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TC3: New Budget; Better Boss

by Robert Lynch, June 27, 2022

Passing an annual operating budget for Tompkins Cortland Community College has become a mundane late-springtime ritual for local county legislatures; hardly ever big news, unless—as occurred with Cortland County a few years back—lawmakers balk at the price tag.

TC3’s new President, Dr. Amy Kremenek, with college V.P for Finance, Bill Talbot, at a June 13th committee meeting.

No problem this year.  Nonetheless, last Tuesday’s budget ratification by the Tompkins County Legislature became more newsworthy than normal.  It was because the college got to show off its newly-appointed president, a leader local legislators decidedly like.

Dr. Amy Kremenek is that new TC3 President.  She came to the college on the first of June, moving down I-81 following her long-time tenure holding not one, but two successive vice presidencies at Syracuse-based Onondaga Community College.  Kremenek attended the Tompkins County Legislature’s June 21st budget-passing session.

“One thing that I’ve heard from the community is feedback from the hiring of Dr. Kremenek, and it’s very positive,” Legislature Chair Shawna Black remarked.  “I’ve spoken with a few of the faculty that were part of the interview process, and you definitely bring a breath of fresh air to TC3.  And I wanted to pass that on.”

That’s the tactful way for a politician to compliment college trustees for making a much-needed course correction. 

In 2017, the TC3 Board went out-of-state, to Minnesota, to recruit Kremenek’s predecessor, Dr. Orinthia Montague, the college’s first president of color.  Montague’s appointment was then heralded as a milestone.  But most now privately admit that Dr. Montague, put politely, underperformed expectations.

During the previous president’s four-year tenure, key personnel quit or retired; staff benefits were cut; morale slumped.  Though others may deserve some of the blame, the person at the top always becomes the target.

The predecessor; Dr. Montague

In August of last year, Montague resigned the TC3 presidency to become president of Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee.  As she departed, the TC3 Board launched a nationwide search for her successor, one that narrowed to four finalists.  Quite obviously, the TC3 Board reasoned that after their failed prior effort, their best-choice candidate lived close to home, someone top officials at TC3 already knew as a neighbor and a worked well with as a colleague.

As for the TC3 Budget, it sailed through both Tompkins and Cortland County Legislatures last week, in each instance following uneventful public hearings.  Tompkins’ lawmakers gave their unanimous approval June 21st.  Cortland County’s Legislature did the same two nights later.  “That was easy,” one Cortland legislator was heard to remark following his board’s vote.

While Cortland’s body adorned its vote with no discussion, Tompkins County’s Mike Lane took time to dwell on spending priorities prior to casting his affirmative vote.

“The sponsors and New York State aren’t doing what they ought to do,” insisted Lane, when it comes to community college funding.  “We’re kind of limited in what we can do because of our connection with a county (Cortland) that’s not as well-heeled as Tompkins County.”

The $33.6 Million TC3 operating budget approved by both counties calls upon Tompkins County taxpayers to contribute $3 Million toward the budget’s total.  Cortland County pays just over $1.85 Million.

Community colleges are “where the rubber meets the road,” Lane observed.  “It’s open enrollment.  We don’t get to choose who we want to educate at TC3.”

The Dryden lawmaker lamented New York lawmakers often talk about raising state subsidies to community colleges, yet never do.  Instead, they favor SUNY’s four-year schools.  Lane urged a change in Albany’s attitude.

In the Tompkins Legislature’s other business June 21st:

  • The Legislature received, but did not act upon, the Tompkins County Independent Redistricting Commission’s recommendation that it increase the legislature’s size from 14 to 16 members with the 2025 election, and adjust district boundaries to reflect the 2020 U.S. Census.  The Legislature referred the plan to a committee that will consider it in early July.
  • Legislators endorsed a committee’s recommendation to pump 200,000 more County dollars into the Lansing-mall based COVID-19 surveillance testing program to make up for expected federal funding shortfalls.  The subsidy will likely continue the testing program through year’s end. (See story posted here June 13th.)
  • Lawmakers restructured the long-discussed Community Recovery Fund so as to tap federal American Rescue Plan moneys for the human service subsidies the plan envisions, rather than use County fund balances for the program.  Using local funds, lawmakers have now been told, may be illegal.
  • And knocking back one legislator’s valiant effort, the Legislature rejected, 4 votes to 10, a largely-symbolic resolution that would have urged Starbucks to reopen its College Avenue coffee shop and also accused the chain of “union busting” for closing it.  Debate occupied more than three-quarters of an hour.  Legislator Veronica Pillar’s single-handed and deadline-submitted initiative won praise from Ulysses-Enfield’s Anne Koreman.

“It has no weight,” Koreman acknowledged of Pillar’s resolution.  “We can’t make Starbucks do anything.  But we have our voice, and I’m speaking up in favor of unions.”

Lansing Republican Mike Sigler took the other side.  “If I want to walk a picket line, by all means I should do that,” said Sigler.  “But I don’t think we as a body should do that.”  Sigler further faulted his liberal colleagues for setting a double-standard in not faulting “a union-busting mayor” (obviously, Ithaca’s unnamed Svante Myrick) when the mayor famously sparred with Ithaca’s Police Benevolent Association.

After all the talk—and a failed attempt to soften the measure’s language—only Pillar, Koreman, Henry Granison and Chair Black supported the Starbucks-critical resolution.

###

Strained Separation

County, City cut cord with police-critical Reimagining group

Reporting and Analysis by Robert Lynch, June 26, 2022

The political correctness of it all sounded strangely sweeter a year or two ago than it does today:

“The path forward towards justice requires that we fight for what we believe. This is what we believe….

[First bullet point of three]:  “The vicious legacy of White supremacy is a root cause of suffering across the globe.  Systems that support White supremacy must be resisted and dismantled.”

Strong words.  And words credited to the “Center for Policing Equity” (CPE), a Yale University-based, left-of-center—and some would assert, police-hostile—non-profit organization that with its consulting arm helped the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County craft their joint Reimagining Public Safety Report submitted last year.  “Reimagining” is the overly-expensive, endlessly-long, appendix-laden, academically-obfuscated exercise in self-flagellation that’s prompting the City to transform its Police Department into a civilian agency, while also fulfilling an impulsive Andrew Cuomo command of the George Floyd era that municipalities contemplate their navels, root out supposed, systemic badge-on-blue racism… and churn out scores of pages of aspirational circumlocution that Albany promptly puts on a shelf to gather dust.  That report.

While no one dares say it directly, times appear a changin’, at least here.  On June 21st, the Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature and the City of Ithaca’s Acting Mayor, showed the Center for Policing Equity the door.  And Chair Shawna Black took to her Legislature’s floor to make sure everyone got the message.

“Today, Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis and I informed the Center for Policing Equity that we are no longer going to be working with their organization on Reimagining Public Safety,” Chair Shawna Black told County lawmakers in public session, a meeting sadly few bothered either to attend or to watch. 

Legislature Chair Shawna Black

“We thank CPE for their work and their staff efforts and contributions,” Black continued. “I feel very strongly now that we have our feet under us, having a homegrown process for Reimagining will be the best as we move forward.”

The message was clear:  Thank-you, CPE, for the date.  Just please, don’t call me again.

Some might think we should see this as just an anecdotal outlier; the severing of a tie that no longer serves any purpose.  But look again.  An objective, somewhat detached read of Black’s words tells us more.  Clearly, for many, the bloom is off Reimagining Public Safety’s police reconstruction rose.  Just don’t speak it too loudly.

The 96-page joint City-County Reimagining Report’s key (and most controversial) recommendation, that of converting a traditionally-structured Ithaca Police Department into a two-tiered, civilian-led Department of Community Safety, has driven the sharpest of wedges down Ithaca’s electorate and has openly pitted IPD’s armed officers against City Hall politicians.  What’s more, so many of the 2020-21 Reimagining plan’s initial architects have either passed through the exit, or will do so soon.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, a preening, prime initiator of Reimagining’s police repurposing—and a man now mired in controversy over how he tried to spend public money to advance it—is gone .  So is County Administrator Jason Molino, the take-charge, no-nonsense executive who dragged Tompkins County into its partnership with Myrick.  And County Chief Equity and Diversity Officer (CEDO) Deanna Carrithers, the mid-level staffer who sources indicate contributed greatly to Reimagining’s bold narrative, quietly tendered her own resignation in early-June.  She’ll leave both County Government and the community at month’s end after spending less than two years in her cutting-edge job.  County officials never discuss Carrithers’ future professional plans.  Neither does she.

So perhaps quite rightly, to jettison CPE from the Reimagining mix is to capture the perfectly-timed moment.  Mind you, nearly everyone in power still lauds Reimagining’s local achievements.  But many of those same leaders also appear equally eager to run quietly and fast from the troubled process that brought those reforms to fruition.  The people now in charge, including Legislature Chair Black, Acting Mayor Lewis, and current County Administrator Lisa Holmes, find themselves, one can envision, picking up the broken pieces of Ithaca’s frangible, police reform flower pot and paving over a rutted road that despite its bumps still reached its intended destination. 

“A press release on this topic will be going out this evening,” Chair Black advised her County Legislature upon disclosing her and Lewis’ joint decision to divorce their community governments from CPE.  Technically correct.  Yet the only “press release” that night from the County was an 1800-word laundry list of the evening’s “legislative highlights,” a jumble that relegated Black’s verbatim comments to a single paragraph buried near its bottom.  The release revealed no additional facts or opinions.

A search of the City of Ithaca’s governmental website nearly one week after Black’s disclosure revealed nothing at all in print there.  The message couldn’t be clearer.  Keep severance with CPE as low-key as possible.  Maybe no one else will notice.

****

The Center for Policing Equity might still have remained an ongoing player in the City-County police Reimagining process if not for the dogged intrepidity of one woman, Ithaca City Alderperson Cynthia Brock.

The First Ward Alderperson’s focus on CPE gained prominence by way of the April 4th Op-Ed she wrote for The Ithaca Voice.  “My concern,” Brock stated, “is that it is unclear to what extent the restructuring will be influenced by privately-funded advocacy groups’ agendas.”

Going where no others will go; Alderperson Cynthia Brock

Brock singled out the Center for Policing Equity as one such advocate.  Mayor Myrick invited CPE to the table, she asserted.  CPE was “[i]nvolved in every step” of the two-year process, Brock wrote.  They provided “hundreds of hours of CPE staff time,” and provided it for free.  Yet, she maintained, “There was no selection process abiding by NYS procurement laws, no public review of CPE’s qualifications.”  What’s more, she added, “There was no real discussion of CPE’s impact on the work of the City and County, or CPE’s agenda in ‘working for free.’”

Perhaps most provocatively, Brock’s Op-Ed faulted CPE’s CEO, Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, for jumping to conclusions regarding what her Common Council had yet to decide, Goff allegedly telling media outlets that Ithaca had “voted to dissolve its Police Department,” and that the police union had endorsed the dissolution.   Neither statement, Brock said, was correct.

In her Op-Ed, the Alderperson quoted Goff from a purported August 2021 Chicago public radio station interview.  Brock wrote:

“Dr. Goff recalled a text and phone exchange with Myrick where Goff suggested that Ithaca didn’t need a police department, to which Myrick responded ‘Yeah, cool. Let’s make that happen.’”

Alderperson Brock’s complaint against CPE comprises just one finger of her many-tentacled allegations.  Perhaps her principal concern relates to payments Mayor Myrick allegedly promised two local facilitators in the City’s more recent efforts to actually implement the 2021 Reimagining Report’s recommendations; to transform visionary platitudes into what one might call police reform “deliverables.”

Brock has alleged Myrick made his promises without Common Council authorization and in violation of ethics standards.  She’s also requested the ex-mayor be investigated for potential conflicts of interest between his former elected office and a side-job he held with the advocacy group, People for the American Way, a part-time position that blossomed into his becoming PFAW’s Executive Director last February, a promotion that prompted Myrick’s resignation as mayor.

A “witch hunt?” Mayor Myrick’s Reimagining Portrait

Brock’s allegations aplenty have dragged the matter before the Tompkins County Ethics Advisory Board, a sleepy, seldom-used tribunal that took its first look at the Alderperson’s complaint June 7th.  Deliberating mostly in secret, the Ethics Board decided to issue “requests for information” to so-called “interested parties,” most of them remaining, for now, publicly unidentified. 

The Ethics Board did, however, name the City and County governments as two such parties.  But whether the Board’s reach will extend to such people as Myrick, Goff, Molino, or Carrithers, the public has yet to learn.

According to media reports, in remarks drawing striking parallels to the January 6th Investigation, Ethics Board Chair Rich John, a Tompkins County legislator, said he’d prefer those contacted appear voluntarily, rather than be subpoenaed.

And there’s another strange parallel to the January 6th Committee.  In a May 9th tweet, quoted by the Ithaca Voice, former Mayor Myrick described the Brock-initiated investigation against him as “a smear campaign” and asserted that “A fair, independent investigation will clear our names and end this witch hunt.”

Question: Was that the wisest choice of words for an ethically-embattled liberal Democrat to use at this precise moment?

For its part, the Center for Policing Equity has not taken Cynthia Brock’s allegations lying down.

“CPE hopes that there will be a renewed focus on the valuable and evidence-led recommendations outlined in the report itself rather than specious accusations from a disgruntled few seeking to derail the process of justice,” the organization said in a May 4th statement.  “We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the Reimagining Public Safety Working Group and all who are committed to building a safer, healthier, and more just Ithaca,” the statement continued.

But now, as they say, that won’t happen.  Shawna Black and Laura Lewis made sure of that.

Still, much of the Brock-Myrick foray brushes Tompkins County government only peripherally.  In the nearly 15 months since Ithaca Common Council and the Tompkins County Legislature concurrently endorsed and dispatched that Reimagining Report to Albany in March 2021—to, of course, sit on that proverbial shelf—most media, political and community focus has zeroed its attention upon the Ithaca Police restructuring.  By contrast, Tomkins County’s policing reform has proven relatively modest; yawningly boring, in fact.

At its June 21st meeting, perhaps in a valiant attempt to deflect attention from the County’s severed ties with CPE, Chair Black noted progress in Sheriff Derek Osborne’s recruitment of two Sheriff’s Clerks for the Department’s newly-launched “unarmed pilot program.”  The program employs deputy-like officers— one man and one woman, for now—who, without guns, will respond to benign matters like car-deer accidents. 

“I’m excited to hear about the program as their work begins,” Black told legislators.

An “Interested Party?” Former Administrator Molino

“I’m glad we’re getting the ball rolling with this program.” Sheriff Osborne said in a media release two days later.  “This is a chance to look at what we’re doing differently and continue to work toward being a more inclusive law enforcement agency.”  The program, Osborne said, “goes live” in early July.

The unarmed officers, clearly put, create an initiative without controversy; a most convenient of distractions.  And the program’s inception serves as County Government’s principal policing reform under Reimagining.  As a cautious politician might observe, best keep it that way. 

And unless people like the former County Administrator or the departing CEDO become implicated in legislator John’s ethics probe, County hands remain clean.  Alderperson Brock’s complaints occur in the City and stay in the City.  Time will tell whether they do.  Yet because of last Tuesday’s joint City-County announcement, that pesky little Center for Policing Equity stands nowhere close to get in the way.  

“The work we do to improve the systems we have should not impede the work we do to create the systems we need,” Dr. Goff wrote on CPE’s page of the City-County Reimagining Report.  He continued, “And any workaccomplished inside systems should not be used as a shield against, or as an off-ramp away from, the work communities are doing.”

I guess.  Whatever.  Dr. Goff, you’ll have to practice that philosophy somewhere else.

###

Mall-based COVID-19 testing site may close by fall

by Robert Lynch, June 13, 2022

More subsidies for the mall sampling site; Kruppa, Hendrix, and the Budget, Capital and Personnel Committee

Tompkins County’s popular, well-patronized, and governmentally-subsidized COVID-19 testing site at Lansing’s Shops at Ithaca Mall may close as soon as this fall, as the pandemic continues to wane and the site’s usage diminishes.  And unless Tompkins County infuses some additional cash within weeks, the sampling site’s shutdown could happen even sooner.

“We’ve seen a steady decline in testing at the mall over the last couple of months, and we expect that to continue over the summer,” Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa told a committee of the County Legislature Monday.   The committee responded to Kruppa’s appeal by recommending the Legislature move an additional $200,000 from its contingent fund to keep the mall sampling site open, if needed, through year’s end.  The full County Legislature will likely act on the Budget, Capital and Personnel Committee’s recommendation June 21st.

Deputy County Administrator Amie Hendrix told the committee Monday that 300 to 400 persons now visit the mall testing site weekly, a significant drop from earlier numbers.  The site, operated by Cayuga Health Systems, opened shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in spring 2020.  The County began its subsidies that fall.  The money has enabled the site to provide free testing for Tompkins County residents whose insurance, for whatever reason, fails to cover the cost.

Eventually, the federal agency FEMA reimbursed Tompkins County for its funding outlays.  But beginning this July, FEMA will likely reduce its support to just 90 per cent of the total expense.  Hendrix told the committee she’s “not 100 per cent sure” that FEMA will cut its support, but she expects it will.

Faced with the prospect of renewed taxpayer subsidies, committee Chair Deborah Dawson posed the question, “Why can’t they (the county’s residents) use the home testing kits that we’re giving out free?”

“They could,” said Kruppa.  “But they’re not.”

Hendrix acknowledged that for some, it’s personal preference.  For others, she said, residents may first test at home, but then go to mall, to verify the home test’s validity.

But by year’s end—maybe sooner—a home test or one at a doctor’s office may become the only test available.

“My hope would be that by the end of the year,” said Kruppa, “we might be in a position where COVID’s in a different phase with everyone, and we can stand the mall down and push things back to the health care system.”

In fact, the Director suggested, that if case numbers “go to virtually zero” soon, the mall site could shutter as soon as this summer.  But that, he said, would leave an uncertain future this autumn; when colder weather arrives, and so do students.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure we have the infrastructure in place in the fall to do the testing,” Kruppa told the committee.

Should the local subsidy not be approved and testing numbers continue to drop, “we could be in a position where it’s not financially feasible for the mall to remain open over the summer,” Kruppa warned.  And then what happens if large scale testing becomes needed come September, he questioned.  Cayuga Health might need to reopen its sampling site somewhere else and find staff anew to operate it.

When it comes to a sampling site, “It’s easier to stand it down than to stand it back up,” Kruppa warned the committee.

****

Following a brief introduction by newly-named college president  Amy Kremenek, her Vice President for Finance and Administration, Bill Talbot, briefed the Budget Committee on the proposed 2022-23 operating budget for Tompkins Cortland Community College.  The committee responded by recommending approval of the $33.6 Million TC-3 spending plan, the recommendation also expected to see full action by the County Legislature June 21.

“Student enrollments were our greatest challenge,” V.P. Talbot with newly-named TC3 President Amy Kremenek

“Student enrollments were our greatest challenge,” Talbot told lawmakers of the academic year now ending.  Amid the challenges of COVID, full time equivalent enrollment fell by 3.9 per cent.  But the more important “core enrollments” fell a full 10.7 per cent.  Core enrollments measure attendance once high school students taking college courses are subtracted from the total.

During COVID, “students were unsure if they could actually come to school or whether or not they were required to be vaccinated,” Talbot said.

The year ahead, predicted the financial chief, looks brighter. “Core” revenues, Talbot said, predict a three per cent growth.  New fall enrollments, he added, are up 17 per cent.  A two per cent tuition increase will help replenish the $1 Million in lost tuition last year.  And Talbot forecast a $1 Million growth in TC3’s fund balance, up from $1.2 to $2.2 Million.

As endorsed by the committee, TC3’s next year’s budget calls on Tompkins County to contribute just over $3 Million toward the college’s support, a sponsorship share no higher than last year.

“I am comfortable with where we are,” Kremenek told the committee Monday, the new college president in only her eleventh day on the job.

###

Party lines split Tompkins legislators on the “Nuclear Option”

by Robert Lynch, June 8, 2022

The ghost of Bell Station, a once-heralded, then abruptly dispatched proposed nuclear power plant to have been sited on Lansing’s Cayuga Lake shoreline a half-century ago, spirited its way through Tompkins County’s legislative chambers Tuesday night.  So, too, perhaps, did the ghost of Lansing legislator Mike Sigler’s recently-abandoned campaigns for not one, but two seats in Congress.

They may call you a jerk, but you live with your vote; Mike Sigler, defending the “nuclear option.”

In a move that drew support from only his two fellow Republicans, yet also sliced a sharp divide between himself and environmentalist Democrats, Sigler Tuesday yanked from the County Legislature’s consent agenda an expectedly-routine endorsement of a State agency’s Draft Climate Action Plan, and subjected that 350-page document to the political equivalent of an anal examination.

And among the many faults Sigler found in the long-winded report—with goals he termed “aspirational,” yet “unrealistic”—was its failure to seriously address nuclear power as a viable option to wean New Yorkers off fossil fuels.

“You can’t talk about electrification, without how you make the electricity,” argued Sigler, who claimed he’d read all of the report’s 350 pages, including its authors’ decision to give nuclear power short shrift.  “You can’t say we’re going to electrify all homes for heating and not say where the electricity is going to come from.  It’s like talking about a refrigerator and not talking about food.”

“So you’re setting yourself up for failure,” the Lansing legislator admonished his colleagues.  “And I don’t know why we would endorse a plan like that…. If (climate change) is the existential threat that they say, and you’re not looking at nuclear, then I don’t feel you’re really serious about the issue.”

When the debate finally ended, Republicans Randy Brown and Lee Shurtleff joined Sigler in opposing the effectively toothless local declaration of support.  All eleven Democrats supported the endorsement.

Tagged onto Tuesday’s support Resolution, the Legislature attached a Department of Planning and Sustainability 10-page, single-spaced evaluation of the State agency NYSERDA’s Scoping Plan.   Itself long-winded, the evaluation looked generally favorably on the state document.  Yet its local authors cited a half-dozen alleged “omissions” that the plan had allegedly overlooked.  Most notably, County planners faulted the state agency for not addressing the climate risks imposed by cryptocurrency mining, harmful algal blooms, and methane leakage, as well as the report’s failure to give wind energy fair emphasis.

“The Clean Energy Siting Recommendations are generally geared toward solar and largely silent regarding wind and hydroelectric energy,” the local planners wrote.  “We suggest amending the recommendations, where possible, to be renewable technology neutral.”

But in none of their bullet points did local planners address the nuclear option that Sigler and his colleagues so want to make part of a climate-conscious solution.

“I think it’s a risk for us militarily,” Newfield-Enfield legislator Randy Brown said during the debate, Brown faulting the Climate Council’s de-emphasis of nuclear.  “The Chinese are building nuclear plants right and left, and we’re building none?” Brown asked rhetorically.

The Chinese build nuclear plants, why not us?’ Newfield-Enfield’s Randy Brown

“Even the person who founded Greenpeace said that nuclear is the answer,” Brown continued.  “So by saying that you’re not going to look at that is a big mistake.”

But Democrats took a different stance.  Dryden’s Mike Lane resurrected the memories of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

“I’ve got to comment on nuclear,” Lane interjected.  “I know there are people out there who are saying that’s our only savior for electrification.  I hope it’s not true.  I’m very thankful that we don’t have a nuclear power plant… on Cayuga Lake.”

Lane reminded legislators of Chernobyl’s implication in the Ukrainian war and of Russians firing upon nuclear plants elsewhere in Ukraine.

“Well, you can say that’s just war,” Lane observed.  “Well, if it could be done in war, it can be done by terrorists, both domestic and foreign, on our own soil.”

Sigler pushed back on Lane’s doomsday scenario and of nuclear power’s risks.  Sigler maintained Lane’s information is “dated” and that Chernobyl “was a dated Russian plant that they didn’t take care of.”

“Nuclear power’s not our ‘savior.’ Don’t go there.” Legislator Mike Lane.

Sigler also tossed aside Legislature Chair Shawna Black’s largely-fruitless attempt to intervene and downplay the importance of her group’s vote on the Scoping Document.  Black insisted legislators weren’t even voting on legislation, but rather on, as she termed it, only “a thought.”

“No,” responded Sigler, “This attaches to you personally.  This is a vote you are taking on something, and it will follow you.  It may not follow you badly.  You may be able to hold it up later and say, ‘Hey, look what we did.’”

Then, Sigler referenced his own aborted campaigns, first for a congressional seat to his north; and more recently, for another seat to his west.

“I just ran for Congress, you know,” Sigler reminded all who were listening.  As for past votes attaching to his record, he said, “That’s happened many times.  And there were other things that people said.  ‘Look what that guy voted for.  He’s a jerk.’  If you want to vote on state issues,” Sigler admonished Black, “that’s what you’re voting on.”  

And just why, one might ask, were the 14 state experts who drafted the Climate Action Council Scoping Plan, so reluctant to give nuclear alternatives closer consideration?

“I think topics like nuclear energy tend to be a little more divisive, so I think they tried to skirt that a little bit,” Terry Carroll, County Sustainability Officer, and a member of the Planning Department team, answered when questioned by a legislator about how deeply the Scoping Plan chose to address nuclear energy.  “They’re leaving the door open,” Carroll said.   “They certainly didn’t close it, but they also don’t go into any sort of exhaustive illustration of what that might look like.”

****

The Climate Action scoping plan wasn’t the only party-line vote cast during Tuesday’s long, issue-intensive Legislature meeting.  Later, after less discussion, lawmakers again split by party on what’s often a formalistic, annual vote to reserve the right to override New York’s now penalty-free tax cap.  Democrats supported the measure.  Republicans opposed it.  Republicans saw a symbolic need to stand firm against tax increases.  Democrats, by contrast, viewed the override as an ”insurance policy,” one to be applied should financial reality push the County’s tax levy beyond the percentage increase Albany later sets as the cap.

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Shootings, then stabbing rock staff, heighten security at Human Services Building

by Robert Lynch, June 7, 2022; updated June 8 @ 1:05 AM

“Multiple factors make this a ‘hot spot’ downtown.” County Administrator Lisa Holmes.

Update (Wednesday evening, June 8):  As she provided the Enfield Town Board a monthly update on legislative business Wednesday (6/7), Tompkins County legislator Anne Koreman clarified Legislature Chair Shawna Black’s ambiguous comment of the night previous about the second violent incident in or near the County’s Human Services Building.  Koreman, in answer to this writer’s question, stated that the June 6th stabbing incident occurred outside, not within, the structure.  But, Koreman added, the incident happened “very, very close to the building.”

****

(June 7): County Administrator Lisa Holmes first sounded the alarm last September.  “We know that there has been an increasing frequency of incidents occurring in the… West State Street corridor in and around the Human Services Building,” she told a county legislative committee in an ominous report that gained little coverage then, except here.  Now Holmes worst fears have come true.

First, on the Friday before Memorial Day, an incident well-reported, an assailant shot two men inside a house on West Seneca Street just doors away from the County’s Human Services Building.  The multi-story brick facility, housing Social Services and Probation departments, was put on lockdown, Chair Shawna Black first disclosed publicly Tuesday evening.as she addressed the Tompkins County Legislature.

But then, Black revealed, crime hit even closer.

“Yesterday, as we were at our leadership meeting, Black said somberly, at times almost crying, “Lisa takes the call and lets Deb (fellow legislator Deborah Dawson) and I know that there’s been another incident, and this time it was a stabbing at our Human Services Building.”

Black’s statement failed immediately to make clear whether the stabbing occurred within the building or outside it. Media  reports, quoting police prior to the Tuesday’s session, had stated only that a single victim with multiple stab wounds had been found on West State Street Monday morning at about 8:50 AM. 

Danger zone; the Tompkins County Human Services Building

“While none of our staff were targeted or injured, it is upsetting to me that two individuals were shot and one individual was stabbed multiple times in the past few weeks,” Black continued.  “This violence is impacting our employees, community members, local families and organizations in the area, and has got to stop.”

Though details of the two separate incidents remain sketchy, authorities have stated that all three victims survived their attacks.  Each was transported to a trauma center for treatment.  As of the Legislature’s meeting, none of the assailants had been arrested.

Both Black and Administrator Holmes indicated the crimes have and will lead to heightened security, not only at the Human Services Building, but also at other County facilities.

Holmes told the Legislature that staff at the Human Services Building are “feeling stressed and traumatized.”

And as a result of the recent crimes, Holmes reported, the Sheriff’s Department has increased patrols in the area.  She said that internal security measures are also being addressed.

“Not all staff were notified in a timely manner, the Administrator admitted to legislators.

Holmes said an “after-action meeting” was convened shortly after the May 27th double-shooting.  “Walking away from that first meeting, I recognized that we have more work to do,” she conceded.

Some work, Holmes assured lawmakers, is already underway.  The Departments of Emergency Response, Human Resources, and Information Technology are developing better employee lists.  They’ll update them every two weeks.  Staff will be trained on use of notification systems, and a troublesome overhead intercom will be replaced.

But factors external to the County complex will need attention as well.  The County will work with staff at a neighboring facility to take “pro-active measures” to make crime less attractive.  The County will seek better fencing and additional staffing at that facility “particularly on Fridays, which seem to be days of high activity in the area,” Holmes said.

But the heightened attention won’t limit itself to Ithaca’s troubled West End.

“We’re currently updating building safety and security plans across all County buildings,” Holmes told lawmakers, and she made it clear what’s planned at present may not prove sufficient.

“There’s a need for a further consideration of additional building security options throughout the County,” the Administrator said, “and we’ll be assessing those options.”

Both Black and Holmes recognized how the latest twin incidents of crime have rattled a workforce, one that may serve clients within a modern structure, but one that’s still too close to the cruel world as near as its sidewalk.

A troubled look? Of course. Kit Kephart administers Social Services

“While I’m not blindsided to the crime that we’re seeing in the City,” said Black, this specific incident,” the May 27th shooting, “really hit home,” she acknowledged.  “I believe many of us feel it’s our job to protect our staff and our community.”

“We also have to tend to the need of our employees,” stressed Holmes.  “Several of them,” she said, “have expressed feeling stressed and traumatized from these most recent incidents that have occurred near their work.”

But aside from safety measures here and there, plus the increased Sheriff’s patrols, something both leaders appreciate, a solution to safety at the big brick State Street edifice where probationers intermingle with assistance-seekers may elude them both.

“There are really multiple factors that make this area a hot spot downtown,” said Holmes.  And a “hot spot” not in a good way. 

“There are issues of poverty, substance abuse, mental health and expectations for law enforcement response all coming to a head in this area which require a more thorough and ongoing response from all of us in the longer term, ” the Administrator observed.

Yet it’s a balance.  Shawna Black recognized that. 

“We want everyone who walks through our doors, whether it’s to sign up for temporary assistance or check into probation to feel welcome,” she said.  “We want our community to feel safe and to retain their dignity when receiving services.”

Perhaps a balance more easily sought than obtained at the West End’s present, troubled moment.

###

The Three-Day Campaign that Imploded

Mike Sigler Out, Jacobs too, in Wild Republican Reed-Replacement Friday

by Robert Lynch, June 3, 2022

Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler, for the second time in as many weeks, ended a congressional campaign Friday…. this time apparently his last.

In a one-paragraph statement on social media, acknowledging that intra-party competition had proved just too hot to handle, the Lansing Republican withdrew from a race he had begun only three days before, the race to succeed the recently-resigned Tom Reed in Congress.  Sigler would have run in the realigned 23rd Congressional District, a district in which, if elected, he wouldn’t even have lived.

Petitions that went one place, then another, now nowhere. Mike Sigler on his first filing day.

Sigler’s departure from the volatile contest followed by only about two hours a more high-profile exit, the decision by Buffalo area Congressman Chris Jacobs to no longer run for the Reed seat either.

But Jacobs’ campaign floundered for a much different reason.  Republican leadership and a significant swath of the GOP base had soured on the Orchard Park incumbent after he’d come out in favor of tighter gun control.  Jacobs spoke out following the deadly Buffalo supermarket shooting a stone’s throw away and the killing of 19 elementary school students and two teachers in Texas.

As Sigler and Jacobs withdrew, party faithful appeared to coalesce around state Republican Chair Nick Langworthy as their likely choice for the 23rd District’s nomination.  Nonetheless, the GOP race remains fluid.  More candidates could enter.

“After talks with the Chairman of the NY Republican Party, I’ve decided to end my campaign for Congress,” Sigler posted on Facebook at about 7:30 Friday evening.

Defending his short-lived revitalized campaign, having just three days earlier migrated his party designating petitions from the Syracuse-based 22nd District to the Southern Tier 23rd, Sigler continued, “I decided to file this week in the 23rd because I have ties there and I want the Southern Tier represented. I also faced a (May) 31st deadline to use my ballot access.”

But then came the Lansing lawmaker’s reality check, recognition as the weekend approached that GOP Chair Langworthy is out front.  Though officially, Niagara County’s Langworthy has yet to declare for the congressional nomination, Sigler conceded the chairman is running… and probably will prevail.

“Chairman Nick Langworthy is passing petitions right now, will have enough by the 10th, and plans to use them to run for Congress,” wrote Sigler on Facebook.  He continued, “Plans change as we’ve clearly seen this year, but Nick would represent this district well.  He was Erie County Chair for ten years and was born and raised in the Southern Tier. He won’t forget those folks.”

With that, Mike Sigler folded his tent and went home.

Likely the man to beat; Nick Langworthy.

After State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister signed off on re-drawn congressional district maps May 20th, Mike Sigler found himself in a bind.  Since late-February, the three-term Tompkins County legislator had planned to run in the home-based congressional district that Democratic-led gerrymandering in Albany had created, a blue-leaning, redrawn 22nd District.  It would have included all of Tompkins County and stretched north to Syracuse.  Sigler had won support from most of the district’s Republican chairs.  His nomination appeared a lock.

But after Judge McAllister assigned a special master to cleanse congressional maps of their partisan taint, and the lines significantly changed, Sigler found himself with few good choices. 

Running in his newly-assigned home district, the 19th, would have put Sigler in a primary contest against former New York Gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro.  Staying in the 22nd would have brought a tough primary fight too.  Well-bankrolled, Trump-friendly rock star Claudia Tenney planned to run in the 24th District just to the north of Lansing.  Likely sensing it the best of many bad options, Sigler picked the Southern Tier’s 23rd District, the one that represents Tompkins County at present, but come next year will do so no longer.

On May 23rd, Sigler withdrew from the 22nd District sweepstakes.  Eight days later, he entered the 23’rd District contest.  Now he’s ended that too.

Like Mike Sigler, Congressman Chris Jacobs had a reality check of his own Friday.  Yet compared with Sigler’s, Republican Jacobs’ downturn of fortune is far more serious.  For Jacobs, it will likely end his career in Congress. 

Just before the dinner hour Friday (June 3), Jacobs, heretofore the presumptive Republican frontrunner, the incumbent expected to switch districts and then win the 23rd District’s party nomination, succumbed to pressure from his conservative flank and abruptly withdrew from the race. 

Jacobs’ surprising about-face followed his statement of support one week earlier for tighter national firearm controls.  Jacobs, though a longtime supporter of gunowner rights, altered his stance in reaction to the fatal shooting of ten people in a Buffalo supermarket May 14.

Likely a lame duck. Congressman Chris Jacobs.

Conceding his withdrawal in a statement to The Buffalo News, and recognizing it involved firearms regulation, Jacobs told the paper:

“This obviously arises out of last Friday, my remarks, statements on being receptive to gun controls.”

The Congressman continued, “And since that time, every Republican elected [official] that had endorsed me withdrew their endorsement. Party officials that supported me withdrew, most of them, and those that were going to [support me] said they would not. And so obviously, this was not well received by the Republican base.”

Jacobs’ withdrawal demonstrates the power hardline Second Amendment supporters in the Southern Tier and suburban Erie County-bound 23rd District hold on the GOP.  But the Orchard Park Congressman, now an instant lame-duck, said his was a personal decision, one tempered by the Tops Supermarket killings.  And if a ban on AR-15 rifles came to the House floor, he, Jacobs, would vote for it.

“Being a father and having young children,” Jacobs told The Buffalo News, “and visualizing what those parents are going through and, I guess, being able to feel it more personally certainly has had an impact as well.”

A wild card? Carl Paladino.

As Friday evening wore on, Spectrum’s Capital Tonight reported Buffalo businessman and flamboyant conservative Carl Paladino, who lost the 2010 New York Governor’s race to Andrew Cuomo, may also enter the 23rd District’s congressional race.  Others have declared or shown interest in the crowded—yet thinning—contest as well.

Nonetheless, Nick Langworthy remains the candidate of the hour, the man to beat.

The Democratic Party side of the ledger stands far more stable.  Max Della Pia, who nearly beat Tracy Mitrano for the right to face Congressman Reed four years ago, should cruise to the Democratic nomination without opposition.  Still, Della Pia faces an uphill fight in the crimson-red 23rd District come November.

****

Mike Sigler has come back home.  And with his departure from the 23rd District race Friday, perhaps the rest of us in Tompkins County should do so as well.  We’ll exit the 23rd District ourselves next New Year’s Day.  Their district’s candidates are somebody else’s concern—or maybe, their problem.  As Mike leaves, no longer do we have a dog in this fight.

###

Previously posted; but now updated :

Sigler Sidles to NY-23 in newly-competitive GOP race

Rebranded and ready to go. Mike’s revised logo.

Little more than one week after he supposedly pulled the plug on his congressional campaign, Lansing Republican Mike Sigler Tuesday (May 31) plugged it back in… only to a different socket.

In a move that surprised many—save, perhaps, his closest advisors—the 12-year veteran of the Tompkins County Legislature suddenly announced via social media late Tuesday his entry into the race to succeed recently-resigned Congressman Tom Reed.  Sigler announced he’d filed papers that day to enter the Republican contest to serve the newly-redrawn 23rd Congressional District. 

That district, which has included all of Tompkins County for the past decade, will include it no longer come January.  And since it will not, we who live in Tompkins would not get to vote for Sigler in this fall’s elections.  In fact, Sigler won’t even get to vote for himself.

“I filed to run in District 23 this afternoon,” Sigler wrote in a surprise 9:30 PM post Tuesday.   “The deadline was 5 pm. This is the district Lansing has been in for the past ten years until the redistricting cut us out.”

“I’ve driven a lot of this district’s roads and been in hundreds of businesses in the district,” the Lansing legislator continued, painting himself with his every sentence as a home-grown boy, not a carpetbagger.  “I’m looking forward to representing this rural district the size of the state of New Jersey.”

Long and lean the 23rd District is.  With its boundaries reconfigured in mid-May by a state judge whose court coincidentally sits at the district’s heart, NY-23 now stretches from Chemung County to Lake Erie.  And also, more than ever, Tom Reed’s redrawn district embraces the suburbs of Buffalo.  The Buffalo News reports that a full 43 per cent of Republicans likely to vote in the district’s forthcoming Primary reside in Erie County.

Yes, the 23rd is long and lean; often only one county high on its endless run from east to west, kissing the Pennsylvania border all of the way.  It’s also ruby red.  It’s no surprise that Republican Reed beat Democrat Tracy Mitrano by double-digits in the last election.  As redrawn by redistricting, the 23rd continues to favor Republicans.  Out-of-district candidate Max Della Pia claims the Democratic Party’s nomination this time around.  He’ll face an uphill fight.

Mike Sigler has been a vagabond of sorts in his continuing search for a seat in Congress.  He’s also become a victim of circumstance.

Making a point with a prop; Mike Sigler at a Legislature meeting in April, criticizing Single-Payer Health Care

After Democratic majorities in the New York State Legislature redistricted congressional boundaries to put Sigler’s Lansing and all of Tompkins County in a reconfigured 22nd District, a new creation that was to link Ithaca with Syracuse, Sigler declared his candidacy for the 22nd District’s Republican nomination in late-February.

But then, by court order, district lines changed.  State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister struck down the legislatively-drawn maps as unconstitutionally gerrymandered.  The Court of Appeals affirmed his ruling. A court-appointed special master next redrew the lines.  Lansing was cut from Syracuse; the 22nd District was rebuilt.  Sigler found himself living two districts away from the 22nd.  He withdrew from its primary contest May 24th.  Only his refusal to abandon his social media pages provided any hint that his candidacy might not have died.  Then, on Tuesday, Sigler rebranded his campaign and gave it a second life.

****

Meanwhile, out on the 23rd District’s western edge, circumstances of a different sort began altering the dynamics of its congressional race in a much different way.

Between Judge McAllister’s final redistricting decision and this past weekend, the GOP honors to succeed Tom Reed in Congress appeared all but settled.  Suburban Buffalo Congressman Chris Jacobs, who represents a close-by Western New York district, saw opportunity knocking next door. He announced for the 23d’s nomination and was regarded as a shoo-in.  Jacobs was chasing prospective and previously-declared competitors away.  Incumbency has its advantages.

But then came the May 14 mass shooting at the Buffalo Tops supermarket.  With Erie County grieving over the loss of ten lives, shock compounded by the deaths of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, Jacobs responded last Friday by calling for tighter national gun regulation. 

His shoes to fill; Tom Reed

Jacobs said he would support bills banning assault weapons, prohibiting the sale of military-style body armor and raising the age for some gun purchases to age 21.  To some in the 23rd District, the Orchard Park incumbent had just stepped on the third rail of Republican politics.  And at that point, the long knives came out.  The calculations changed.

“I feel he has committed political suicide,” The Buffalo News quoted Frank Panusak, president of what’s called “The 1791 Society,” a Second Amendment advocacy group. Panusak accused Jacobs of what he called “do something-itis.” 

And while Panusak may have been seeking a way to vent, GOP leaders started scrounging the field for replacement candidates.  And Mike Sigler may have become one of them.

“I’m expecting a large primary field,” Sigler said in his Tuesday evening announcement.  And unless another Republican quickly clears the field, Sigler’s prediction will likely hold true.

Complicating the political calculus is that the Tom Reed congressional seat now finds itself vacant.  The Corning incumbent, speaking on the House floor May 10th, resigned on the spot.  His immediate departure signaled a special election, one expected to coincide with the rescheduled statewide primaries for Congress and State Senate August 23rd

The candidates who run in the special election will not necessarily run in the primary.  Some cannot.  Others don’t want to.  Still others recognize they might win the small-potatoes special election, but would never stand a chance for the higher-stakes two-year slot.  Nonetheless, some might still compete in both contests, concluding that a special election victory could provide them a beneficial, albeit threadbare, cloak of incumbency.

As of Tuesday evening, Mike Sigler had not decided whether he’d also enter the special election to become Tom Reed’s immediate successor.  Sigler suggested it’s unlikely, though he left the door ajar.

Reed and most other Republican insiders expect Steuben County Republican Chairman Joe Sempolinski, an early entrant into the 23rd District’s sweepstakes, to earn the party’s somewhat ceremonial honor to serve as Reed’s immediate successor those next few months.  In return, media reports indicate, Canisteo’s Sempolinski will decline to compete for the longer-term position. 

At the point when Reed resigned—and Sempolinski promptly entered the race to succeed him—State Senator George Borello of Sunset Bay, (Chautauqua County) also announced his interest in the short-term position.

Then, somewhat out of the blue, New York City businessman Marc Cenedella emerged.  He moved back to his native Fredonia and expressed interest in the race.  Reporters speculate Cenedella could spend millions in personal funds to bankroll his quest.

But the potentially biggest gun of them all emerged only about the time Sigler declared his own interest.  Quoting “political insiders,” the Buffalo News said Nicholas Langworthy, Chairman of the New York Republican Party, and a Niagara County resident—his home not far from the district—was actively considering a challenge to Jacobs.

“In my opinion, Nick would be a great congressman,” the paper quoted Ralph Lorigo, chair of the Erie County Conservative Party and vice chairman of the of the state’s Conservative Party. “He knows the issues. He’s perfect on the issues. He could bring people together,” Lorigo told its reporter.

The race’s wild card? GOP Chairman Langworthy

And there could be more names in the mix.  Previous candidate lists—perhaps stale by now or outdated by district line changes—include George Phillips, Richard Moon, Raymond Juliano, George Burns, and Lansing’s Hugh Bahar as prospective entrants.  Perhaps Bahar, who failed to even win a seat on the Lansing Town Board last year, won’t run now because Sigler has entered.  The field could grow still further.

But with Congressman Jacobs’ fortunes having turned so quickly, the possibility of his withdrawal finds itself whispered ever louder… though apparently not by the Congressman himself.  Buffalo reports say Jacobs has rebuffed attempts to get him to withdraw from the race.

This all leaves Mike Sigler running in a race with many variables—probably too many variables.  Like so many of those in what might be the top tier of the 23rd District’s contest, Mike must “drag his mattress,” so the saying goes, into the district.  And right now, the Lansing outsider is attempting to extend roots into the soil; some of them shallow, others aged.

“I’ve worked out of the Park Outdoor offices on the Miracle Mile in Elmira in the district,” said the billboard advertising salesman, who only weeks ago was touting his Park Outdoor ties to Syracuse.  “When I first moved to Upstate New York for a job at WENY (Elmira), I lived on 3rd street in Corning, down from my Congressman Amo Houghton who represented a large part of this district. I later worked at WETM (another Elmira TV station).

Media people move around.  For Sigler, that helps.  But what would help most would be for Congressman Chris Jacobs to withdraw from the race.  That has yet to happen.  It may not.  But circumstance has a way of infecting this crazy New York congressional season.  Many more surprises may await Mike Sigler between now and November.

Just remember, come Election Day, we cannot vote for Mike Sigler for Congress.  And also remember, neither can he.

###

The “Z-Word?”

Supervisor’s remark suggests Enfield zoning may be in play

by Robert Lynch, June 1, 2022; updated June 2, 2022

[Update to this story; June 2, 2022:  In her agenda for the June 8 Town Board meeting, an agenda shared with Town Board members after the Planning Board’s discussion, Enfield Supervisor Stephanie Redmond listed “Zoning” as an item for discussion under New Business.]

Never put too much stock in an offhand remark.  It may be a sand castle built on the beach.  Yet it was said on the record by Enfield’s Supervisor at the Wednesday, June 1st Planning Board meeting.

“I do believe it is something we should consider,” Stephanie Redmond said of potential, first-ever zoning regulations in her town.  Yet, she quickly added, “I don’t think we should be getting on that horse yet.”

“They don’t build sidewalks!” At Miller’s Corners, D.O.T. says Enfield must build them itself.

The Supervisor’s comment answered Planning Board member Mike Carpenter’s  observation that some of Enfield’s neighboring towns have begun to weigh tighter land use controls.  Carpenter wondered aloud whether Enfield should adjust its regulations as well.

Redmond’s suggestion—and then her hastily walking it back—may have recognized a hometown reality:  talk of zoning in zone-free Enfield could step one onto the third-rail of town politics.

Nonetheless, taking the issue further, the Supervisor indicated she would add the land use question—details unspecified—as a “discussion item” on the Town Board’s June 8th agenda.

Carpenter suggested any talk of regulation should have a “slightly larger context.”

“Are we trying to make it more restrictive to build or less restrictive to build?” Carpenter asked rhetorically.  He mentioned that the towns of Danby and Ulysses—both zoned—have made it “a lot more restrictive” for people to build.  As a result, Carpenter observed, affordable housing gets shortchanged, in favor of “higher end” housing.

Redmond said she’d be glad to hand off the writing of any tighter land use regulation to the Planning Board.

The informal, though on-the-record, discussions between Planning Board member and Supervisor —which surprisingly grew out of a review of prior meeting minutes—may have reflected states of mind more than concrete initiatives.  The zoning prospect may proceed no further than beyond the end of Wednesday’s meeting.  On the other hand, of course, it may.

****

On a different topic, Planning Board discussion Wednesday made clear that if Enfield wants to build sidewalks to heighten safety between Miller’s Corners and Sandy Creek Trailer Park, it will have to build them itself.

Planning Board Chair Dan Walker reported on a recent meeting among Town officials and state Department of Transportation representatives concerning possible sidewalk construction as part of a planned DOT upgrade of Route 79 in the Miller’s Corners area during the next few years.

“The D.O.T. doesn’t want to have anything to do with sidewalks,” Walker stated.  “They don’t build sidewalks.”

Redmond has in recent months made sidewalk construction between the trailer park and the Miller’s Corners’ Dandy Mart an administrative priority.  The sidewalks could extend west to the Dollar General as well. 

But the State’s reluctance to incorporate the sidewalk into its highway rebuilding plans would likely require the Town to purchase private roadside property or else secure easements.  Even though the land’s owner is a prominent Enfield farmer and businessperson, Redmond acknowledged she had not spoken to that owner and hardly knew her.

The Supervisor suggested grant money may be available to underwrite the Miller’s Corners sidewalk initiative.  It was also suggested that if built, the sidewalk would not be maintained in winter.

###

TCAT Free Fares: kids, now; grownups, someday?

by Robert Lynch, May 27, 2022

Starting Sunday, May 29th, Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) will begin permanently offering free rides to anyone ages 17 years and under.  But a larger question looms; one far more financially ambitious:  Should the local bus line provide free transportation to everybody?

The honor system for now; but teens will need a pass come fall to ride a TCAT bus.

It won’t happen now, but it may happen someday.

“How are we going to address equity and sustainability in our transit service?” asked John Monkovic, member of a group he identified as “Fair and Free TCAT.”  He spoke during floor privileges at the start of TCAT’s monthly Board of Directors meeting Thursday (May 26).  Monkovic blamed “the austerity at Cornell” for much of the problem, arguing the University should contribute an additional ten per cent of the transit service’s expenses to enable free service to all.

Monkovic’s opinion may be his own.  Yet it resonated with at least one TCAT Board member, Tompkins County legislator Dan Klein.

“I’m very attracted to the fare-free ride as well,” said Klein at Thursday’s meeting, though the legislator admitted, “This may not be the best moment.”

Nonetheless, said Klein, when it comes to eventually free ridership, “We should not take our eye off the goal.”

TCAT is struggling in fighting red ink.  Ridership has fallen since the pandemic began.  Now the agency finds itself coping with driver shortages and the skyrocketing cost of diesel fuel. 

Agreeing with Klein, the transit service’s General Manager, Scot Vanderpool, advised Board members that now is not the time to trim everyone’s fares to zero.

“The driver shortage,” Vanderpool said, “would really hamper (free service) right now, because there’d be increased demand.”

And a driver shortage there is.  Figures shared at the meeting indicated that of the 165 missed trips by TCAT buses on routes during April, a full 153 were due to driver shortages.  And officials clarified that the numbers don’t even include the two-day, late-April service reduction blamed on drivers being sick or otherwise unavailable.

Acting Ithaca Mayor and TCAT Board member Laura Lewis defended TCAT’s sustainability commitment, pointing to both the agency’s decision in March to provide fare-free service to youths as well as its mission to move to a full-electric fleet.

“We have a commitment to equity and the environment,” Lewis said.

During Thursday’s meeting, the TCAT Board allocated more than $1.3 Million from a pair of funds it oversees to provide a local match to Tompkins County’s application for federal moneys that would purchase six all-electric full-size buses and four similarly-powered “micro-transit” buses.  

“We’re headed in a very positive direction with staffing,” Vanderpool told the Board, reporting improved efforts toward driver recruitment.

Yet while the staffing crisis may have eased, the spike in fuel prices has posed new challenges.  Whereas TCAT spent around $66,000 fueling its fleet in January; by April, the cost had nearly doubled, topping $112,000.  And a TCAT bus is a fuel hog.  Together the fleet consumed 106,000 gallons for the year’s first four months.  Vanderpool said the average diesel bus gets only about four miles per gallon.

****

But while free rides for adult TCAT passengers may only be on the transit service’s wish-list, free passes for youths will likely become a permanent fixture.  The service’s Board approved the fare reduction March 24, determining, according to its latest news release, that “going fare free for youth would have minimal financial impact on the agency.”

Initially, beginning May 29th and throughout the summer, youth will rely on the honor system to prove to a driver his or her eligibility.  Beginning in the fall, however, most eligible teenaged riders will need to swipe a mag-stripe “FreeRyde” card at the farebox.  TCAT put the temporary honor-system policy in place because—you guessed it—the FreeRyde cards became back-ordered.

###

A Congressional Primary after all

Rhinebeck’s Cheney blocks Riley’s coronation by Dems in NY-19

by Robert Lynch, May 25, 2022

Down on the farm (and please take notice!) Jamie Cheney with husband, kids, and pet. (photo courtesy of the Red Hook Daily Catch and Jamie Cheney)

A Hudson Valley woman who points with pride to the manure on her boots has just breathed fresh life into a campaign that some had thought would see Josh Riley awarded the Democratic nomination in New York’s newly-drawn 19th Congressional District by default.

In an announcement that took the better part of a week to travel from the district’s most eastern county to its westerly edge, Dutchess County farm partner and businesswoman Jamie Cheney declared last Saturday her candidacy to run against Endicott-raised Riley to represent our newly-redrawn eastern Southern Tier and Hudson Valley district in Congress.

“This is going to be a seat that’s part of the dynamic of holding the House of Representatives this fall, and I don’t believe there is anyone running who can be a strong advocate for rural communities in the way that I have been professionally,” Cheney told The Red Hook Daily Catch, an online publication. “I have a real track record of advocating for rural families in rural communities,” Cheney added.

After another woman, Ithaca environmental advocate and businessperson Vanessa Fajans-Turner, withdrew from the 19th District congressional race late Sunday (5/22), it briefly appeared that Endicott’s Riley might win the once-crowded race to represent Tompkins County’s Democrats in Congress without a primary fight.  Not now, not unless, as always remains possible, Cheney falters in petitioning for the nomination.

Marc Molinaro, a former unsuccessful candidate for New York Governor, will likely clinch the Republican nomination in the 19th District.  Molinaro’s last potential obstacle vanished Monday when Lansing’s Republican Tompkins County Legislator, Mike Sigler, withdrew from the race.

Jamie Cheney and her husband operate Falcon’s Fields Livestock in Rhinebeck, their farm located just outside the redrawn 19th Congressional District in Dutchess County.  And in this topsy-turvy year of redistricting, one in which home towns matter less than do fields of opportunity, the 19th District’s Molinaro also hails from Dutchess County.  Like Cheney, he lives outside the district.  Molinaro is the Dutchess County Executive.

There’s an opportunistic side to Cheney in a second respect.  Media reports indicate that until last Saturday—one day after a State Supreme Court Judge made revised redistricting maps final—Cheney was competing not for Congress, but instead for the New York State Senate.

Before last weekend, Cheney had campaigned to unseat Republican State Senator Sue Serino.  But as redistricting lines kept changing, so, too, did Cheney’s political plans.  When special master Jonathan Cervas’ redistricting maps pitted Cheney in a presumptive Primary contest against a personal friend, State Senator Michelle Hinchey, the unelected Cheney backed out, and switched attention to a congressional bid instead.

According to press reports, Cheney first disclosed her change of course in a Tweet Saturday (5/21).  As this story is posted, Cheney has yet to make her candidacy widely-known districtwide, including in Tompkins County.  Indeed, those locally may have only learned of Jamie Cheney through her solicitations for support on social media. (That’s how this writer did.)

“Democrats have the best intention for every working family in this country,” Cheney told The Daily Catch, but “they often don’t quite understand what it’s like to support your family in a rural community where the nearest job might be 45 minutes away.”

Should Cheney and Riley remain the only two Democrats vying for the party’s nomination in their chosen district, the casual voter might gain the misimpression that theirs is a rural-urban working-class face-off, a campaign by novices holding little more than a high school education.  Not so. 

Though a promotional video champions his family’s industrial rust belt roots on the outskirts of Binghamton, Josh Riley claims credit to a Harvard law degree, and he’s worked inside the beltway with the likes of Congressman Maurice Hinchey and Senators Al Franken and Ted Kennedy.  Jamie Cheney, while truly a farmer, is also a Yale and Harvard Business School graduate.  She’s a founding partner in a Manhattan-based talent recruitment agency, Prokanga

Working Class hero, with a degree from Harvard Law; Josh Riley.

Yet Cheney’s website—at this writing, lean on specifics—puts her farm life front and center.  Her pictures are of barns and cattle, not of board rooms.

Cheney’s introductory biography stands typical of her initial generality.

“I know how hard it is,” Cheney writes on her profile.  “The difficulty of running a small business with no safety net during a pandemic, the struggle of turning a profit on a small-scale farm, and the pressure of balancing work and family.”

On her website’s home page, one finds another example; this under the category of “Democracy is under attack”:

“We need a Congresswoman who is invested in us.  We need a someone (sic) who knows that the current political climate makes it impossible to serve the people.  It is time the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier have a Congresswoman who advocates tirelessly for a government that works for us.”

One would expect, in time, Cheney will put more flesh on those bones of platitude.  Her website initially resembles very much a work in progress. (Writer’s observation: “been there; done that.”)

Yet why, The Daily Catch asked, did not Jamie Cheney simplify her campaign—and avoid Riley’s possibly labeling her a carpetbagger—by running in her home district, the new 18th District, the one that includes Dutchess County just to its south.  She had an answer.

“I don’t think I’m the best advocate for the 18th,” Cheney told its reporter, ceding the district in Dutchess to fellow Democrat, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan.  Cheney described the 18th as “the last district that looks south to New York (City).”  And she’d prefer opting for the perceived country focus of the 19th to the “distinctly suburban flavor” of the district to which her farm sits on its northern fringe.

****

But with new district lines drawn, former candidates gone and now new ones arriving, the Congressional Primary races of 2022 still have nearly three more months to run.  The primary isn’t until August 23rd.  Additional candidates may enter. They have until June 10th to file their petitions.

A choice beats a coronation anytime.  Providing Jamie Cheney secures her needed 1,062 valid petition signatures by the June deadline, a choice we will have.  It should be fun.

###

Sigler suspends campaign for Congress

“I can’t see a path forward…” 

by Robert Lynch, May 23, 2022; additional reporting filed at 10:34 PM

Perhaps the old Martha and the Vandellas song title best described Mike Sigler’s plight.  “Nowhere to Run.”

Monday afternoon (May 23rd), Sigler, the Lansing Republican now beginning his fourth term on the Tompkins County Legislature, dropped out of the race for Congress.  Suspending what had been an aggressive and initially productive quest to secure the GOP nomination in the Ithaca-to-Syracuse 22nd Congressional District, the district state legislative Democrats had drawn in February, Sigler suddenly hit a political brick wall this past week when a court-appointed special master, at a judge’s direction, redrew those district lines to erase political gerrymandering.  He also erased Sigler’s political fortunes.

In happier times. Mike Sigler, when he initially filed his political petitions.

As a result, Sigler found his Lansing home—and all of Tompkins County, for that matter—severed from the Syracuse heart of the redrawn 22nd District, the area where he’d spent much of his time and effort campaigning these recent months.  Last week, a new Republican candidate, Cazenovia businessman Steve Wells, entered the Republican race for the 22nd District’s Congressional seat.  And in Tompkins County, now placed within a district that extends east to the Massachusetts border, Sigler would have been pitted head to head with a former New York gubernatorial candidate, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, had Sigler chosen to compete on home turf.

“The lines have changed dramatically and while I’m still a solid candidate, it puts a significant barrier in the way and robs me of several of my main arguments for running in the first place,” said Sigler in a Monday afternoon statement announcing suspension of his campaign.  “While I believe I was ideal for the old district, I can’t see a path forward in the new district and I am suspending my campaign,” Sigler added.

As he stepped aside, Sigler endorsed Wells for Congress in the Syracuse-based 22nd District and Molinaro for nomination in the eastern Southern Tier and Hudson Valley district that now includes Tompkins County.

Sigler’s withdrawal marks the second time in 24 hours that a local candidate for Congress has stepped aside.  In a Sunday evening statement shared with the media early Monday, Ithaca Democrat Vanessa Fajans-Turner pulled the plug on her own congressional campaign.  Fajans-Turner, like Sigler, cited a similar problem; namely a redrawn congressional district that made it tougher for her to compete.

“This new district,” said Ithacan Fajans-Turner of the district in which her county has now been placed, “is very different from the one in which I have been campaigning and building voter trust since launching in February.” 

Recognizing Republican Molinaro’s stature in this district, Fajans-Turner added, “I will not act in any way that splits the Democratic field in this new swing district with an established and well-funded Republican in the running. This national moment is larger than any individual candidate, and it is incumbent on all of us to work for the greater, common cause as the stakes of this race continue to rise.”

As it stands at present, neither Tompkins County Republican nor Democratic voters may be offered a Congressional primary this August.  Unless additional candidates enter on either side—and assuming 19th District incumbent Congressman Antonio Delgado follows through on plans to resign his seat to become New York’s Lieutenant Governor—only Molinaro will compete for the 19th district’s Republican nomination, and Endicott native Josh Riley for the district’s Democratic nod.

Ironically, it was a Republican-driven lawsuit that did in Mike Sigler’s campaign.  After Democratic super-majorities in New York’s Senate and State Assembly drew Congressional and state legislative lines in February to favor their own party’s chances in November, and thrust them through the Legislature on largely party-line votes, Republican plaintiffs challenged those district lines in court.  Steuben County State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister upheld the Republican lawsuit in late-March, and McAllister’s holding was later upheld in large part by New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals holding, in turn, triggered Judge McAllister to name a special master, Jonathan Cervas, to prepare new congressional and state senatorial maps.  Cervas released his preliminary drafts of his maps May 16th.  Judge McAllister approved those drafts with only minor changes last Friday.

But for both Sigler and Fajans-Turner, the new districts spelled bad news.  If either candidate had chosen to remain in his or her earlier-declared 22nd District contests, they’d have faced the political handicap of competing out of their home territory, and also faced the prospect of being labeled a carpetbagger. For Fajans-Turner, as many as four Onondaga County-based candidates would have been waiting to confront her in the 22nd.  And for Sigler, the May 18th entry of Steve Wells, well-known in the new district as a founding partner of the American Food and Vending Corporation, would have made competing in the 22nd an uphill fight.

Out of the race as well. Democrat Vanessa Fajans-Turner

Moving to home terriroty would not have been much better for either.  Fajans-Turner would have faced the better-known and better-financed Riley, who grew up in the Binghamton area now part of the redrawn 19th District.   And for Sigler, it would have meant going head-to-head with Molinaro, a former candidate for Governor.

One other option remained possible.  Yet, it, too, spelled trouble.  Since New York law permits candidates to run outside their home districts, Sigler could have jumped across the Tompkins-Cayuga County line into the new 24th Congressional District.  The 24th is a Republican-favored safe-zone, redrawn by Cervas to encompass the northern Finger Lakes and vast swaths of the Lake Ontario shoreline from the St. Lawrence River to Niagara County. 

But as a practical matter, conservative Congresswoman Claudia Tenney foreclosed that option Saturday when she, herself, announced plans to run in the 24th.  Tenney has plentiful campaign cash, deep-red conservative bona fides, and most importantly, the strong endorsement of former President Trump.

Sources indicate Sigler had firmed up plans to suspend his campaign by the weekend, yet delayed his formal announcement until Monday.

“I don’t feel this was a waste of time,” said Sigler Monday, putting the best face on a disappointing turn of events.  “The court could have easily gone the other way. I’m happy they ruled the way they did as we now have much more competitive races in NY,” he added.

“To say I’m grateful for everyone who believed in this campaign and its vision is the largest of understatements I can imagine,” said Fajans-Turner, in her own withdrawal from the congressional race.  “We campaigned to drive conversation and engagement around key issues in the community. While our time in this race has ended, our work most certainly has not.”

A Democratic Primary for Congress—if, indeed there is one—would occur August 23rd.  Unless either of two candidates drops out before then, Tompkins County Democrats will still have to decide that day their nominee for State Senate, with Leslie Danks Burke and Lea Webb vying for that nomination.

****

Mike Sigler’s Monday afternoon announcement suspending his campaign for Congress was as follows:

Hello,

I want to begin by thanking you for your support in the race for the 22nd district. I jumped into the race February 3rd. I believed, as many of you did, that I was the best candidate for that district, that we would win, and retain the seat against very steep odds. That was always my main goal, to win the seat, and win back the House of Representatives.

The lines have changed dramatically and while I’m still a solid candidate, it puts a significant barrier in the way and robs me of several of my main arguments for running in the first place. While I believe I was ideal for the old district, I can’t see a path forward in the new district and I am suspending my campaign.

Fortunately, the new district is a perfect fit for Steve Wells to run in and win. He has deep ties to both Madison and Onondaga, has run before, and has the means to ramp up a campaign quickly. He was very helpful to me when I first decided to run, introducing me to potential supporters and talking me up.

Thank you for all your support over the past three months. I said I couldn’t do it without the committees and I was proud to gain 100 percent committee support in the gerrymandered district. I don’t feel this was a waste of time. The court could have easily gone the other way. I’m happy they ruled the way they did as we now have much more competitive races in NY.

I will continue to work to elect Marc Molinaro who is now looking to represent Tompkins County and Lee Zeldin and Alison Esposito.

Thank you again for your support and please join your town committee. They are the grassroots. Only you put you on the sidelines. The primary for governor is June 28th. Early voting starts the 18th.

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Judge approves maps; Tenney moves yet again

by Robert Lynch; May 21, 2022

Fasten your seatbelts.  We’re in for a wild ride.

Minutes before Midnight Friday (May 20), the deadline day, Steuben County State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister approved the modified redistricting maps for U.S. Congress and New York State Senate.  Reportedly, Judge McAllister made minor adjustments to special master Jonathan Cervas’ submitted maps, initial reports suggest those changes would not affect the districts proposed for Tompkins County or those immediately adjacent to it.

If it holds; special master Jonathan Cervas’ draft Congressional districting map, released May 16th.

Wasting no time, conservative Republican Congresswoman Claudia Tenney tweeted early Saturday morning that she will move her district of competition this fall yet again, this for the second time.  Tenney announced she will run in the new 24th Congressional District, the one that will stretch from the eastern shoreline of Lake Ontario to the western towns of Erie County, and include the nearby counties of Seneca, Cayuga and Yates.

“I’m announcing my candidacy for the new #NY24, which includes areas I currently represent in Congress,” Tenney tweeted at 1:26 AM Saturday.  “I’m honored to have received the support of President Trump, (House GOP Conference) Chair Elise Stefanik, and several county Republican chairs,” Tenney continued.

Tenney’s decision appears to have been made on impulse, with little preplanning.  As of mid-morning Saturday, Tenney’s campaign website still listed her as a candidate for the Southern Tier 23rd District, represented, until his recent resignation, by fellow Republican Congressman Tom Reed.  Tenney hails from the Utica area. Unless maps have been adjusted, her home would not be in either the 23rd or 24th Districts.

“On the Road, Again;” Congresswoman Claudia Tenney

By this latest decision, the Trump-aligned Tenney has placed herself securely in the position of an opportunist, taking her campaign to wherever political pastures look greenest.  Beltway commentators call such candidates “mattress-draggers.”  And a cynical comic might say Tenney’s mattress has been dragged so much that it should be tossed into Buddy Rollins’ dumpster today at Enfield Clean-up Days.

The final maps approved late Friday by Judge McAllister have yet to be reviewed in detail for minor changes from the special master’s initial submissions, released this past Monday.  They’d place all of Tompkins County within a redrawn 19th Congressional district.  With Democratic Congressman Antonio Delgado appointed—but not yet officially elevated—to Lieutenant Governor by Governor Hochul, the new 19th would likely have no incumbent for the fall election. 

As redrawn by special master Cervas, the 19th District would place Tompkins County as its western anchor.  It would stretch east through Binghamton and across the Hudson Riven to the Massachusetts border.  The 19th would include Cortland County.  In ways, it would resemble the former Matt McHugh/Maurice Hinchey district of decades past.

At present, two Democrats, Josh Riley and Ithaca’s Vanessa Fajans-Turner, have declared for the 19th District’s Congressional contest.  Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, a former unsuccessful candidate for New York Governor, has declared on the Republican side. 

Lansing Republican Mike Sigler could run in the 19th District for the Republican nomination.  But as of late Friday, Sigler’s social media still had him competing in the 22nd District, where Democratic state legislators had initially placed Tompkins County, but from which the special master later removed it following successful court challenges.

If Sigler were to continue to run in the 22nd District, he’d be competing outside of his home district, which remains legal.  Were he to sidle into the 19th District, home turf, he’d face Molinaro, a potentially uphill battle.

Where to, now? Mike Sigler

Meanwhile, in the 23rd District, where Congressman Reed recently resigned, the New York Times reported Saturday that Buffalo-area Congressman Chris Jacobs would compete as the Republican candidate.  Democrats this week coalesced around Tioga County’s Max Della Pia for the Democratic nomination for the 23rd District seat.

The Cervas’ maps for State Senate, apparently ratified by Judge McAllister without major change, would link all of Tompkins County with the Binghamton area.  There’d be no incumbent.  Ithaca’s Leslie Danks Burke and Binghamton’s Lea Web are competing for this new 52nd District’s Democratic nomination.  Former Binghamton Mayor Rich David stands as the Republican candidate.

All of this last-minute change comes following the Court of Appeals ratification in late-April of Judge McAllister’s earlier ruling in a Republican-brought lawsuit that struck down redistricting maps drawn by the Democrat-dominated New York state Legislature as unconstitutional.  Primaries for the redrawn districts will happen August 23rd.

The downstate website the Gothamist, provides the statewide perspective.https://gothamist.com/news/court-finalizes-new-ny-congressional-state-senate-maps

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Inflation Hits Enfield Road Projects Hard

by Robert Lynch, May 20, 2022

The cost of rebuilding an Enfield road just went up… and by a lot.

Though the national inflation rate may be running at 8.3 per cent, revised estimates Enfield Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins put before his Town Board this month project his department’s road construction costs may rise by several multiples of the national figure. 

The price of a facelift; Superintendent’s estimates for Harvey Hill Road rehab jump 71.4%.

In one notable instance, the planned 1.2-mile resurfacing of Harvey Hill Road just west of Route 327, Rollins revised estimates project a 71.4 per cent increase—from $140,000 to $240,000—since his original projections were approved by the Board in January.

For another road slated for upgrade this year, a one-mile stretch of East Enfield Center Road between South Applegate Road and Enfield Center, Rollins projects a 50 per cent increase, from $40,000 to $60,000.

“It’s really the jump in Harvey Hill that caused my jaw to drop,” Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer), said as Board members, at Lynch’s request, discussed the increases May 11th.  Only Lynch voiced serious concerns.

“Well, you want me not (to) do it?” questioned Rollins in response. “I mean that’s all there is to it.  I either do it or don’t do it,” he continued.  “I’m not going to sit here and argue about the money.  The price is the price.  And that’s all there is to it.”

The Superintendent’s cost figures came in a so-called “Amended 284 Agreement,” a one-page authorization form named after the section of New York Highway Law which commands it.  Once yearly, generally in January, members of all town boards must sign a “284 Agreement” to authorize how much money their Highway Superintendents may spend on local road maintenance… and on which roads.  The Agreement provides one of the few legal controls a town board holds over the actions of an independently-elected Highway Superintendent.

Enfield Board members signed the original 284 Agreement Rollins submitted January 12th.  The amended document, its totals increased because of inflation, was submitted by Rollins in an email May fourth.

While Rollins assigned certain road projects major increases—the Harvey Hill Road cost increase could be annualized at 171 per cent—the Superintendent’s overall “284” spending would grow more modestly.  For reasons never discussed during the meeting, Rollins had reduced by more than 20 per cent his projected expenditures for “General Repairs,” the day-to-day maintenance assigned to no specific road, but rather to Enfield’s 86.2 miles of Town-maintained roads in general.  Spending for General Repairs, under the amended agreement, would fall from $145,000 to just under $116,000.  The Harvey Hill and Enfield Center Road projects are assigned to a separate category, called “Permanent Improvements.”

Lynch sought and obtained from Supervisor Stephanie Redmond assurances that the Town’s budget could handle the increase.

“We’re actually doing pretty well,” said Redmond of Town finances, though she conceded Rollins’ figures would leave less money in Highway Reserves.

“Mr. Lynch,” Rollins said tersely, “I don’t go over my budget, and the money that I got allocated is in my budget.”

Apologizing to Rollins for “a lot of bad blood” that had spilled between the Town Board and the Superintendent in the past, Lynch said he was only pursuing curiosity as to why, with single-digit annual inflation nationally, one road project had risen by over 70 per cent in five months.

“If you take fuel costs alone,” replied Redmond, “the inflation is a lot higher.”

“Not 71.4 per cent,” Lynch answered.  “Not in five months.  My cost of gas hasn’t gone up that much.”

At Lynch’s urging, the Town Board passed a largely-symbolic resolution to accept the Superintendent’s changes. It included Lynch’s stipulation that Rollins “will not spend the entire amount if he does not need to.”  Though the law requires members only lend their signatures, the Enfield Board has of late preferred to back up those signatures with official action.

Estimates Rollins provided under the 284 Agreement apportion Highway Department spending only by road.  Rollins need not provide a detailed cost breakout, and he did not.  The superintendent stated the estimates calculate only maximum costs, not necessarily what he will spend.

****

The Enfield Town Board spent money in other ways that Wednesday night.  As the second act to a contentious Board discussion in April—yet one far more placid this time—the Town Board unanimously voted to award contracts for installation of heat pumps on the upper floor of the Town Courthouse, where the Town Justice holds court and the Town Board conducts in-person meetings.

The multi-stage project, made far more complex and expensive by environmental rules, would cost nearly $46,000.  Supervisor Redmond assured the Board a State grant will cover the expense.

Though the heat pumps’ contractor would charge less than $18,000, the project’s price tag was raised significantly by the need to reinsulate the Courthouse attic and remove the existing vermiculite insulation through asbestos-abatement protocols.  Indeed, the asbestos abatement became the costliest expense.

Councilperson Lynch, who strongly opposed the Courthouse project a month earlier, supported awarding the contracts this time.  Given the Courthouse building’s uncertain future, Lynch reiterated his own reluctance.  But he yielded to the Board’s majority opinion that the project should proceed, concluding the matter had been settled.

In other business:

  • The Town Board considered, but then tabled, Councilperson Lynch’s initiative to alter a 12-year old practice governing how Enfield receives its share of Tompkins County sales Tax revenue.  Since 2011, the Town has chosen to credit Sales Tax receipts to reduce the County’s share of Property tax, rather than take the money directly. 

While direct payment of Sales Tax could simplify Town budgeting in this tight financial year, Lynch acknowledged he’s had second-thoughts about his idea, after learning the proposed change may reduce Enfield’s share of so-called “PILOT” revenues received from solar farms.  “We don’t want to cut off our nose to spite our face,” the Councilperson said.

 The Sales tax change will head to the Town’s Finance Committee for more study.

  • And as to solar farms themselves, the Town Board, following a sparsely-attended Public Hearing, continued for an additional six months a Town-wide moratorium on approval of new commercial solar installations.  The Board imposed the moratorium last December to permit a committee to study changes that could bring the Town more revenue from future solar farms.  “I’m in favor of extending so we can get it all done and done right,” said resident Marcus Gingerich, the hearing’s only commenter.

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Ithaca School Board certifies “mess” of an election

by Robert Lynch, May 19, 2022

Maybe Board of Education member Christopher Malcolm put it best:  “Really, we understand that this was a mess.”

Malcolm’s colleague, Nicole LaFave was less forgiving:  “I personally feel like maybe it wasn’t intentional, but there was voter suppression.”

Abstaining… and questioning; School Board member Nicole LaFave

Despite the apologies, criticisms, excuses— and most noticeably, LaFave’s abstention—the Ithaca School Board Wednesday evening (May 18) certified the results of the district’s election of a day earlier, a seven-way contest for four Board seats that sparked an unusually high turnout, elected newcomers as its two top vote-getters, and saw long-time Board President Robert Ainslie ousted, Ainslie finishing the election second to last.

With one member (Dr. Patricia Wasyliw) excused and a second seat left vacant by a prior resignation, six of the Board’s remaining members, absent LaFave, certified Tuesday’s results as valid even though a trifecta of errors election day had strained the credibility of an educational institution that teaches—or at least, should teach—its charges to get the right answer the first time.

State law required the School Board to validate Tuesday’s election results by 8 PM Wednesday.  And based on the meeting’s advice from the school district’s attorney, Kate Reid, the Board had little choice but to do so, mistakes or not.  Had the Board not certified, or had it otherwise questioned the results, only the State Education Commissioner could have resolved the matter.

“I can share with you that our legal representation has shared with us that the election is completely valid,” Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown counseled the Board Wednesday.  Brown added, “There were no concerns from our school district attorney’s perspective that there are issues that need to go to the Commissioner or any issues around the invalidation of this particular election.”

The lawyer says “the election is completely valid.” Supt. Dr. Luvelle Brown

But issues there were.  And whether Tuesday’s errors, taken in their totality, place the voters’ will in doubt remains a subjective decision very much a matter of personal opinion.

Critics to Wednesday’s vote cite three problems in particular.  At some polling locations early in the day, signs instructed voters to select three candidates, not the correct number, four.  Poll workers ran out of ballots at one or more sites, as district officials had not anticipated the heavy turnout.  And the status of disqualified Board candidate Benjamin Mumford-Zisk rested on shifting sands throughout the day.  Signs first stated that Mumford-Zisk had withdrawn from the election.  Later, they were changed to indicate that he had failed to meet the district’s one year, continuous residency requirement and had become ineligible to serve.

“Before I vote, I need to know that that election isn’t void given everything that happened,” said LaFave.  Members, including LaFave, requested, and got, attorney Reid’s explanation, a rapid-fire, far-reaching legal overview that consumed half of the 44-minute meeting and ended with Reid concluding that any errors committed were likely only harmless and  not fatal to the final result.

But the inference drawn from Tuesday’s “Lake Street Fiasco”—if one might call it that—is that a patchwork of confusing state laws coupled with an absence of responsibility and accountability by those who should have known better had left election machinery to run on its own that day, with no one truly in charge… and without the Board of Elections to serve as the grownup in the room.

“We do not oversee the election, nor does Central Administration,” stated Board member Moira Lang at an early point in the meeting, probably speaking in error.  “As I understand it,” Lang said of election responsibility, “it’s the Board Clerk, in consultation with the Board of Elections.  This is not something we run.”

Well, not exactly, attorney Reid responded, at least not when it comes to rejecting candidate Mumford-Zisk as ineligible.

“Sometimes, the Education Law doesn’t make a lot of sense, guys,” Reid counseled the Board.  “It’s scripted.  A lot of these laws are 100 years old.  It’s not intuitive.  You can’t shoot from the hip on it.”

For example, the laws governing rural, central school elections place candidate vetting responsibilities with the District Clerk.  Small City School Law places Ithaca’s with the Board of Education.  And whereas the Ithaca Board is not necessarily required to vet candidates, it must disqualify a candidate once the Board learns he’s ineligible, Reid stated.

Superintendent Brown, later, in response to LaFave’s inquiry, advised the Board he’d only learned of Mumford Zisk’s ineligibility at 10:15 PM on election eve.

As to LaFave’s other major concern, the attorney made it clear that district employees or volunteers, quite clearly, had failed to think.  Last year, only three Board seats were up for election.  This year, because of a vacancy, the number had risen to four.  Staff thoughtlessly, routinely posted last year’s signs.

“I was personally upset by that development when I learned that those posters had been posted,” Reid told the Board, clutching her throat, “because I can appreciate 100 per cent, as a taxpayer and a voter why people would have been confused.”

“I was personally very upset” by those erroneous posters; ICSD Attorney Kate Reid.

Confused, perhaps, but Reid concluded, not to the point of invalidating the election.

“But the School Board is human, right?” the attorney continued.  “This election is being run by human beings; by people, largely retirees, who are coming out to help us with this, and there’s a margin of human error involved in that.”

Reid acknowledged her research had found no legal precedent for how the law handles such posted misinformation.  Yet she doubted a legal challenge would succeed.  First, she said, the posting was “relatively limited,” maybe for two hours or less.  Secondly, she said, the ballot, itself, was accurate.

“There was no intentional attempt to disenfranchise voters here,” Reid concluded.  “This was a minor oversight.”

The mix-up over the Mumford-Zisk candidacy’s ever-changing ballot status may, in truth, have been the candidate’s own fault.  Reid claimed her colleague had contacted Mumford-Zisk at about Noon on Tuesday and informed him of his ineligibility.  Mumford-Zisk, in turn, “represented to her that he was withdrawing his candidacy.”

But at about 3:30 Tuesday afternoon, with the election well underway, an attorney for New York State United Teachers called Reid to inform her that the candidate had “changed his mind” and “was not planning, in fact, to withdraw his candidacy.”  School officials then realized that their earlier-posted signs stating Mumford-Zisk’s withdrawal were “materially inaccurate.”  They replaced them with signs that explained his ineligibility instead.

It would have been a “circumvention of the democratic process,” said Reid, for the district to allow the election to proceed without notifying voters of the candidate’s disqualification.  Mumford-Zisk, if elected, could not have been seated.  The School Board would have needed to appoint a replacement.  Election results could have faced a greater chance for legal challenge, she argued.  Furthermore, the appointment, Reid said, would have been “anti-democratic.”

But when assigning blame for the multi-faceted errors at Ithaca School District polling places, quite clearly, the Board of Elections becomes an innocent observer. Because New York places school election administration under the Education Law, and not the Elections Law, it relegates the Board of Elections only to the background.

“They (the school districts) give us lists of candidates,” Tompkins County Deputy Elections Commissioner Elizabeth Livesay said Thursday.  “We use an election management system to print the ballot.”  District officials then, said Livesay, “give us a thumbs up or thumbs down,” on the ballot created. The district makes changes, when needed.  Then, Livesay continued, the elections board creates the ballot’s “final scannable version” and provides it to the schools, along with pre-tested voting machines.

Addressing the issue of Mumford Zisk’s disqualification—based on a residency requirement set by the Ithaca District, not by the State or the Board of Elections—Livesay made it clear.  “We don’t get into the legalities of who’s eligible for the ballot.”

Though Board member Lang may have been technically correct when she said that the Board, itself, does not run its own election, the Board’s Clerk, by contrast, assumes a pivotal role.  And LaFave pressed Superintendent Brown as to whether the Board Clerk should have vetted residency eligibilities, including Mumford Zisk’s, in advance.

“The Board Clerk assumes they are residents based on their affirmation as part of the documentation they hand in,” Brown responded.

President Ainslie weighed in, noting the candidates’ packet clearly states the residency requirement on its face.

“The fact that someone did not read it, which was perhaps the case, that’s not the Board Clerk’s obligation, to have you stand there and read it,” said Ainslie.

Ainslie, president of the Ithaca School Board since 2008, will depart next month, unless, as is unlikely, Tuesday’s elections get overturned.  Attorney Reid indicated a voter could still petition for the Education Commissioner’s review.  Ainslie finished sixth in Tuesday’s voting, falling one vote behind the disqualified Mumford-Zisk.

Newcomers Karen Yearwood and Jill Tripp led the pack in Tuesday’s balloting, Yearwood securing 2,799 votes; Tripp 2,604 votes, respectively, each earning a full, three-year position.  Incumbents Erin Croyle (2,584 votes) and Eldred Harris (1,292 votes) secured the remaining two Board spots, though Harris must settle for a two-year appointment to fill the remainder of a Board vacancy created by Kelly Evans’ earlier resignation.

Less controversial, Ithaca District voters handily approved a nearly $149 Million 2022-23 District Budget Tuesday; the vote 2,446 votes to 1,069.  Voters also authorized two other spending propositions, each by wide margins.  However, they rejected a fourth proposition, more controversial, that would have conveyed a small parcel adjacent to the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School downtown to the City of Ithaca to enable expansion of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center’s Gymnasium.

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Revised Senate maps would keep lines close; races unchanged

by Robert Lynch, May 17, 2022

Some five hours after court-appointed special master Jonathan Cervas’ proposed redistricting maps for Congress on Monday (May 16; see separate story), the maps for Cervas’ other assignment, redistricting the New York State Senate, became public.  But whereas the special master’s Congressional map revisions would force a major course correction in local campaigns, the comparable map changes for State Senate in Tompkins County would hardly make a difference.

The new District 52; all of Tompkins, all of Cortland, and much of Broome (Map courtesy of Dave’s Redistricting, LLC)

While Cervas’ State Senate map would renumber Tompkins County’s District from 53 to 52, the redesign would still place Tompkins County within a single State Senate district—something local leaders have long sought, but have not enjoyed for several decades.  Even more importantly, the special master’s revision would keep current party primary match-ups intact.  Those contests took shape after the State Legislature in February adopted the initial district maps that courts later rejected as unconstitutional.

“Can’t wait to get to work for the… district, NY52,” Democratic candidate Leslie Danks Burke tweeted to her followers late Monday.

In an email message to prospective supporters, Danks Burke’s primary opponent, former Binghamton City Councilperson Lea Webb, shared the same optimism. 

The district’s Republican candidate, former Binghamton mayor Rich David, faces no primary challenge, but also stands unaffected by the redrawn lines. 

Webb and Danks Burke had stood as the only remaining candidates in the district’s Democratic field when the New York Court of Appeals on April 27th invalidated as unconstitutional the lines the State Legislature had earlier drawn.  The Court’s action set in motion procedures under which a lower judge appointed Cervas, a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, to be special master and redraw the lines consistent with constitutional commands and submit Congressional and State Senate maps for the judge’s approval within the next week.

While Cervas’ State Senate revisions hold little impact for residents in Tompkins County, they will affect some of the county’s neighbors.  Whereas, the Legislature’s maps had split Cortland County between two Senate districts, the special master’s revision would unify Cortland County within the single district, one that would also represent those in Tompkins.

But in his cutting and pasting to create his population-balanced 52nd District, Cervas would chop away parts of eastern of Tioga County, towns that the Legislature’s plan had earlier included within it. 

The Legislature’s earlier effort, rejected by the courts. The special master’s changes would add all of Cortland County, but strip away Tioga.

Both the Legislature’s and Cervas’ maps would slice Broome County down the middle, splitting its representation.  Slight differences lie between the two maps.  Nonetheless, the special master’s plan would likely retain within the proposed, renumbered 52nd District the City of Binghamton, home-base for both Webb and David.

“Yesterday… we learned that all of Tompkins County will be part of the new State Senate District 52, which also encompasses much of Broome County and all of Cortland County,” wrote candidate Webb Tuesday. “We have much in common as a community and district, and I’m glad they’ve kept us together.”

Steuben County State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister will decide within days whether the special master’s maps meet his court’s standards for political neutrality.  But since the judge—and Cervas—have taken the drafting pen away from legislative Democrats and their super-majorities, the lines drawn will likely yield Democrats fewer Senate seats this fall than the controlling party had expected.

Kate Lisa of Spectrum News reported Monday of the Senate districts Cervas had drawn, 38 lean toward Democrats, ten toward Republicans, and 15 remain competitive.  In the current Senate, 43 members are Democrats, 20 Republicans.

In one respect, however, Cervas’s maps, like those of the Legislature earlier this year, fulfill a separate, distinct goal of local Democratic leaders.  Whereas Tompkins County’s representation for at least a decade has been split among three State Senators—none of them living locally and all of them Republican—the special master’s proposal would continue the Legislature’s intention to place all of Tompkins County within a common Senate district.

Moreover, the Cervas plan would take Tompkins County’s request one step further; merging all of Tompkins County with all of Cortland County as part of District 52.    

In testimony to New York’s ill-fated and politically-torn Independent Redistricting Commission last year, one prominent Democratic voice, now-retired county legislator Martha Robertson, had urged the unified, two-county linkage.  Robertson argued that both Tompkins and Cortland counties deserve a common State Senator (and Congressperson) since they share many “communities of interest,” including a jointly-funded community college.  Democrats in the State Legislature failed to tie Tompkins County with all of Cortland County, but the special master’s plan would do so.

Only the redistricting of seats for Congress and the State Senate fell within special master Cervas’s assignment.  Despite citizen challenges, courts have left district lines for the State Assembly unchanged from those the Legislature struck in February.

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Redrawn Congressional Map would bond us with Binghamton, not Syracuse

Look at the Orange! Special master’s draft Congressional map would link Tompkins County with points east… all the way to Massachusetts. (Map courtesy of Dave’s Redistricting, LLC)

by Robert Lynch, May 16, 2022; additional reporting, May 17th at 12:30 AM

Surprise!  Remember the old “Maurice Hinchey” Congressional District we in Tompkins County used to be part of before we were tied to western Southern Tier counties stretching to Lake Erie?  Well, what’s old may be new again.

A special master overseen by the Bath-based judge who three months ago threw out Democratically-drawn redistricting maps for Congress and the New York Senate released his draft redesign Monday.  And whereas the Democrats’ plan, adopted by the State Legislature amid controversy, would have linked Tompkins County with Syracuse in a blue-tinted district that favored New York’s majority party, Jonathan Cervas’ redesign would sever Tompkins County from places to the north, and tie it with an eastern Southern Tier and Catskill Region string of counties, a district much more politically diverse and competitive.

Instead of being within the New York 22nd District, Tompkins County would find itself in the 19th District, whose only incumbent, Democratic Congressman Antonio Delgado, has been tapped by Governor Kathy Hochul to be Lieutenant Governor.  All presumed Delgado would give up his seat in Congress to become New York’s second in command.  At this early writing, Delgado’s political options remain uncertain.

Should Delgado not be in the mix, the Democrats’ prime beneficiary could be Josh Riley, who’d edged to a leading spot in the crowded, six-way contest for the previously-drawn Syracuse/Ithaca-based district.  Riley hails from Endicott, within the newly-redrawn NY-19th, and the line changes could allow Riley to shed the potential handicap as a carpetbagger.

Ithaca resident Vanessa Fajans-Turner would also be running in the 19th District contest.  Tioga County’s Max Della Pia, who would also reside within the 19th, will, according to media reports, continue his pursuit of the 23rd District seat, currently held by retiring (and recently-resigned) Republican Congressman Tom Reed.  Della Pia would do so even though he would no longer live in the district he seeks to represent.

On the Republican side, Lansing’s Mike Sigler could be the big loser, though Sigler could still run in the Syracuse-based 22nd District, drawn by special master Cervas to include Onondaga, Madison, and Oneida Counties.  Sigler has strong Syracuse ties and has campaigned heavily in the Salt City region in recent months.

“Carpetbagger” no more? Endicott’s Josh Riley, running back home if new maps hold.

Should he compete on home turf in Tompkins County though, Sigler could face stiff head winds, as media reports indicate former gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro, who had planned to run against Delgado, remains eyeing the seat.  Molinaro lives in the Hudson Valley region and already has strong name recognition.

A check of Sigler’s social media pages Monday evening failed to disclose the candidate’s current plans.

Special master Cervas’ proposed lines remain subject to revision before State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister  signs off on them.  Judge McAllister is set to decide on the Congressional maps May 20th.  Monday’s early disclosure caught some by surprise.

Overall, Cervas’ redrawn lines would erase much of the earlier advantage Democrats had hoped to achieve by usurping redistricting responsibility from a constitutionally-mandated New York Independent Redistricting Commission in early-February.  Yet the Cervas draft would place district borders much more along county lines than would have the State Legislature’s design.  As such, the Cervas plan looks to the naked eye much less like a gerrymander.

If the special master’s plan becomes Judge McAllister’s final choice, Tompkins County would become the 19th Congressional District’s western anchor.  Cortland County would be part of the district, as would Tioga, Broome, Chenango  and Delaware Counties.  The 19th District would stretch all the way across the Hudson River to the Massachusetts border.

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Congressman Delgado, who’s elevation to Lieutenant Governor—if one would call it that—would require his nearly simultaneous resignation from Congress, is not the only New York Congressperson scratching their heads and weighing their options.  So, too, is Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, the Trump-friendly Republican from Oneida County, who’d seen her seat redistricted away by Democrats, but now might have reason to stay put.

With choices to make; Mike Sigler.

After Democrats imposed their legislative will in February, Tenney announced her plans to succeed Congressman Reed in the Southern Tier 23rd District.  But with the Onondaga-Oneida 22nd District made more competitive by Cervas, Tenney might choose to remain on home turf.  And should Lansing’s more moderate Sigler compete in the 22nd as well, a primary slugfest could result.

But the primary contests upstate could pale in comparison to those in and near New York City, as special master Cervas’ maps have placed high-profile Congressional Democrats in celebrity match-ups.  As Nicholas Fandos reported on deadline Monday in the New York Times:

“The most striking example came from New York City, where Mr. Cervas’s proposal pushed Representatives Jerrold Nadler, a stalwart Upper West Side liberal, and Carolyn Maloney of the Upper East Side into the same district, setting up a potentially explosive primary fight in the heart of Manhattan.  Both lawmakers are in their 70s, have been in Congress for close to 30 years and lead powerful House committees.”

Fandos continued:  “Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a favorite to become the party’s next leader, was one of a handful of incumbent lawmakers who, under the new map, would no longer reside in the districts they represent….  In a blistering statement, Mr. Jeffries accused the court of ignoring the input of communities of color, diluting the power of Black voters and pitting Black incumbents against each other in ‘a tactic that would make Jim Crow blush.’”

“The draft map released by a judicial overseer in Steuben County and unelected, out-of-town special master, both of whom happen to be white men, is part of a vicious national pattern targeting districts represented by members of the Congressional Black Caucus,” Mr. Jeffries wrote, according to the Times’ report.

The New York Court of Appeals designated Jonathan Cervas, a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, to draw the presumptively less partisan maps for New York’s Congressional and State Senate Districts after the Court held April 27th that districts Democratic-majority state legislators drew in February violated the New York Constitution on both substantive and procedural grounds.  Most observers saw the legislative takeover of the process as a bold-faced gerrymander; an attempt to net Democrats as many as three additional House seats.

But the special master’s maps of Monday would erase those gains.  By Cervas’s own account, the Times reports, his design would create as many as eight competitive seats to represent New York in Congress.  The Democrats’ maps would have yielded only three.

In upstate New York, gerrymandering’s most egregious example was the proposed 24th Congressional District, engineered, transparently, to “pack” as many Republicans into it as possible.  Rather than follow logical county lines, the Democrats’ 24th District would have zig-zagged along a jagged boundary and hugged the southern shore of Lake Ontario over much of the way from the Saint Lawrence River to near Niagara Falls.

(Presumably) gone, but not forgotten; Democrats’ proposed 24th Congressional District.

As redrawn by the special master, the new 24th would begin, again, near Watertown, but travel more logically south through the Finger Lakes and then west to just past Batavia.  It would leave the western Lake Ontario shoreline to Rochester- and Buffalo-based districts.  The redrawn 24th District, unlike its predecessor, would not strain the limits of contiguity.

Special master Jonathan Cervas, according to media reports, has declined to comment on his work product prior to its approval by Judge McAllister. 

The judge has already delayed party primaries for Congress and State Senate from late-June until August 23rd because of the redistricting litigation.

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Enfield Planners nix energy- aggressive building code

by Robert Lynch, May 4, 2022

Newfield’s adopted it.  Dryden has too.  But barring a serious change of heart, the Town of Enfield will likely take a pass on imposing a new, more energy-efficient building code that’s been promoted by State environmental interests.

The Stretch Code that won’t likely live in Enfield

Whereas the Enfield Town Planning Board gave the “New York Stretch” code a cool reception when the Board first considered it in early-April, the greeting was downright icy Wednesday (May 4th) as town planners rejected the package of potential regulations after just seven minutes of discussion and without even taking a formal vote.

“It’s problematic.  It was not thought out that well,” said Planning Board member Mike Carpenter, the Stretch Code’s lead critic.

Although the Enfield Town Board could overrule its Planning Board and embrace NY-Stretch without planners’ endorsement, Town Board members stand unlikely to do so.  At least one Councilperson has deemed the planners’ approval as critical to any future support he might give.

Going as far back as 2020, energy-conserving advocacy agencies, like NYSERDA, have encouraged municipalities to incorporate tougher “Stretch” standards within their own building codes.  Stretch’s provisions would require home builders to install more energy-efficient windows, shorter pipe runs to water faucets, and most controversially, electricity breaker panel capacity and conduit runs to accommodate future solar panels on the rooftop and electric cars down the driveway.

The Newfield Town Board, with one dissent, adopted New York Stretch last August.  Carpenter told the Planning Board the Town of Dryden has approved Stretch as well.  But in Dryden’s case, said Carpenter, the Town’s Building Inspector wishes it hadn’t. 

“They had to do very selective enforcement,” Carpenter told Wednesday’s meeting concerning Dryden’s experience, “because some things are not enforceable.”

The Town of Danby, Carpenter further reported, is “considering” Stretch, but is unlikely to adopt it.

“I don’t think it’s worth the Town’s time to pass it,” Planning Board Chair Dan Walker remarked, counseling the Enfield Board to set Stretch aside.  It would only create “more confusion for the Codes Enforcement Officer,” Walker concluded.

For one thing, said Walker, the code imposes “a lot of nit-picky things.”

Town Supervisor Stephanie Redmond had initially targeted the Stretch Code for adoption before June first, Redmond noting that NYSERDA was offering towns $5,000 to $10,000 in grant money if it adopted the code before the June deadline.  But Redmond in late-April pulled the item from the Board’s May 11th agenda.  Given Wednesday’s Planning Board rejection, NY-Stretch stands unlikely to return to an agenda anytime soon.

Key to Redmond’s and other Board members’ decision for delay was an April 28th memo Carpenter wrote the Supervisor, and that Redmond quickly shared with her Board.  In that lengthy memo, Carpenter—a builder, whose family installs solar systems—described the Stretch Code as “an amalgam of energy saving ideas that are somewhat disparate in their focus.”

“The actual energy savings from them,” wrote Carpenter of the code’s new standards, “will be in the 1 percent or less range, and will likely have a payback period in decades rather than just years. Some of these will come (into later adoption) with the new code, likely out in a year or two, and some may not ever be written into code.  There is value in them, though certainly nowhere near the claim of 25 to 30 percent cost savings.”

“My conclusion,” Carpenter wrote, “is that the difficulties in implementing and enforcing this code make it questionable that the town should adopt it. I have heard that it will save significant energy and cost little extra money. My own opinion is that the opposite is more likely to be true.”

Instead, Carpenter’s suggestion—a point he reiterated to the Planning Board Wednesday—is that Enfield write its own, likely-voluntary, energy-saving building code, one that might embrace the good parts of NY-Stretch and cast aside the rest.

“The folks who wrote the Stretch Code are not that experienced in building,” Carpenter told the Planning Board.  “They don’t understand that something that is very expensive might not have much impact.”

To at least one Town Board member, namely this story’s writer, the absence of Planning Board endorsement of NY-Stretch constitutes, for him, a deal-breaker.

“In all matters of land management and building regulation, we should give both our Planning Board and our Codes Officer great deference,” Councilperson Robert Lynch wrote in an April 29th email to the Town Board, responding to Carpenter’s concerns.  “To ignore their input is to disrespect their authority.” 

“Yes, we, the Town Board, hold the final say,” Lynch acknowledged.  “But until the Planning Board recommends we adopt New York’s Stretch Code, I would not vote in its favor.”

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  With the Stretch Code dispatched, the Enfield Planning Board went on with its Wednesday meeting.  For the next three-quarter hour, it continued to review and update town subdivision regulations.  Near the meeting’s close, an un-pictured viewer of the online meeting, identifying herself as “Eileen,” a teacher, offered an idea.  She suggested that any new subdivision provide a bus shelter for school children.

“It’s a safety issue,” Eileen insisted.  The Board responded approvingly to Eileen’s suggestion.

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Lane to Putin:  Look for the “Nazi” in your Mirror

by Robert Lynch; Posted May 4, 2022

The masks were back on, but there was no muffling Tompkins County legislator Mike Lane’s anger Tuesday night (May 3rd) as Lane delivered his—always tempered, yet equally-decisive—stern rebuke of Vladimir Putin for the Russian President’s continuing assault on the Ukrainian people and the humanitarian atrocities Putin has committed in his attempts to conquer a freedom-loving neighbor.

“Looking for a Nazi, Putin? Walk over to your mirror.” Legislator Mike Lane.

“We know we’re stuck,” said Lane, the Dryden Democrat, adding to the frustration and outrage he’d expressed at prior sessions.  “We’d love to put NATO forces in there and clean the clock of those people who are the aggressors.” 

“But,” Lane admitted, “the nuclear option; the nuclear deterrent is very real and we understand that.”

What Lane told the Legislature Tuesday has been said by many people in many places at many times in recent weeks.  But with the predictable boilerplate behind him, the Legislature’s most senior member launched into a more pointed, personal critique:

“One of the worst things that I’ve heard recently was the (attempt to) belittle President Zelensky who happens to be of Jewish origin, by trying to say—I think Putin or Putin’s people said, ‘Well, Hitler may have had Jewish blood in him.’”

“The Israelis,” said Lane, “were naturally upset and disgusted by those kinds of comments, which belittled the Holocaust.   I suggest that if President Putin really wants to see a Nazi, he ought to walk over to his mirror in the morning and take a good, hard look, because he’s following Adolph Hitler’s playbook in the Sudetenland and everywhere else.”

The Sudetenland was a portion of the former Czechoslovakia that Hitler annexed to Germany in 1938 as a prelude to World War II.

Lane told the Legislature he’s flying the Ukrainian flag at his home.  He said many of his Dryden neighbors fly that flag as well. 

“I wish that there was more that we could do,” Lane lamented.  “But I understand it,” he acknowledged near the close of his somber, three-minute monologue.  “It eats away at me as an American.  Flying the flag is very little that we can do.  But if folks can contribute to helping these folks… the refugees and the other people who are trying to flee from their own community because of the death and destruction, I hope they do that.”   

Lane went on to announce happier news, the appointment of Amy Kremenek as the new President of TC3.  (See separate story, posted on this website.)  Several seconds of silence followed the conclusion of Lane’s legislative floor privilege.  No other member added to his comments on Ukraine.  The County Legislature moved on to its other business.

Among that other business:

Podunk Road Bridge:  Without one word of discussion, and relegated to the catch-all “Consent Agenda,” the Legislature approved replacement of the narrow, steel-grate Podunk Road Bridge over Taughannock Creek.  The more than $3.5 Million project would realign the bridge to avoid the road’s sharp curve and replace the “single span steel truss bridge” with one of “prestressed concrete box beams on concrete abutments.”

Though technically a two-lane structure, two cars rarely pass on the aging Podunk Road Bridge.  Presumably its replacement would be one of modern, two-lane width.  Legislative documents claim the old bridge is in “poor condition,” and that a state inspection warned of “significant structure deterioration.”

Nonetheless, one might anticipate neighborhood concern, especially when one recalls the ongoing controversy that’s arisen in recent years over replacement of a somewhat-similar structure, the Freese Road Bridge in Varna, discussion that prompted a Town-County standoff over what sort of bridge should replace Varna’s historic, one-lane structure.

As yet, no similar controversy has arisen over the Podunk project.  And the County Highway Department has yet to assess the old bridge’s historic significance.  Ulysses Legislator Anne Koreman indicated Wednesday that the public will have “several built-in opportunities to weigh in” on the project.

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Tompkins County SIREN:  Tompkins County Emergency Response Director Michael Stitley and the Department’s Community Preparedness Director, Geoff Dunn, briefed the Legislature on the County’s transition from its former “SWIFT-911” mass notification system to what County wordsmiths have dubbed “Tompkins County SIREN,” an acronym standing for “Safety and Incident Real-Time Emergency Notifications.”

Hype and rebranding aside, the world of corporate buyouts truly prompted the transition.  “RAVE Mobile Alert” bought out “SWIFT Reach.”  It then chose to replace SWIFT’s technology with its own. 

“RAVE Mobile Alert,” said Dunn, “is in the process of transitioning the SWIFT customers to the RAVE Alert product.  So rather than being told we had to move, we figured now was the time to just make the transition.”

The County began that transition back in March.  “Up until now, it’s been a soft launch,” Dunn told the Legislature.  But SIREN’s “coming out party,” as it might be termed, was the recent mass mailing of giant postcards to every county household.  Bus cards and business cards added to the effort.  In response to legislator Randy Brown’s question, Dunn said the mailing alone cost the County $15,000.  A second may occur in September.

But the transition carried with it some occasional fumbles. 

“While it is true,” said Dunn, “and we did specify in some of our early literature, that the SWIFT-911 information had been carried over to SIREN; transitioned… the user must still go in and create a profile and account within SIREN.” 

There’s a reason for that, and the Preparedness Director conceded it’s not just because some SWIFT phone numbers and email addresses are outdated.  “The SWIFT lists,” Dunn revealed, “will sunset at the end of the year and will no longer be used.”  Earlier advisories had never told us that.  Existing users were wrongly led to believe they’d need to do nothing.

What’s more, SIREN’s signup occurs through the Tompkins County website or via text message, perhaps not the easiest task for the computer-compromised. 

Yet, legislator reaction was overwhelming positive.  “This is really good work,” Dryden’s Greg Mezey said of the promotional rollout.  “This is impressive.  I think it is worth every penny.”

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For earlier-posted stories, view the Reporting Archives sub-heading under this tab. Stories are archived by the month of their posting.