Enfield may Gain from Second Wind’s Stumble
by Robert Lynch, March 10, 2023
It’s early. And to make it work, all the moving parts would have to move just right. But a vote this week by a legislative oversight committee could free up Tompkins County Community Recovery Funds for some of the Enfield projects frozen out of downtown-administered moneys last December, including a mental health wing sought by the Enfield Community Council.
“I’ll be fighting for Enfield,” County legislator Randy Brown told the Enfield Town Board Wednesday night. Brown’s remark came two days after the Tompkins County Legislature’s Community Recovery Fund Advisory Committee rejected, two-votes-to-four, the application by Newfield-based Second Wind Cottages to substitute a dozen more tiny houses— so-called “cottages” for the homeless— to replace the 25 campsite-type shelters Second Wind had earlier proposed for Community Recovery funding.
A one-year moratorium on new “campgrounds” enacted in early-February by the Newfield Town Board, in response to local opposition to Second Wind’s proposed additions, has effectively nixed the campsite idea. By the time the moratorium would eventually lapse, the Recovery Fund moneys would likely have dried up.
“Functionally, it’s dead,” County legislator Deborah Dawson predicted Monday just before the Advisory Committee voted down Second Wind’s proposed swap of one building proposal for the other. Dawson opposed the Second Wind revision, as did Newfield’s Brown and two others. Only Committee Chair Dan Klein and Ithaca legislator Veronica Pillar would have permitted the homeless advocacy group to apply its earlier-recommended $510,000 for the 12 new cottages instead.
After Monday’s meeting, and again to Enfield’s Board Wednesday night, Brown promised he’ll ask the full County Legislature, at its next meeting March 21st, to remove Second Wind’s pricey proposal completely from the list of eligible projects set to earn a slice of the county’s $6.5 Million Recovery Fund.
And if Second Wind drops out, Enfield projects could then drop in.
“I will make my priority Enfield applications,” legislator Brown promised the Enfield Town Board in his pre-meeting written narrative Wednesday.
The most likely candidate to snag leftover funding—since it barely missed the Advisory Committee’s funding cut last December—is the Enfield Community Council, with its $206,000 request to replace a dilapidated mobile add-on at its recently-purchased Community Center with a stick-built, multi-purpose wing designed, in part, to provide offices in Enfield for first-ever mental house counseling.
Also mentioned by Brown as potential candidates are three projects advanced by the Town of Enfield itself.
In its applications filed with the County’s consultant last October, yet never recommended for funding by the committee, the Town sought $26,591 to purchase communications radios for the Enfield Highway Department, and also $97,040 for a “Main Street Revitalization of Municipal Buildings” fix-up package, the latter application to include replacement of the Enfield Town Hall’s roof.
The Town sought an additional $225,000 to build an unheated storage building for Highway Department equipment. But this “cold storage building” is now perhaps the longest of long shots.
Seizing the moment, the four attending members of the Enfield Town Board unanimously adopted a Resolution Wednesday supporting Brown’s efforts to advance the ECC, the portable radios, and the roof replacement measures both in the Advisory Committee and then before the full County Legislature.
Earlier-proposed—and committee-rejected—Enfield projects not mentioned by Brown for revived consideration in light of Second Wind’s rejection included the $1.2-1.6 Million Enfield Food Distribution application to build a new Food Pantry, and a lesser-priced request by the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company to be used, in part, to construct a bunk room.
Observers acknowledge that approval of legislator Brown’s late-day wish-list is far from a done deal. First, the full Legislature later this month would need to drop Second Wind’s $510,000 allocation from its tentatively-approved funding roster. Only then could Brown ask the Advisory Committee in early April to move the Enfield requests into contention. Committee endorsement would later require the full Legislature’s endorsement. And scores of other non-profit agencies and governmental groups—shut-out, as Enfield was, in last fall’s money-quest—stand equally eager to snatch the money that would be made available should Second Wind falter.
Newfield Councilperson Heather McCarty, perhaps her Town Board’s most progressive Democrat, sounded a whole lot like Republican legislator Brown Monday when she co-opted the talking point that Brown had spoken on the County Legislature’s floor in January. McCarty maintained that the views of her neighbors too often get overlooked by Ithaca-centric lawmakers who may have all the best intentions, but yet a tin ear for listening.
“There’s a perception in the Town of Newfield,” McCarty said, “that while the County Government and county residents have a lot of concern for many people who deserve help, that the rural residents of the county are considered second-class citizens, and that their opinion and needs do not matter.”
McCarty added, “I’m here today to request that the committee and the County Legislature extend their consideration and compassion that they laudably have for certain segments of the population, to the Town of Newfield as a whole.”
McCarty, like Town Supervisor Michael Allinger and Councilperson Joanne James—together a full three-fifths of the Newfield Town Board—who all spoke at Monday’s meeting, stressed the lack of full-time supervision at the current 18-unit Second Wind Cottages site. They also cited problems of inadequate police and emergency medical presence and community resistance in their collective call for the Advisory Committee to turn down whatever Second Wind’s expansion might be.
Supervisor Allinger told the meeting he’s gotten “dozens of phone calls from the community speaking out unfavorably about the expansion.”
“One caller, Allinger said, “noted that she had young daughters and had concerns for the fact that there was a Level Three sex offender in residence there.”
Allinger also stated that Second Wind’s neighbors complain that the cottages’ residents strew garbage in neighbors’ yards along Route 13 and troop along the highway to a nearby convenience store where they then buy beer and patronize a “head shop.”
“We feel they’re at their capacity,” Allinger said of the homeless encampment, speaking at a meeting that Second Wind’s owners and organizers failed to attend, but to whom the Town Supervisor hoped they’d still listen.
“They need to take a step back, evaluate where they are,” Allinger said. “The mission is fine. I have no problem with reaching out to help the homeless.”
Yet Newfield’s top elected official also saw Second Wind’s effort to date as an opportunity lost.
“I don’t think that they are doing the job that they could be doing with the numbers that they have currently, and that is the feeling that I’ve heard over and over with every person I’ve talked to,” Allinger said.
And yes, numbers did factor into the Advisory Committee’s Monday decision. A spreadsheet shared by the Recovery Fund’s consultant compared how many might benefit from Second Wind’s 12 new tiny houses compared to the more transient-focused campground the applicant had first proposed.
The revised concept would house within an average year only enough homeless to fill the dozen new cottages. Campsite shelters, by comparison, could provide temporary residence for up to “100 unique individuals.”
“The impact on folks that it would serve is much less,” Ithaca legislator Travis Brooks observed. “That does create some problems for me in terms of supporting this,” Brooks said. He cast his vote to reject Second Wind’s re-do.
“It’s an awful lot of money for twelve people,” Deborah Dawson echoed. She calculated the drain on Recovery Fund money at about $50,000 a person.
“It doesn’t seem like we’d be getting an awful lot of bang for our buck,” Dawson said.
Despite the Advisory Committee’s turndown this week, the originally-recommended $510,000 Community Recovery Fund handout to Second Wind Cottages technically still remains alive. It’s just that the Newfield Campground Moratorium likely makes the project unbuildable. That’s where legislator Brown’s March 21st defunding initiative would kick in. But unless and until the full Legislature tosses the 25 camping shelters into the ashcan, the Town of Enfield and the ECC will just have to bide their time and wait their (possible) turns.
Still, the lesson learned for the moment is that hometown outrage and community advocacy makes a difference. And any attempt by Second Wind Cottages to win back Tompkins County Community Recovery Fund support would certainly become a steep, uphill climb.
“I don’t think we as a county should be funding a project, encouraging a project, that the local community is so much against,” Dawson said Monday.
She probably has her finger on the pulse. And Enfield would surely like to pick up any of the greenbacks that may litter along the Route 13 roadside should the Second Wind application meet its death later this month on the Tompkins County Legislature’s floor.
Tompkins’ Green New Divide
by Robert Lynch, March 8, 2023
When Tucker Carlson warns of Big Government barging in to confiscate your gas stove, maybe this is where it starts.
Tuesday night, on what was intended to be just another routine, rubber-stamp endorsement of a liberal green initiative in Albany, the Tompkins County Legislature split down party lines on whether state lawmakers should ban you from putting an oil furnace, a wood stove, or even a gas cooktop in any new home you build anywhere in New York as soon as next January.
“I would just like to remind the Legislature that this is a Resolution that doesn’t talk about something that we’re enacting here in Tompkins County,” Legislature Chair Shawna Black cautioned as lawmakers—and earlier, the public—took turns to weigh in on the issue and then run to their ideological battle stations. “This is one of those resolutions that we send on to representatives…. It’s important. But I don’t know if we need to go so deep in these resolutions,” Black maintained.
No matter. This was about principle; and passion… and politics. And moreover, did anyone in legislative chambers that night really believe a local recommendation would change any minds? Ithaca’s Assemblymember, Democrat Anna Kelles, is among the “All-Electric Building Act’s” key co-sponsors. Democrats stack the State Senate and Assembly. The building code’s ban on new gas stoves will likely pass, like it or not.
The Tuesday debate drew former County legislator Martha Robertson out of retirement, the Dryden Democrat clearly espousing the global warming doomsday scenarios that so many on the Left embrace without challenge, and that so many of their counterparts on the Right challenge without apology.
“This is going to be hard. Nobody said it was going to be easy, nobody said it was going to be cheap,” Robertson, known when in the Legislature for her run-on monologues, said in floor privileges remarkably kept within their allowed three minutes. But Robertson continued, “The fact is the alternative. It’s not going to be life as we know it now. The alternative is going to be harder and more expensive and disastrous for all of us.”
The retired legislator tried to envision what sort of climate her grandchildren might face when they reach her age by 2080. “That’s a terrifying idea,” Robertson warned. “What’s the world going to look like? What’s the world going to look like in ten years?”
Former Tompkins County Environmental Management Council Chair Brian Eden shared Robertson’s concern. Eden called climate change an “existential issue,” and welcomed the All-Electric Building Act as a means to an end.
“It actually is a climate emergency,” Eden insisted. “But it’s not recognized as such by most people.”
And one of those in legislative chambers who refuses to accept the climate crisis as Eden views it is Lansing Republican Mike Sigler. He, Newfield-Enfield’s Randy Brown, and Groton’s Lee Shurtleff, all Republicans, voted against the Legislature’s climate-conscious Resolution. They were the only ones who did.
“The problem with this whole thing is,” Sigler told legislators, “it talks about demand…. We’ll tell people we’re going to electrify houses, we’re going to electrify cars. And frankly, none of that matters.”
And, Sigler maintained, the argument doesn’t matter because electrical supply is lacking to meet the expected increased demand electrification will require.
“Right now in this state, 71 per cent of your electricity comes from fossil fuels,” Sigler said. “That means 29 per cent comes from renewables. But what they don’t tell you is that more than half of that renewable is made up by Niagara Falls. And they’re not making any more Niagara Falls.”
Sigler’s remark revived a pro-nuclear argument he’s raised at prior meetings. Tuesday it ignited a sidebar debate that Shawna Black eventually attempted to reign in. Before she did, legislator Rich John conceded that as to nuclear, “We have to be open to have that conversation.”
Dryden’s Mike Lane put his opinion crisply. “No to nuclear,” Lane said. That remark, with Sigler, touched a nerve.
“Then I would have to question if is this actually an existential crisis?” Sigler responded.
“We can take this into any single thing that was an existential crisis like World War II,” Sigler continued, “when we were willing to sacrifice people on a beachhead to get into France. So if this is an existential crisis that’s going to kill us all, and we are not willing to look at something that is tried and true and improved over the last 50 years with not a single U.S. death, and we’re not willing to look at that and the new technology that’s come over since the last half-century? Then yes, it is not an existential crisis.”
Now it was time for the Legislature’s liberals to get incensed. Ulysses Anne Koreman was one of two who quickly called to shut down the nuclear debate and bring matters to a vote. When she did, the climate Resolution passed, 11 votes to three.
“I’m against fracking completely, I think it’s a bad idea,” Newfield’s Randy Brown remarked before casting his vote on Sigler’s side. “But I also think there’s a value for natural gas.” And as for the resolution on the floor, Brown had this opinion: “I think it’s too aggressive.”
The “All-Electric Building Act,” sponsored by Manhattan’s Brian Kavanagh in the State Senate and Brooklyn’s Emily Gallagher in the Assembly, is one of those Albany bills that’s easy to ignore until it turns around and bites you. The measure would speed up implementation of green building initiatives already advanced by Governor Hochul in her State of the State Address.
Put plainly, and giving no exception for single –family residences, the legislation would direct “the state fire prevention and building code council to prohibit the installation of systems that can be used for the combustion of fossil fuels in new construction.” Governor Hochul’s timetable for the mandate would require any newly-constructed building less than seven stories tall to be all-electric by 2026, with taller structures to be the same by 2029.
The Kavanaugh/Gallagher bills that the County Legislature endorsed Tuesday would move up those dates by two years each. Should they pass, no new home could have a fossil-fueled energy source after this December.
Lost, of course, in the debate is the fact that fossil fuels still generate most of our electricity, and that the initiatives Martha Robertson and Brian Eden so fervently support carry more of an aspirational feel to them, rather than arguments based on cold, hard logic.
Tuesday’s adopted resolution also backed other pending green initiatives in Albany, including one that Lansing’s Sigler termed a “cap and trade” payment system that Sigler argued would only mean higher power bills to consumers.
“This necessarily increases the cost of electricity on every single constituent I have,” Sigler argued. “And frankly, they’re tapped out.”
To be truthful, no one’s coming after your existing gas cook stove or oil furnace… at least not quite yet. But if the measure endorsed be Tompkins lawmakers Tuesday night becomes law, don’t expect to put one of them into any new home you build next year. That’s freedom of choice, New York style.
Hearing Set; Questions Remain
Enfield’s “Breezy Meadows” to go to the People in April
by Robert Lynch, March 4, 2023
In the minds of many, it may be the Enfield development that few really want, yet nobody knows exactly how to stop. And even if the town had a razor-sharp zoning law, any effort to halt it might not fare much better.
Wednesday (March 1st), the Enfield Town Planning Board, by unanimous vote, advanced the proposed “Breezy Meadows Farm” large-lot rural subdivision to an April 5th Public Hearing. By a similarly unanimous vote, planners designated their own Board to act as the lead agency in a state-mandated environmental review of the project, sandwiched between Podunk and Halseyville Roads.
As it appeared from this observer’s vantage point in the room that night, Board members saw little alternative to doing what they did. Yet one could infer that if New York Land & Lakes Development had never come forth with its plan to carve up the former John William Kinney farm into building lots, planners would not have shed one tear. But Land & Lakes has played by the book. And to deny developers a hearing now would most likely prompt a lawsuit. That’s the dilemma.
The Planning Board’s scheduling of the April hearing Wednesday followed a laborious, more than two-hour review of Land & Lakes’ preliminary “Breezy Meadows” subdivision plan. It included a property plat more refined than that first disclosed to planners—and to potential neighbors—three months earlier. Review also included the developer’s 145-page Environmental Report.
“I don’t have a problem with the plat as it is,” Chair Dan Walker said near the close of the Planning Board’s review. “All the lots meet the minimum requirements,” Walker said, “and there’s more than enough frontage.”
Walker asked other Board members if they had any concerns about the subdivision’s configuration. None said they did.
Instead, Wednesday’s Board concerns trod a different path. Members questioned how the proposed 33-lot subdivision, taken in aggregate, would impact local roads in handling increased traffic; how new housing would affect the water table, and how anyone would enforce the deed restrictions that Land & Lakes intends to write into every sales contract it signs.
Not since perhaps the infamous Black Oak Wind Farm debate of a decade ago has a proposed Enfield development prompted more public concern than has Breezy Meadows. In early-December, residents of the town’s northwest quadrant flocked to the Planning Board’s monthly meeting after an anonymous someone stuffed Breezy Meadows’ initial site sketches into mail boxes. Some voiced critical comments to the Planning Board December 7th. However, since that year-end session, public outcry has quieted. Only three prospective neighbors attended last Wednesday’s meeting. They offered brief questions, but gave no public statements.
The Planning Board’s March agenda provided no privileges of the floor. By contrast, the April Public Hearing will be publicly advertised and noticed widely. Expect a robust public turnout then.
Standing prominently—albeit sadly—within the 337-acre Breezy Meadows tract are 13 long, low-slung poultry barns, metal structures long-abandoned, deteriorating, and a few falling in. The Environmental Report’s narrative states that the barns were built by the former Babcock Poultry farm in 1972, then leased to a swine-raising operation 12 years later. Abandoned since 1994, the barns stand either empty or filled with junk. The land around them has grown to brush.
“They’re pretty substantial buildings. I don’t see the point in tearing them down,” Land & Lakes Project Manager Alan Lord told the Planning Board Wednesday. Lord said the future opportunities for the buildings have led his firm to designate the development’s four lots facing Podunk Road for possible commercial use. Each lot would encompass three of the large barns, some of them 500 feet long.
“So if anyone wanted to develop this into commercial, they’d need site plan approval,” Board Chair Walker cautioned. A future agricultural use, however, might be exempt.
Tucker Road: Planning Board review of the Breezy Meadows subdivision began with discussion of what could become the greatest concern for Enfield taxpayers town-wide. The Board addressed how the developer’s plans to add more than 20 new building lots along Tucker Road would impact the lightly-traveled, poorly constructed dirt and gravel road that bisects the project site.
“The road is not very strong. It’s a pretty soft road,” Walker remarked. He indicated he’d discussed Tucker Road’s status with Town Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins.
“It’s a public road; it’s a legal road,” Walker conceded. “But the Highway Department says that with lots more traffic, it will need additional maintenance,” the Board Chair continued. “We have provisions in the Subdivision Regulations to demand improvements on the road.”
But do they? Nuance could become the basis for legal argument here.
When a developer plans to sell building lots fronting a newly-built road, Enfield rules require the developer pay to build the road and then deed it to the Town. But when lots front on a road that already exists, any municipality’s demands for an upgrade stand on shakier soil, and in more ways than one.
“I look at it as a Town Road,” Land & Lakes’ Alan Lord responded. “We do not have a budget” for that kind of improvement, Lord added.
Lord did not categorically rule out contributing to Tucker Road’s improvement, but neither did he commit to it. A similar upgrade of Aiken Road—used Wednesday as a benchmark comparison—cost the Town of Enfield $160,000 when undertaken in 2020, according to budget documents.
“We’re not going to instantly build houses,” Lord advised the Planning Board, the project manager signaling that Breezy Meadows’ traffic growth would be gradual, not sudden. Lord said his firm’s experience is that within the first ten years of a development, only one-quarter of the parcels get built out.
Only three homes stand alongside Tucker Road right now. Walker estimated that Tucker presently gets “4-10 vehicle trips a day in and out.” The Board Chair said he’d contact Rollins to obtain updated cost estimates for recommended improvements.
“I don’t think we need an adversarial process,” Board member Mike Carpenter remarked, suggesting negotiation with the developer should come before confrontation.
“We’ll talk offline about it,” Walker told Alan Lord, putting Tucker Road’s fate to bed for the evening.
Deed Restrictions: “This seems like a really bad way to do things,” Mike Carpenter observed as the Planning Board addressed another troublesome aspect of the Breezy Meadows plan: deed restrictions and whether there’d be any easy way to enforce them.
Project developers propose to condition sale of every lot they sell on about a dozen and a half restrictions that would, among other things, prevent the placement of single-wide manufactured homes on a lot, prohibit a purchaser from further subdividing a lot, and also—rather subjectively—require a purchaser’s outdoor lighting to be kept to a minimum and directed mainly downward. At a prior meeting, Land & Lakes had admitted that many of the proposed Enfield rules were lifted as boiler-plate from restrictions imposed at the company’s subdivision in more heavily-regulated Dryden.
“Who enforces them?” Carpenter asked of Alan Lord and his partner Bob Esperance.
“One of the other property owners could stop (a breach of the covenant),” Lord answered.
“It seems so uninformed as a plan,” Carpenter responded.
“If there’s a better way, I’m all ears,” Lord rebutted.
Much as they’d like to think they could, planners admitted the Town of Enfield holds no enforcement power. Only other subdivision purchasers—or Land & Lakes itself—would hold legal standing to enforce what amounts to a private contract, not a government regulation.
“Can the Town pass a law to enforce these covenants?” Board member Henry Hansteen asked.
“Not to just these lots,” Carpenter answered Hansteen.
“You’d be zoning just one corner of the town,” Lord explained.
The project manager couldn’t recall any of his company’s purchasers ever having to take a neighbor to court in the past 20 years for a covenant violation. Enforcement comes more likely, he said, through one-on-one discussions as well as from how a violation could cloud a title or pose problems in securing a mortgage.
Of the restrictions proposed, Lord said, “We’re just trying to remind people to be good neighbors.”
Greg Hutnik, the Planning Board’s newest member, raised another problem. New York State regards single-wide mobile homes as residences, Hutnik claimed. As a result, he said, it’s hard to screen them out.
“I’d want to keep the mobile home restrictions in these,” Managing Partner Lesperence, responded.
“It’s not legally enforceable by the Town,” Hansteen reminded the developer.
One resident asked briefly about whether 33 new homes would reduce groundwater supplies to neighboring properties.
Lord did not see a problem. He said he’d checked data the state has required well drillers to supply since the start of the millennium. “There are quite a few wells in the inventory,” Lord claimed. Many, he said, are pumping 8-10 gallons per minute. That, Lord said, is “pretty good.”
As for the future of Breezy Meadows, the early-April Public Hearing will tell us more; whether neighbors in the area will accept the presumed inevitable slicing and dicing of a once wide-open chicken and hog farm, or whether they’ll choose to stand and fight. But even if Enfield were to change course and abandon its long-held community resistance to zoning, a ready remedy may not remain easily at hand. Breezy Meadows’ proposed lots are generally three-30 acres in size. It’s hard to block a housing subdivision with that much open space and with building lots that large.
New York Land & Lakes reportedly paid $1.6 Million for the J.W. Kinney farm. And when big money meets a limited supply of land, turning open fields into building lots becomes a hard thing to stop.
Community Council Faces $20K Budget Gap
Town Board assistance requested
By Robert Lynch, February 24, 2023
“It’s not a balanced budget, and I’d like a balanced budget,” Enfield Community Council Board member Debbie Teeter told the ECC’s Board of Directors at its annual meeting Thursday. Teeter presented—and the Board then approved unanimously—a 2023 Budget containing a nearly $20,000 shortfall between projected revenues and expenses.
Teeter indicated she intends to ask the Enfield Town Board to close the funding gap with a special, one-time appropriation. She said the funds could be drawn from money given Enfield under the federal government’s American Rescue Plan. Teeter said she may have the request ready for the Town Board’s March 8 meeting, or else present it in April.
“We need some money this year, and I will probably need some money next year,” Teeter acknowledged. She later suggested ECC might request a $10,000 special appropriation in 2024.
ECC President Cortney Bailey blamed the pandemic for revenues lagging behind costs. “We’re getting there,” Bailey claimed, “but we should have been there two years ago.”
Bailey and Teeter explained that the several years of COVID-related shutdowns and social restrictions reduced projected event bookings for ECC’s recently-purchased community center, the former Living Water Church. And COVID also substantially cut the number of participants at ECC’s summer day camp, or else suspended the camp altogether.
As adopted by the agency’s Board Thursday, the ECC Budget projects this year’s expenses at $163,930, and revenues at $144,502. Projected revenues would rise by nearly 26 per cent from moneys received in 2022. Budgeted expenses would climb by only 1.5 per cent.
The ECC Board has taken an optimistic outlook for its year-ahead event bookings. Its budget projects a more than seven-fold rise in building revenues. Rental for the community center’s “Great Room,” the former church sanctuary, would rise from $700 collected in 2022 to $7,150 projected for 2023. ECC predicates the increase, in part, on its hopes to host five weddings and five “celebrations” during the current year.
While ECC’s leadership regrets the need to seek a short-term Town Board bailout, Teeter acknowledged that the recent past has proven far worse than the near future appears to look.
Largely due to depressed revenues, ECC incurred a more than $46,000 financial shortfall for the year just ended. Teeter said the Community Council had to dip into long-held financial reserves to close last year’s gap.
Under its multi-year contract with the agency, the Town of Enfield, according to the budget, will provide the ECC $52,456 during 2023. This taxpayer subsidy constitutes ECC’s largest single revenue item. Camp fees, at a projected $41,275, would provide the second-highest revenue source.
Any supplemental Town funding would be in addition to the assistance provided under contract.
Also at its annual meeting Thursday, the ECC Board amended its bylaws to expand agency Board membership from its current nine members to a maximum of 11 directors.
“This building is a huge responsibility,” Debbie Teeter explained. “The Board is too small now for the building.”
Some on the Board, including Teeter, briefly considered an expansion to as many as 13 directors, four more than at present. But ECC President Cortney Bailey preferred a go-slow approach, observing that expanding the board too much too fast could lead to problems obtaining a quorum at meetings. Under its rules, at least half of those appointed directors would need to attend a meeting for ECC to conduct business.
“There are things (like) too many cooks in the kitchen,” Bailey remarked, the president saying she’d prefer more active volunteers participating in ECC activities rather than appointment of an exceedingly large Board. “I’d really rather go slow and get the quorum we need,” Bailey said.
As part of its annual business, the ECC Board reappointed six of its current members to new, two-year terms. No one was appointed to the two additional slots the ECC created.
And annual meeting attendees took time to bask in the success of ECC’s most recent event, the “Grown Up Gala,” a semi-formal prom for adults, the Gala held for the first time February 11. Some 40 people attended, including up to a dozen couples.
“This qualifies as a very large hit,” Bailey proclaimed.
Sampling Site to stay put as Tompkins subsidies end
CMC Exec claims testing efforts saved 181 Lives
by Robert Lynch, February 22, 2023; expanded reporting February 23, 2023
Despite a momentary scare blamed on a CEO’s inadvertent twist of the tongue, Cayuga Medical Center made clear Wednesday it has no plans to shutter its much-heralded and heavily-used COVID-19 Sampling Site at the Shops at Ithaca Mall in Lansing. The testing Site’s operation will continue despite declining numbers of patient samples drawn and the ending of Tompkins County Government’s subsidy to the facility.
Talk of the sampling site’s future emerged as Cayuga Health Systems’ President, Martin Stallone, praised the three-year old sampling effort and his hospital’s role in it to the Tompkins County Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.
“We were several times more tested and had a several times lower positive rate than the next highest county,” Stallone said, the executive blanketing the committee with comparative statistics and a step-by-step timeline chronicling how Cayuga Health’s local sampling effort began in March 2020 and wound to the present three years later.
Though Tompkins County financial support for the mall-based sampling center ended in December, Stallone did not at Wednesday’s meeting ask County lawmakers for any more money. And neither did committee members raise that possibility.
Rather, the direction of Stallone’s half-hour briefing became one of COVID viewed through the rear-view mirror. He reported Cayuga Health performed more than 2.7 Million COVID-19 tests during the nearly three-year period. 279,000 of those samples were drawn at the Lansing mall’s drive-through site. Many more were performed on college campuses. Tompkins County funded the cost of more than 75,000 of the tests.
“Those funds that came through those tests paid for more than simply the test,” Stallone explained, the administrator revealing, now in hindsight, the rather fungible nature of Tompkins County’s subsidies. County funds paid, he said, for “the development of the test. It paid for the drive-through. It paid for a lot of the vaccination efforts that we undertook.”
Tompkins County began subsidizing the CMC testing program in August 2020; five months after the pandemic began. The Legislature initially transferred $300,000 from its Contingent Fund to the testing program for what started as a 10-week trial run. The subsidy enabled local residents without qualifying insurance to obtain COVID-19 tests free of charge, thereby avoiding trips to state facilities in distant cities.
Over time, the federal government assumed a sizable, nearly total, share of the cost. Yet periodic local appropriations still proved necessary. Tompkins County made its last recorded draw from the Contingent Fund, $200,000, in June of last year. In July, Washington scaled back its subsidies, and Tompkins County ended its own contributions at year’s end.
The lack of governmental support, coupled with the declining numbers of patients requiring the tests, had raised the prospect that CMC might scale back its efforts, or perhaps even close its mall-based facility altogether. During a conference call with municipal officials February 2, County Administrator Lisa Holmes said she was not aware of what CMC planned to do.
In his presentation to the legislative committee Wednesday, CMC executive Stallone maintained that the testing program has returned quantifiable rewards not only in community health, but also in economic resiliency.
“A positive test is a positive test,” Stallone conceded. “But what it (the testing program) really did was equip a public health response that allowed those individuals to confidently isolate or confidently not isolate. And so they allowed our economy to continue to run.”
The statistics most likely to break out from Stallone’s half-hour legislative briefing remain figures one must accept with a degree of caution and the clear recognition that Tompkins County stands in a place far apart from the rest of this state because of the overwhelming dominance of college students.
The CMC-collected figures showed Tompkins County with the highest COVID testing rate in the state and the lowest per capita percentage of COVID-19 deaths. The data showed that, on average, a Tompkins County resident was tested for the disease more than 29 times, and that the positivity rate of those tested was only 0.87 per cent, far below the statewide average.
“The cumulative positive rate was the lowest,” Stallone said, “because we did more surveillance testing than anyone else.”
But CMC cannot take all of the credit. Recall that for most of the period, Cornell demanded its students—many of them healthy students—get tested for the disease, sometimes weekly.
And our county’s low mortality rate—only 100 persons died in a county of 105,000 (0.095 per cent)—also deserves clarification. Yes, testing matters. But so, too, does Tompkins County’s high vaccination rate, its residents’ masking compliance, and the fact that so many of us here are so young.
Comparing Tompkins County’s COVID mortality rate to the statewide average led Stallone to claim that local efforts saved nearly 200 lives that would otherwise have been lost.
“If our COVID mortality was average, we would have lost 181 more people than we did based on our population,” Stallone told the committee. “So I think that’s something that I think this body should take credit for.”
“This is an example of where investments were made and lives were saved because of that investment,” the hospital CEO asserted.
But did age matter? Newfield legislator Randy Brown asked the question.
“So you do generally have a younger, healthier population,” the hospital chief conceded. “But I don’t think that accounts for everything.”
Martin Stallone advised the committee—albeit erroneously—that college undergraduates generally don’t count in Tompkins County’s population totals, except, he said, when they live locally or attend graduate study. That may have been true when Dr. Stallone, as he recalled, resided as a student in Cornell’s Clara Dickson Hall. But the census now counts undergrads as local residents in its totals.
Martin Stallone made a second error. And when he did it briefly led any observer (including this writer) to infer that the mall-based sampling will imminently close; or for that matter, that CMC had already shuttered it surreptitiously.
At the end of his presentation, with his PowerPoint slide indicating progress made in February 2023, Stallone stated, “We actually closed the COVID testing at the mall with the (testing) totals that I listed before, 2.77 million tests.”
This writer dutifully reported the CEO’s words, inferring probable closure, only to retract that implication later Wednesday afternoon after the hospital corporation’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications clarified.
“If I said it incorrectly, I apologize,” Melissa Tourtellotte conveyed her boss’s correction and contrition. “What Stallone meant to say,” Tourtellotte rephrased, was that the analysis of sampling results—not the sampling itself—is being transferred from a Cayuga Medical site on Brown Road, its “Innovation Lab,” to CMC’s hospital on West Hill.
“It will be an invisible change to the public,” Tourtellotte said. She indicated that sampling for COVID-19 will remain in place at the mall for the indefinite future.
Tourtellotte’s reassurance ended two hours of journalistic bewilderment arising from the fact that the site’s potential closure didn’t square with information posted on the CMC website. And staff at the sampling center’s registration call center knew nothing about any locational change.
In the County Legislature’s chambers, committee members never acknowledged the administrators gaffe, nor reacted to the potential news. Instead, they showered CMC with praise for its accomplishments.
Tompkins County’s COVID response and its vaccination effort was “kind of thrilling on top of this terrible thing that was going on,” Health and Human Services Committee Dan Klein offered as a rather odd kind of compliment for a pandemic response.
“People have used the word ‘hero’ when it comes to the pandemic,” committee member Amanda Champion remarked. “And as you were describing it,” Champion told Stallone, “I thought, like, my gosh, there were people in these labs like actually doing the work, like that’s so amazing. And I’m so grateful that our county was supportive of that.”
What lessons were learned, Randy Brown asked.
“We certainly have lubricated our agility joints,” Martin Stallone responded. “We have practice in thinking out of the box and being bold.”
“You’re always fighting the last war,” Stallone acknowledged. “So the most challenging public challenge is the one we’re not expecting. I think if COVID happened again, we’d do very well. I hope we would do as well with a novel threat that we haven’t experienced yet.”
Hey, New York: You Owe Us!
Locals move to block Albany’s Medicaid money-grab
by Robert Lynch, February 21, 2023
There’s an old tax-time adage: “What Washington giveth, Albany taketh away.” And now, with one costly, soon-to-be-assessed mandate, it’s as plain as the eye can see. And you may feel the bite next January when you pay your county tax bills.
With limited debate and by a unanimous vote, the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday urged New York State to preserve the intent of Congress and not allow state regulators to hijack supplemental federal Medicaid spending that locals insist counties like theirs were always supposed to be paid.
“We received notice recently from the Association of Counties that based on their recent conversations with the Governor’s Office (that) it does not appear there’s an appetite to restore these pass-throughs for 2023 or at any date in the future,” County Administrator Lisa Holmes notified the Tompkins County Legislature at its Tuesday night session.
“This is not pretty,” Dryden Legislator Mike Lane later observed.
Holmes’ financial warning was sobering, and the consequences of what we taxpayers could suffer are dire. A Department of Social Services number-cruncher told Holmes that should State fiscal managers hold true to their plans, approximately $610,000 or more could be cut beginning in April from New York’s Medicaid disbursements to Tompkins County. An additional $1.5 Million could be cut in 2024.
“If enacted,” said Holmes, this year’s cut “would mean the consideration of hiring delays, or a hiring freeze, stopping the purchases of larger pieces of highway equipment, and it will also impact projections for what we can afford going into negotiations with our bargaining units.”
And beginning next year, Holmes warned, taxpayers, too, could feel the pinch.
In 2024, “we’d start out the budget process immediately with a three per cent increase in the tax levy without some further action being taken,” Holmes said. Keeping within the state-specified (and largely aspirational) tax cap, she said, could prove next to impossible.
“We need to underscore how serious this is for our county’s budget and all county budgets across the state,” Holmes warned.
The circumstances that led to this suddenly-erupted financial crisis are of the kind bound to make any tax-weary New Yorker mad as Hell. And they stand as just another example of Albany’s budget-balancing, pass-the-buck greed.
Legislators were told that when Congress adopted, under the Affordable Care Act, its “Enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage Fund to Counties” (or so-called “ACA E-F-Map Funding”), Washington intended that the states, including New York, that require counties to share a portion of Medicaid burdens, would themselves pass some of the ACA supplements down to the local level.
“And in fact, New York State agreed to do that when they first received this money,” legislator Rich John told his legislative colleagues.
But something changed along the way, he said. Somehow, all those millions in county pass-through funds got gobbled up in the inner-works of Albany’s internal bureaucracy. And now it seems the State has simply chosen to keep the money for itself.
“They’re saying they’re reconciling the payments,” John stated, the legislator employing one of those typical eye-glazing terms bureaucrats use. “But that has been a completely opaque process,” he continued. “We haven’t seen the money. And now the current proposal is to just have the State keep all the money, while asking for more services; enhancing the services. And we’ll be paying the cost locally.”
“So the hit comes in more than one way,” Rich John concluded. “And it’s not what the federal Congress intended. So that’s why it’s pretty upsetting.”
One week before many on the Tompkins County Legislature will troop to Albany for a meeting of the New York State Association of Counties, those same legislators adopted the Resolution Tuesday calling upon the State to reverse-course and restore Congress’ intended pass-through of the ACA money to local coffers.
“The Resolution you will be considering tonight is an important step in advocacy to try to stop these cuts from taking place,” Holmes said.
“Lisa’s comments were pretty compelling,” Budget Committee Chair Deborah Dawson, a fiscal hawk, told Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re just going to have to put as much pressure on our State Legislature as possible to override this proposal by the Governor,” Dawson said.
But in typical Albany it-wasn’t-my-fault fashion, Governor Kathy Hochul may have slyly kept her fingerprints off this major-impact money grab. The Executive’s proposed budget, we’re told, never referenced the funding holdback, and all the real blame may be buried down in some regulatory rabbit-hole, virtually impossible for the Legislature to excavate or ever correct.
“This may be out of their hands,” Mike Lane worried.
Lane pointed out that New York is one of only two states in the nation where local counties still bear a partial burden for Medicaid funding, subsidies that underwrite medical care for low-income residents. And of those two states, New York counties, Lane said, pay the highest percentage. The Dryden Democrat equated New York’s mandated county contribution to an effective statewide property tax, but a tax for which Albany-based lawmakers never get the blame.
New York’s counties, Lane complained, “get treated like poor relations.” And when it comes to assessing the cost, he said, Albany’s message handed down is this: “You do this, and you raise the money.”
The “Death” of a Good Judge
LaSalle, the Democratic Party, and Me
Analysis and Commentary by Robert Lynch, February 20, 2023
Lea Webb, my State Senator, disappointed me last week. So did 37 of her Democratic Party colleagues, members of New York’s upper chamber. Each of them put politics above principle, innuendo over intelligence, and rejected a skilled, experienced jurist, Hector LaSalle, to become Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, New York’s Highest Court. When they did, dismissing the choice of their own—and my own—party’s governor, Kathy Hochul, they betrayed the public’s trust. And they betrayed mine as well.
With LaSalle’s rejection, I have lost confidence in the majority party that governs our Empire State. The wound that the majority Democrats inflicted on me, and on us, cuts deep. It may never heal. And because the party that holds the votes in Albany to enact our laws and confirm our judges has chosen to walk away from me, I may choose, in time, to walk away from them. The choice of a Chief Judge matters to me. It matters a lot. Hector LaSalle’s rejection may force for me a pivotal course correction.
Governor Hochul, with minimal fanfare, nominated Hector LaSalle to the Court Appeals a few days before Christmas. An expanded State Senate Judiciary Committee, packed last-minute with Hector-hostile partisans, rejected the Chief Judge nominee January 18th. By just one vote, it failed to advance LaSalle’s name to the floor. For weeks, the Majority Leader, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and her Democratic allies blocked any prospect of bringing the LaSalle nomination to the Senate floor and to allow all 63 Senators to decide the judge’s fate. Republicans sued, arguing the State Constitution demands a floor vote regardless of the committee’s recommendation.
Suddenly, surprisingly, Stewart-Cousins relented. Last Wednesday, Democrats hastily moved the nomination to the Senate floor, and just as hastily, hugging party allegiances, they voted the nomination down. The 20-39 defeat saw all but one of the Democrats present opposing LaSalle. Just one attending Republican opposed his advancement. Hooray for Democrat Senator Monica Martinez of Long Island. She, alone, had the courage to buck her party and support LaSalle. Ms. Martinez, I do not cast you in with the rest of your sorry lot.
“Haven’t we changed the game in Albany?” Senator Brad-Hoylman-Sigal, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, crowed Wednesday during a partisan-poisoned pre-vote debate. “This is a new beginning for the way we review judicial nominations, all nominations, legislation, all matters of public import. I think that’s something we should be proud of.”
Maybe for you, maybe for Democrats, but not for me. Hoylman-Sigal proved particularly hostile to Hector LaSalle during the committee’s January confirmation hearing. He often snarled at the nominee, never smiling, pointedly faulting LaSalle, and doing so particularly harshly, for LaSalle’s accepting cross-endorsement by the New York Conservative Party in a prior campaign for a lower court’s elective office. One suspects Hoylman-Sigal lives for political combat and for little else. I suspect he has more political sycophants than he has genuine friends.
“We can find a better nominee to lead this Court. And we need to do it ASAP.” Hoylman-Sigal said before he cast his vote against Hochul’s nominee, “because we have a court system that is teetering on the brink of disaster.”
His opinion. Not mine.
Senate rejection puts the nomination of Chief Judge back to square one. An advisory panel will come up with a new list of seven finalists for the appointment, from whom Governor Hochul will select a new nominee. Many on that new list could be some on the old list from which Hochul chose LaSalle. The process could take months. Our seven-member Court of Appeals could remain one jurist short into summer. The Court’s remained short-handed since the prior Chief Judge, Janet DiFiore, resigned under an ethics cloud last July.
“Now that the full Senate has taken a vote, I will work toward making a new nomination,” Governor Hochul dictated in a transparently terse three-paragraph statement, spilled from her office’s press room after Wednesday’s vote. It had a lick-your-wounds quality to it; focusing on the majority’s concession to a floor vote, rather than lamenting LaSalle’s rejection.
“This vote is an important victory for the Constitution. But it was not a vote on the merits of Justice LaSalle, who is an overwhelmingly qualified and talented jurist,” Hochul stated. She was right.
Some pundits have suggested that the Senate’s rejection of LaSalle could poison the well of intra-party political discourse in Albany, where Democrats hold veto-proof supermajorities in both the Senate and Assembly, and upcoming budget discussions often devolve to those secretive “three men (and now, women) in a room,” smoke-filled confabs, absent the nicotine.
“There’s other issues where you find common interests,” the Governor told an Albany radio host just prior to Wednesday’s vote. “I think that’s what New Yorkers want to occur. Not to have us in our respective corners with our gloves up and ready to fight.”
We’ll see. New York’s bloated, proposed budget weighs in at $227 Billion. It’s due for adoption April 1.
A “Liberal Lion” is what Senate Democrats seek, I wrote in a January 24th commentary on the nearly five-hour confirmation grilling that led to Hector LaSalle’s rejection by the Judiciary Committee. Legal observers see the Court’s residual bench as evenly-split; three judges confirmed liberals, the remaining trio somewhat to their right. So the Chief Judge appointment, to Democrats, becomes an opportunity for a much-sought lurch-to-the-left.
No doubt, last year’s rejection of the Legislature’s Democratic-gerrymandered redistricting maps is not lost on the majority’s mind. Former Chief Judge DiFiore, a perceived centrist-conservative, cast the deciding vote to invalidate those maps. Liberals want nothing more like that in the future. Their progressive agenda, they’d argue, most deserves a true believer to carry their water.
During that hour and 15-minute Senate debate last Wednesday, the shadows of Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas repeatedly loomed about the chamber.
“We know that at the federal level, our Supreme Court is a complete mess,” downstate Senator Andrew Gounardes asserted. Gun rights have been expanded; abortion rights restricted. “So at a time when this is happening at our national government, it’s even more important that state judiciary, that our state government, be both a bulwark and a beacon, in protecting and advancing the same rights that our federal Supreme Court is so quickly eroding,” Gounardes emphasized.
In Gounardes’ opinion, Hector LaSalle stands too cautious and conservative amidst this legal onslaught. “He saw the law as a narrow tool, and not as an expansive tool, sword and shield to protect the rights of litigants, to protect the rights of workers, to protect the rights of women, and so many others,” the Senator insisted. But note how Gounardes cherry-picks the subset of litigants who matter most to him.
“I met with the judge, and I thought he was extremely nice,” Albany-area Democrat Neil Breslin observed. “I thought he was capable, but he didn’t pass the total test in my estimation.” Breslin, too, voted no.
“There is a context in which the people of this state woke up to realize that judges really matter,” Westchester Democrat Shelly Mayer said in explaining her opposition. “What happened in my district is that people woke up and said, ‘Are you kidding me? Who we pick as a judge really matters.’”
“We’re not asking for a judge who calls balls and strikes,” Mayer tellingly stated, employing the baseball umpire analogy others used. “We’re asking for judges who apply the law and understand the context of what the implication of a decision means for millions of New Yorkers.”
Mayer, like Senator Gounardes, viewed Judge LaSalle’s legal outlook as too narrow. “And a consistently narrow interpretation of the law,” Mayer stated, “really is a risk to our individual constituents.”
Mayer called the day’s decision “impactful and so important.” “We can’t walk away from it because it’s hard; because it’s uncomfortable,” she said. But neither can Mayer, Gounardes or their three dozen fellow Democrats walk away from the political agenda that underlies their action.
Their words clearly amplify intent. They seek not so much a competent, knowledgeable arbiter of legal fairness as they do a loyal judicial lapdog, someone who will stretch statutes like an elastic band regardless of precedent and bend the state Constitution so as to amend it from the bench in ways that liberals find too messy or unpopular to enact through the will of the voters.
And either through ignorance or artifice, LaSalle’s Democratic opponents suggest something else. They seek to hoodwink voters into thinking the New York Court of Appeals holds some magical power to countermand the U.S. Supreme Court. In truth, it works the other way. Yes, a state court may expand constitutional liberties beyond federal standard. (That’s how the Court of Appeals in 2004 invalidated New York’s Death Penalty.) But federal supremacy prevents New York from constricting liberties that the Supreme Court insists the U.S. Constitution protects. The likes of Shelly Mayer may hate the overruling of New York’s concealed carry law. But even if state courts affirm Albany’s patchwork replacement to the law that Justice Thomas and his majority last year struck down, the Supreme Court’s majority could always declare the new law null and void. Mayer doesn’t tell you that, though I’m sure she knows it.
Senator Sean Ryan would impose a straight-jacketed career litmus test upon the next Chief Judge, one Hector LaSalle, a former prosecutor, could never meet. “My prism is someone who’s spent most of his career as a lawyer helping the dispossessed,” the Buffalo-area Democrat told colleagues. “New York State needs a Chief Judge who has a broad vision of the law, has a broad vision of how law affects society, and knows that the decisions of those courts affect everybody in society.”
I’ll credit Senator Ryan for at least being factually correct—albeit evasive—in raising for his rebuke Judge LaSalle’s handling of the one case which liberal critics most distort. It’s Evergreen Association Inc. v. Schneiderman. “The judge went out of their (sic) way to assert the rights of a crisis pregnancy center to somehow give them equal footing to spread disinformation to people in our society,” Ryan stated.
LaSalle’s opponents would like us to think that Evergreen was a holding hostile to abortion rights. When they do, they twist the truth, and it’s time to set the record straight.
When it decided Evergreen in 2017, the mid-level court on which Hector LaSalle sits ruled that the First Amendment’s Right of Association limited the State Attorney General’s reach to subpoena a Christian-aligned crisis pregnancy center’s operational and staffing records in his effort to evict center operations from a medical office building. The Appellate Court’s unanimous holding only limited—it did not block—the A.G.’s efforts to probe whether a volunteer-staffed center that provided sonograms and pregnancy tests amounted to unauthorized practice of medicine.
To assert, as LaSalle’s critics have so brazenly done, that Hector LaSalle’s joining a unanimous bench in this most diminutive crumb of legal procedure somehow makes the nominee anti-choice and unfit to serve, is to steer public sentiment on the basis of a boldfaced lie. Moreover, the strategy postures the anti-LaSalle Senate majority as not so much pro-abortion rights, as actually pro-abortion itself. Taken to its logical conclusion, Senator Sean Ryan and his liberal allies would seem to prefer that medical alternatives to abortion simply should not exist. And by citing LaSalle’s Evergreen holding as a disqualifier for promotion, Senate Democrats imply just that.
Majority Democrats would rather you read only their bumper-sticker, not the case itself. In Evergreen, Judge LaSalle had wisely sought to expand reproductive options, not limit them, albeit on fine-spun procedural grounds.
State Senate Republicans number just 21, their ranks only strong enough to raise a polemic rejoinder. By and large, they backed LaSalle.
“He has applied the law that has been passed by the Legislature,” Nassau County Republican Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick said in defense of Judge LaSalle and his record. “And that’s the job of the judiciary; to apply the law, not to legislate.”
“I support this nominee. I worked with the nominee. He is an incredible jurist who calls balls and strikes,” Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Anthony Palumbo said in support of LaSalle. “And he’s a plain old liberal Democrat, which apparently isn’t good enough.”
Suffolk County’s Palumbo is the Senator who filed suit to bring LaSalle’s nomination to the floor. The case was argued in court last Friday, with the judge then reserving decision. Some suggest the suit twisted Democratic leadership’s arm just enough to bring about last Wednesday’s vote.
“We seem to have a group of members who think that, well, if we can’t change the Constitution, then let’s change the courts,” Palumbo chided his Democratic opposition. “So we’re now going to pack a court with activists who choose not to follow the law, unlike Justice Hector LaSalle, who simply calls balls and strikes.”
Indeed. “This is a conversation about changing the strike zone, Palumbo’s Long Island Republican colleague Steven Rhoads echoed, Rhoads continuing the debate’s frequent throwback to baseball. “Because what the majority is doing, they’re not interested in somebody calling balls and strikes; they’re interested in somebody who’s going to call balls and strikes the way they want them called.”
Senator Rhoads called the majority’s handling of the LaSalle nomination “an embarrassment.” Staten Island Republican Andrew Lanza agreed.
“I think people are sick of this kind of politics,” Lanza asserted. “I think it’s wise that people back home don’t trust us, any of us, either party, because they see these types of games being played.” The downstate Republican stands wisely aware of how cynical we voters can be.
“We all know why the nominee did not come to the floor” in a timely manner, Lanza continued. “It’s because the nominee refused to give the old wink-and-nod that when he’s on the bench, he would refuse to honor the Constitution, and he would pass and support whatever radical agenda that came to his decision-making desk.”
Democrats Luis Sepulveda of the Bronx and Kevin Thomas of Long Island had each supported LaSalle in committee, yet neither attended Wednesday’s session to cast their votes. Perhaps their absence reveals the power of Andrea Stewart-Cousins to close ranks. Or perhaps it reveals something else. No matter. Even had they been present, Hector LaSalle would have lost.
Binghamton’s Lea Webb, Tompkins County’s State Senator, spoke not a word during the February 15th floor debate, the 52nd District representative casting her vote in opposition to the LaSalle nomination, but offering no statement on her office’s website to elaborate on why she did.
So Hector LaSalle, New York State’s here-today, gone-tomorrow nominee to lead its Highest Court, retreats to relative obscurity. He continues his role as Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division’s Second Department, one of four regional, mid-level appellate courts in the state, LaSalle’s covering part of New York City and the counties surrounding it. LaSalle won’t serve us, except through the overlapping precedents other regional courts may choose to observe.
Senator Palumbo, meanwhile, presses forward with his lawsuit to demand future judicial nominations reach the State Senate’s floor regardless of how Hoylman-Sigal’s committee treats them. Majority leader Stewart-Cousins’ lawyers asserted in court Friday that the issue is now moot and that Palumbo lacks standing to sue. Palumbo’s counsel counters that the case remains alive as Hochul’s next nomination could repeat the process.
News reports say State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan expressed interest in the case during oral arguments Friday. The judge termed it a “constitutional crisis,” assigning the judiciary “the duty and the obligation… to rule on the constitutional solution.” Though Whalen’s ruling on the merits is imminent, an appeal of any decision remains probable. It could rise to the now ideologically-split Court of Appeals.
“Everybody is paying attention, riveted, to who’s sitting in these seats, who’s sitting in the judiciary, who’s making these decisions,” Stewart-Cousins told reporters following the full Senate’s vote. “So it was not inappropriate for us, with the eyes of the nation and the eyes of the state on us, to look for a nominee that was able to lead the court in this really, really critical time.”
But look at a nominee what way? Should a judge be merely a judge? Or must he also serve as a legislator of last resort? New York Democrats count on your inattention and political outrage to permit them to impose their supermajority muscle over a separate branch of State Government, and to do so in a way that weakens the independent judiciary and transforms the courts into a reliable enforcer of liberal will. Separation of powers matters. Democracy matters. Quite plainly, in the war of words February 15th, Republicans made the better argument. The GOP sought blind justice. Democrats revealed they’d prefer that “wink-and-nod” from behind the blindfold.
Hector LaSalle drove up the Hudson from New York City last Wednesday and sat more or less alone in the Senate gallery, high above the floor, to watch the career opportunity of a lifetime evaporate before his eyes. He sat in silence. He declined reporters’ questions afterward. LaSalle knows he fell victim to an ideological agenda engineered by perfectionist zealots within his own party, Governor Hochul’s own party—and sadly, also, my own party. I hope Hector LaSalle took a deep breath of fresh air as he exited the State Capitol that day. Because inside the chamber, the room truly stunk.
Newfield Imposes Campground Moratorium
Town Board Acts to Stand in Second Wind’s Path
by Robert Lynch, February 9, 2023
The mood: “I’m against this,” Rick Bryant told a firehouse room full of his neighbors Thursday. “You could build the Taj Mahal here; you’re still going to be bringing the same people up here.”
“I’m against it,” another man concurred. There’s no local enforcement. “Once you get ‘em here you can’t get rid of them.”
The public sentiment was unanimous Thursday night, and so was the vote, as the Newfield Town Board, following a much-awaited Public Hearing, adopted a “Town-Wide One Year Moratorium on Campgrounds.” It’s a local law unapologetically aimed at halting Second Wind Cottages’ plans to expand its 18-unit tiny house complex for the otherwise-unhoused by adding 25 campsite cabins intended to draw many more of the homeless to Second Wind’s site off Route 13.
And while word surfaced earlier this week that Second Wind may alter its campsite plans in a transparent effort to circumvent what the Newfield Board would adopt two days later, Newfield’s leaders and the residents they represent have signaled that the changes developers propose remain to them unacceptable.
The original campground project, which already has won initial funding support from a majority on the Tompkins County Legislature, would provide a so-called “low-barrier” encampment; an unpoliced, minimally-supervised collection of cabins, which many in Newfield fear could draw to Second Wind’s site serious substance abusers, lawbreakers, and sex offenders.
“I’m worried about the property value of my home,” one Newfield woman told Thursday’s hearing. “Please protect citizens who pay their taxes,” she begged the Board.
And the Town Board responded. It did so quickly. While the Public Hearing consumed about 35 minutes’ time—shorter than had been expected—the Town Board’s response was surprisingly swift. Before voting, Board members confined their remarks to just one or two crisp sentences apiece. Apart from the hearing, the Board’s discussion and vote took less than five minutes.
“We definitely need breathing room,” Newfield Councilperson Joanne James told Board colleagues and her audience before casting her vote to support the moratorium.
“We didn’t hear anybody objecting to this moratorium,” Councilperson Heather McCarty observed.
Councilperson Christine Laughlin, the Newfield Board’s lone Republican, appeared most adamant, critical of Second Wind founder Carmen Guidi’s plans to scatter the campsites behind his auto body shop north of the Newfield hamlet.
“Carmen’s heart is in the right place,” Laughlin acknowledged during the public hearing, “but he’s not looking at the bigger picture.”
“It’s hurting our residents” Laughlin maintained. “Get out of their bubble,” she pleaded of Second Wind’s leadership.
While nearly 30 Newfield residents filled the audience for Thursday’s meeting, only about a half-dozen spoke. Most notable among them was Newfield-Enfield representative Randy Brown, the Tompkins County legislator most critical of both the Second Wind expansion and a legislative advisory committee’s recommendation to allocate $510,000 in County-apportioned Community Recovery Fund grants to construct it.
“Carmen’s heart is in the right place, but it’s bad for Newfield,” Brown said of the campground. “I think they will back away from this proposal and ask for more cottages and the same amount of money.”
And Brown’s prediction is more than just idle speculation. In a surprise announcement at the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday, County legislator Dan Klein, reading from a prepared statement, disclosed that Second Wind would likely scale back its plans, exchange its campground vision for construction of more stick-built housing on Guidi’s site, and retool its application for continued County support.
“Rather than building 25 structures in a campground-like setting,” Klein informed legislators Tuesday, “they (Second Wind) are planning to add additional cottages to their current 18 cottage facility.”
“The current version of the plan is to build 12 new cottages,” Klein’s statement said.
Klein said the Community Recovery Fund Advisory Committee—of which Newfield’s Brown is a newly-appointed member—would convene March 6 to review a revised funding request that Klein expects Second Wind to submit.
But neither the revised construction configuration nor the special favor granted Second Wind to let it take a second bite from the Tompkins County funding apple please legislator Brown. The Newfield rep says he’ll oppose Second Wind’s expected resubmission, and he asked those at Thursday’s Public Hearing to join him.
“Come to the meeting and voice your opinion,” Randy Brown told hearing attendees. “They need to hear from more than just me.”
Brown’s key concern about Second Wind’s expansion, a concern shared by Newfield Supervisor Michael Allinger, involves the community’s perceived inability to provide the emergency services that vulnerable Second Wind residents might need, along with the unwillingness of Second Wind to provide them itself.
“I’ve heard from a lot of neighbors,” Allinger informed the hearing. “I’ve often heard concerns of lack of supervision.”
Of Second Wind’s campground project, Allinger opined, “It can’t move forward without better supervision. They’ve lost control.”
As the Town Supervisor’s sees it, Second Wind’s homeless population needs “supervision 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” And Allinger insists that Second Wind doesn’t provide it.
Underlying the concerns of many in Newfield is the fear that by adding the proposed campsites and likely more than doubling Second Wind’s population, Tompkins County, with the City of Ithaca in hand, is unloading Ithaca’s unsolved homeless problem—centered at Ithaca’s so-called “Jungle” behind Walmart—onto their rural community using the rationale that out-of-sight is out-of-mind.
Regarding the Ithaca homeless problem, “the County is solving it by sticking it in Newfield,” resident Aaron Miller told the Town Board Thursday.
Disclosed publicly only a month ago, and tweaked during a Town Board meeting January 26, Newfield’s one-year moratorium would direct Town officials and employees not to “begin or continue to review applications for or grant any approvals relating to a Campground within the Town.” The adopted law defines “Campground” as “any parcel or tract of land including buildings or other structures under the control of any person, where five or more campsites are available for temporary or seasonal overnight occupancy.”
The adopted Local Law imposing the Newfield moratorium directly references the originally-proposed, 25-unit Second Wind homeless encampment. The law’s text acknowledges that the campground proposal “has generated significant concern in the Town based on health and safety concerns for people of the Town and those individuals that may be housed in such camps.” Those concerns list “lack of local police, EMS, and other social services in the Town” as well as “the relatively lengthy response times for police and medical services.”
Seeking a legal foundation, language often necessary to stave off a court challenge, the law asserts that the moratorium will give Newfield officials time to rewrite the Town’s 2013 Comprehensive Plan, a document that the law maintains never anticipated the sort of encampment that Second Wind proposes nor the “health, safety, and sanitation concerns that attach to developments that have a substantial number of persons living in a small area.”
Now ratified by the Town Board, the Newfield Campground Moratorium will take effect as soon as it’s filed with the Secretary of State. After Thursday’s meeting, Newfield Town Clerk Karen Miller Kenerson said she’ll file the papers Friday. She said the Tompkins County Planning Department, whose review the law requires before adoption, has already given its consent.
Residents and Newfield Town Board members departed their meeting Thursday in general agreement they’d done all they could, though they remained anxious that despite their best efforts, more battles may need to be fought.
“It’s nice to know we all feel the same way about things,” Councilperson Laughlin told her assembled constituents.
“We’re Not Ulysses”
Enfield Planners chart contrasting course in Subdivision Rewrite
by Robert Lynch, February 6, 2023
Iradell Road might as well be the 38th Parallel when it comes to land use regulation. Members of the Enfield Planning Board made the point clear last Wednesday night as they devoted more than two hours’ time pondering intricate, often in-the-weeds revisions to Enfield’s decade-old Site Plan Review Law and Subdivision Regulations.
The Planning Board’s months-long effort stands far from finished. The February 1st meeting produced no firm recommendations. But the session did draw a clear dividing line between the mindset of those in un-zoned Enfield to the south and those who govern ultra-zoned Ulysses to the north, Iradell Road their towns’ common border. The Enfield message was clear: What happens in Ulysses should stay in Ulysses.
“I’m also concerned with making it easier for people to build houses in the Town of Enfield,” Planning Board member Mike Carpenter, a builder, told colleagues Wednesday, cautioning them against over-regulation.
“I know that having just tried to build a house in Ulysses for a young family, gone through the Zoning Review Board, gone to the Planning Review Board, and having their new zoning regulations make us have to build a $75,000 bridge over an existing creek in order to fit into the structure of the zoning thing ruined a really good piece of land because the people on the Zoning Board didn’t want to have houses with less than 400-foot frontage in their Town, which is just crazy,” Carpenter said.
Why was it done?
“I believe the Ulysses stated purpose was to preserve the farmland, and they ruined it,” Enfield Planning Board Chair Dan Walker responded. “That’s Ulysses, and we’re not Ulysses,” Walker stressed.
The Town of Ulysses’ revised Zoning Law, enacted amidst controversy in late 2019, has not proved popular, especially with farmers and with those who seek to build homes in Tompkins County’s most northwesterly town. And it has raised the question of when does a law make a minimum-sized building lot simply too big? When does a supposedly well-intentioned rule run counter to a town’s stated desire to preserve rural character? And when do local politicians’ ulterior motives drive their decision-making?
In effect, when does the lot’s size become so huge that it carves up the cornfields and cow pastures that it was supposed to preserve, turning former farmland into super-sized lawns?
The 2019 Ulysses law, according to Enfield planners, demands not only a 400-foot frontage, even on an off-the-road, so-called “flag lot,” but also sets a minimum lot size of five acres, much larger than the average home requires. And as Carpenter sees it, Ulysses couples misguided regulation with arbitrary application.
“When I went to the Board in Ulysses,” Carpenter complained, “and I said I want a variance, the five old white guys on that Board said, ‘This is what the law says. This is what you gotta’ do. We don’t want to give exceptions. It’s a law. We made it. This is what you got to do,’”
So Carpenter’s client had to build the $75,000 bridge.
“That destroys open space,” Walker replied.
“That’s what it does,” Carpenter confirmed.
Why the no-exceptions Ulysses intransigence? Carpenter inferred Ulysses’ leaders had little interest in protecting rural character. “I heard ‘We are protecting our property values;’ that’s what they were saying,” Carpenter told his Board.
“Rural Gentrification,” Walker quickly branded it.
But Ulysses need not get all the blame. Carpenter argued that other rural Tompkins County towns, Caroline and Danby in particular, are doing much the same thing.
So how should Enfield do things differently? How should hometown planners protect rural character—a stated priority in Enfield’s Comprehensive Plan—while not cutting off Enfield’s nose to spite its face? Carpenter, a former Town Board member, led Wednesday’s debate. And Carpenter looked not only to the future, but also to common sense.
“People are building in Enfield, for one reason, because it’s cheaper in taxes; and for another reason, because of the guy sitting over there,” Carpenter said. He pointed to Enfield Code Enforcement Officer Alan Teeter, sitting in the audience.
“Because he is a sensible building inspector,” Carpenter said of Teeter. “He interprets the laws carefully so that his people do safe things and good things, but so that they don’t get pushed out being able to build in the Town by regulation that is so inappropriate that you can’t do it.”
Though not discussed at Wednesday’s session, Tompkins County this year embarked on a consultant’s study into possibly County Government assuming and consolidating code enforcement duties; taking them away from individual towns.
In commissioning the study, County planners and politicians had said they’d envision municipalities’ opting-into unified code enforcement only if they wanted to. Those who’d prefer to enforce their own codes could continue to do so. Nonetheless, the rules could always change. And the prospect of mandatory countywide enforcement worries some in Enfield (not the least of whom is this Councilperson-writer.) We need only look at how Tompkins County’s unique, half-century old, county-wide property assessment bureaucracy has grown increasingly detached from local control.
As those who are expert in the code enforcement field observe, New York imposes a common, state-wide building code. Localities can add to Albany’s rules only minimally. The key lies in enforcement. Does the building inspector enforce those mandates with a velvet glove or an iron fist? Most in Enfield like how Alan Teeter does it.
“Enfield is one of the last holdouts,” Carpenter said, contrasting his town with those neighbors that seek tighter regulation. “And we’re not doing a zoning law.”
During a Planning Board meeting in June of last year, Enfield Supervisor Stephanie Redmond made an offhand remark that town-wide zoning “is something we should consider.” But Redmond later backtracked, apparently sensing zoning’s local unpopularity. Planning Board members also last year expressed reluctance to zone. And while Redmond and some Councilpersons have since called for modestly-increased land regulation, they’ve avoided mentioning the “Z-word,” perhaps respecting the term’s toxicity.
During Wednesday’s Planning Board discussions, Supervisor Redmond offered few comments as she ran the meeting’s streaming controls. No other member of the Town Board participated. State law discourages their input.
“There’s more young people having babies, and the world is just getting way, way bigger,” Carpenter told the Planning Board. “And for me, being one of these reformer people, I’d say let’s put Enfield 50 years ahead of what the world is going to look like, and let’s start making our regulations in keeping with what the world’s going to be looking like 50 years from now, or 20 years from now, or whatever we can deal with.”
Carpenter did not offer specific suggestions Wednesday on how to fulfill his futuristic goal. But he did warn of what to avoid.
“Let’s not look at what happened in the past. Let’s not go to other people’s laws,” Carpenter said. “Let’s think ahead and say, how can we make Enfield a good place to live for everybody; for the new people coming in, for people that have lived here for a long, long time; and not make it the Republican method or the Democrat method, or the ‘I’ve-already-lived-here’ method, or the ‘I-need-someplace-to-live’ method.”
“I’d like at least to think about what do we want Enfield to look like in terms of residential properties in the future,” Carpenter added. “Enfield is a great Bedroom Town right now.”
Board member Henry Hansteen asked what that term meant. Carpenter replied that “Bedroom Town,” to him, meant “a whole bunch of residences, not much business, and there’s no shopping malls here.”
If that’s the definition; yep, that’s Enfield. Carpenter estimated three-quarters of his town’s morning commuters head east, toward Ithaca and Cornell.
Vision eventually stepped aside to make way for substance at the Planning Board meeting. Most carefully examined—in part, an outgrowth from the Ulysses discussion—was how a revised Site Plan Law should treat “flag lots,” those with minimal road frontage but with greater width away from the road and behind other parcels. Board Chair Dan Walker would tighten Enfield’s rules and require any new lot to have as much as 150 feet of road frontage to qualify for review as a “minor” subdivision. Any lot with less road frontage would demand more exacting review as a “major” subdivision. Right now, a subdivided flag lot with as little as 15 feet along the road—a state requirement—can be treated as “minor.”
“I don’t understand the road frontage, 150 feet… why that’s needed?” Hansteen asked.
“I’m not saying you can’t build lots that have 50 feet of frontage or 20 feet of frontage,” Walker said. “But you’re going to go through the major subdivision review process.”
Walker based his proposed revision, in part, on a preference that a flag lot, perhaps one from which many other homes would later branch, should be wide enough to accommodate a future road, and also allow planners’ review to consider future growth.
But Carpenter worried that such heightened subdivision review could burden the builder. “They have to do a whole lot of stuff and spend a whole bunch of money,” Carpenter warned. “And I don’t see that we need to do that.”
Homes set back from roadways are common in Enfield, and they’ve become more common with each passing year. Supervisor Redmond pointed out that she, herself, lives at the back of a quarter-mile driveway.
“It’s happening all over,” Dan Walker responded, noting vacant land’s increasing scarcity.
“People are trying to find a place to build a house,” Carpenter chimed in. He, too, lives far back from the road.
The meeting ended with Walker’s road frontage issue unresolved, though the Planning Board did appear headed toward widening a new lot’s required road frontage to at least 20 feet, so as to marry the requirement with that imposed by the state’s Fire Code.
“I think it needs at least 25 feet,” Carpenter interjected. Indeed, the width could widen to 50 feet before the Board’s work is done.
The Enfield Planning Board has set no deadline for completing its Subdivision and Site Plan Law overhaul. Any changes require formal approval by the Town Board.
For the Planning Board, patience and precision appear to outweigh expediency in revising the law so as to suit Enfield best.
“I am just concerned that if we’re going to do this in Enfield, let’s get it right,” Mike Carpenter said.
And of course, the unspoken edict, don’t mimic Ulysses.
Town Assessment Boards Axed
County switches to phone-based complaints
by Robert Lynch, January 18, 2023
Thanks to legislative action Tuesday, the soonest you may be able to look an assessor eyeball to eyeball is on Grievance Day. That is, not until late-May.
Securing the bare minimum of eight votes needed, the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday indefinitely suspended the half-century-long practice of convening Town-based Local Boards of Assessment Review, tribunals that allowed residents to complain to local officials at their Town Halls prior to Grievance Day’s final assessment decision.
“We believe it’s not the best use of time and money,” Government Operations Committee Chair Amanda Champion explained Tuesday. Her committee had recommended the indefinite suspension.
But that’s only half of the story. At Tuesday’s Legislature meeting, Director of Assessment Jay Franklin revealed for the first time that the “Informal Review Meetings” he’s promoted to replace complaints before the Local Boards will take place this year only by telephone, and no longer in person. As yet, County Assessment has not made provision for zoom conferences.
Franklin advised legislators that the typical “Informal Assessment Review” takes only 5-10 minutes. And to him, it becomes a matter of crowd control.
“Just by handling the amount of people who are coming in and almost cycling through our office, we just don’t have that space,” Franklin told the Legislature.
But mind you, only moments earlier, Franklin had said these words: “We hold Informal Assessment Review meetings each year…. That’s really where we want people to come and talk to us…. People just need to reach out to us and ask us if there’s really any question.”
So assessors want to hear from you. They just don’t want to meet you at the office. Assessors may define “meeting” a little differently than the rest of us do.
This year, Tompkins County may find itself swamped with assessment grievances. Because of skyrocketing property values in many neighborhoods, the Department of Assessment plans to reassess every parcel in the county. In many instances, assessors will “trend” values upward on the basis of sampling. “We will send out 25,000 change notices on February 10th,” Franklin told the Legislature.
All three Republican legislators plus Dryden Democrat Mike Lane voted Tuesday to keep the Local Boards in place. Mike Sigler was among those who would retain the Local Boards.
“These are one of the few times, I think, that we give the public an opportunity outside of this actual building, and outside of downtown, to come and talk with us,” Sigler said. “I see people re-engaging.”
Sigler observed he sees people finally emerging from their self-spun, post-pandemic cocoons.
“I think this is an opportunity for people to come and visit us in their local Town Halls and say, ‘Listen, this is the problem I have with my assessment,’” Sigler said in praise of the Local Boards. “It’s another point of engagement.”
But legislator Deborah Dawson would take a pass on engaging over the price of a home. “I don’t see these meetings as an optimal point of engagement between our constituents and us as elected representatives,” Dawson countered. In her opinion, a constituent’s “time is probably more productively used if they go directly to Jay’s office.”
Dawson conceded personal frustration over her inability to connect with those she represents through newsletters or other means. Nevertheless, when it comes to property valuations, she’d leave adjustments to the Assessment Department professionals.
”If you’re out there, talk to me, but not about your assessment,” Dawson remarked.
Dryden’s Greg Mezey agreed with Dawson. In Mezey’s opinion, the time spent by local tribunals that lack any power is time simply wasted. “It doesn’t do anything,” he said.
Local Boards of Assessment Review first convened in Tompkins County more than 50 years ago, beginning when Tompkins transitioned to its unique, centralized, County-administered assessment. For decades, Local Boards provided a degree of deference to hometown oversight.
Each Board, staffed by a Tompkins County legislator, several appointed local residents, and attended by Assessment Department staff, may only recommend assessment changes. By contrast, in late-May, on Grievance Day, the County’s Board of Assessment Review holds actual power to adjust property values in response to an aggrieved owner’s complaint.
After a three-year hiatus, Tompkins County revived the Local Boards during 2022. Officials last year found the Town-based sessions poorly attended. Only 47 properties were grieved countywide during last year’s hearings. Just two people attended Enfield’s session.
Nonetheless, the Enfield Town Board in October recommended the Legislature continue the local Advisory Boards. And during a mid-January Town Board meeting, discussion raised the prospect of Enfield this year assembling a local review panel of its own.
The suspension adopted Tuesday leaves undetermined whether Tompkins County will ever revive the Local Boards. The measure adopted would continue the suspension until either the Department of Assessment or “the appropriate standing committee of the Legislature” determines Boards should return.
Maybe Death by Delay
Newfield Advances Moratorium to Block Second Wind
by Robert Lynch, January 13, 2023
Carmen Guidi’s dream of building more than two dozen cabins for the homeless behind his Route 13 collision shop plays far better in the chambers of the Tompkins County Legislature than it does at the Newfield Town Hall, a fact proven again Thursday night.
In late-December, a majority of the Tompkins County Legislature refused to drop Guidi’s proposed Second Wind Campsites from a list of local agencies targeted to receive millions from the County’s Community Recovery Fund. The Legislature’s 8-5 vote kept Second Wind in the running to snag $510,000 for its project.
But Thursday night in Newfield, the Town Board showed little support for Guidi’s efforts. Clearly taking the temperature of its community, the Board scheduled an early-February Public Hearing on a local law that would impose a one-year moratorium on “campsites.” The lengthy, lawyer-crafted document, read aloud at the meeting, directly targets Second Wind’s proposal to build its 25 cabins for the unhoused. And because the moratorium, if adopted, would stall any campsite construction until at least spring 2024, the moratorium could make future County funding a moot issue.
The federal moneys that back the Community Recovery Fund are time-sensitive, Tompkins County legislator Randy Brown explained near the end of Thursday’s meeting. Moneys have to be allocated by a set date, he said. And “a moratorium would make it difficult to do,” Brown maintained.
“I don’t feel comfortable in my home anymore,” an online participant who identified herself on her zoom tile as “Pam” told the Town Board during what turned into nearly a half-hour of public comment. “I’m against this,” she said of Second Wind’s expansion. “Nothing would (have) me leave my home faster.”
Pam was among a majority of commenters who addressed the Newfield Board in opposition to the homeless shelters. Three persons spoke in the project’s favor, too. Yet two of them were campsite officials, including Carmen Guidi himself.
Guidi spoke of his humanitarian efforts to help provide the unhoused a second chance at life. He related the story of “Danny,” a homeless man he once befriended in Ithaca’s makeshift encampment, the so-called “Jungle.” Later, Guidi said, he found Danny hanging from a tree, a suicide. Guidi emotionally explained that such tragedies have guided him to provide the homeless a better existence, and do so on his property, right behind his shop.
A second supportive voice: The proposed Second Wind campsites would provide the homeless “safety, warmth, friendship and community,” Dave Shapiro, executive director of Second Wind, told the Town Board. Those already residing at Second Wind’s existing 18 “cottages,” the small, permanent, tiny houses that wrap around the collision shop, “find living in Newfield to be a beautiful thing,” Shapiro said. And the homeless, he added, “do better when they’re brought to nature,” in places like Newfield.
But Shapiro’s was a minority position. Newfield’s critics fear Guidi’s generosity would only export a hefty slice of Ithaca’s crime- and addiction-plagued homelessness problem to their rural community, a hamlet lacking the police presence, the anti-addiction services, or the emergency response times needed to protect both Second Wind’s new inhabitants and Newfield’s permanent residents.
“I sympathize with Carmen,” one Second Wind critic told the Town Board. “His heart is in the right place…. But I’m concerned of a criminal element released into the community,” including pedophiles. “We don’t have services for these people,” the commenter said.
Most disturbing to many are Second Wind’s plans to accommodate at the cabins “low barrier” homeless populations, persons with drug and criminal histories, including past sex crimes.
Anecdotal stories punctuated Thursday’s meeting; complaints alleging that crime spawned by Ithaca’s “Jungle” behind Walmart has spilled into Ithaca’s West End neighborhood. One commenter talked of overdoses and problem patrons reaching as far as the Ithaca Agway. Another alleged he can’t even pay for his gasoline after-hours at Elmira Road’s Byrne Dairy because the store must keep its doors locked for safety. Of the eight who addressed the Board, five urged the Town Board block Second Wind.
And indeed the Board will likely do that. As read at the meeting, and then slated for the February Public Hearing, the lengthy, heavily-lawyered proposed local law would place a temporary one-year, town-wide moratorium on the “review or applications for campsites,” as well as the housing they would include and the facilities built to support campsite residents. Violation would carry a $10,000 per day fine.
The local law grounds its moratorium on the “significant concerns of the Town Board” on “health and safety” issues, on maintaining the “rural nature of the Town,” and on “lack of services and long response times.”
The language states a moratorium would allow Newfield an opportunity up update its Comprehensive Plan to address the concerns about projects like Second Wind, and it would allow the Board to enact controls currently unavailable in un-zoned Newfield.
But perhaps most important, the one-year moratorium is strategic. Once it expires, whether or not a new law governing campsites is on the books, the Tompkins County money that many supporters see as essential to expand Second Wind might have evaporated. Some, like legislator Brown, would like to have Second Wind’s $510,000 diverted to other Recovery Fund applications that failed to win an advisory committee’s support. Some of those also-ran applicants find their home in Enfield.
Hand in hand with its move forward toward a moratorium, the Newfield Town Board also Thursday exercised its option to pre-empt the town’s Planning Board from passing final judgment on Second Wind’s site plan. By unanimous vote, the Town Board voted to “take on site plan review” for Guidi’s proposed cabins. The Board had previously also opted to become lead agency on Second Wind’s required environmental review.
A “transplanted tree-hugger community” now populates the Planning Board, one of Thursday’s publicly-commenting critics of Second Wind bluntly alleged.
Newfield Town Supervisor Michael Allinger and his four Town Councilpersons are low-key, never flamboyant, legislators. Like Town Board members of an earlier era, they conspicuously avoided interjecting themselves Thursday into their community’s a thorny debate. They listened. They then acted. They offered little comment that begged for quotation.
“I think it’s going to take time,” Councilperson Casey Powers remarked at one point in forecasting a huge turnout for the February 9th hearing. “My feeling is it’s going to take hours.”
Another Board member questioned whether the Board would need to hold a second hearing should it modify the moratorium’s language after the first hearing had ended.
Attorney for the Town Thomas Smith said unless there’s “drastic change,” a second hearing won’t be needed. What’s “drastic,” he was asked. “You know it when you see it,” Smith replied.
Nonetheless, the Town Board may not be able to adopt the moratorium targeting Second Wind immediately after the hearing concludes. By law, the Tompkins County Planning Department must weigh-in. A 40-day comment window was mentioned, its starting date never clearly defined Thursday. And legislator Brown at a recent meeting openly feared that County staff might attempt to paper-over Second Wind’s blemishes in deference to the downtown lawmakers who support the project.
But the Town Board could still override any County Planning criticism by a super-majority vote, four votes out of five. Judging from Board sentiment Thursday, the bar would not prove difficult to overcome. Not a single one of the five elected to the Newfield Town Board appeared eager that night to have those 25 cabins for the homeless come anywhere near to them or their neighbors. Many in Newfield see homelessness as mainly Ithaca’s problem, not theirs. And yes, it’s also an election year.
State Job will limit Redmond’s Enfield role
by Robert Lynch; January 11, 2023; additional reporting January 12, 2023
At worst, she’d have to resign. At best, she’ll need to recuse herself on certain votes. But Enfield Supervisor Stephanie Redmond’s acceptance of a job with New York Assemblymember Anna Kelles will tie her hands at times in handling her Town duties from now on, Redmond revealed to her Town Board Wednesday.
“We’ll see what they’re going to allow,” Redmond said of the State Ethics Commission’s investigation of her dual role and the potential conflicts of interest it might identify.
Involvement of the State Ethics Commission sounds worse than it really is. It’s actually standard procedure and ensures that the second-term Supervisor is following rules by the book. The commission will weigh whether actions Redmond takes—especially her votes—could taint her neutrality and objectivity as a legislative employee. The Supervisor cautioned the Town Board Wednesday that the bright-line of separation would almost certainly prevent her from voting on matters that seek to influence state legislation or other action by Albany leaders.
This month, Redmond assumed a part-time position as a legislative aide of Assemblymember Kelles, specializing in matters of environmental policy. Smiling and enthusiastic about her new position Wednesday at the Enfield Board’s first meeting of the year, Redmond said she won’t know until month’s end what ground rules State ethics regulators will place on her local service. Redmond conceded, worst case, they’d force her to choose one job or the other. If that becomes the case, the Supervisor on meeting night did not state which job she’d give up.
It’s been exactly two years since Stephanie Redmond officially took the reins of Enfield Government. Elected Councilperson in 2019, the North Applegate Road wife and mother, best known for her environmental activism, was promoted to Supervisor by her Town Board colleagues in January 2021 during a contentious Board meeting at which two other members threatened to resign—and thereby cost the Board its legal quorum—if the third seated member, Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer) did not also support Redmond’s appointment.
Faced with the prospect of placing Enfield “dead in the water,” as he then termed it, Lynch agreed to the appointment. Collegiality has grown among Board members since that testy meeting. Voters elected Redmond to a full, two-year term in November 2021, the Democratic appointee then outpolling a write-in challenger. The Supervisor’s current term expires at year’s end.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Lynch advised Redmond to announce her ethics-imposed limitations as soon as she learns of them, and if possible, not wait until the Board’s February 8th meeting. The Town Board has scheduled two rather mundane business meetings between now and then; the first on Friday (Jan. 13), and the second on January 23rd.
Should the Supervisor need (or choose) to resign, the procedures used for Redmond’s own appointment could be employed again. A majority of the four remaining members on the Town Board could appoint a new Supervisor—either one of their own or an outsider—to handle administrative tasks through year’s end. Or the Board could leave the Supervisor’s position vacant either until the November General Election or until a Special Election called for some time before then. In the interim, Deputy Supervisor Isabel Castillo, an appointee, would preside at meetings.
With machine-gun rapidity, the Enfield Town Board raced through as many as 27 annual organizational resolutions Wednesday; actions appointing deputies for the Supervisor, Town Clerk and Highway Superintendent, renewing Blixy Taetzsch’s appointment as Town Bookkeeper, and setting dates, times and rules for monthly meetings. The Board, by necessity, again designated The Ithaca Journal as its official newspaper for legal notices, that despite this Board member’s complaint that the Gannett daily never covers Enfield news.
Repeating his annual—and always unsuccessful—appeal, Councilperson Lynch moved to reinstate the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of every meeting, removing its status from recitation by request-only. The Board’s majority had removed the Pledge from the regular meeting order in January 2020. Again, as at the past two organizational meetings, Lynch’s reinstatement motion failed for lack of a seconding vote.
With similar lack of a second, Lynch also failed to attach to a list of annual Advisory Committee appointments a requirement that all committee meetings be open to the public and properly noticed. To answer concerns previously voiced by Supervisor Redmond, Lynch’s motion would have permitted Town Board members not appointed to those committees to attend only as members of the general public and not allowed them to participate except during public privileges of the floor. Lack of action on Lynch’s motion keeps Advisory Committee meetings closed for another year.
Completing perhaps its most substantive organization ritual, the Town Board, following a discussion with Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins, ratified—and members signed—the so-called “284 Agreement,” the yearly financial authorization allowing Rollins to undertake the road repairs he proposes.
This year, Rollins would give a major make-over to the one-mile, uphill stretch of Bostwick Road, from Route 327 to South Applegate Road, at a cost of $240,000. The approved agreement allots another $85,130 for road repairs Townwide.
Lynch pulled out a five-year road maintenance schedule, last updated in the Town’s late-2019 Capital Plan, and asked Rollins to compare it with work already done. The Superintendent said that some roads, including Griffin, Colegrove and Black Oak, were completed years ahead of schedule. Harvey Hill Road, which the Capital Plan had not set for repaving until 2024, was attacked last year, two years early. The 2019 schedule puts the just-authorized Bostwick Road project one year late. And Rockwell Road, which the plan had called for repaving in 2020, still remains undone. Rollins said he checks Rockwell annually, and that in his opinion, it’s still not too bad.
Troubling Times at TCAT
Spring Schedule brings more cuts; rider frustration
by Robert Lynch, January 9, 2023
If you thought things couldn’t get worse for driver- and bus-deprived Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT), think again. They will.
The local transit agency’s late-January through May Spring Schedule got its first public airing Monday to TCAT’s Riders Advisory and Accessibility Committee. And what transit officials did most often during that hour-long online session with the agency’s ridership sounding board was to apologize.
“This is the best we can do,” Erik Amos, TCAT’s Manager of Service Development and Planning, told committee members, concerning the schedule.
“We hope we can work through this. It’s a very, very tough time,” Patty Poist, Manager of Communications and Marketing, said at another point in the meeting.
The problem facing TCAT is not necessarily declining demand; it’s a supply-side crisis. People may want to ride the bus. Their problem comes in finding one to ride; one that both works and has someone at the steering wheel.
Figures shown the committee Monday reported local ridership is dropping by as much as 30 per cent a year. While some of the decline may arise artificially due to problemsome, error-prone fare boxes that don’t report every passenger, the primary cause is likely TCAT’s ever-deeper, necessity-driven service cuts. When it comes to the TCAT bus, “people are not riding it as much,” Amos admitted.
While the deepest cuts will impact many routes close to the Ithaca City hub, TCAT’s rural routes will suffer relatively less this spring. Route 20 to Enfield, which TCAT trimmed last fall, including the elimination of its Sunday service, will not face further cuts this spring… at least not for the moment.
“(Cutting) rural route cuts don’t really save us a lot,” the Service Development Director said.
The springtime schedule will eliminate two Cornell-centric routes (83 and 92), and the Route 53 run linking downtown and Cornell with Varna and Ellis Hollow. But nearly a score of other routes this spring will face service reductions or at least timing changes.
And expect big changes after dark. Amos reported that service on “most routes”—yet not all—will end at 8 PM. A few routes will run later. Some will cease at 7:15 – 7:20, he said. The popular Route 10 circulator between the Commons and Cornell will see its last trip at 4:10.
“We’re trying to save buses and drivers and make it more efficient,” Amos said about the service’s short-term downsizing. “We had to cut where we needed to cut, and that means elimination of two Cornell routes,” he stated.
While Poist reported that TCAT is “down 20 drivers” at present, the biggest gremlin that’s snarling the service is bus breakdown. TCAT either lacks the mechanics to fix its fleet, or it simply can’t procure spare parts amidst the post-pandemic supply chain logjam.
During October alone, the most recent month with complete figures available, TCAT tallied 705 missed trips assigned to bus shortages. Another 26 cancellations were blamed on driver shortages. And 44 missed trips were because both driver and bus were unavailable.
“We’re fighting this on all fronts,” Poist told the committee. “It’s slow and it’s agonizing. We apologize.”
At least one Advisory Committee member voiced skepticism. Suzanne Burnham questioned whether the “priorities of the two colleges are taking precedence over the concerns of workers and commuters.”
TCAT officials waved off the suggestion, though Poist acknowledged reality. “Cornell is the biggest employer, so it’s a balancing act,” she said.
“We’re trying to service where the riders are and where the need is,” Amos added.
TCAT had planned to vet its spring schedule in a January 5th public hearing. But agency officials canceled the hearing in late-December saying the “uncontrollable circumstances” facing the agency tied their hands and, in effect, made the hearing a waste of time.
“We apologize with the full understanding that the tough decisions we have been making over the past year and now into the New Year create more disruptions and inconvenience to our riders,” TCAT General Manager Scot Vanderpool said as he first rolled out the spring reductions just before January first. “But our main task is to create and publish schedules that they (the riders) can rely upon.”
Advisory Committee member Blaine Friedlander lamented Monday that local transit cutbacks come at the same time the needed broader goal should be to curtail automobile traffic and get people onto mass transit to rescue the environment. TCAT may have too few buses and drivers at the moment, Friedlander conceded, yet “we’re not making any accommodation for real situations,” he complained.
The spring TCAT schedule will begin January 22 and run through May 27.
Into the Weeds with Breezy Meadows’ Review
by Robert Lynch, January 7, 2023
The shock wave may have passed. But now the heavy lifting begins.
The New Year’s first meeting of the Enfield Town Planning Board Wednesday brought with it far less surprise than did its last meeting of 2022, the session when neighbors grabbed nearly every seat in the room to learn more—and voice concern—about the suddenly-sprung subdivision that alarmed them; Land & Lakes Development’s proposed “Breezy Meadows Farm” 33-large lot subdivide of a nearly 340-acre tract between Halseyville and Podunk Roads. Anonymously-circulated flyers placed in mailboxes in early-December had first warned neighbors of the developer’s plans.
But now, one month later, the dust of controversy has settled a bit, as Enfield planners launched their laborious, multi-meeting review of developers’ plans that remain very much in the incubation stage.
And maybe “incubation” is an apt term of art. The Breezy Meadows tract would include the long-abandoned Babcock Hatchery poultry barns east of Podunk Road. The barns were subsequently, briefly used to raise swine. But all are now vacant. A few have junk in them, and others are simply falling in.
“This is a big project, and it’s going to be important to the people of the Town for many, many years,” Enfield Planning Board member Mike Carpenter told fellow planners at the January 4th “sketch plan conference” with Land & Lakes’ officials.
The conference became the Planning Board’s earliest round of detailed review. Planners raised questions for nearly an hour and a half. Land & Lakes Project Manager Alan Lord provided the answers. Fittingly, they were sketchy as well. Lord must still survey the lots. The Planning Board expects to review a “preliminary plat” of the development in March. The Board’s timetable would delay a Public Hearing on Breezy Meadows until April at the earliest.
Whether neighbors preferred to bide their time, or simply lacked knowledge of Wednesday’s meeting, few turned out for the Breezy Meadows’ discussion this time. Only about a half-dozen attended. A few asked questions, yet they stopped short of voicing outright opposition.
So Board members took the lead. For some, Tucker Road became a concern. A lightly-traveled gravel crossway that would slice through the development, Tucker has only a handful of houses bordering it now. But Breezy Meadows, as it’s now sketched, would front nearly two dozen lots on the road.
“There’s issues with the road,” Planning Board Chair Dan Walker said, relaying a recent appraisal by Enfield Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins, who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s not a very stable road when it’s wet,” Walker quoted Rollins as saying. Walker agreed. “There’s going to be impact on the road, ” the Board Chair said.
The Breezy Meadows sketch map stuck in mailboxes a month ago had depicted lot lines quite precisely chopping up the former farm, now owned by the John William Kenney Revocable Trust. Expect those initial boundaries to remain quite the same as first drawn, even after surveyors complete their work.
“There’s not a real good way to move the subdivision around,” Alan Lord told Enfield planners. Lord has tried to keep lot lines traveling existing hedgerows as much as possible, though the attempt limits flexibility. The current layout would place the largest lots on the development’s west side, where the former Babcock barns stand. Lot sizes throughout would range from three acres to as large as 32.
“We will be investigating the buildings,” the project manager assured the Planning Board concerning the Babcock barns. “I hope somebody would use those.”
Yet, in some instances, future use could prove a problem. Walking through the brushy, overgrown site last month (before its owners’ representatives evicted him), this writer observed roofs had fallen in on several structures, and many barns stood in a decades-long state of disrepair.
It’s possible Planning Board approval might hinge on barn demolition. And there could be further demands that allow only the right kinds of animals be raised in the barns that survive.
They could be used for “raising chickens again,” Walker recommended to the Board. “I don’t think we want anybody raising pork again.”
But by far, the majority of Planning Board discussion Wednesday centered about a model deed covenant that Land & Lakes purportedly would attach to every property it sells. And the ensuing discussion charted a circumlocutory path toward a new breed of land use control in un-zoned Enfield.
“You are potentially zoning the Town of Enfield in the lots you’ve sold,” Board member Carpenter observed as he viewed the proposed covenants. It’s “zoning through the back door.”
Nonetheless, Carpenter cautioned, “I’m a little iffy about doing partial zoning in the Town of Enfield.”
And Dan Walker then offered his own opinion. “I don’t think a majority of those in the Town of Enfield want zoning,” he said.
Alan Lord admitted that the proposed deed restrictions he shared with Enfield Planners were cut-and-pasted from a Dryden tract his firm recently subdivided, a 42-lot, 900-acre project, still largely unsold, but situated in a more tightly-regulated community.
The proposed Breezy Meadows covenant adapted from Dryden would, among its 18 restrictive paragraphs, prohibit “single wide manufactured homes.” It would bar purchasers from further subdividing their lots, restrict camping trailers to a 90-day stay, and require the buyer to maintain the purchased lot “in a good and sanitary condition.”
One of the Dryden project’s more intrusive rules would keep outdoor lighting “to a minimum,” and where necessary, direct light to the ground. Lord said those in Dryden wanted “to protect the night sky.”
Rules are good, planners acknowledged. But who enforces them once they’re written? And can the Town of Enfield, itself, undertake enforcement?
Apparently, it cannot. In an advisory opinion Town Supervisor Stephanie Redmond promptly secured from legal counsel, the attorney advised Enfield officials that while private parties can enforce deed covenants in court, governments generally lack the authority to do so.
“We want to protect values and our reputations,” Alan Lord told the Planning Board, indicating that Land & Lakes might enforce its own covenants, though its Managing Partner, Bob Lesperence, also attending Wednesday’s meeting, said enforcement generally comes through informal contact, not court action.
And while New York State, Land & Lakes, or another subdivision purchaser could initiate litigation, a “neighbor across the street” could not, Board members were told.
Mike Carpenter generally liked the covenant-based restrictions Land & Lakes put forth. Yet Carpenter wondered whether Lord’s firm could reach beyond what it’s written.
What about an energy efficiency clause, Carpenter suggested; one that would set an efficiency standard one step beyond the state’s building code? “I’d like to encourage better housing to be built,” Carpenter explained.
Expect more discussions about Breezy Meadows in March.
Freshman Fervor; Newfield’s Maverick
Randy Brown makes his mark defending hometown interests
Reporting and Analysis by Robert Lynch, January 4, 2023
Republican Randy Brown beat me in the 2021 race for the Tompkins County Legislature. He also beat Democratic nominee Vanessa Greenlee. Strange as it may seem, in both instances, even in my own, I’m glad Brown won. What I’ll write next will tell you why.
As much as I, myself, might have been—and most assuredly, he’s been so far more tactfully—Randy Brown has become a maverick; the County Legislature’s fiercest defender of the needs and desires of the specific corner of Tompkins County that he represents. In Randy’s case, it’s the towns of Enfield and Newfield. In the role he’s chosen for himself, Randy Brown stands apart. True, he runs the risk of becoming an outcast. And some have derided his approach as being too “parochial.” But no doubt, if asked, Randy Brown would double-down on his conviction. He’d tell you he’s only doing what he was elected to do. And I agree.
At the County Legislature’s first meeting of 2023, the one this past Tuesday night, an organizational session at which leaders are anointed but little else gets done, Randy Brown made it clear he had not forgotten December 20th; the night of the Legislature’s previous meeting. It was the meeting during which every other County lawmaker voted in favor of parceling out more than six million dollars of federal pass-through moneys to more than four dozen commercial, governmental, and non-profit applicants. Yet not a single dollar of that Community Recovery Fund went to any applicant from Enfield. Randy Brown has a problem with that.
“Ultimately, I represent the people in my district, in Newfield-Enfield, and I really struggle with; why am I here?” Brown asked rhetorically as he exercised his privilege-of-the-floor opportunity Tuesday. “It’s a complete failure on my part that they got nothing,” Brown said. “Enfield got nothing. It’s my failure. It’s our failure.”
Then Brown pivoted to the plight of his home community of Newfield, for which the Recovery Fund Advisory Committee—and subsequently the full Legislature—denied Newfield’s biggest municipal reach, $250,000 to underwrite a Town and school district collaborative for “Creating Community Spaces,” upgrading recreation facilities.
“Newfield, in their mind, got kicked in the teeth in the process,” Brown said.
What’s more, the only big money application the Advisory Committee targeted to fund in Newfield was one that many community leaders have strongly opposed. It’s the half-Million dollar request by Second Wind Cottages to build campsites for the homeless in a field behind Guidi’s Collision Shop. The project’s still pending. And many in Newfield fear it will only serve to transport Ithaca’s homelessness problem to their own, ill-equipped hamlet.
Several advocates spoke before the County Legislature Tuesday in favor of Second Wind’s yet-to-be-decided application. But before the Legislature provides it funding, Second Wind must survive a grueling environmental review, one in which Newfield’s own leaders may take the lead. The review could spell deep trouble for Second Wind.
Enfield applicants that have so far been snubbed by the Advisory Committee, and subsequently by the full Legislature, include the Enfield Community Council, whose $206,000 request slipped just five notches below the committee’s cut. The Enfield Volunteer Fire Company also sought money, as did the Enfield Food Pantry, whose $1.66 Million maximum ask became the Recovery Fund’s most expensive item. The pantry never got beyond first-round committee review.
“I’m going to look at legislators differently that voted against Newfield,” Brown cautioned colleagues Tuesday. He put anti-Enfield sentiment in that same, always-be-skeptical category.
And though some may have overlooked it, Brown had already put his words into action that night. When the name of Recovery Fund Advisory Committee Chair Dan Klein was placed in nomination to become Vice-Chair of the Legislature, Brown quietly raised his hand in opposition to Klein’s promotion. Brown was the only legislator shown to object, though he spoke nothing about his vote, nor did he offer an alternative candidate before he voted. Clearly between the two lawmakers, bad blood flows.
During Tuesday’s floor privileges, Randy Brown repeated his argument that the six-legislator Advisory Committee held too much power when it apportioned Recovery Fund moneys. And he believes that the entire County Legislature accorded the committee too much deference in ratifying its recommendations last month without a single change.
“I received over 25 emails and phone calls since the vote on the 20th,” Brown said, “and none of them were good.” (Full disclosure: this writer-Councilperson was among those who emailed legislator Brown.)
“People are so disappointed,” Brown continued. “And some of them feel they were disregarded completely.” Then the District-8 GOP freshman legislator took his grievance one step further:
“And that really goes to this history of how Enfield-Newfield feels,” Brown observed. “This isn’t just this ARPA thing,” referencing the federal funding pot from which Community Recovery funds are drawn. “No, they feel and I feel that the County has not really considered Newfield and Enfield. And maybe other people feel that way as well.”
Randy Brown’s status as his district’s front-line defender did not go unchallenged Tuesday. And the strongest counterpoint came from the Advisory Committee chair he’d voted against, Danby’s Dan Klein.
“We did not take geography into account,” Klein insisted regarding his committee’s selection of winning Recovery Fund applicants. In terms of Enfield and Newfield, he said, “We do not ignore these towns (or) any towns. We represent the entire county, and serve the entire county, and we look for opportunities to do things in any community that needs assistance, needs some services, and that falls within the parameters of what we can do.”
Klein reiterated his previous claim that not only did Enfield lose out on funding; but so did Groton and his home turf of Danby. Of course a critic might point the blame for those towns’ losses at their own representatives, like Klein, who failed to patch local potholes first.
The Advisory Committee Chair also claimed that approximately 40 per cent of Recovery funds went to agencies that lacked a geographic base. He rattled off as many as seven such grant recipients, ranging from Suicide Prevention to TC3. But in all but two instances when Klein pointed out that the agencies still serve Newfield, he failed to mention that they serve Enfield as well.
Before he had ended his rebuttal, and with a discernable bite in his voice, Dan Klein took his argument directly to Brown. He specifically cited a 2021 decision that had earmarked countywide money to fund a broadband extension in Newfield, a subsidy that brought high-speed Internet to 175 homes.
“If you’re going to say that the Town of Newfield is disregarded,” Klein needled Brown, “can you at least subtract 175 households, please.”
Clearly, though the two men’s districts touch each other, there’s no love lost between Randy Brown and Dan Klein.
And the “county interests come first” argument, advanced by Klein, resonated with others.
“I wanted to commend Dan for pointing out that a lot of the grants that we gave while they’re not specifically targeted towards particular towns and villages, they do serve the entire county,” Lansing’s Deborah Dawson, who sat with Klein on the Advisory Committee, stated in affirmation.
“And I want to caution my colleagues not to be tremendously parochial in their voting,” Dawson warned. She claimed that the villages she represents, Cayuga Heights and Lansing, received no awards from the Community Recovery Fund, either.
Yet understand the difference: Dawson’s two villages, according to the U.S. Census, lie within the Ithaca Urbanized Area. The Towns of Enfield and Newfield do not.
“Randy, I hear you,” the Ithaca City’s Rich John acknowledged, “and I understand you’re reflecting the views of people in your community, and you’re supposed to do that.” Yet John joined Klein and Dawson in stressing the need for a county-wide vision.
“I represent a City district,” John stated. “But I’m here because we are one county. And it’s always important to look at your district, but you also have to look at the whole county.”
Rich John pointed to the Legislature’s inclusion in the 2023 budget of more than $100,000 to lay the groundwork for an EMS “flycar” service, one whose beneficiaries are primarily rural.
“It hurts me to hear the message that people think that the rural areas are totally ignored,” Rich John told Brown. “I really think that we need to look at things as a whole community, a whole county.”
The Town of Enfield’s second County legislator, Anne Koreman, was among those who sat on the Advisory Committee. Though she initially supported many of Enfield’s applications, she later endorsed the committee’s final recommendation both in the committee and on the Legislature’s floor. Koreman has voiced greater support for the final funding decisions than has Brown. And she opposed nearly all efforts on December 20th to amend the recommendations and cut funding to other programs so as to potentially enable an Enfield applicant to slip-in under the wire.
“We did the best we could,” Koreman reflected Tuesday regarding the committee’s past deliberations, a task she described as “challenging.”
“We could go back and second-guess a lot of different things,” Koreman acknowledged. “And could we do more in the community? Sure, there’s always more to do.”
But for the moment, the Ulysses Democrat said it’s best to leave the funding decisions where they stand, identify “some gaps,” that need filling, and fill those gaps from other funding sources.
When Republican Randy Brown campaigned for County Legislature in 2021, legislators Klein, Koreman, and Dawson were among a group of five who banded together and endorsed Democrat Vanessa Greenlee for the seat, first in the Democratic Primary against me; and later, in November, against Brown. Had Greenlee won the General Election, one can imagine a much different personality in the District 8 seat, and a less confrontational response to the funding disappointments that Enfield and Newfield have now suffered. Party loyalty and personal camaraderie would likely have dissuaded Greenlee from raising the pointed complaints that Randy Brown now feels free to field. She would have deferred to the friendly faces who’d endorsed her. She would have gone along to get along. My assumption alone; no one else’s.
Election outcomes do matter. And in Randy Brown’s case, it has.
For earlier-posted stories, view the Reporting Archives sub-heading under this tab. Stories are archived by the month of their posting.