January 2024 Reporting Archives

News Briefs:

New Year; New Term

(Jan. 1):  Thank-you, Enfield.  This day, shortly after 10 AM, Town Clerk Mary Cornell graciously took time from her New Year’s Morning to administer the Oath of Office to me so I may serve these next four years as your Enfield Town Councilperson.

By my oath, I pledged to obey the constitutions of this state and nation and to serve to the best of my ability.  I hold that oath as a solemn honor and responsibility.  But my service to you comes only with your frequent and diligent input and guidance.

Tell me what Enfield needs. Alert me to the problems we need to address.  And yes, correct me when our Town Board might wander astray.

Democracy works only when you participate.  I hope to serve you well through 2027.  Thank-you for the privilege.

Town Supervisor Stephanie Redmond and new Councilperson Melissa Millspaugh were administered their oaths previously.  Our Town Board Organizational Meeting is January 10th. /RL


Taxes Paid; Building Safe

(Jan. 26):  Cortney Bailey admitted it hurt.  But the Enfield Community Council President broke a CD, cut the check, and on December 21st paid Tompkins County more than $20,000 in overdue property taxes to avoid tax foreclosure of the ECC’s Community Center.

At the ECC Board of Directors meeting Thursday, Bailey revealed her organization’s decision to pay what she insists her group shouldn’t have to owe, yet does so due to a 2021 oversight, previously publicized, in which Council representatives failed to file a request for a non-profit tax exemption by the state’s firm deadline.

Had ECC not paid the money by December, Bailey said, Tompkins County would have tacked-on a $15,000 non-refundable fee.

Since last spring, County legislator Randy Brown has attempted to forgive the obligation.  Earlier this month, Brown secured the Enfield Town Board’s unanimous consent to waive its share of the tax—about $5,700—should waiver be possible and should other parties consent.

Bailey acknowledges that the looming tax foreclosure has hung over the agency’s head, affecting its community image and financial dealings.  Bailey told the Board that the ECC will continue to seek reimbursement of the money it paid to the County. / RL


Pledge Pulled Amid Muddle

(Jan. 26):  True, Enfield went first.  Our Town Board pulled the Pledge of Allegiance from its regular meeting order in January 2020.  It then backtracked following controversy and made the recitation available upon request.

Ithaca Alderperson Phoebe Brown

Now the Ithaca Common Council has followed suit.  But Wednesday’s (sort-of) decision to drop the Pledge came at a study session in which the deletion couldn’t have been expected—and might have been ignored altogether had a reporter for The Ithaca Voice not covered the meeting.

We’re told Common Council hasn’t recited the Pledge of Allegiance for years.  But a new crop of lawmakers now wants to make the rejection official.

No one defended keeping the Pledge during Wednesday’s debate.  Instead, discussion became a game of politically-correct one-upsmanship.

Some wanted a moment of silence.  Or maybe an “Earth Pledge.” Others suggested a tribute to Native American land rights.  Another member said just drop the whole thing and get on with the meeting.

Stated Alderperson Phoebe Brown regarding a statement endorsing Native entitlements: “I’d rather be giving their land back than saying a pledge of theirs.”  


Special Meeting; Short Notice

(Jan. 30):  It caught us off guard.  In fact, the Town Clerk posted the meeting notice online the morning after the meeting had taken place.

Here’s what happened:  Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners Chair Greg Stevenson says his Board needed to address an urgent insurance issue and it hastily posted notice early Monday (1/29) afternoon to announce a Special Meeting of Commissioners, one that convened less than 90 minutes later.

Stevenson explains, “The meeting was called to address the Workers Compensation and Volunteer Firefighters Benefit Law (VFBL) insurance coverage for district employees, paid and unpaid.  Our fire district counsel advised us to obtain traditional insurance coverage as opposed to participating in a self-insurance pool to provide this coverage.”

The business—arguably routine and non-controversial—could not wait until the next regularly-scheduled meeting February 6th, Stevenson maintained.

Though all this may have surprised some of us who wished they’d been notified sufficiently in advance to attend, the Commissioners’ Chair says their attorney signed off on the procedures used and that the Board satisfied state law.

More can be read on the Fire District’s Facebook Page.


Sigler off and running

Sigler at campaign rollout (courtesy WSKG)

(Jan. 26):  Months ago, we broke the story that Republican Tompkins County legislator Mike Sigler would challenge incumbent Democrat Lea Webb in the Binghamton-to-Ithaca New York State Senate district.  Wednesday night, at a low-budget fundraiser in Endicott, Sigler launched his campaign.

“I’m not known as some kind of firebrand out there. I want things to work. I want good government,” Sigler, quoted by WSKG, told the gathering.

Sigler zeroed-in on Albany’s bureaucracy and his belief that it doesn’t respond to people’s needs.

“But it doesn’t have to be like this,” Sigler argued.  “We can fix this, but we can only fix it together, and we have to start right here. So, let’s get started,”

Sigler, a long-term County legislator from Lansing, faulted Democrat Webb for, in his opinion, failing to listen to district-wide concerns about issues like bail reform and rising crime.


A Barn Built for a Prize

(Jan. 25):  South Hill Elementary School has no insulation in its walls.

One could argue that factoid was the most-memorable take-away from a half-hour presentation Tuesday by a consultant guiding the Ithaca City School District toward construction of a $40 Million new bus garage.

What’s there now; the ICSD Bus Garage

Christ Glaubitz of Tetra Tech consultants— no-doubt, highly paid by us—asked a Board of Education committee about how far they’d like to go in making their new bus garage an energy-saving icon, one that meets even a “Gold Standard” under the “LEED” or “WELL” ratings systems.

Given the choice, our elected leaders prefer to reach high.

“We have a real opportunity to become a model,” School Board President Sean Eversley-Bradwell told the Facilities Committee.  “I’m not shooting for recognition,” Eversley-Bradwell insisted.  But an energy-exemplary facility would be, he said, “a major opportunity… to do something that’s innovative, to do something that is the leader.  It’s a phenomenal opportunity that we have.”

“My bias is toward the Gold side of things,” Committee Chair Jill Tripp stated.

Never did Glaubitz give specifics about how much a Super-Green garage would jack up the project’s cost.  And the closest examples he could give of “LEED-Certified” prototypes were municipal bus garages in Harlem and outside Toronto.

Remember, bus garages have big doors.  They let warm air out and cold air in.  They’re a challenge.  But the bottom-line is this:  If our school board wants its garage to be a standout, don’t expect any part of what exists there now to remain a part of it. / RL


If Not There; Then Where?

Assemblymember Anna Kelles at eco-rally (courtesy Politico)

(Jan. 24):  No doubt, Assemblymember Anna Kelles has smelled the Seneca Meadows Landfill near Waterloo just as I have.  It stinks.  I could not live there.  I’d become ill if I did. I pity those who must suffer 24/7.   It’s the largest landfill of its kind in New York State and reportedly the eighth largest in the nation.

Kelles and others are fighting Seneca Meadows owner’s request to extend the landfill’s life for 15 years beyond its scheduled shutdown next year.  Owners also want to expand it by 47 acres and grow it 70 feet taller.

“We can’t continue to neglect the Finger Lakes,” Kelles tells Politico.

But let’s point some blame here.  Seneca County by and large welcomes Seneca Meadows for the revenue it brings.  The county has, quite plainly, prostituted itself.  And most of the refuse the landfill takes in comes from New York City.  “Out of sight; out of mind” Gotham says—and thinks.

So let’s fault not just dirty Big Business, but also its willing enablers.  If not to Seneca Meadows, then where does this nasty stuff go?

I say, “New York City, keep your own stinky garbage.  It’s not my problem, unless you also make it yours.” / RL


Truck Bonding Scaled Back

(Jan. 23):  No votes were taken.  But the sentiment was clear. 

In an about-face from last fall’s decision by its predecessor board, the newly-elected Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners Tuesday abandoned plans to bond the less-costly of two fire trucks originally slated to be refinanced through bonds, and also agreed to bond the more expensive new truck for no longer than 10 years, not for the two decades that the prior Board had decided and voters had approved.

“It was too long, too much, and doesn’t work,” Fire Commissioners’ Chair Greg Stevenson said of the 20-year bonding idea, earlier favored by last year’s appointed Board on the advice of its then-attorney, since replaced.

Board of Commissioners consensus Tuesday called for the Fire District to scrap plans to bond a 2020 Enfield tanker truck for which only three annual payments remain.  Instead, the tanker’s existing low-interest loan will be paid off yearly.

And as for the pricier pumper engine, all of the four Commissioners attending said they’d limit bonding to ten years’ time,  Three said they’d consider just a seven-year payback.

Enfield voters approved bonding both trucks in a closely-decided referendum last October.  But new lawyer Mark Butler reportedly told Stevenson that the Fire Commissioners don’t have to proceed with bonding both vehicles if they don’t want to.

Commissioners say bonding could be finalized in late-February or early-March.


New Jail; Slow Walk for ’24

Veronica Pillar, Rich John: “Should be; but probably not”

(Jan. 19): In his January 16th “State of the County” address, Tompkins County Legislature Chair Dan Klein said, “In 2023, we paused our efforts towards planning for what comes next with our County jail…. Planning for what comes next with the jail will continue in 2024.”

Maybe not.   As the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee discussed it’s 2024 goals Thursday, member Veronica Pillar asked Chair Rich John, “Is the Public Safety Building renovation discussion going to come this way this year at all?  Or is that further in the future?”

“I think it’s further in the future,” Rich John answered.  “I don’t anticipate it in 2024, even though we probably should be pushing it up.  But financially I think we decided a longer term.”

The second-fiddle status of jail reconstruction—pegged upwards of $40 Million—has been a sore subject with some legislators, those who fear the project’s been shoved aside in favor of building an equally-costly downtown Center of Government.  The office building may be finished by 2028; the Public Safety Building not until 2030 at the soonest.

County Administrator Lisa Holmes, during last fall’s budget meetings, recommended jail schematic designs get delayed until 2025, and that the two projects, to an extent, be sequenced.  Holmes said both projects could happen together, but it would be tricky. / RL


“Flycar” Funding Home Free

(Jan 17):  Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes had “late-breaking news” at the County Legislature’s meeting Tuesday.  And it’s particularly welcome news for municipalities like Enfield who’d once been asked to share in the cost of a Pilot Rapid Medical Response (PRMR) flycar service for this year.

Holmes: “It’s 90% funded.”

Holmes reported that New York State had just awarded the program 90 per cent funding for 2024—that’s $630,000 of the $699,000 projected annual expense—through a Local Government Efficiency Grant.  Legislators applauded.

And yet a second grant application through another state program remains pending.

Actually, Holmes said, Albany made a typo in the form application that Tompkins County filed for the awarded money.  Holmes first thought the program would only pay ten cents on the dollar.  But it’s actually 90.

“We like this math a whole lot better,” Holmes remarked.

Had the state money not come through, some earlier thoughts had proposed local towns pay up to 50 per cent of the medical response service’s cost.  That could still be the case for 2025, when continued Albany subsidies for the PRMR remain in doubt.

Talks between Tompkins County and the towns are expected to proceed on potential cost-sharing for next year.  But the latest news seems to resolve money matters this year. / RL


Town Books A-OK

(Jan. 17):  Fulfilling its legal requirement, the Enfield Town Board Wednesday night invested just over an hour reviewing the Town Clerk/Tax Collector, Town Justice and Supervisor’s financial records at its annual Audit Meeting. 

The meeting marked the first in-person attendance by newly-elected Councilperson Melissa Millspaugh. Court Clerk Angela Champion attended on behalf of Town Justice Heather Knutson-King.  The Town Board concluded the session by accepting all books submitted as “true and correct.”

These Audit Meetings usually prove uneventful.  But at times a few suggestions pop up.  Most notable this year was Court Clerk Champion’s suggestion for better signage and lighting around and leading to the Enfield Courthouse.  She said some people find themselves lost trying to find the place after dark.

Champion also noted that some attorneys have requested a better-defined conference room to enable them to confer privately with clients. The Town Board pledged to work on those requests.


Same Arguments; New Night

Making her point: Mary Anne Grady-Flores

(Jan. 17):  It started with the playing of a “Jewish ritual object” that sounded more like a warning siren. And the pleadings recycled themselves for more than an hour as a score of Palestinian-partial activists begged the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday for a second meeting in a row to adopt a Resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, a measure that wasn’t even on the agenda.

The redundant arguments mirrored those voiced by a similar—often identical—parade of partisans January second.  But what may have proven most memorable this time was Republican legislator Mike Sigler’s remarks after all the supplication had ended.

“So it’s not the idea that a cease-fire is even off the table,” Sigler observed.  “It’s that you have to have two sides to do that dance,” he said, the Lansing legislator urging Hamas, not just Israel, to agree to halt the fighting in Gaza and to release the hostages Hamas holds captive.

“And until the hostages are released,” Sigler stated, “perhaps maybe people should just call this something different:  Hamas needs to surrender.  It needs to give up.”

Of course, those in the gallery didn’t like what they’d just heard.  One or two of them may have laughed.  But there are two sides to this argument.  And Mike Sigler provided the meeting proper balance. / RL


Who’s Up; Who’s Not

Exiting the Budget Chair; legislator Deborah Dawson

(Jan 16):  In a sense, Dryden’s Mike Lane, viewed by some as Dean of the Tompkins County Legislature, was the big winner Tuesday, as recently-elevated Legislature Chair Dan Klein tapped Lane to head the Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee, arguably the Legislature’s most powerful.

When he did, Klein pushed aside the previous Chair, Deborah Dawson of Lansing.  Dawson was not appointed to chair any other committee.

“I just want to thank the committee members and all of the Legislature,” Dawson said as she exited committee leadership, forcing a smile at times, revealing disappointment at others. “It’s been a real privilege to chair this committee for the last three years,” she said, “and despite the privileged nature of that position, I’m happy to turn it over to Mr. Lane.”

By all appearances, Dawson has enjoyed the power that Budget Committee Chair has provided her.  She got to hold the gavel during numerous budget meetings each fall and oversee their agendas.

For Enfield’s representatives, not much changes.  Anne Koreman will continue to chair the Planning, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee; and Randy Brown the Downtown Facilities Special Committee.


Shortcut to Clearing the Site

(Jan. 16):  Randy Brown made it sound simpler than it is.

Without discussion, dissent—or for that matter, any protest by City officials— the Tompkins Country Legislature Tuesday made the so-called “Monroe Balancing Test” its official policy in dealing with the City of Ithaca in County Government’s speedy effort to raze the former Key Bank and Wiggins’ law offices to make way for a new Center of Government.

“Basically it’s saying that the buildings at 300 and 308 North Tioga Street are no longer needed for the current use that they have, and that we can move forward to deconstruct them,” Brown, Chair of the Downtown Facilities Committee, explained to the Legislature.

Actually, it goes much deeper.  The “Monroe Balancing Test,” named after a 1988 Rochester lawsuit, attempts to circumvent a City Code provision that would otherwise subject to Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission review the yet-undrawn plans for the new office building and potentially delay those old buildings’ removal in the DeWitt Park Historic District.

Whether the City of Ithaca challenges with a lawsuit remains to be seen.


Newfield Pot License Sought

(Jan 13):  Made known at the Newfield Town Board’s meeting January 11th, Smiley’s Citgo at 1472 Elmira Road has sought “an adult use retail cannabis dispensary license” from New York State.

Smiley’s would become the first such licensed operation in Newfield, which—like Enfield—voted in late-2021 not to prohibit retail marijuana sales.

A Smiley’s spokesperson confirmed Friday that the license has been sought, but not yet granted.  The convenience store plans retail sales only of cannabis, not on-site consumption.

The New York State Office of Cannabis Management reports that the William Jane Corporation on the Ithaca Commons remains the only shop in Tompkins County licensed to sell adult recreational cannabis.  One unlicensed commercial operation purportedly already exists in Newfield.

Councilperson Heather McCarty, Newfield’s strongest supporter of allowing dispensaries during the 2021 discussions, then equating marijuana to beer, now sees Smiley’s dispensary application as no big deal.

“They sell alcohol there already,” McCarty remarked at Thursday’s meeting.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Supervisor Michael Allinger dryly responded.


Newfield Ratifies Labor Contract

(Jan. 12):  The Newfield Town Board Thursday put labor matters to bed by approving a multi-year pay and benefits contract with the Town’s bargaining unit.

“We were able to reach an agreement that works for both parties,” Supervisor Michael Allinger said at the Board’s yearly organizational meeting.  “We gave a little.  They gave a little.”

Terms of the agreement were not announced at the session.  But the Supervisor later reported that the new contract will provide roughly a $3.00 per hour increase in 2024 and roughly $1.00 per hour raises in each of 2025 and 2026.

Allinger and three Councilpersons joined to give the pact majority support.  Councilperson Christine Seamon abstained for reasons not stated.

Unlike Enfield, where routine organizational Resolutions are voted on individually—and they were just the night before— Newfield’s Board Thursday approved them all in a single batch, members promising that details will be posted on the Town Website.

The Newfield Board, in a customary ritual, also repealed its last year’s decision to override New York’s property tax cap with the levy it imposed.  The 2024 Budget the Newfield Board approved last fall made the override unnecessary.


ARPA: All Tapped Out

That ramp needs work. ARPA will fund it.

(Jan. 11):  The Enfield Town Board Wednesday drew a close to its multi-year task of assigning slices of a nearly $350,000 federal allotment in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds to various Town Projects and community agencies.

Town Bookkeeper Blixy Taetzsch calculated that only about $7,931 of Washington’s money remained unassigned at the start of this year.

First, the Board took note of a $3,000 ARPA promise it had made late last year toward paving a basketball court behind the Enfield Community Center.  Then the Board Wednesday set aside $4,730 from the remaining balance to repair the wooden ramp outside the Enfield Courthouse, a safety concern.

Enfield’s math would leave just $201.20 remaining in the fund, little more than a rounding-error right now.

The Enfield Town Board has expended ARPA moneys over the past two years to replace its Town Hall Roof, contribute toward purchase of a Highway Department generator, acquire protective “turnout gear” for volunteer firefighters, and provide $45,000 each in grants to the Enfield Community Council and the operators of the Enfield Food Pantry.


Make it Five in a Row

(Jan 10):  For this, the fifth straight year, the Enfield Town Board will make reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of its meetings by request only.

When he first came onto the Town Board in 2020, Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer) cast the only objection to an initiative led by then-Councilperson Stephanie Redmond and Supervisor Beth McGee to strip the Pledge from the Board’s regular meeting order.  Wednesday night, in his fourth annual attempt, Lynch sought to reverse that policy as the Enfield Board organized its meetings for the New Year.

Once again—as always—no one seconded Lynch’s motion.  And as always, without fanfare or fuss, the meeting moved on.

As it’s stood for five years now, residents—or Board members, for that matter—can request the Pledge of Allegiance only under privilege-of-the floor.

Take note:  The night before, a few hundred feet away, at the Fire Station, the Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners initiated reciting the Pledge at the start of its meetings.  Thank you, Greg Stevenson.

Maybe it’s appropriate to say, “So near, yet so far away.” / RL


Why Just The Journal?

News-lean; but a money-hungry monopoly

(Jan 10):  The timing was right.  As the Enfield Town Board adopted a long list of its 2024 organizational Resolutions Wednesday, including its designating The Ithaca Journal, by default, as its official newspaper, Board members unanimously approved a Resolution that might someday broaden publication of legal notices to online news outlets as well.

Enfield’s adopted Resolution, submitted by Councilperson Robert Lynch, mirrors a similar measure passed November 21 by the Tompkins County Legislature.  The Legislature did so when it, too, plugged its nose and designated the Journal, despite the fact that the paper seldom covers local news anymore.

“There is growing interest among Enfield Town Board members and Town officers to consider alternative options for official public notice that reach a wider audience,” Enfield’s Resolution stated.

Moreover, it continued, “Enabling the Town of Enfield the opportunity to publish public notices through online outlets would likely save the Town considerable resources and provide the Town Clerk added flexibility in scheduling those notices’ publication.”

Like Tompkins County, Enfield’s Board backed a pair of State Senate and Assembly bills that would amend state law to permit online publication.  Lynch acknowledged those bills have an uphill climb to passage, but argued that grass-roots advocacy by local government might help.


EFD: Butler in; Pinsky out

(Jan 9): At its New Year’s Organizational Meeting, a session that saw it elevate recent Enfield Fire Chief Greg Stevenson to Chairman, the newly-elected Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners Tuesday replaced its legal counsel, severing all ties with Brad Pinsky and appointing instead Mark Butler, up until now attorney for the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company.

The January Organizational Meeting

Pinsky most recently rankled some Enfield residents when he convinced the outgoing Enfield Fire Commissioners that voters could cast only one ballot in December’s Fire District elections even though all five Commissioners were chosen at the time.

Without discussing their reasons for making the switch, Fire Commissioners unanimously designated Butler as counsel, and similarly directed the Secretary to notify Pinsky that “his services are no longer needed.”

Commissioners elevated Greg Stevenson to Chairman unanimously, and similarly reappointed Cortney Bailey as Treasurer and Alexis Comparetta as Secretary.  As recommended by the Fire Company, Commissioners named Jamie Stevens as Enfield’s Fire Chief.

Stevenson rattled through more than 30 items of business at Tuesday’s meeting in less than two hours’ time and never heard a dissent.  The Board took initial steps toward acquiring fire apparatus from the Fire Company and in preparing to bond two fire trucks, as voters had authorized last October.

Commissioners meetings, beginning in February, will move to the first and third Tuesdays of the month. / RL


Rockwell, Porter Hill, You’re Up.

(Jan 6):  Rockwell Road and the adjoining Porter Hill Road, both in southern Enfield, have been designated by Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins for major improvements in 2024.

Rollins specified the entire lengths of each road for upgrade in his so-called “284 Agreement,” named after a section of NY Town Law.  He submitted the document to the Town Board by email Saturday.  Board members’ signatures, usually a formality, would then authorize Rollins to proceed with the work.

State law allows Highway Superintendents broad discretion in deciding which roads to rebuild.  Individual Board members’ signatures provide the Town Board’s primary form of financial oversight.

Rollins estimates the “hot mix” and “oil and stone” treatments to Rockwell and Porter Hill’s each mile-long stretch will cost $200,000 in each instance.  The Superintendent requests an additional $21,000 be set aside for “primary work and general repairs” on roads town-wide.

Though not required, the Enfield Town Board customarily endorses Rollins’ recommendations by a formal vote, likely to take place January 10th. / RL


Take That, City Hall!

(Jan. 6):  At best, it’s bound to sour relations between Tompkins County Government and the City of Ithaca.  At worst, it could prompt a lawsuit.

The Wiggins Law Office Building

The Tompkins County legislative committee charged with planning a $40 Million downtown Center of Government may recommend Tuesday that legislators accept the so-called “Monroe Balancing Test” that would override City of Ithaca concerns over whether the former “Key Bank” and “Wiggins’ Law Office” buildings adjacent to the Courthouse should be removed, and also, ultimately, over what a new, 5-story office building should look like.

Employing the “Monroe Balancing Test”—named after a 1988 Court of Appeals Rochester-centered lawsuit—would likely allow Tompkins County to circumvent City of Ithaca oversight.

“Subjecting the project to review by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Certificate of Appropriateness process may subject the project to revisions and/or conditions that will not be compatible with the goals and objectives of the County in developing the Center of Government and will add significant cost to the desired Center of Government project,” a four-page narrative, filed with the committee’s agenda, argues.

A  companion Resolution before the committee maintains that the two buildings are “not usable,” and keeping them standing “will increase the County’s liability.”

Alterations (or removal) of the County-purchased buildings would normally require Landmarks Preservation Commission review, as they lie within the DeWitt Park Historic District.


New Wrinkle in Redistricting

(Jan 6):  A downstate resignation puts in slightly greater doubt the State Assembly’s ability to gerrymander New York’s Congressional seats in time for this year’s elections.

Assemblymember Latoya Joyner

In a move only a confirmed political geek could catch, the New York Post’s Vaughn Golden (formerly with WSKG) reports Bronx Democrat  Assemblymember Latoya Joyner’s Thursday resignation announcement—effective within days—will leave the New York lower house’s Democratic supermajority a little less “Super;” just 101 members, whereas 100 votes would be needed to provide the two-thirds margin to impose a partisan gerrymander.

Observers speculate that, just as in 2022, a predictable deadlock by the bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission would shove court-mandated Congressional redistricting to the State Senate and Assembly, where the state constitution demands supermajority votes in each house for legislators to draw maps of their own.

Governor Hochul must call a special election to fill Joyner’s seat.  And while Democrats will likely win it, the problem is timing.  The Court of Appeals demands the Redistricting Commission act by the end of February.  Only after then could the Legislature take over.  The Bronx special election probably couldn’t happen that soon.

Without an effective supermajority, Golden says, Democrats would need to draw on Republicans for support, no easy feat. / RL


Klein new Tompkins County Legislature Chair

(Jan 2; updated Jan. 4):  With zero drama, but coming as a surprise to those on the outside looking in, the Tompkins County Legislature changed leadership at its organizational meeting Tuesday.  Legislators unanimously elected Danby’s Dan Klein as its Chair and Ithaca’s Shawna Black as its Vice-Chair.  Black had chaired the Legislature for the past two years.

Saluting Black’s past leadership; Dan Klein

No one at the Legislature discussed why the switch was made.  Shawna Black did not address it, nor did Klein.  It’s likely majority Democrats decided leadership during their closed-door caucus a day or two before the meeting.

“I am honored and humbled and excited to be taking this role, and it’s my intention to live up to your expectations,” Klein said during a brief, 45-second acceptance statement. Klein thanked Black for her past leadership.  The meeting went on.

“I just thank all of you again for trusting me to be part of your leadership team,” Shawna Black said as she accepted with a smile her new, second-place position.  “I look forward to working with you again, Dan.”

Dan Klein is midway through his third term on the County Legislature.  He represents both Danby and Caroline.  Prior to that, Klein served on the Danby Town Board.


Judge Rowley to Retire

(Jan. 4):  One of Tompkins County’s three County Judges confirmed Thursday his plans to retire mid-term.

Judge John Rowley, first elected to the County Court bench in 2001, will retire effective March first, according to The Ithaca Voice.

Rowley’s retirement at age 65 comes even though his ten-year term would continue for another half-decade and though judicial retirement laws would allow him to serve for most of that period.

I’m going to do some law-related work, but I won’t be practicing law anymore,” Rowley told The Voice.  The three-term local judge said he wants to spend time with family and pursue personal interests.

The report indicates Lansing Judge Maura Kennedy-Smith stands interested in succeeding Rowley as County Judge.


Reassessment Schedule Change Dropped

(Jan 4):  Those angering, annual Tompkins County reassessment change notices will likely continue arriving in your mailbox.

Jay Franklin: “Don’t blame me.”

A committee of the Tompkins County Legislature Thursday quietly dropped a proposal that would have transitioned county-wide reassessment from its current annual basis to a triennial cycle, a procedure it tried once before, but with only mixed success, in 2006.

“The annual reassessment is the way to go;” it’s the “gold standard,” County Director of Assessment Jay Franklin told the Government Operations Committee prior to legislator Rich John’s withdrawal of his proposal to change to a three-year revaluation.

The Assessment Department attempted to reassess every property last year.  And because of faced-paced inflation, many homeowner assessments rose considerably.

Franklin complained to the committee that some taxing jurisdictions—the Ithaca City School District was singled out—have used rising assessments to hide their own budget increases; the tax rate may stay the same, yet the tax bill still goes up.  And Franklin admits he’s tired of being the fall-guy.

“You don’t complain to your clerk at Target about your tax increases,” Franklin quipped.