meeting’s end, less than an hour before tendering her written resignation, the departing Councilperson delivered a closing monologue, again lauding her accomplishments as Deputy Supervisor and impugning Lynch’s alleged political motives for his standing in the path of her promotion.
Redmond also took pains to praise her political mentor, former Supervisor Beth McGee, who’d transparently groomed Redmond to be her successor for nearly six months before McGee, herself, resigned September 30th.
Though few others would have known it, McGee viewed the entire zoom meeting from behind a cryptic graphic on her blackened tile, her identity not revealed until meeting’s end. She never spoke.
The Town Board will first attempt to pick up the broken remains of Wednesday’s shattered meeting in a special session called for Wednesday, December 16th. Miles has said he will nominate Redmond for Supervisor at some future session, perhaps then. Bryant expects to support Redmond’s elevation as well. But Lynch has resisted, insisting voters prefer to keep the seat open through next year’s elections. Lynch has told colleagues not to expect his vote either on Supervisor or on filling the new Councilperson vacancy next Wednesday.
James Ricks did not attend the December 9th online meeting. Redmond claimed Ricks chose to stay away because “he did not want to be part of this conversation.”
“I have put heart and soul into this for the last six months,” Redmond said of her work Wednesday. “And it’s not for the money…. I could go make a lot more money somewhere else. I’m doing this because I was born and raised in Tompkins County. I’m doing this because I built a house here. I’m doing this because I have three kids, and I have a vested interest in the future. And it is repeatedly, repeatedly been negatively politicized by Robert Lynch over and over again as if I had some sort of sinister ulterior motive.”
Redmond insinuated that Lynch’s own ulterior motive is to run for Supervisor himself and to deny Redmond the benefit of incumbency. Lynch denied the allegation, saying his “odds on” feeling at the moment was not to run, though he admitted his opinion might change.
Those skilled in political strategy might find their own “ulterior motive” in Redmond’s timed departure.
In a revised opinion shared with Board members this week, Guy Krogh, the attorney for the Town, advised the Board that in any vote for Supervisor, Redmond should not only cast no vote, but also preferably resign her Councilperson’s seat first. Citing a 1923 New York trial court case, overruled in part by subsequent statutes, yet still respected for its reasoning, Krogh concluded that elevating a seated, even non-voting Board member to Supervisor “looks bad”…” is against public policy,” and raises the “appearance of bias or taint.”
Thus, given Redmond’s thirst to become Supervisor, her prior resignation would become necessity. She would need first to resign. Then the remaining Board would select a pro-Redmond partisan to take her place. Only thereafter could the new three-member majority circumvent Lynch to appoint Redmond to the job she wants. Lynch’s only power would be to block the new Councilperson’s appointment.
Therefore, James Ricks, a known favorite of both Redmond and McGee, could become a key ally in Redmond’s effort.
For several meetings, Enfield’s Town Board has either deadlocked on filling the Supervisor’s post McGee vacated, or it’s simply given up trying. After two initial attempts failed, former Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey, herself, resigned October 5th. Mehaffey’s departure prompted Miles’ appointment. James Ricks, known for his activism in racial and left-wing causes, competed against Miles for the Board’s appointment. Though the final vote for Miles in November was unanimous, Redmond initially favored Ricks.
Often, during her departing comments Wednesday, Redmond placed more importance upon Ricks’ potential contributions of racial, diversity than she did on her own purported achievements. Redmond called the denial of Ricks’ presumed appointment—blocked until she, herself, is elevated—an “incredibly disgusting display of white supremacy.”
“It’s just humiliating for our Town…. We have no black man that has experience on this Town Board because we’ve never had a black man on this Town Board. And now we have one that is willing and able and cares to be willing to serve.”
As to her own need for promotion, Redmond cited the risks of COVID-19. Only the Supervisor and Deputy Supervisor can pay Town bills. Without her promotion, Redmond cannot hire her own deputy, a needed second-in-command, she insisted, should COVID place her in quarantine.
“You have a moral obligation to serve this Town instead of yourself,” Redmond said to Lynch. “I’m so upset you would keep us in a position where I could be quarantined for months on end and leave us months behind. Anything could happen to me. And what would happen to these bank accounts? What would happen to paying all these things?”
Redmond ignored the fact that under current state rules, as an essential employee under quarantine, she could still report for work, barring symptoms, and only be home-bound after-hours.
Leadership succession talks Wednesday consumed nearly an hour of the Enfield Board’s time. They began calmly, with Redmond recusing herself. Emotions heightened only after the Deputy Supervisor re-entered the talks and Lynch insisted that the Board invite additional applicants should any new Councilperson’s vacancy arise. At that point, tensions mounted and Redmond quit.
“There’s no reason not to appoint me,” said Redmond, touting her resume, with Lynch her intended audience of one. “I am highly educated. I have years of experience in community organizing. I have dedicated so much—and I’m in a privileged position with a spousal income so that I can work tirelessly for several hours a week; many—I mean, an enormous amount till like midnight every night for a minimal income. It’s ridiculous.”
What may, in part, have prompted Redmond’s pique was Lynch’s scripted explanation of why, at least for now, he’d prefer to leave the Supervisor’s post vacant.
“During the two weeks prior to Election Day, I visited 604 Enfield residences, homes to a majority of our voters,” said Lynch. Among those he met who expressed an opinion, “Overwhelmingly, without prompting, most told me to keep the seat open until next year’s elections.”
“So, if I pull that ripcord tonight, if I go with the flow, I’ll be cashing in a ton of political capital,” the holdout Councilperson remarked. “I’ll still do it if I know it’s what’s best for Enfield. But it may cost me re-election in 2023. It may also cost each of you the same when your date at the polls comes due.”
Lynch insisted his objections against Redmond’s promotion were neither personal nor political. But the Deputy Supervisor’s rapid-fire verbal assault eventually taxed Lynch to his limit. It prompted a pointed critique explaining his second reason for reticence.
“One of the things I’ve been waiting for,” said Lynch, “is for Councilperson Redmond to step up and be her own woman, to be her own leader… and not be the puppet of Beth McGee.”
“Oh, for God!” blurted out an irritated Bryant.
Recently-appointed Councilperson Michael Miles, the self-designated referee of the night, sought compromise, but acknowledged that an elusive middle-ground may not exist.
“I would love to see James on the board,” said Miles, “but I have a feeling that the last 10 minutes of discourse is only making, you know, people cemented in their own decisions.”
“I think they’re cemented, anyway,” observed Redmond.
The succession and resignation fireworks Wednesday overshadowed the Enfield Town Board’s earlier unanimous adoption of a three-year contract with the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company. The EVFC contract calls for two per cent increases in Town funding in each of its final two years, plus up to $35,000 spent annually by the Town to upgrade protective firefighting outerwear for volunteers.
Former Supervisor Ann Rider of the Enfield Community Council (ECC) also announced her group is near closing on purchase of the former Living Water Church in Enfield Center for use as a community center.
Why a Board of Four… for Now
On Wednesday, December 9th, before Stephanie Redmond announced her resignation as Enfield Councilperson, I, Councilperson Robert Lynch, offered my reasons for why not to fill immediately the vacant seat of Enfield Supervisor, presumably with one of our own, Councilperson Redmond. I read my written rationale to the Board. Here’s a rough transcript:
Best I start here:
A few days ago, I stumbled upon a quote from the writings of the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. He dissented in a case whose circumstances really don’t really matter here tonight. Justice Douglas was speaking of juries when he wrote:
“Human experience teaches us that polite and academic conversation is no substitute for the earnest and robust argument necessary to reach unanimity.”
Taking Justice Douglas at his word, we recently survived quite well with the bare minimum number of members on our Town Board. Now, with a membership of four—one member to spare—we still do quite well. With fewer members to throw overboard and marginalize, we’re forced to listen to, and respect, our colleagues, as we always should.
So, a four-person Board is sufficient. It’s just a little inconvenient at times.
Fellow members, I’ve agonized these past ten weeks—agonized more than you might imagine, more than my spoken words and writings might reveal—and I still agonize over whether and how to fill our vacancy of Town Supervisor. I sense each of my fellow Board members knows which way to turn. But I do not.
It would be so very easy for me to pull the ripcord, to take the safe path of least resistance, the path others on this Board have urged me to take, and to elevate one particular Councilperson to finish the Supervisor’s unexpired term. It might buy peace on this Board—at least for a time. Our vote tonight would likely be unanimous. Yet we do not merely vote to please ourselves. We’re here as representatives of the constituents we serve.
During the two weeks prior to Election Day, I visited 604 Enfield residences, homes to a majority of our voters. I talked with 389 of them. For those permitting me to linger, I asked them what they wanted us to do about Supervisor succession. Overwhelmingly, without prompting, most told me to keep the seat open until next year’s elections. Holding a Special Election was their second most-popular choice.
So, if I pull that ripcord tonight, if I go with the flow, I’ll be cashing in a ton of political capital. I’ll still do it if I know it’s what’s best for Enfield. But it may cost me re-election in 2023. It may also cost each of you the same when your date at the polls comes due.
Let me stop here for a moment to make one point crystal clear: Personality conflicts or political ambition plays no role in my decision—or indecision. Never confuse political disagreement with personal animus. I hold no animus. I respect Councilperson Redmond. We worked together well; constructively, amicably to negotiate the Fire Contract that’s on our agenda tonight. I respect Councilperson Redmond’s dedication to the office each of us holds. I turn to her for advice on environmental matters. She’s amply qualified to sit on this Town Board as my—as our—governing equal. I recall that in the last election she even got a few more votes than I did. I’d rather not lose Stephanie as a member of our team.
And no, should Stephanie decide to run next year for Supervisor, as I suspect she will, I have not decided whether to run against her for that office. Only the passage of time and events and a grasp of public sentiment will someday chart my course.
What you’re hearing tonight is Bob Lynch 3.0, words representing my third change of heart in the past ten days. I’ve weighed many options; written alternative statements to justify contrasting choices. Most of those words you will never see or hear. At times I find myself ready to pull the ripcord; but then… but then, something tells me to stop.
So here I am tonight, asking my Board colleagues to take a deep breath, give the matter some more thought, talk to constituents, and maybe revisit Supervisor succession a month or two from now.
Each of us on this Town Board stands equally qualified to serve as Supervisor. Not one of us—not one—is more fit than any other. Maybe that’s a good way to keep it. It keeps us humble. And yes, it also allows time for some of us to work out differences with other members of our governing team. Our constituents may not grasp the magnitude of the problem, but we on the Board do. For me, resolving those differences professionally and as adults will greatly influence any vote I later cast.
Fortunately, our Town’s attorney has informed us we no longer face a year-end deadline. We can revisit this question in February, or March—or never, if we so choose.
I believe things happen for a reason. And maybe my stumbling upon Justice Douglas’ writings last weekend was more than coincidence. As he observed, sometimes “earnest and robust argument” in search of unanimity, works best. It focuses the mind. It fosters respect. It gets the job done. Let’s try it for a while. It’s what the public tells us we should do, as a Board of equals, maybe until the next election.
Note: Councilperson Stephanie Redmond subsequently resigned. I urged she not do so. She did so anyway.
What follows is the text of Stephanie Redmond’s resignation letter whereby she resigned as Enfield Town Councilperson, effective immediately. (Redmond, for now, will remain Deputy/Acting Supervisor.)
Redmond’s letter was submitted via email to the Town Clerk, Wednesday, December 9th, her signed copy time-stamped at 11:27 PM:
To whom it may concern,
Please consider this letter notification of my resignation as Councilperson of the Town of Enfield effective immediately.
I have worked long hard hours to fulfill the duties of Acting Supervisor through much animosity directed toward me from Councilperson Robert Lynch. Although I am not to blame for the resignation of the previous supervisor and have given my best efforts to fill the role to the best of my ability, Councilperson Robert Lynch has made extensive efforts to make this transition as difficult as possible. I feel his constant rude, accusatory treatment toward me is unwarranted and unnecessary. I no longer wish to bear the brunt of that sort of incivility.
Councilperson Lynch’s unwillingness to move me to an appointed Supervisor position has left the Town without a fully reconstituted board and in the precarious position of not having a Deputy Supervisor as secondary signer on Town bank accounts. This is incredibly irresponsible and easily could create a situation where bills for the Town are not able to be signed if I am unavailable to sign them due to illness, especially during the COVID pandemic when many are being quarantined for weeks if not months.
Additionally, James Ricks has expressed interest in becoming a board member. I feel it is essential that the Town of Enfield take the proactive steps of anti-racism and elect the first person of African-American decent to the board. By resigning my seat on the board, an opening becomes available. It is my sincerest desire to see James Ricks appointed to the board. I hope the remaining board members will take this important step toward inclusiveness.
While I am resigning as Councilperson, I will continue in my duties as Acting Supervisor. I would like to thank the many residents who have stepped forward to voice their support for my appointment.
And now, in her Spoken Words…
In the final minutes of her last voting Town Board meeting, within an hour prior to her submitting her written resignation, Enfield Councilperson Stephanie Redmond addressed the Town Board during its final Privilege of the Floor. Moments before, Councilperson Lynch again urged her to reconsider her resignation. Councilperson Virginia Bryant asked her to “sleep on it,” namely her decision. “You’re doing a sterling job,” said Bryant. Redmond may have accepted the compliment, but she declined the suggestion.
What follows is a verbatim transcript of Redmond’s words, taken from the Town’s audio minutes:
“At this moment I would like to say it is not my fault that Beth [McGee, former Supervisor] decided to step down and resign. It is also not Beth’s fault that she chose to step down and resign. She had a wonderful opportunity presented to her, and we should not begrudge her of that. In fact, we should be proud of her and congratulate her on her role. And not only that, but we should give her a sense of gratitude for giving an extra six months that she did not want to give to this Board to get us through a pandemic and into—through a budget season.
“And yes, that meant that I was going to serve as the Acting Supervisor for 14 months, instead of nine months. It’s a whole five months more, you’re right. But you know what? I was trained during that time, so we did not have someone there in that position during a pandemic where we had no idea if we were going to face mass casualties. We had no idea if we were going to have an annihilated budget. We have someone now here that’s trained to do the Williamson software [a bookkeeping program], all the accounting, know what lines things are supposed to come from, know who to ask; there’s networks, with people from OSC [Office of State Comptroller], and the AOT [Association of Towns], and things like that, that is actually ready to do the job.
“And I have put heart and soul into this for the last six months. I have three kids that have hardly seen me for the last six months because I’ve been working so hard to make sure this gets done. And it’s not for the money. It, It’s clear. I could go make a lot more money somewhere else. I’m doing this because I was born and raised in Tompkins County. I’m doing this because I built a house here. I’m doing this because I have three kids, and I have a vested interest in the future. And it is repeatedly, repeatedly been negatively politicized by Robert Lynch over and over again as if I had some sort of sinister ulterior motive. So let me tell you what my sinister ulterior motive is.
“My sinister ulterior motive is to make sure that this Town gets more library services. My sinister ulterior motive here is to make sure that our pedestrians have safe sidewalks to walk off of [Route] 79. That’s why I’ve been contacting the New York State DOT constantly lately to see if we could have a traffic study for that area. My sinister ulterior motive is to look into making financial committees to look into an investment policy; etcetera, etcetera. I want environmental policies that save our town’s water, aquifers. There are so many things that are my sinister ulterior motives here that Robert Lynch is negatively politicizing all over town as if I was trying to take over the Town.
“And honestly, I’m tired of it. It’s unnecessary. I have tried over and over again to extend the olive branch, to work as a team, to try to create the “dream team” here to get things done, and it just gets thrown back at me. I get rude, accusatory emails. I get trashed all over as if I’m just, you know, trying to take over the Town—that there was this dark, you know, secret thing that was trying to happen. No. It was Beth trying to make sure there was somebody that was capable to take over this position in the best way possible. And you know what? I have tried really hard to make that happen.
“And now we have an opportunity to actually make a pro-active step to be anti-racist in this Town, and it’s being blocked again by Robert Lynch. And it’s also putting us in an incredibly serious, irresponsible situation where we do not have a Deputy Supervisor during COVID, during a pandemic, when I might be sidelined for months, and we will have to just not pay bills for months. And for some reason, Robert Lynch thinks that that’s OK. It’s not OK. It’s not in the best interests of our Town in any way shape and form.
“So in a stance to be absolutely transparent and absolutely anti-racist, like we all need to do, I am going to open this Board position, and I’m going to resign from my Councilperson position, effective immediately tonight. I will be sending an email to the Town Clerk after I get off this thing [the Board’s zoom meeting] saying exactly these issues that Robert Lynch has blocked my position to be appointed, thereby leaving our Town in a precarious situation , and also blocking the appointment of the first black man to ever serve on the Enfield Town Board, to ever give us this incredibly interesting perspective that none of us are able to otherwise provide for this Town.
“So I will be resigning, effective immediately. Thank you.”
[Editor’s note: A word search of Redmond’s verbal statement to the Town Board reveals the word “I” 22 times; the word “Lynch” five times; the word “Enfield” just once./ RL]