February 2024 Reporting Archives

News Briefs:

An Owl, Albany, and Your Floodlight

(Feb. 29):  I likely own the brightest outdoor security light on Gray Road.  Now some in the New York State Legislature would have me turn it off.

The late “Flaco” the Owl

A bill that’s gained heightened focus by the death of that prized New York City zoo owl, Flaco—and sadly drawn the co-sponsorship of a well-intentioned Assemblymember Anna Kelles—would outlaw  most existing bright outdoor lighting across the state by January 2026.

Outdoor fixtures would need to be shielded to direct light only downward, or be motion-activated or else turned off completely between 11 PM and sunrise.  (I know, what a great way to fight crime.)

The “Dark Skies Protection Act” would, its language states, “preserve and enhance the state’s dark sky while promoting safety for people, birds, and other wildlife, conserving energy and reducing our carbon footprint, and preserving the aesthetic qualities of the night sky.”

The legislation is currently before Senate and Assembly committees.  It died there during the last session.

Flaco, the owl, escaped from a cage at the Central Park Zoo after someone vandalized the enclosure.  Flaco flew into a building and died, though not necessarily at night.

Should the “Dark Skies Protection Act” become law, expect Enfield Center’s streetlights to violate it.  So would the Enfield Fire Company’s bright floodlights.  In the Senate bill, homeowners would face a $100 fine for a first offense. / RL


Redistricting Deal voted and signed

(Feb.28):  With fast legislative action, and with Governor Kathy Hochul’s quick concurrence, Albany lawmakers Wednesday put a likely legislative end to the task of redistricting New York’s Congressional seats for this November and for the remainder of the decade.

State Senator Andrew Lanza

By a vote of 45 to 17 in the State Senate and 115 to 33 in the Assembly, the Legislature, given the power of its Democratic supermajorities, ratified the redrawn district lines unveiled just one day earlier.

The new maps’ release followed Monday’s rejection by legislators of the compromise maps submitted February 15th by the bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC).

Governor Hochul gave the revised maps her approval late Wednesday, but provided no press release on her official website to explain her support.

The revised maps keep Tompkins County within the 19th Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Marc Molinaro.  Democratic legislators’ adjustments to boundaries on the district’s eastern side may make it harder for Molinaro to win a second term than the IRC’s boundaries might have.

State Senator Andrew Lanza tried in vain Wednesday to pin down Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris on how long the Democrats had kept the revised districting on their hard drives or on paper before releasing them Tuesday.  He also had no luck questioning Gianaris on whether Congressional Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries had played a role in the process.

It remained unclear late Wednesday whether Republicans are angry enough about the now-adopted revised maps to take Democrats to court.


ECC’s Long and Winding Road

(Feb. 28):  Much has been written here, over time, concerning the Enfield Community Council’s continuing efforts to retrieve more than $20,000 in property taxes its Community Center was assessed for a single year, due to a paperwork oversight.

The Ithaca Voice’s Megan Zerez attended the ECC’s February 22nd Board meeting and afterward wrote a very comprehensive account of a journey that’s tough to detail in a few words.


The pursuit of reimbursement continues.  Meanwhile, it’s worth your time to read Zerez’s report.


Budget set. Gap to fill.

(Feb. 23):  The Enfield Community Council Board of Directors adopted its 2024 budget at its annual meeting Thursday.  And ECC officials are to the first to admit they have work to do.

The budget sets projected expenses at $174,160 (up 8.6% from what was spent in 2023); estimated income at $162.193.  That leaves a nearly $12,000 projected shortfall that leadership will somehow need to fill.

More activities must be held and the Community Center rented for events more often, Board members stated as their most logical solutions after the meeting.  They have no plans to ask Town Government for more money.  A prime revenue source could be increased attendance at the ECC’s summer day camp.

Approved Thursday and already made part of the budget, the ECC Board raised summer camp attendance fees slightly.  Fees for Town residents will rise from $975 to $1000 per child (up 2.8%), with non-resident fees climbing from $1,300 to $1,400.

“I don’t see it as a fund raiser, but it should cover the costs,” Board member Debbie Teeter said of the camp fees.

Last year, 48 campers partook in ECC’s program.  “Hopefully we’ll climb again this year and build it up as we had it before COVID,” Teeter told the Board.


GOP Backs Sapraicone to Face Gillibrand

(Feb. 23):  You’ve likely never heard the name Mike Sapraicone.  And if New Yorkers hold true to their political leanings, you’ll have forgotten his name by this time next year.

Fresh Republican face; Mike Sapraicone

Empire State Republicans, at their convention in Binghamton Thursday, nominated the former New York City police detective, now an affluent owner of a downstate security business, to face incumbent Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand for the U.S. Senate this fall.  Reports say Sapraicone polled about 85 per cent of the convention votes, meaning neither of two intra-party rivals could wage a primary fight without petitioning first.

“What’s important for us to do now is to keep this party strong and united,” Spectrum News quotes Sapraicone as telling the convention.  “Whatever it takes to unite, if we’re going to come together and defeat Gillibrand, we have to come together,” he said.

But party unity may not be enough. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2:1 in New York.

We’re told Sapraicone supports Trump for President.  But his two inside challengers say they support him even more.  Cara Castronuova works for the conservative outlet Newsmax.  Josh Eisen has faulted Sapraicone for having donated $1,000 to the campaign of Democratic Attorney General Leticia James. / RL


Brown Goes to Bat for ECC

Legislator Randy Brown

(Feb. 22):  At the Enfield Community Council’s Annual Meeting Thursday, Tompkins County legislator Randy Brown confirmed he’ll draft and press for adoption in March  of a Resolution for Tompkins County to refund property taxes levied ECC in the 2021-22 tax cycle, all because the agency failed to file exemption paperwork on time.

But how the money can legally get refunded remains in question.

“If we give the money back, it’s a gift, and we’re not allowed to do that,” Brown cautioned the ECC Board.  The legislator also advised that Albany’s help may be needed to make the refund happen.

“It will have to go to the State, and they will have to approve it,” Brown said.  Like was first discussed last year, a special law must likely be enacted .

ECC officials paid Tompkins County more than $20,000 in December to cover taxes and penalties assessed by Tompkins County, the Town of Enfield, and the Ithaca City School District for just that one year.  Although the ECC clearly qualified for the exemption, the matter remains a mess.

The Enfield Town Board has promised it will waive its just over $5,700 share of the total—if it legally can do so.  But the School District’s attorney has said the ICSD stands powerless to waive its much larger $12,000 portion.  Tompkins County’s own share is about $2,100.

Brown Thursday could not predict an outcome.  “But I’m optimistic,” he said.


Lane: They Mistreated Us.

Our new NY-19; We’re just hung out there.

(Feb. 21):  By any reasoned observation, Tompkins County no longer belongs in the Hudson-to-here 19th Congressional District.  And Dryden’s Mike Lane agrees.

Commenting on the Independent Redistricting Commission’s revised Congressional maps, released February 15th, the Tompkins County legislator, in floor remarks Tuesday, called our redrawn district, “the most ridiculous” of any in New York State.

With Tioga County and much of Cortland County now chopped off and merged elsewhere, Tompkins is connected to the rest of NY-19 by only, in Lane’s words, “a small neck” of land to the east.

“Regular boundaries” and “communities of interest” are now both lacking, Lane complained.  He’d rather have Tompkins joined with the newly-redrawn, Syracuse-centered District to our northeast.

“The redistricting games that are played,” Lane said, “I don’t care which state, which party; they’re not a good thing.”

“I just want to point out that I think Tompkins County got mistreated again in this redistricting process,” Lane concluded.

The Independent Commission admitted it reached consensus only through political horse-trading.  The State Legislature could modify the lines later this month.  But many doubt it will. / RL.


Recovery Fund: What’s Up?

Legislature Chair Dan Klein (with clerks)

(Feb. 21):  Something—really, some-things—have changed since last fall when Tompkins County officials signaled they were about to close the books on their ambitious $6.5 Million Community Recovery Fund; when they’d said nearly all contracts were signed and projects well underway.

Tuesday, February 20th, on the eve of releasing a slick, 8-minute video showcasing seven high-profile funding recipients, County Legislature Chair Dan Klein revealed that the Recovery Fund Advisory Committee must reconvene in late-March because a couple of recipients need major changes to proceed.

There are “a couple that wanted to modify their contract in ways that were not a really easy ‘yes’ to,” Klein told the Legislature.  “They wanted to modify their contracts in pretty significant ways.”

Under Recovery Fund rules, applicants would need to forfeit their awards should changes deviate too much from their original plans.  Their withdrawal, if enforced, could free up money for earlier-denied Enfield applicants.

Klein did not reveal which applicants have sought the changes, or whether their projects are large or small.  Most notably, however, a couple of big-ticket recipients, whose status appeared most tenuous at earlier meetings, were showcased nowhere on the video.


Lawyer Paid… and Gone

Attorney Brad Pinsky

(Feb. 20):  The Town of Enfield’s somewhat rocky relationship with the Syracuse-area attorney who last year helped transition the Town’s fire protection services to a Fire District ended—presumably amicably—Tuesday when the Fire District’s Board of Commissioners paid Brad Pinsky’s final bill, $15,000 plus $842 in expenses.

We owe him the money; he ought to be paid,” Commissioners’ Chair Greg Stevenson said in recommending the Board pay the $15 Grand, the lower of two amounts Pinsky had invoiced Commissioners after the newly-elected Board had terminated his representation in January.

Stevenson said he’d first received a higher invoice, one for more than $19,000, the first bill calculated at the lawyer’s $390 per hour rate.  It covered services performed during the final months of 2023.  But then Robyn Wishna, a Commissioners’ holdover, recalled that Pinsky had quoted the initially-appointed Board a lower, flat rate, a figure counsel later acknowledged he’d hold true to.

“If he says we owe him more, we can pay him when the time comes,” Wishna told fellow Commissioners Tuesday.

Enfield Town Board members squabbled late last year over whether the Town or its Fire District should compensate Pinsky for any or all of his work.  The Town Board, over one member’s (this writer’s) objection, tapped $15,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to pay Pinsky’s bill for his earliest service. / RL


Higher Tompkins Minimum wage Broached

Deborah Dawson (l), with fellow-legislator Amanda Champion

(Feb. 21):  One Tompkins County legislator rattled a hornets’ nest Tuesday, Lansing’s Deborah Dawson suggesting her county revisit the possibility of setting a higher-than-New York State  minimum wage, Dawson suggesting a local minimum wage be tied to the so-called “Living Wage” set by an Ithaca credit union.

“I don’t know if that’s within our purview… I don’t know what impact it would have on local businesses,” Dawson told fellow legislators Tuesday.  “But if we really are concerned with leading by example and adhering to Living Wage recommendations, I would suggest… that’s something we might want to investigate.”

Raising the current upstate minimum wage of $15 an hour to the locally-embraced $18.45 Living Wage would provide a 23 per cent increase for low-wage workers but also similarly burden those who employ them.

Dawson’s comment grew from recently-released findings by the Tompkins County Workers’ Center claiming to show that Tompkins County’s wage and wealth inequality stands among the highest in the state.

While no one spoke directly against Dawson’s idea, legislator Mike Lane urged caution.

“Ramifications of this and how it would affect our employers out there from not-for-profits to regular small businesses could be very large,” Lane warned. “And does that mean that our businesses start leaving Tompkins County?”

Tompkins toyed with a higher local minimum wage pre-COVID, but the idea died amidst the pandemic.


Bostwick Culvert Wins Big Bucks

(Feb. 17):  Enfield leaders—and taxpayers—received welcome news Friday.  New York State has awarded $693,866 under its Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) program to replace an undersized and deteriorating culvert that carries Enfield Creek under Bostwick Road.

The culvert’s under there.

For two years, Town Supervisor Stephanie Redmond has assigned the Bostwick Road culvert high priority.  But until now, she’s been hard-pressed to fund it.

Last March, a different New York agency rejected Enfield’s funding application with but a form letter.  Redmond had considered using American Rescue Plan funds, only to learn federal rules don’t permit that.

Cost for the Bostwick Road project is just over $867,000.  The WQIP grant will cover 80 per cent.  The Town may dedicate Highway Department staff and machinery as “in-kind” services to pay for the rest.

What makes the current culvert so dangerous is that it’s two passageways, not just one. In a flood, debris can clog and water backs up.  And water is already eroding soil between the two pipes.

“Replacement of the undersized culvert on Bostwick Road will benefit both water quality and flood events,” Deputy Town Supervisor Greg Hutnik wrote in his winning application.

The proposal calls for culvert replacement to occur either this summer or next.


Kelles Anti-fracking Bill Advances

Assemblymember Anna Kelles

(Feb. 17):  A bill that would close a loophole in New York’s current ban on hydrofracturing for natural gas moved its way toward a floor vote in the State Assembly Thursday with the lower house giving the bill its “third reading,” one of the final steps before a floor vote.

The measure, sponsored by Ithaca’s Assemblymember Anna Kelles and by Lea Webb in the State Senate, would add just three little, but important, words to the current ban, extending the fracking ban to liquid propellants “or carbon dioxide.”

Kelles and environmental advocates acted after a Texas-based company signaled interest in using carbon dioxide to extract natural gas as a work-around to the Empire State’s current prohibition.

The anti-fracking legislation has proceeded no farther than committee review in the Senate.  Albany watchers say supporters would prefer adoption as part of the state budget in March so as to avoid the bill’s signing being delayed until later in the year.


Ballot Box Debate Delayed and Muddled

(Feb. 15): What started as a simple, no-brainer initiative got ground up by the gears of Enfield Town politics Wednesday.

The Fire District Election Ballot Box

This Councilperson, Robert Lynch, advanced a straightforward fix to the chaos that gripped last December’s Enfield Fire District election.  I proposed state legislators consider clarifying the law and making it clear that when electing five Fire Commissioners, residents get more than just one vote.

My proposed language:  “In this first annual election of fire district officers, each eligible voter shall be permitted to cast one vote each for as many individual candidates for fire commissioner as positions exist to be filled in said election.”

But Councilperson Jude Lemke, a lawyer, didn’t like the language.  And she convinced Supervisor Stephanie Redmond to agree with her.  What they wanted instead remained unclear.  But their arguments steered toward preference for “cumulative voting,” where a voter could cast up to five votes for the same candidate.

Over this member’s objection, the Town Board tabled the resolution for a month.

So amidst the muddle, I draw this line:  I oppose being limited to casting just one vote to elect five people in a first-ever Fire Commissioners’ election.  But I also oppose being able to vote multiple times in such an election for the same person.  To me, it’s stuffing the ballot box. / RL


Committee Green-lights COVID Mural

Ugly as sin; can’t go

(Feb. 15): For this discussion, best remember those ugly sculptures on the Buffalo Street Bridge that legally can’t be removed.

A committee of the Tompkins County Legislature, following little discussion, unanimously recommended Thursday that a mural be painted on the Albany Street side of the Human Services Annex to commemorate our fight against COVID-19.

“Public art is seen as another tool for public health messaging,” Samantha Hillson, the County’s Director of Health Promotion, told lawmakers.  She envisions the mural as “visualizing the overarching resilience of our community and honoring the 100-plus individuals who passed away during the pandemic.”

Hillson could supply the committee no sketches, but promised to share them before they’re  painted.

“There’ve been issues with artists,” legislator Mike Lane reminded the committee.  “They have certain rights under law that we have to be careful about.” He must remember the bridge.

And by the way, just two days earlier, another legislative committee had recommended that the Human Services Annex be someday vacated and then sold. / RL


Buddy Closer to New Pickup

(Feb. 15):  The Enfield Town Board, by a 4-1 vote, Wednesday moved money around to better help Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins purchase the new pickup truck he wants, a vehicle used on-the-job for light snow plowing and other Town business, but taken home by Rollins at night.

The Board Wednesday transferred $15,000 from Highway Reserves to the equipment fund toward buying the $72,000 vehicle.  The transfer would supplement the $30,000 earmarked for the pickup’s purchase in the Town Budget approved last fall.

Rollins current pickup is only three years old.  Replacement would be on the short side of the 3-5 year replacement cycles members were told most municipalities use.

“I could call tomorrow to order the truck, Rollins told the Board.  But he said delivery might not come until 2025.

But the optics look terrible, this Councilperson, Robert Lynch, said in opposing the purchase and voting against the transfer.  The Highway Superintendent buys a new pickup, he said, while the Town couldn’t even afford to commission an audit this year.  Lynch had opposed the $30,000 budget set-aside for the pickup last fall as well.

Rollins saw trucks and audits as separate matters.  He calculated the purchase he seeks (with sale of the old truck) would only cost the Town $875 per month or $10,000 per year.


New Maps bring little change here

(Feb. 15):  Redrawn Congressional District maps, approved and released by the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission Thursday, would bring little change for Tompkins County’s Washington representation, should the New York Legislature ratify the Commission’s proposal.

The revised maps, demanded by the New York Court of Appeals for this November’s election, retain Tompkins at the western edge of the 19th Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Marc Molinaro. And as for the past two years, the 19th District would stretch east through the southern tier and to the Massachusetts border.

Several changes would occur, however, just beyond Tompkins’ Borders.  Tioga County would be transferred from the 19th to the 23rd District, represented by Nick Langworthy.  The Town of Hector would move into Claudia Tenney’s District.  Cortland County would be chopped in half, with northern towns, along with southern Cayuga County, falling into the Brandon Williams’ District.

Observers have said the proposed Commission changes would make the 19th District slightly more Republican-leaning and the Syracuse-based Williams District more Democrat-friendly.

If anything, the proposed lines will disappoint Tompkins County Democrats, who’d hoped they’d be attached to the Williams District in hopes of taking part in a Democratic pick-up there this fall.

[A more detailed story is now posted.]


GOP: Pull the School Bus Plug

(Feb. 14):  New York legislative Republicans have found a hit-home issue to run on.  And it’s a burden that carries a local price tag.

GOP State Senators and Assemblymembers rallied Tuesday and launched a media blitz to stall a mandate arising out of a 2022 revision to the Education Law.  The mandate requires that all school districts in the state buy only electric-powered school buses by 2027 and have a fully-electric fleet by 2035.

The Ithaca City School District will put before voters this May a ballot measure that includes $40 Million to build a new bus garage and charging facilities to address the requirement.

“We are moving too far, too fast on this transition,” State Senator Tom O’Mara, who used to represent us, said.  “The technology is simply not there yet. The electric grid can’t support it…”

“It’s unrealistic, uninformed and irresponsible,” Senator Pam Helming, who represents much of the Finger Lakes, said.

Republicans want Governor Hochul and the Legislature’s Democratic majorities to pause the costly, questionably-logical mandate.

Critics question electric buses’ ability to handle cold winter temperatures, their poor reliability, and higher cost.  An Ithaca Schools’ official recently said an electric school bus costs over $450,000; a diesel bus $175,000.  Your money. Your vote. / RL


Committee: Knock ’em down quicker

(Feb. 13):  “I want deconstruction now!” Dryden’s Mike Lane emphatically told a Tompkins County Legislative committee Tuesday as lawmakers expressed general support for accelerating the schedule for razing two buildings at the corner of Tioga and Buffalo Streets to clear the site for a $40 Million Center of Government.

The former Key Bank’ one of two to go.

Lawmakers eyed amending a Resolution before them that, as first written, would have delayed the start of deconstruction for a year, 12 months ahead of the mammoth office building’s February 2026 groundbreaking.  But instead of acting, the committee directed administrators to rewrite the script and delayed their vote for a month.

Two speakers, including the director of Historic Ithaca, addressed the meeting suggesting as much of the old buildings be salvaged as possible, or even that one or both—more likely, the former Key Bank—be incorporated into the Center’s design.

Committee reaction was cool. “This is not an educational laboratory,” legislator Deborah Dawson remarked, “this is building a Center of Government.”

Meanwhile, the committee Tuesday endorsed and sent to the full Legislature a long-discussed recommendation assigning which government offices would move into the 55,000 square foot Center of Government.  Most would.  And most notably, the revised plans call for vacating—and then selling—the Human Services Annex at State and Albany Streets.


ICSD’s Brown: Hine Pay 20%

(Feb. 12):  Ithaca City School District Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown, in a little-reported statement to his School Board January 30th, proposed hefty across-the-board pay hikes for teachers and staff, using Ithaca’s skyrocketing property assessments to pay for them.

“I feel liberated to talk about it, and I would ask anyone to challenge me,” Dr. Brown said during a budget development overview to the Board. “Everything’s there; everything is public.  We continue to move the levers.  But I’m assuming that we can go 20 per cent over three years for all of our employees.”

“This isn’t some closed-door negotiating strategy; this is it,” Brown said, “because the numbers are the numbers.”

But those “numbers” relate to higher assessments.  Using a misleading metric, ICSD officials focus exclusively on holding next year’s tax rate at its current level, but lean on valuations to boost the tax levy by nearly 12 per cent.

A bar graph presented the School Board showed levy revenue rising from its present $107.7 Million to just over $120 Million for 2024-25.

“We are lucky enough as a community to have cranes in the sky, so there is more tax revenue to tap into from construction costs,” Board member Eldred Harris commented.

But that oversimplifies:  Some of those “cranes” are building tax-abated projects.  Ballooning homeowner assessments account for much of the higher tax base. / RL


Coming: The “Fauci Mural”

Where the mural would be; the Human Services Annex

(Feb. 10):  For many of us, the COVID-19 lockdown is a nightmare we’d rather purge from our memories.  Not Tompkins County.

Set for committee review February 15th is authorization to place a mural on the west wall of the County-owned Human Services Annex, facing Albany Street at State.

It would, we’re told, “highlight community resilience through the pandemic” and illustrate “the continued need for preventive measures such as COVID-19 vaccination.”

A $9,999 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) grant would reportedly fund the mural.  But money issues aside, some may find it more than a bit morbid to celebrate a tragic time when schools closed down, businesses went bankrupt—and, oh yes—more than 100 local residents died from this disease.

Thursday’s Resolution attaches to it no design sketch.  So our minds are left to wander.  One can envision syringes, masks, nurses in PPE, and maybe even Dr. Fauci himself.

Forget, for the moment, that this downtown eyesore could enrage the community’s strong anti-Vaxx contingent.  It just seems hard to imagine that anything a so-called “artist” might plaster up there could reflect anything better than terrible taste. / RL


Phoebe’s Words; Newman’s Fate

(Feb. 9):  By a vote of four-to-seven, Ithaca’s Common Council Wednesday rejected a staff proposal to raise rates—primarily youth rates—for patrons of the money-losing Newman Golf Course.  But before she joined the opposition, Alderperson Phoebe Brown had an idea:

“Well, I suggest we should get rid of the golf course and turn it into a flood mitigation.  And if not that, we have a homeless problem; we can build some homes or stilts over there.  That’s my suggestion.”

Sometimes, it’s just best to let words rise and fall by their own sheer weight, sparing commentary.

Sadly, though, Phoebe Brown wasn’t the only Council member suggesting Newman’s closure. / RL


Van Dorn Head-Scratcher

(Feb. 9):  Enfield Planning Board Chair Dan Walker admits it’s not your garden-variety subdivision.

Down Adam’s dirt driveway

Adam Scholl wants to subdivide his wooded, 23-acre homestead tract that extends west of Van Dorn Road South and create three new building lots, each about one acre in size.  Scholl presented his Sketch Plan to the Planning Board February 7th.

His would normally be just another minimally-regulated, Minor Subdivision under Town rules.  There’d be the normal well water, sewage, and wetlands considerations.  But Walker cautions that to make this project work, the chairman may need to enlist the Town Board’s help.

The problem is road frontage.  There’s only 35 feet of it, Walker says.  It’s the long, gravel driveway that extends to Scholl’s home.  Placing new residences that front only the driveway, not the road, may require the Town Board to create something like a Special Development Area, an exception that satisfies the tract’s unique needs.

The Planning Board got its first look at School’s plans this Wednesday.  Walker will study the matter further before the March meeting.


Predictable: Pledge killed in seconds

New Rules: Red at Top; The Pledge is Gone

(Feb. 7):  This time may have been the last time. 

By a unanimous vote preceded by zero discussion, Ithaca’s Common Council Wednesday night banished the Pledge of Allegiance from its meeting agendas.

The recitation’s removal was part of a major overhaul in Council’s Rules of Procedure which also abolished standing committees and transferred nuts-and-bolts business to multiple committee-of-the-whole meetings every month.

Yes, it came as a surprise when this Enfield Councilperson, employing privilege-of-the-floor as his vehicle, called upon all who were willing to stand and say the Pledge.  Some Alderpersons joined in the recitation; others did not.  After it was over, limited applause came from the visitors’ gallery.

This is not “performative,” it’s “demonstrative,” I informed Council.  I’d demonstrated how little time it takes to say the Pledge, yet how important it is.  It honors patriotism and tradition, I said, something many in this community respect.

Deletion of the Pledge grew to a foregone conclusion two weeks earlier when Council members at a work session saw little interest in its continuation and came up dry toward finding a substitute.

Given the absence of concern prior to Council’s vote Wednesday, hours after the last-ditch effort at retention had startled attendees, expect the Pledge of Allegiance never to be heard again in Common Council Chambers. (An extended story is now posted.) / RL


Cease-Fire Resolution Fails… Just

Legislator Greg Mezey; cease-fire advocate

(Feb. 6):  A plurality is not a majority.  And with seven in favor, six opposed, and one member absent, the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday defeated a controversial—and much-debated—Resolution that would have urged a cease-fire in the Gaza war, the return of Hamas-held hostages, and efforts toward a two-state solution to end the Middle East conflict.

“What the heck are you doing talking about foreign policy,” Groton’s Lee Shurtleff, a Resolution opponent, said constituents have asked him.  Shurtleff said residents want more pressing local issues addressed.

“Globally is impacting locally,” Dryden’s Greg Mezey, one of the measure’s four authors, argued in pressing his colleagues think about issues beyond Tompkins’ borders.

The vote placed Enfield’s two County representatives in opposite corners, with Democrat Anne Koreman a strong supporter of the cease-fire Resolution, and Republican Randy Brown voting no.

Public speakers consumed the nearly two opening two hours of the Legislature’s session, attendees universally speaking in support of the later-defeated Resolution.  But legislators revealed they’ve received some 700 emails, from writers mostly taking the other side.

Lansing’s Deborah Dawson, absent from Tuesday’s meeting, could have provided the eighth, swing vote to approve the Resolution, or she could resurrect it at a future meeting.  But based on prior comments, Dawson, too, would have rejected a cease-fire request.


EFD Lease Deal Imminent

(Feb. 7):  There was lots of anticipation, but no action Tuesday by the Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners concerning upcoming lease agreements to transfer fire apparatus—and also use of the fire house—from the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company (EVFC) to the newly-created Enfield Fire District.

Unit 602; Enfield’s new pumper

“Hopefully by early-March we can make it official,” Board Chairman Greg Stevenson advised Commissioners regarding those lease papers.  The District’s new attorney, Mark Butler, is finishing work on documents.  Stevenson expects to disclose terms by the Board’s next meeting, February 20th.  Because papers must be traded, and because the EVFC Board won’t meet for nearly another month, Fire Commissioners target their own adoptions for March 5th.

Plans call for the fire house to remain under EVFC ownership.  A 2020 tanker truck, still not paid off, would likely stay with the Fire Company and be leased.  “All other apparatus would be transferred to the Fire District,” Stevenson predicted.

At its prior session, contrary to voter direction given in a late-October referendum, Commissioners agreed not to bond the tanker, but only the newer, pricier pumper truck, a vehicle subject of some community controversy.  Stevenson said at the next meeting, he should have “something that looks like a contract” to proceed toward the bond market.

Commissioners held a closed-session Tuesday to discuss engaging a financial services company to assist.  After the public session, Stevenson said no decision’s been made whether to bond the $825,000 pumper for seven years or ten.


See You in Court (in an Even Year)

Onondaga County Legislature Chair Tim Burtis

(Feb. 7):  Onondaga County has become the first to take on New York Governor Kathy Hochul over that new law she signed just before Christmas transferring most local elections from odd-to-even-numbered years.

The Republican-controlled Onondaga County Legislature voted Tuesday to authorize spending up to $100,000 in legal fees to contest the election year law on the basis that a legislative action shouldn’t override a county’s own charter.

“This is about the charter,” Legislature Chair Timothy Burtis told reporters.  “You can’t just run over the charter…. If the governor or anybody else wants to override that, I would have the same reaction.  We have a charter. That is the law of our land.”

Tompkins County, like Onondaga, has a charter.  So arguably the same grounds would exist for local lawmakers protesting the election law… should they have the stomach and the wallet to do so.

Some Onondaga County Democrats believe Republicans jumped the gun. “It would just make sense before we start to implement this to reach out to some of these other counties to see how they feel about it,” Democratic legislator Charles Garland told Spectrum news.

The Onondaga County Executive will make the final call on whether to sue.  But Ryan McMahon has already criticized the new law.

Though any lawsuit at first blush would only affect county elections, a victory by opponents could potentially drag down the whole law, impacting town elections too. / RL


Hidin’ Biden (Ouch!)

(Feb. 4):  Democrats, we’ve got a problem.

AWOL for the South Carolina win (Photo courtesy of the AP)

On Saturday, President Biden won the South Carolina Democratic Primary… and by a lot.  Biden secured 96 per cent of the vote; his two leading challengers just two per cent each.  Congratulations, Joe, Palmetto State Democrats love you. You deserve to celebrate.

But there was no victory speech. Instead, our President was far away, “headed for a fundraising swing through Southern California and Nevada,” CNN informs us.  Quite obviously, Biden took victory for granted.  His campaign merely issued a written statement.  I’m told there was a short online video somewhere, but you’ll have trouble finding it.

Had Donald Trump won by 96 per cent, do you think he’d be hiding inside some private fundraiser in LA when networks projected his win?  No, he’d be at a South Carolina podium, with crowds cheering and cameras rolling.  He’d never let us forget the moment.

Our President had better wake up:  These days, Rose Garden strategies don’t work.  Cory, Gretchen, or Gavin wouldn’t have been in hiding Saturday.  Joe shouldn’t have been, either.

Sadly, deep down in my gut, I feel 2024 slipping away. It’s our fault if it does. / RL


Kelles, Webb Push New Fracking Ban

Kelles: Extend the fracking ban to cover CO2

(Feb. 3): We in Enfield will always lay claim to fighting fracking first.  Actually, we didn’t; we may have just shouted loudest.

Now Assemblymember Anna Kelles and State Senator Lea Webb have teamed up to sponsor legislation that would halt the gas industry’s newest end-run around existing state prohibitions.  It would ban the use of carbon dioxide as well as water to extract gas from the shale rock.

“Pressurized CO2 transportation and ground injection poses severe health and environmental threats,” Kelles said in an online news conference Friday. “There is no conclusive evidence that injected CO2 will stay in the ground, but we know it will lead to methane leakage already proven to have significant negative health impacts.”

A leak can get so bad, Kelles stated, that excess carbon dioxide stalls the engines of EMS vehicles trying to reach the gas leak.

What’s more, Kelles said, the gas “must be transported through a spiderweb of thousands of miles of pipelines across the country risking pipe corrosion and ruptures.”  She claimed a rupture has already happened in Mississippi.

Environmentalists warn that a Texas-based fracking firm is now peddling lease offers in the Southern Tier to extract gas this new way.

It’s too early to predict the bill’s prospects for passage.


Suozzi: Dem’s Latter-day Savior

(Feb. 3):  Here’s why I dislike those political machines that lie beyond the boundaries of Enfield.

You may recall that in 2022 I circulated the designating petitions of Long Island Democrat Tom Suozzi in the race for Governor.  I was maybe the only one in Tompkins County to do so.  Suozzi is a centrist like me.  He finished poorly in the Primary.  New York was too liberal for him.

But now in a special election, voters have the disgraced ex-Congressman George Santos’ seat to fill.  It’s a swing district.  Dems want to win it back.  And so they have nothing but praise these days for their party’s nominee… Tom Suozzi.

“Tom Suozzi has a proven record of fighting for his constituents, fighting to safeguard our suburban way of life… and always advocating for sensible solutions to the real challenges affecting everyday average Americans,” Democratic Party leaders said in a statement as they hand-picked the self-proclaimed moderate for a February 13th Special Election.

Would-be House Speaker Hakeem Jeffries praised Suozzi as a leader with “a proven record of results.”  Dem bosses chased former State Senator Anna Kaplan out.  She abandoned her campaign and endorsed Suozzi.

Come canvass for us; phone bank for us, the state party now pesters me weekly.  Of course, my obvious answer: “Where were you guys when Tom and I needed you?  Like nowhere.” / RL


Cease-Fire Resolution Set

(Feb. 1):  For its third straight meeting, expect throngs to crowd into the Tompkins County Legislature’s chambers February 6th to support Palestinian rights in Gaza.  Only this time, lawmakers may adopt something in response.

Four Democrats, including Ulysses-Enfield’s Anne Koreman, have submitted a Member-Filed Resolution, posted with the meeting’s agenda, that would, among its provisions, ask local legislative endorsement of a “sustainable ceasefire from all sides to stop the ongoing war and violence” in Gaza and the “initiation of an international peace process to negotiate a two-state solution.”

The four members’ initiative comes in response to pleadings from left-of-center activists who’d consumed much of the Legislature’s past two meetings, protesters urging support for an Israel-Hamas cease fire,. Many of those speakers blamed Israel of genocide.

Do not expect Koreman’s Resolution to pass without objection.  Lansing Republican Mike Sigler has criticized those who spoke at past meetings, Sigler blaming Hamas for having launched the terrorist attack and saying Israel holds the right to defend itself.

Though the Resolution attempts even-handedness, its text states that “the only chance for a secure and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians is with a two-state solution.”

County legislators have reportedly received as many as 700 emails on the cease-fire topic. We’re told many of those written comments were pro-Israel.