Two COVID-19 deaths reported at Ithaca nursing home; 39 residents infected
by Robert Lynch, November 28, 2020; updated Nov. 30th, 9:20 AM
Update: In its Daily Data Report, issued Sunday Evening (Nov. 29th), the Tompkins County Health Department added one additional local COVID-19 resident death to its tabulation, bringing total Resident Deaths to four.
The Health Department provided no elaboration as to this additional fatality. A separate news release, issued Sunday, detailing possible COVID-19 exposures at the Ithaca Ale House and on a TCAT Bus (Route 32) failed to reference the newest fatality. / R. Lynch
Tompkins County may be losing its grip on being that envious oasis in New York’s deadly desert of COVID-19.
In the most disappointing local health news since the pandemic began, Tompkins County Health Department officials confirmed Saturday (Nov. 28th) that two residents at the Oak Hill Manor Nursing Home on Ithaca’s South Hill have succumbed to the coronavirus, the Department confirming statistics first released by the New York State Department of Health.
The Saturday announcement also revealed that as many as 39 Oak Hill Manor residents have tested positive for COVID-19, as have 13 staff members.
The local Health Department’s release did not state the precise date of the two fatalities. Neither did the Department disclose the names or ages of the victims. Based on past practice, it is unlikely to do so.
“Our thoughts are with the families of those who passed, and with all of those who are battling the disease,” said Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa. “The spread of COVID-19 at this nursing home shows how quickly the virus is transmitted, and how it can have devastating impacts on older adults and people with pre-existing health concerns.”
Up until Saturday, Tompkins County had reported only one resident death from the coronavirus, an elderly patient who died October 12th. Two other patients, each transported from New York City for treatment when the pandemic raged at its worst downstate, died to Cayuga Medical Center in April.
Though local hospitalizations since the onset of the disease have remained at manageable levels—usually in the low single numbers—they’ve risen in recent weeks, one time reaching as many as a dozen. Friday (Nov. 27th), local hospitalizations were down to just two, with two other patients discharged that day. One day later, Saturday, the COVID-related hospitalizations had tripled, standing at six.
Active Tompkins County COVID cases had stood at 175 Friday. Saturday they’d risen to 188.
“This is an unprecedented spike of cases in Tompkins County,” said Kruppa. He added, “Consistent days of 20 plus new cases puts a strain on our healthcare system and increases the potential for community spread. Our Health Department nurses and County staff are working seven days a week to help stop the spread by identifying and quarantining contacts of positive cases and checking in on those who are in isolation and quarantine.”
Neither state nor local officials have yet responded to the latest deaths or increase in coronavirus cases with additional restrictions on local commerce or other activities. While portions of Chemung County, including Elmira, remain in orange or yellow Micro-Cluster zones, where Governor Cuomo has clamped extra restrictions on businesses, those zones have not yet extended to Tompkins County. The Governor has also placed a portion of Tioga County within the less-invasive yellow zone category.
Schools are closed in orange zones; but left open in yellow ones. The same applies to barber shops, hair salons and gyms. Indoor and outdoor dining rules are restricted in each zone by varying degrees.
The State has placed areas of Onondaga and Monroe Counties, including the cities of Syracuse and Rochester, either within code-yellow or code-orange Micro-Clusters.
Saturday’s report did not indicate whether any other Tompkins County nursing homes, aside from Oak Hill Manor, have been hit by the coronavirus. However, some local assisted living facilities are known to have restricted visitation, and staff working at one of them has described its current status as a “lockdown.”
”The disease is spreading at a rapid pace and we all need to act with renewed caution,” Kruppa said. “We continue to strongly discourage all non-essential gatherings and travel, and encourage mask-wearing, staying six feet apart, and monitoring yourself closely for symptoms.”
Note: read the Tompkins County Health Department release here: https://tompkinscountyny.gov/health/covid19-2020-11-28-oak-hill-and-increase
Amidst zero fanfare, County opens Downtown COVID Sampling Site
by Robert Lynch, November 28, 2020; updated Nov. 28, 2020, 10:45 PM
You’d have expected a snipped ribbon with smiling politicians looking on.
Nope. With only the quietest of rollouts, Tompkins County officials Friday (November 27th) opened a Downtown Ithaca Coronavirus Sampling Site in a vacant former dental office on North Tioga Street, the brick edifice it will someday tear down to make way for a mammoth new office building.
We know only of the sampling site’s existence because of the gumshoe reporting of one local journalist, the Ithaca Voice’s Matt Butler, who reported Thanksgiving Day of the site’s imminent opening, most likely based on a tip leaked to him by the building’s neighbors. https://ithacavoice.com/2020/11/new-covid-19-sampling-center-opening-friday-in-downtown-ithaca/
As Butler reported the story, disclosure of the bare-bones, walk-up center was revealed in “an email from Tompkins County officials to local neighbors of the site.”
A check Saturday (Nov. 28th) of both the Tompkins County website’s Home Page and recent news releases by the County’s Health Department yielded zero information about the downtown site’s opening.
Note: Subsequent to this story’s original posting, in a News Release confirming two local nursing home deaths (see above story), the Health department did confirm the Downtown Sampling Center’s November 27th opening.
For months, Tompkins County legislators, particularly those representing City of Ithaca residents, have pressed County administrators and Health department leaders to establish a downtown sampling location. They’ve insisted that some local residents lack personal transportation to access easily Cayuga Health System’s principal testing site in Lansing’s Shops at Ithaca Mall parking lot. Meeting after meeting, they’ve asked for progress; and meeting after meeting, officials have begged off, saying they needed more time.
As County Administrator Jason Molino warned most recently to the Legislature November 17th, the downtown location—now sited at 412 North Tioga Street—would be smaller than the mall’s, with its visits scheduled by appointment only. Yet according to Butler’s account, downtown sampling will be far more self-serve than administrators had previously suggested.
In downtown, it appears, no nurse will swab your nose, nor even take your sample.
“This sampling site will use saliva-based collection,” writes the journalist, “and those seeking a test will self-collect their samples on-site, in their car, or at their home before dropping the sample off at the collection site.” The County-owned lot next to the building can be used by visitors, he writes.
According to Butler’s article, the only reason for the appointment requirement is “to reduce density in the building.” The article states that the new sampling center will operate from 8 AM to 4 PM, Monday to Friday.
In early 2019, Tompkins County purchased the 1960’s-era Tioga Street Building and its adjacent parking lot as site of a multi-story, multi-Million dollar building to house County offices. For reasons not entirely made clear or public, County Legislators have postponed demolition and reconstruction, their subsequent discussions often shrouded in closed executive sessions. The two-story former dental office has been vacant for more than a year; its governmental use only sporadic.
County officials have long warned that the downtown sampling site will only serve as an adjunct to the Lansing mall’s more elaborate operation. “This testing site is intended to serve individuals who do not have transportation access to the (mall site,)” Butler’s story quotes from the County’s email to neighbors. “Those seeking a test will enter and exit the building in small numbers based on their scheduled appointment time,” the article continues.
On Friday, the day the downtown site opened, the County Health Department reported 175 active local cases of COVID-19, up considerably from months previous. Yet local hospitalizations, once as high as a dozen, have now shrunk to just two, with two other patients having been released just that day. So far, only one local resident has died from the virus.
Final Count: Local Laws fail by more than 4:1 margins
by Robert Lynch, November 19, 2020
“Keep Enfield Elected,” the campaign slogan planted in lawns and stuck into doors this election season was also carried to the polls as final totals show the two ballot propositions that would have excluded the voters from choosing two key Enfield officers fell by landslide proportions.
Completed counting of Absentee Ballots, combined Thursday (Nov. 19th) with earlier-announced same-day and early machine voting, showed “Local Laws One and Two,” which would have, respectively, made the offices of Enfield Town Clerk and Highway Superintendent appointive rather than elected, lost by margins of greater than four-to-one.
The released tallies—unofficial, but unlikely to change— show 1,367 voters (82.3%) opposing making the Town Clerk appointive, while only 294 (17.7%) supported the change.
On the second Local Law, which would have made the same change for Highway Superintendent, slightly fewer voters, 1,348, (81.3%) opposed the transition, but only 310 (18.7%) favored an appointive highway chief.
The Thursday addition of 392 Absentee Ballots to the previously-disclosed Election Night tallies made little change in the overall percentages of defeat. On the statistical margins, however, the totals suggested those who voted in-person were somewhat more opposed to the changes than were those who’d voted by mail.
Moreover, the numbers prove that despite the risks posed by COVID-19 and the relaxed exceptions the State granted for mail-in voting, in-person balloting remains Enfield’s preference. 78 per cent of Enfield’s votes this election year were cast either on Election Day or by early voting. Only 22 per cent voted Absentee.
In late-July, the Enfield Town Board, despite overwhelming opposition at a pair of Public Hearings, voted to place both Local Laws onto November’s ballot. Though some of former Supervisor Beth McGee’s earlier drafts would have abruptly ended both elected positions at mid-term, this coming January, the measures that cleared the Board—yet requiring voter consent—would have made the changes effective when both the Clerk’s and Superintendent’s terms next expire at the end of 2021.
At the time the Board acted, some members argued they only sought to offer Enfield voters a choice. Others maintained, however, that the initiatives reflected ongoing personality clashes between certain Board members and both the incumbent Town Clerk, Ellen Woods; and the Highway Superintendent, Barry (Buddy) Rollins. At the time, critics predicted the referenda would lose by landslides. They did.
In the final weeks before Election Day, several activists in and out of Town politics launched efforts to defeat the proposed laws. Grassroots organizers, as well as Town Clerk Woods, procured yard signs. Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer), through an organization he founded, “Let Democracy Breathe,” printed and distributed hundreds of political cards door-to-door urging a “No” vote.
Perhaps because of the last-minute solicitations, ballots likely cast later in the election cycle reflected a higher degree of voter opposition. For example, on the proposed law to alter the Clerk’s selection, machine totals showed the proposition losing by more than 84 per cent (more than a 5:1 loss); whereas Absentee Ballots, some presumably cast earlier, showed opposition at just under 75% (a 3:1 loss).
The referendum affecting the Highway Superintendent evidenced similar presumed erosion in voter support. However, in neither contest did support for the measures ever approach the opposition to them.
“I’m glad this is over,” said Councilperson Lynch, the only Town Board member to oppose placing the measures onto the ballot. “These never should have been voted on in the first place. Our residents told us they didn’t want the changes. We who govern defied their wishes. Enfield spoke loudly. Now I hope we’ve learned our lesson.”
Enfield stood alone this year as the only Tompkins County’s municipality holding any referenda. That distinction, coupled with the lack of any New York State ballot initiatives, prompted concern by some that local voters would forget to turn their ballots over and consider the two proposed local laws. That fear proved unfounded, as more than 93 per cent of those voting in Enfield this year expressed their preference on each item.
“Good for Enfield Democracy,” remarked Lynch.
Enfield funding fix found to spare fifth highway worker from furlough
by Robert Lynch, November 18, 2020
A budgetary standoff that had pitted Highway Superintendent Barry (Buddy) Rollins and his supporters against a majority of the Enfield Town Board appears headed toward win-win resolution. And the Highway Department worker who’d have lost his job by the Board’s downsizing the Department some 20 per cent will likely remain employed.
At a shorter-than-usual, calmer than customary Town Board meeting Wednesday (Nov. 18th) the Board accepted Rollins’ funding suggestion and adopted a Resolution of Intent to keep the fifth staffer employed past year’s end, doing so by tapping moneys from elsewhere in the Department’s budget.
“It is my professional opinion that losing one Highway Worker next year will cause havoc in the Highway Department, and for the town,” Rollins wrote in an internal email to Board members November 16th. “This is an extremely important and timely decision for our Highway,” Rollins added.
In her tentative 2021 Town Budget, adopted September 30th and left virtually unchanged by the Board, former Supervisor Beth McGee had cut $38,000 from the Highway Department’s personnel services account from the current year’s levels. Combined with fringe benefit reductions, and also by eliminating part-time summer help, McGee had slashed an estimated $70,000 from the Highway personnel line.
“The Town of Enfield’s highway budget is inflated annually to inaccurately reflect the cost of operations and improvements, and accountability for such budgeting and expenditures is never forthcoming,” McGee asserted in her September budget message to justify the cuts.
But with Acting Supervisor Stephanie Redmond, not McGee, now at the helm, Wednesday’s mood struck a more conciliatory tone, with members in search of compromise. Rollins, though not present, had suggested his Department’s fifth staffer be funded by drawing $50,000 from a contractual account used in part for paving supplies. Redmond calculated the needed cost slightly higher, at just over $61,000. When Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer) offered a Resolution expressing intent to transfer the moneys at Redmond’s level, the four-person Board adopted it unanimously.
The Board expects to formalize the transfer with the new fiscal year’s start in January.
Lynch warned the money-shuffling will not come without pain, predicting that with less tar and stone, the Town may be left to repave one less road next year. But that, he cautioned, is the price it must pay for COVID-19, and the financial hardship the pandemic has inflicted upon municipalities.
Earlier this month, Rollins had proposed the Town draw upon General Fund balances, not his Highway Budget, to keep his fifth worker employed. But the Town Board’s majority balked at that first idea, signaling that general funds stood off limits, but highway funds did not.
Without full staffing, Rollins had warned, winter road maintenance would suffer. Crews might delay plowing some roads, particularly in the Town’s northwest corner. The Superintendent had also warned crews would incur more overtime, farm out more repairs to costly mechanics, and suspend annual clean-up days.
In other Board business:
- The Town Board set December 9th for a Public Hearing on a new three-year contract with the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company. Whereas the prior contract had been a year late in adoption and was reached only after protracted delays, the proposed new agreement fell together quickly in a quick trio of meetings between Fire Company personnel and Councilpersons Redmond and Lynch. Under the proposal, Town spending for fire protection would hold the line next year, and then rise annually by two per cent thereafter. The Agreement would also add up to $35,000 annually in Town-funded protective gear to keep volunteer firefighters safe.
- The Board created an Information Technology (IT) Advisory Committee, responding to input from its newest member, Councilperson Michael Miles, an IT staffer at Cornell, named to the Board November 11th. The Committee will, in its authorization’s words, “review the current Town systems and IT infrastructure and make recommendations to upgrade systems and establish IT policies as well as retain competent and dependable IT support for the Town of Enfield.”
Tompkins Legislature backs open-ended tax-the-rich resolution
by Robert Lynch, November 18, 2020
It devolved into a debate over how many Billionaires still live in New York.
In a vote that closely paralleled party affiliation, the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday (Nov. 17th) endorsed a committee’s call to urge Albany adopt legislation—some sort of legislation—that would hike taxes on the super-wealthy so as to better fund social programs hard-hit by the fallout from COVID-19.
The resolution, which carries only the persuasive power of a lobbyist and fails to specify its preference among the wealth-catching levies Albany might impose, drew support from all of the Legislature’s attending Democrats, plus Enfield-Newfield Republican Dave McKenna. Republicans Mike Sigler and Glenn Morey opposed it, Sigler labeling it just a “feel-good thing.” (Legislature Chair Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, feeling ill, had already excused herself.)
“It’s profoundly irresponsible not to take a look at increasing taxes on the people who are doing so well in this economy and who have the most to give,” said the resolution’s key sponsor, Dryden’s Martha Robertson. “I could call it a moral issue.”
Robertson argued her open-ended measure deliberately avoided promoting any one—or several—of the wealth-grabbing plans on Albany lawmakers’ desks. “I think the Legislature can sort through them, make sure we get the right balance, and the fewer unintended consequences, the better,” she argued.
But while co-sponsor Anna Kelles, soon to be Tompkins County’s Assemblyperson, altered the resolution’s committee-adopted title Tuesday, no one sought to correct its deeper flaw, namely its rambling, cliché-cluttered, scattershot scripting, copy that bears the mark of one too many think tank policy papers, or too many late nights binge-watching C-Span or MSNBC.
On the County Legislature’s floor, as earlier in committee, Kelles insisted the potential taxes would only target the 119 Billionaires who allegedly still populate New York. But nowhere does the resolution specify a wealth floor. And nowhere does its meandering language corral the tax collector’s reach.
Indeed, Kelles’ revised title—to “increase taxes on (New York’s) wealthiest residents commensurate with their ability to pay”—could apply to just about anyone Albany’s new Democratic crop chooses to fleece. Nor does the resolution clearly distinguish income taxation (think of your own 1040 with a whole lot more zeroes) from a confiscatory wealth tax of the sort that Elizabeth Warren is hawking.
Rather, the measure’s a-la-carte menu runs the gamut from potentially endorsing marginal tax increases to “stock buyback surcharges” to “pied-a-terre taxes on expensive second homes.” (Let’s hope it’s not your Cayuga Lake cottage.)
Enter Mike Sigler, who opposed the resolution in committee the day after elections, and did so again Tuesday night.
“What we’re talking about is wealth,” observed the Lansing Republican, zeroing-in on Kelles’ and Robertson’s chief complaint, namely that Billionaires have gotten eight-and-a-half per cent richer since the pandemic began.
Of the rich, said Sigler, “Their stock has gone up exponentially. How do you capture that? You actually can’t. It’s an unrealized amount of money. Unless you’re going to confiscate some of that wealth, you’re not going to achieve what you’re planning here. I don’t see this bringing in any more money.”
Sigler disputed Kelles’ tally that 119 New York Billionaires still live here. It’s two years’ outdated, he said. Sigler claimed the number’s down to 92 now, “a 25% hit.” (Ignore the fact he’d nose-counted 76 Billionaires two weeks earlier.) Kelles later stood by her figure.
As for another item on the resolution’s pick-your-poison checklist, a stock transfer tax, Sigler again took aim:
“You’re going to kill a golden goose if you do that,” he said, warning the Stock Exchange could simply jump the Big Apple’s fence for more tax-friendly pastures.
“I don’t know if the stock market would pick up and leave. But frankly, after COVID-19, I imagine they’re looking at it,” said Sigler. NASDAQ, he noted, operates with servers in New Jersey. Computers, he said, don’t care where they live.
The Republican’s critique prompted Robertson’s rebuke. “What’s the alternative? Are you going to cut $16 Billion worth of State services; aid to localities and to schools?”
“You all have heard it now,” concluded Kelles, resolved to the futility of changing Sigler’s mind. “You got the two points of view, and everyone can fall where their conscience tells them.”
The County Legislature’s resolution goes to Albany now. And soon, too, will go Kelles as its newest Assembly member. The Ithaca Democrat just trounced an underwhelming Republican opponent in a ho-hum election. Sigler could have run instead, of course. Had he done so, one suspects the race might have had a pulse.
The Big, Bad (and Bounden) Ithaca Journal
Tompkins legislators bemoan need for an Official Newspaper
by Robert Lynch, November 17, 2020
“I will vote for this and hold my nose.”
Dryden’s Mike Lane was not alone. The Ithaca Journal is an empty shell of the local daily it used to be. Yet, state law still mandates governments publish legal notices in daily newspapers. And in that regard, Gannett’s shrinking tabloid—now printed in Endicott, not on State Street—holds Tompkins County over a barrel with its monopoly status.
So with most noses firmly pinched, and despite three members dissenting on principle, the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday (Nov. 17th) reluctantly accorded the Journal its annual official designation.
(The Town of Enfield accords similar status. Full disclosure: My late mom was a distant relative of newspaperman Frank Gannett. Sadly, just the name, not the money.)
“It’s an incredibly stupid law. It’s archaic, but it’s the law,” said County Attorney Jonathan Wood, conceding the newspaper designation remains must-pass legislation.
But legislators Mike Sigler, Deborah Dawson and Shawna Black balked and refused to bow to Gannett.
“I miss the newspaper,” said Sigler, who sells billboard advertising for a living. “I miss picking it up on Saturday morning and reading it over breakfast. But frankly, there’s nothing in there anymore, and most people have kinda’ figured that out.”
Sigler termed the state’s publication rule “ridiculous,” and suggested Albany update its mandates to match the digital age.
“I guess I’m getting older and more cranky,” added Dawson, who this year for the first time joined Sigler’s perennial dissent on designation. Dawson suggested her group’s state association pressure Albany “to recognize the reality that many places in New York State don’t have a printed daily paper and are much better served by online media.”
“It’s kinda’ good kindling for the fire,” Martha Robertson quipped in describing the Journal’s print edition, the Dryden legislator saying its monthly bill makes her “cringe” and tempts her to almost cancel her subscription. Yet to her, the paper’s online offering is only worse, and she acknowledged many readers still lack Internet access.
“It’s devastating that this is the best of what we have, but it’s what we have,” lamented Robertson. “It’s more democratic—small ‘d’— that it exists than that it doesn’t.”
But Robertson’s Dryden colleague, Mike Lane, offered the most devastating critique to close Tuesday’s debate:
“The problem here is the loss of a local newspaper with local reporting,” Lane observed. “It adds to the fact that we’re more divided because our population does not get both sides in an independent way in the stories anymore.”
“I call it the Ithaca Ad-Wrapper,” Lane concluded, because the Journal’s sole purpose in his view is “getting revenue to the Gannett organization from the Big Box stores.”
In other business:
- County Lawmaker’s approved, without dissent or significant discussion, Tompkins County’s 2021 Budget. Legislators had resolved all budget revisions in a parade of prior meetings over the past two months, and the spending plan cleared a hearing last week without public comment.
- Deputy County Administrator Amie Hendrix conceded that officials have yet to establish a downtown Ithaca COVID-19 sampling site, now nearly a month after they’d first predicted it would be open. Hendrix now predicts the yet-to-be-announced downtown location could be open shortly after Thanksgiving. She said it would be indoors, small, with sampling by appointment
Tompkins lawmakers to weigh Soak-the-Rich Resolution
by Robert Lynch, November 15, 2020
When post-election pundits ponder why President-Elect Biden failed to carry down-ballot coattails, some cite progressive overreach—call it the “AOC-Effect,” named for liberal downstate Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—initiatives to defund police, enact a Green New Deal, and burden the rich with painful new taxes. Progressive bumper sticker slogans, such critics reason, cost Democrats House seats and likely denied them a Senate majority. The slogans stuck even though Biden and Harris worked overtime to rip the socialist stickers off their campaign bus.
Perhaps Tompkins County Democratic lawmakers never got the memo.
Tuesday night, November 17th, the Tompkins County Legislature will consider a committee’s call that the State’s Legislature and Governor back “measures to increase taxes by New York’s wealthiest residents.” The rich must be taxed, the resolution contends, “to support the health and welfare of all New Yorkers preserving essential state services for those who need them the most.”
Higher top-end taxation is a concept even liberal Governor Andrew Cuomo has resisted to date.
On November 4th, the day after the elections, bleary-eyed members of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee hurriedly passed to the full County Legislature a bulky, unfocused, platitude-laden tax-the-rich resolution that failed even to specify which tax or taxes members wanted raised. Still, the rambling script checked all the correct liberal boxes, citing income inequality, hardship to persons of color, left-leaning polling data, the pandemic, and New York’s precarious financial state. It quoted Forbes magazine articles and the Manhattan Institute think tank. Committee members were too tired from the night before to tighten up the copy.
“You know, Cuomo has really been good about asking people to sacrifice, about people doing hard things for the good of everybody,” said committee Chair Martha Robertson earlier in the meeting. “Well, it’s time that the wealthy be asked to do a little bit more, or even a lot more, for the good of the rest of us.”
“This is very specific to the highest earners that are under a couple hundred people in the state,” maintained County Legislator Anna Kelles, now Albany-bound to the State Assembly. She claimed the resolution’s authorship. It won’t, she insisted, affect those earning only $100,000 or $200,000 a year.
Committee Democrats blithely batted away counter-arguments advanced by Cuomo and others that high taxes would prod the wealthy to flee the state, or that a stock transfer tax might chase the New York Stock Exchange from lower Manhattan.
“I just think the argument is ridiculous that a fraction of a penny on a stock transfer means that Wall Street is going to pack up and move to Miami,” asserted Robertson.
These sorts of feel-good, sense-of the-body resolutions often land quietly on the County Legislature’s Consent Agenda, ratified come meeting night with silent dispatch. But this one won’t follow that easy route, thanks to Republican Mike Sigler and his lone committee dissent.
“Let’s say we just confiscate $100 Million from every Billionaire,” Sigler hypothetically suggested. “I don’t know if that even covers our deficit.”
“I feel like we’re just kinda’ going down a rabbit hole on the issue, where we have to look at the structural spending of the State.”
And the Lansing Republican disputed Kelles’ conclusion that wealth flight is fantasy. He quoted Forbes:
“We used to have 120-something Billionaires,” said Sigler. “Now we’re down to 76. It’s not that we haven’t lost any. We just haven’t lost them all. They’re going to go where the money is, and if the money’s not in New York State, then they’re going to go to the state where the money is.”
Have at it, County Legislature. But of course, if Andrew Cuomo doesn’t like your resolution, it’s dead in the water of Albany’s political swamp.
“We understand that the Governor doesn’t get behind anybody else’s parade,” Robertson astutely observed. “He finds out where the parade is going. (Then) he jumps in front.”
I guess that’s leadership, Albany style. Wanna’ try another AOC bumper sticker?
Assembly Election is called; Kelles the winner
by Robert Lynch, November 13, 2020
The Tompkins County Legislature’s loss will soon be the New York Legislature’s gain.
With Cortland County’s counting of Absentee Ballots finished, and the Associated Press and New York Times already calling the race, Fall Creek District County Legislator Anna Kelles Friday afternoon declared victory in her bid to succeed 18-year incumbent Barbara Lifton in the New York State Assembly.
Who says Friday the Thirteenth is an unlucky day?
“I am so honored by the overwhelming support of voters in Cortland and Tompkins Counties,” said Kelles in a prepared written statement. “I am grateful to our election workers for their tireless efforts to run a safe election during this pandemic and I send them my heartfelt thanks and admiration as they finish counting the last of the absentee ballots.”
The candidate’s announcement came one day after the Associated Press called the 125th District Assembly contest for Democrat Kelles, the AP responding to Cortland County’s completed counting of more than 3,000 absentee ballots received from the City of Cortland and the four Cortland County towns that Kelles would represent. The results showed Kelles flipping Cortland County in her favor after machine-counted votes tallied Election Night had shown her Republican/Libertarian opponent, Matthew McIntyre, leading Cortland County.
Tompkins County, where the vast majority of the Assembly District’s constituents—and voters—reside, awarded Democrat Kelles more than 70 per cent of the votes cast either Election Day or in early voting. As of late-Friday, Tompkins County had not yet released its count of absentee votes. Tompkins County Democratic Elections Commissioner Stephen Dewitt predicted Thursday that his Board’s final count would be released sometime next week.
Mirroring the reported national trend, Cortland County’s final count showed Republican-leaning voters disproportionately voting on Election Day, while Democrat Kelles’ supporters favored either early voting or the absentee ballot route.
Whereas Republican McIntyre won the majority from those in Cortland County who voted Election Day (63.6% to Kelles’ 36.4%), Kelles won a landslide among those who voted absentee, 69.9 per cent.
In the Cortland County portion of the 125th District, far more voted on Election Day (47%) than voted absentee (26%). In fact, slightly more voters chose early voting than used the absentee ballot route.
While Kelles’ overall Cortland County victory margin was slim, 52.3% to McIntyre’s 47.7%, a cushion of 545 votes, the expected overwhelming margin for Kelles in heavily-Democratic Tompkins County, her home turf, prompted news organizations to predict her victory even with Tompkins’ absentee ballot totals yet unannounced.
Looking ahead to her future challenges as Assemblymember Lifton’s successor, the 40-something, five-year incumbent County Legislator said, “I will work hard for everyone in our district to meet our needs, especially those that have been highlighted through this pandemic.”
Kelles continued, “I am excited to get to Albany in January and start working alongside my colleagues to make a difference in the lives of all of the people of the 125th District.”
Perhaps as a sign of confidence, or maybe just her choice to let post-election ballot counting proceed at its own pace, the newly-declared victor was actually out of the political spotlight when her election was called and victory declared. “Anna is taking some well-deserved down time this week,” Jennifer Lyons, her campaign spokesperson, said in an email message to volunteers.
The Tompkins County Legislature next meets Tuesday, November 17th, at which time Kelles could make her first post-victory appearance. The Second District County lawmaker has yet to announce when she’ll officially resign her current position, a move which will trigger a special local election.
Michael Miles named to fill Enfield Councilperson Vacancy after straw poll split
by Robert Lynch, November 11, 2020; updated Nov. 12, 2020; 6:47 PM
Michael Miles wasn’t Stephanie Redmond’s first choice. But he was the favorite of the Enfield Town Board’s two other members.
So after a non-binding straw poll of sorts split two-to-one in Miles’ favor, the resignation-crippled Town Board of three voted unanimously Wednesday (Nov. 11th) to name Miles, an Aiken road information technology specialist, to fill the Board’s 14-month vacancy, the seat left open when Mimi Mehaffey resigned as Councilperson October 5th.
Councilpersons Virginia Bryant and Robert Lynch (this writer) made clear prior to the vote that they favored Miles because of his qualifications. Councilperson Redmond, now Enfield’s Acting Supervisor, said she favored the only other candidate, James Ricks, because he is African-American.
“It’s very important for us to walk the walk if we’re going to talk the talk,” Redmond told the Board. “I’m going to cast my vote for James because I do feel that we need to create a Board of inclusion.”
Prior to Wednesday’s vote at a Town Board zoom meeting that stretched three-and-a-half hours, former Supervisor Beth McGee—who resigned as Supervisor September 30th—weighed in as well. “I do like Michael Miles a great deal,” McGee acknowledged. But she made it clear she favored Ricks because of the racial diversity he’d bring to Enfield government.
“I’m literally sick to my stomach right now listening to this white-privilege excuse-making,” McGee said in admonishing her former Board colleagues. “When given an opportunity to use your white privilege to put an end to white supremacy in local town government… you decide to use your white privilege to put another white person in office. I’m stunned and so ashamed for this Board.”
Countering Bryant’s and Lynch’s argument that Miles was simply more qualified, McGee insisted both men were equally qualified in that the law requires only that an applicant be 18 years of age and an Enfield resident. Both men, she reasoned, satisfied the only standards that matter.
Wednesday’s vote ended more than a month with the Enfield Board holding only the bare minimum number of members required to transact business. Should any member have become ill or otherwise unavailable, the Board would have fallen short of the legal quorum.
Miles and the 71-year old Ricks, who describes himself as an “activist,” were the only two people to file expressions of interest with the Enfield Board by its November 4th deadline. Each described his qualifications and expressed his interest to serve at the Town Board’s October 27th meeting. Each did so again Wednesday. Each indicated they’d be comfortable were Board members to choose the other candidate.
Voicing her preference for Miles, Bryant recalled how she’d served with him when he previously held a one-year Councilperson’s appointment in 2016.
Miles service occurred during the contentious Black Oak Wind farm debate. Carrying that recollection to the current moment, Bryant said, “I really feel that Mike would fit in with what we need right now.”
For his part, Lynch, in a prepared statement, said the Board needs the benefit of Miles’ experience.
“We need someone who knows a little bit about Town Government, who can hit the ground running; who need not be instructed about the rules of basic Parliamentary Procedure, Budget schedules, or what it means to sign the monthly vouchers,” Lynch said. He noted that only Bryant has served on the Board for more than a year. Lynch and Redmond joined the Board last January.
As the Rothermich Road resident acknowledged in his prior presentation, Ricks repeated Wednesday that “it will take me a minute to get up to speed,” to master the ways of town government.
Lynch commended Ricks’ honesty at the last meeting for saying, “I figure that if I get the job, I’ll read the pamphlet.”
“But, sadly, there is no “pamphlet,” said Lynch. “The only true pamphlet is experience.”
Meanwhile, Ricks pointed to the diversity he’d bring the Board. “I know who’s going to speak out for the majority point of view,” he stated. “But the non-white person’s point of view; who’s going to speak for them?”
Urging support for Ricks, Ulysses-Enfield County Legislator Anne Koreman—though not a resident of the Town—took the occasion to suggest “privilege” had accorded Miles the opportunities that now provide him his preferential experience, and that “to level the playing field,” Ricks deserves similar opportunities.
Koreman, who knows Ricks, credited him with passion, adding, “It really takes a lot of passion and caring about people and thinking about who else is not sitting at the table. So if you look around the room, who else is not there?”
Several in Wednesday’s virtual meeting, including Redmond, Bryant, and McGee, maintained that the best solution would be the one repeatedly out of reach; namely elevating Redmond to full-fledged Supervisor, thereby opening up Redmond’s vacated council seat for the other man’s appointment. Lynch, whose vote has been required up to now, has resisted Redmond’s elevation, saying voters want to choose the Supervisor, not have the Board do it.
However, one commenter, Michael Boggs, who lives in Ulysses, not Enfield, and serves there as a Town Councilperson, urged Redmond to break with legal advice and vote to elevate herself, a move that would circumvent Lynch’s objection. No one Wednesday attempted to execute Boggs’ idea.
Michael Miles is scheduled to take his oath of office Friday, November 13th. He’ll join in Town Board deliberations at its next meeting, November 18th.
In other business Wednesday:
- Councilpersons Redmond and Lynch revealed that negotiators for the Town and the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company (EVFC) reached tentative agreement Monday on a new, three-year contract that would replace the pact that expires at year’s end. Terms would keep basic compensation to the EVFC unchanged in 2021, but increase it by increments of two per cent (2%) in each of 2022 and 2023. Additionally, the Town would provide the Fire Company sums of $35,000 in 2021 and 2022, and $10,000 in 2023 to purchase fire-protective outerwear for volunteers. The Town Board has already appropriated the “turnout gear” allocation in next year’s Town Budget.
- The Board and Highway Superintendent Barry (Buddy) Rollins could be headed toward a breakthrough compromise in reinstating the highway worker’s job cut controversially in next year’s Town Budget. Rollins Wednesday proposed the Town move $50,000 from General Fund reserves to keep the fifth worker employed. Two members rejected Rollins’ idea, but suggested the possible alternative of tapping similar reserves from the Highway Fund. The Board will revisit the proposal in December.
Note: Board of Elections records confirm that Michael Boggs, who addressed the Enfield Town Board, serves as an elected Ulysses Councilperson. Boggs did not disclose his elected status in his comments before the Enfield Board. This updated story recognizes Boggs’ status./ RL
No-Show five-minute Hearing steers Tompkins County Budget toward adoption
by Robert Lynch; November 10, 2020
Blame, perhaps, post-election exhaustion. Or maybe the fact lawmakers met on zoom. Either excuse sounds better than the more likely reason: public apathy.
The Tompkins County Legislature held a legally-mandated Public Hearing on its 2021 County Budget Tuesday night. It lasted less than five minutes and nobody came—not from the general public, anyway.
In fact, a check of the Legislature’s zoom tiles showed only ten of the group’s 14 members in attendance. Chair Leslyn McBean-Clairborne never called the roll. (Yes, both of Enfield’s legislators, Dave McKenna and Anne Koreman, showed up.)
It’s not like next year’s County Budget matters not. It totals about $190 Million, $52.4 Million of that from local sources. It raises the tax levy 2.21 per cent. The rise would have been twice that number had legislators two weeks ago not played games with sales tax forecasts and tapped fund balances to soften the blow.
And without a doubt, this COVID-moment budget causes pain. Local spending would drop 3.8 per cent. And just as in Enfield, some county employees pay the price. Administrator Jason Molino recommended—and the Legislature accepted—cutting 47 full-time equivalent jobs from the workforce. Purportedly, 18 employees were offered reassignment; either take another place on the payroll, or quit. Others, still, were strong-armed into early retirement.
Yes, it would have made better copy had some of them showed up. But they didn’t.
Yet critics complain Tompkins County spends on what it wants to spend. Plopped into the new budget without dissent in late-October was the newly-created job of Chief Sustainability Officer (formerly titled “Climate Action Coordinator”), a Green New Deal watchperson whose responsibilities remain to be defined. The budget also pulls millions from fund reserves to move ahead with capital projects, including a downtown office complex.
But as the clock ticked away in silence Tuesday—Chair McBean-Clairborne held the mike open for a couple minutes just to be polite—colleagues fidgeted while the Ithaca Town’s Amanda Champion held her Twix bar’s wrapper to the camera as she wolfed down its contents. Boredom reigned.
What does Enfield have that Tompkins County does not? On September 30th, Enfield’s budget hearing drew as many as 15 speakers to the virtual floor. Enfield’s hearing lasted nearly three-quarters of an hour. And despite the Town’s much lower percentage rise in levied taxes, dissenters dared complain. The Board voted. Then afterward, the Supervisor quit. Some difference.
Well, for Tompkins County, there’s still one more step; a final budget vote at the Legislature’s November 17th meeting. Expect ho-hum unanimity.
Breaking the silence Tuesday, legislator Champion offered the five-minute session’s most quotable quote, sort of, asking the Chair, “Can you tell us about cats and kittens and dogs and cows and stuff?”
Your tax dollars—lots of then—well spent, I guess.
Like it or not; consultants brief County legislators on Route 13 Study
by Robert Lynch, November 8, 2020
Traffic roundabouts are like Scotch whiskey or liver and onions. Either you love ‘em, or you wonder aloud why anyone else ever would.
Had you polled the Tompkins County Legislature Thursday (Nov. 5th), you’d have found that the love-hate divide regarding those curious contraptions of traffic circumvolution spans just about the distance between the north and south shoulders of Route 13 at Warren—which, by the way, was also part of the discussion which brought the Legislature’s roundabout debate to a head.
At the urging of Dryden legislator Mike Lane (who, by the way, hates roundabouts), the County had commissioned a $200,000 study of an 8.5 mile stretch of Route 13 from Warren Road on the west to the Dryden village line on the east. Consider it the umbilical cord connecting otherwise “centrally-isolated” Ithaca to the rest of the world. “This is our lifeline in Tompkins County,” Lane told his fellow legislators Thursday. “We don’t have a connection to the Interstate Highway System.” (We’ve noticed.)
Thursday, consultants, the youngest of whom looked like she’d just graduated college, presented to the Legislature the fruits of their research, a 118-page Final Draft Report, the Route 13 Corridor Study. Expect layer upon layer of further review before the State Transportation Department ever actually builds anything. Tallied up, “planning level” improvement costs top $17 Million. And in case you haven’t paid attention, our state is broke.
As described in an early-September online public input session, a webinar I attended, traffic planners suggest as many as three roundabouts, each at congestion- and accident-prone intersections between Warren Road and the old NYSEG headquarters.
“There’s certainly some data out there to suggest (roundabouts) are more efficient and a better design solution,” said Katie Darcy (the youngish one), Community Planner for Barton and Loguidice consultants. But she acknowledged, “Roundabouts can be somewhat contentious to communities.” So, she cautioned, the study offered them only as one within a “suite of recommendations.”
“I’m a big fan of roundabouts. Put a roundabout everywhere,” remarked County Administrator Jason Molino at the close of the 40-minute presentation. “They put a roundabout in Batavia—where Molino last worked—and it eliminated the safety risk. It took a Grade D intersection to an A. It is the way to go.”
Shortly thereafter, in the zoom video meeting, Lane pointed thumbs-down to roundabouts, joined by Legislature Chair Leslyn McBean-Clairborne.
“I’m from New Jersey,” said Lansing’s Mike Sigler, “and I’ll only agree to a roundabout if you actually teach people who has the right-of-way.”
Ulysses-Enfield legislator Anne Koreman claimed there are “roundabouts aplenty” in Albany, which she visits often to see family. “They keep traffic moving,” she conceded. And when traffic’s light, they work well. “But if there’s trucks… the more congested it is, the increasing difficulty, if not impossibility (it is) to see anywhere around that curve.” Koreman maintained the danger escalates if the roundabout is also used by cyclists and pedestrians, worse yet, by someone pushing a baby in a stroller.
As with the September presentation [see the story posted here September 3rd], the Corridor Study report bears the preference for small-ball remedies, rather than wide-eyed resolution. Consultants noticeably downplayed the prospect of so-called “corridor expansion”—planning slang for highway widening from two lanes to four. Consultants quoted a Florida estimate that lane widening could cost $2.5 Million per mile.
And frankly, there’s good evidence corridor expansion is not what the ruling local political class wants. The Portland/Berkeley-esque less-is-more attitude found itself firm political footing Thursday.
“I’m concerned really about the conflict between moving traffic faster and faster and the ‘complete streets’ idea in the other direction,” remarked Dryden legislator Martha Robertson, “ of not trying to slow traffic down, but to keep roads like this on a human scale.”
“I would hate to see us increasing our dependency on cars at this time,” added Ithaca’s Anna Kelles.
Robertson even suggested that an intersection redesign at NYSEG could further her vision to “create a new village” there, something she claims has been “talked about for years,” but which many of us may find totally foreign. (The Village of Valero?)
Another example of the report’s limited imagination is the Warren Road intersection.
Darcy stated that Warren Road is the most dangerous of the Route 13 crossings, its crash rate five times the State average for intersections of its type. But as consultants earlier revealed in September, they’d never considered replacing the traffic light with an overpass, something that was built downhill at Triphammer decades ago.
Route 13 at Warren is “quite a burdensome intersection to cross as a pedestrian,” said Darcy. “I tried it when I was out in the field once, and it was not pleasant, I’ll say that.” Fortunately, our young planner lived to tell the tale.
With two of these public presentations now in the rear-view mirror, one senses that the best perspective on Route 13 improvement can be gained by first taking a step back, broadening foreseeable options and expanding possibilities.
For example, if Route 13 is our best imposter of an expressway, why do we need so many country roads crossing it?
There’s the Sapsucker Woods-Brown Road crossing, that little-used entry to the airport’s back door and to the Ornithology lab. Then there’s Lower Creek Road.
“I frankly have never really understood why that road is there,” Sigler said of the Lower Creek crossing, implying it could simply be blocked off.
“I don’t think we considered that,” Darcy answered Sigler with a smile.
Maybe she should have. For her work, we taxpayers shelled out 200 Grand.
And another thought. Are roundabouts candidates for public referendum?
Miles, Ricks seek appointment to Enfield Town Board
by Robert Lynch, November 8, 2020
With the application deadline having passed, two candidates, Michael Miles and James Ricks, have sought appointment to join the Enfield Town Board to fill the vacant seat last held by Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey, who resigned the Board October 5th.
Under procedures approved by the Town Board in October, the Board’s three continuing members will likely choose between Miles and Ricks to join their ranks at the Board’s Regular Monthly Meeting Wednesday, November 11th.
Because the five-member Board currently has two vacancies and state law requires three members’ affirmative votes to constitute a majority, the Board’s decision must be unanimous.
Michael Miles, of 326 Aiken Road, has served on the Town Board previously, having been appointed to fill out an unexpired term during 2016. Miles declined to seek election that fall to complete the 4-year position. Beth McGee, who had served previously as Councilperson and who voters later elevated to Supervisor, was elected in 2016 as Miles’ replacement.
James Ricks, of 69 Rothermich Road, has not served previously in Enfield government. His first appearance before the Board, at least in recent years, came this October 14th, when he addressed the Board under Privilege of the Floor. Ricks at that time expressed his interest in serving as Councilperson. If chosen, he would become the Town Board’s first African-American representative in recent history.
Both Miles and Ricks addressed the Town Board and expressed their respective qualifications for service during a Special Town Board meeting October 27th, one called primarily to permit all interested applicants for Councilperson to present their qualifications and to express their opinions to the public. In accordance with the Board’s agreed-upon procedures, each also presented the Board a written statement.
The Board set Wednesday, November 4th as the deadline for application submission. It received only Miles’ and Ricks’ applications. Board of Elections records list Ricks as a Democrat, Miles as an Independent.
“When I moved to Enfield in 2004,” said James Ricks to the Board October 27th, “I saw trucks driving around with Confederate flags on them, and a couple of houses on my block had Confederate flags on them,… and I thought that, Man, this is going to be a rough place to live.”
But Ricks continued, saying that what he called his “stereotypical view” changed after the death of Minnesota’s George Floyd earlier this year.
Now, with Black Lives Matter “sweeping the country,” said Ricks, “I notice people on my block are more friendly. They wave to me when they go by…. It made me think that I had views that were not accurate. I was assuming negative things about my neighbors because I did not know my neighbors.”
Ricks told the Board his first interest in Town politics came with the anti-fracking debates of nearly a decade ago. “It made me really aware that this water that I’m pulling up from my well could negatively affect my family,” he said.
James Ricks admitted to the Enfield Board that if appointed, he’d have much to learn.
“I really don’t know that much about the Town, how the Town operates, and where they get their funding from,” he acknowledged. “But I’m committed to making this a better environment for my grandson and for the community.”
“It would be a complete learning experience for me,” the 71-year old, 16-year resident of Enfield told the Board. “I don’t know that much about government. I figure that if I get the job, I’ll read the pamphlet.”
Michael Miles, in his comments to the Board that same October night, stressed unity, independence, and a desire to bridge some of the political divides that have split Enfield politics in recent months.
“I was in numerous meetings in which there were shouting matches back and forth on the Town Board,” said Miles, presumably referring to his earlier Town Board service during the contentious 2016 debates over the now-abandoned Black Oak Wind Farm proposal. “I didn’t think that’s really helpful.”
In today’s Enfield politics, the Aiken Road resident said he’d attempt “to reach out” to Highway Superintendent Barry (Buddy) Rollins and to Town Clerk Ellen Woods “and try to get an understanding from their points of view.”
Miles, a 20-year Enfield resident, is married, has two grown daughters who live out of state, and works in IT at Cornell, working remotely through the pandemic.
“I’d really like to do a deep dive on the budget,” he told the Board, “and see any way we could put out more money or look at ways to increase our tax base without increasing our tax rates.”
“We don’t have big box stores or lakeside homes,” he said of Enfield, noting his town lacks some of the tax base of Tompkins County’s other municipalities. “We can’t move a lake next to us, but maybe there’s something we can do to look at the budget in ways to figure out how to keep it going.”
Enfield’s Town Board meets Wednesday, November 11th via zoom to make its choice. The successful Councilperson candidate will likely be sworn in afterward and stand prepared to vote at the Board’s next meeting. He would serve only through December 2021.
Enfield solar farm; downtown COVID testing site encounter delays
by Robert Lynch; November 5, 2020
I’ll admit upfront that these two stories bear nothing in common, except, perhaps, for the common adage that “Rome (or other things we imagine) wasn’t built in a day.”
But I write two days after the Presidential Election. We’re all tired, and so am I. Consolidation of lesser tasks serves the writer (and the reader) well.
Wednesday night, November 4th, a representative of the firm that plans to build a $27 Million, 20-Megawatt solar farm off Applegate Road informed the Enfield Planning Board he could not meet his earlier-predicted, self-admitted “very ambitious timeline” to present the Board a specific solar farm site plan for that night’s meeting.
Meanwhile, in a totally different forum, namely a conference call with municipal leaders the following morning, Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino acknowledged that his county’s Health Department could not meet its director’s prediction of two weeks earlier that by now the County would have a downtown Ithaca COVID-19 testing site up and running.
The reasons for each delay were the same: Things take time.
First, to the solar farm.
There appear to be two sorts of wetlands. First, there are those officially designated on State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) maps. Then there are those that seem just to be kinda’ wet; a bit soggy, a touch boggy; the kind where after you cross them in less-than-perfect shoes, you need a change of socks.
The east side woods of Norbut Solar’s 250-acre Applegate Road solar farm site would appear to fit the second category. And because of the developer’s recent discovery, tempered by what was termed Wednesday as “precaution and an abundance in foresight,” Norbut plans to shift its large, four-sectioned solar array slightly to the west of where it had earlier envisioned it, thereby necessitating the redrafting of its site plan.
Dan Huntington, Norbut’s Business Development Manager, told the Planning Board he’d likely have revised drawings to submit Board members in two weeks. Huntington now anticipates the Board’s final approvals in January or February, rather than before years end.
DEC rules prohibit commercial development not only within wetlands, but also within a 100-foot buffer zone of those locations. The Norbut soggy spots may not trigger DEC’s prohibitions. But the developer is leaving nothing to chance.
“We’re still working as diligently as possible,” Huntington assured planners. He explained that speedy action could benefit Norbut financially in terms of the compensation it receives under the State’s so-called “Megawatt Incentive.”
Moving the solar array an estimated 70-80 feet to the west should be no problem and the change is unlikely to impact the public. Earlier designs placed the solar panels several hundred feet east of Applegate Road, behind the first hedgerow and beginning nearly to the rear of the field that lies behind it.
Members of both the Enfield Town and Planning Boards have voiced general approval of the Norbut project. If all proceeds smoothly, construction could commence next May.
Two weeks ago, Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa predicted to the Tompkins County Legislature that his department would soon supplement its main Lansing Mall COVID-19 sampling site with a much-requested satellite operation in downtown Ithaca.
“We don’t have it locked down yet with details worked out yet, so we’re not ready to announce it yet. But I’m hoping that before your next meeting, we will have an operating downtown testing site for folks to be able to access,” Kruppa told the Legislature October 20th.
The County Legislature’s next meeting is tonight, Thursday. No downtown site has yet been announced, let alone put into operation.
Give us another two weeks, County Administrator Jason Molino, cautioned municipal officials in his once-in-a-fortnight conference call Thursday morning. “It takes some time to work up some of the logistics,” Molino explained.
County officials have made clear that the downtown site, lobbied for repeatedly by Ithaca City officials, would be an adjunct location only, not the principal sampling spot. Space may be limited and appointments required. “It will not be a drop-in location,” Molino emphasized Thursday.
Meanwhile, public use of the mall testing location remains heavy… and growing. Deputy County Administrator Amie Hendrix told conferees as many as 400 to 500 people use it daily.
From Election Night:
Local Laws fail by landslide amid Enfield Red Wave
by Robert Lynch, November 3, 2020; ; updated Nov. 4, 2020; 1:21 AM
[Also, see more recently-posted companion story below]
Two proposed Local Laws that would have denied Enfield voters the right to elect their Town Clerk and Highway Superintendent went down in flames Tuesday, Election Day, as Enfield’s electorate also showed their preference for President Donald Trump and other candidates on the Republican ticket.
Machine votes cast at Enfield’s same-day election site and also through early voting indicate that the proposal to make the office of Town Clerk appointive, rather than elective, lost 1097 votes to 203. The proposed law to similarly transition the office of Highway Superintendent to appointive lost by a combined early and same day vote margin of 1085 to 210. The margins show that 84.4% of Enfield voters opposed making the Clerk’s post appointive; 83.8% opposed a similar change for the highway chief.
In each case, the margin of defeat would make it nearly impossible to reverse the outcome once absentee ballots are added to those tallied by machine.
Approximately 1070 voters cast ballots in same-day, in-person Enfield balloting. When early votes are added in, the in-person Enfield turnout swells to about 1300.
Enfield winners included Republican Congressman Tom Reed, State Senator Tom O’Mara, and State Assembly candidate Matthew McIntyre. However, while Enfield voters favored the Republican candidates, Tompkins County voters, in total, supported the Democrats.
In the Presidential race, Enfield’s same-day machine tallies gave President Trump 591 votes (57.1%) to Joe Biden’s 444 (42.9%). But with nearly 97 per cent of precincts reporting late Tuesday, Biden led Trump throughout Tompkins County, 69.9 per cent to 27.5 per cent.
In the race for Congress, Republican Tom Reed beat Democrat Tracy Mitrano in Enfield, 571 votes (55.9%) to 451 (44.1%). But within Tompkins County, constituting only a small, Democratic-leaning part of the 23rd Congressional District, Mitrano held the lead, 69.4 per cent to Reed’s 29.3 per cent.
In the 58th District State Senate race, Incumbent Republican Tom O’Mara bested challenger Leslie Danks Burke in Enfield, 571 votes (56.1%) to 447 (43.9%). But for that portion of Tompkins County within the 58th District, Danks Burke led, 78.8 per cent to 21.1 per cent.
Most notably in the race to succeed Barbara Lifton in the New York State Assembly, a disappointment in Enfield for Democrat Anna Kelles was not mirrored county-wide. Legislator Kelles secured a hefty 70.7 per cent of the same-day and early voting machine totals county-wide, outdistancing her little-known Republican/Libertarian opponent, Matthew McIntyre. Nonetheless, in Enfield, Kelles trailed McIntyre, 443 votes (45.0%) to 541 (55.0%) in same-day voting.
Since Tompkins County voters heavily dominate the 128th Assembly District that Kelles would represent, the Tompkins County win effectively seals for the Ithaca lawmaker her victory.
[Other than in the Enfield ballot races, a combination of same-day and early voting totals within Enfield alone was not available at the time this story was updated.]
One cannot avoid drawing the conclusion that aside from the ballot referenda, Donald Trump supporters generally cast straight party-line votes, as did those favoring Biden.
Final tallies of Enfield’s voting must still await the Board of Elections counting of as many as 400 or more absentee ballots which will supplement the machine tallies. A Democratic Party source has reported that as many as 476 absentee ballots have been requested by Enfield residents, with at least 335 of those absentee forms already returned. If postmarked by Election Day, the absentee ballots can be processed if received through the mail by November 10th.
The two proposed Local Laws which this year generated the most Enfield controversy—and comprised the only local contest exclusive to Enfield—began in April when former Supervisor Beth McGee proposed the initiatives of ending the long-held practice of subjecting the offices of Town Clerk and Highway Superintendent to biennial election. Instead, she would have the Town Board appoint those officials.
Sprung upon some Town Board members by surprise, McGee persuaded a majority of the Town Board to advance her measures to a July Public Hearing and eventually to the General Election referendum.
“These proposals are offered based on requests from residents over the last two years, as well as Town Board discussions last year, and comments by candidates during the last elections,” McGee said at the time, seeking to justify her April submission.
Initially, the Supervisor had suggested alternative options, one of which would have cut short the Clerk’s and Highway Superintendent’s current two-year terms at their mid-point, ending them this December 31st. However, McGee later withdrew her more radical alternatives and settled on the choice eventually submitted to the voters; a plan that would replace the elected offices with appointive positions beginning in January 2022.
McGee had also suggested—then withdrew without explanation—a companion measure that would have extended Supervisor’s terms from two years to four. The current, but now vacant, position of Enfield Supervisor next goes before the voters in November 2021.
At a Public Hearing July 22nd, the proposed elimination of the two elective offices faced a stiff public headwind, with at least 15 Enfield residents urging the Town Board not to change the nature of the offices. Moreover, all but one of the hearing’s participants advised the Board not even to place the proposed changes on the ballot.
Nevertheless, the Board’s majority voted three-to-one (with one member excused) to place the twin local laws onto the November ballot. Only Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer) opposed advancing the initiatives, Lynch indicating that the people had spoken and that each of the proposed laws should be deep-sixed.
Board members at the time drew decidedly different conclusions from the hearing testimony:
“I feel the residents have clearly said they want a choice. So here’s your choice,” argued Councilperson Stephanie Redmond, now Acting Supervisor.
“I’ve heard resoundingly almost to a person that they want the choice. They want to choose. They want to be able to have their voices heard,” said Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey, who resigned the Board in October, having never indicated how she’d vote in November.
“I wonder if you heard the same hearing that I heard tonight,” Lynch countered. “Public Hearings have a purpose. And the purpose tonight was for people to say they don’t want the change. So why bother?”
Lynch said that in light of the Board’s action, ignoring public sentiment, “a cynical public is going to say that these Public Hearings were farces.” He also forecast that the controversy pitting elected versus appointed positions could “tear this town apart.”
Predictably, incumbent Town Clerk Ellen Woods and Highway Superintendent Barry (Buddy) Rollins spoke out against the proposed changes. Woods told the July hearing that in her opinion, the Board’s majority had declared “open season on myself and the Highway Superintendent.” Woods further asserted that the twin measures would be found “unpassable,” as they had earlier when neighboring Ulysses’ voters rejected similar changes.
Following the July decision to place the referenda on the ballot, grass roots efforts sprung up to oppose them. Opponents coined the phrase “Keep Enfield Elected” and printed two versions of yard signs advancing their cause. Meanwhile, Councilperson Lynch formed the Ballot Issue Committee “Let Democracy Breathe,” and loaned the cause his personal funds to generate palm cards and a website that he designed.
In the weeks preceding the election, Lynch, Rollins, Woods and others went door to door distributing their paraphernalia. No comparable electioneering effort was in evidence by supporters of the ballot measures.
And also this:
A Tale of Two (or More) Counties
Local races again make Tompkins a blue oasis in a sea of red
by Robert Lynch, November 4, 2020; updated at 8:27 PM
Tompkins County legislator Anna Kelles will likely be heading to the New York State Assembly thanks to strong support by her home county’s electorate.
But Kelles failed to win the same-day and early vote of those in neighboring Cortland County, a portion of which comprises the balance of the 125th State Assembly District.
Unofficial results posted late Wednesday morning by the New York State Board of Elections—tallies which must be tempered by the fact that they have yet to include the flood of absentee ballots submitted in this year’s elections—place Democrat Kelles ahead District-wide by a wide margin of nearly two-to-one. District-wide, the machine totals award Kelles 24,836 votes (65.2%) to Republican/Libertarian Matthew McIntyre’s 13,284 (34.8%), the percentages ignoring voided ballots and a smattering of write-in choices.
In her home Tompkins County, the Democratic nominee bested McIntyre 2.4-to-one, 20,839 votes (70.8%) to McIntyre’s 8,589 (29.1%). But on McIntyre’s home turf, the more conservative Cortland County, the Republican candidate gained ground, securing an eight-point advantage over Kelles, 54 per cent to Kelles’ 46 per cent (4,695 votes to 3,997).
At mid-afternoon Wednesday, Kelles released a message thanking her campaign volunteers. Stopping short of declaring victory, the Ithaca lawmaker said:
“The election has not been officially called so I am not making a public statement but we are tracking at 60% of the votes in an election year where absentee ballots are leaning heavily blue.”
Yet sensing the likely outcome, Kelles continued: “So, the journey and adventure is just beginning and I promise you that the next 7 weeks I will be digging deep and learning everything I possibly can to hit the ground running!”
McIntyre has not issued any known statement on the election that has been shared on his website or with media outlets.
Any official statement of victory or concession may wait out the counting of absentee ballots, which can legally be received by their respective county’s Board of Elections until November 10th. Absentee ballot counting frequently does not commence until after the mail-in deadline has passed.
Same-day machine totals within the Town of Enfield, their margins similar to those in Cortland County, provided McIntyre the advantage 55 per cent to 45 per cent.
Congress: In other high-profile local races, the blue-red divide between Ithaca-centric Tompkins County and the more Trump-leaning outlying jurisdictions was also evident. For Congress, machine totals showed Democrat Tracy Mitrano again coming up short—for this, the second time—District-wide and in each of the ten other counties in the sprawling 23rd Congressional District.
District-wide, Republican Incumbent Tom Reed garnered a comfortable machine-count lead, 63.0 per cent to 35.8 per cent (160,131 votes to 90,959; a Libertarian candidate, Andrew Kolstee securing the remaining one per cent).
But only in Tompkins County did Mitrano win a majority, and it was a wide one. The former Ithaca Democrat, now a resident of Yates County, earned more than 69 per cent of the Tompkins vote (21,047 ballots) compared to Reed’s mere 29 per cent (8,883).
The closest Mitrano came to Reed in any other county was in that part of Ontario County that includes the City of Geneva. But even there, Mitrano couldn’t top 40 per cent.
Compare Tompkins to the bright-red western rural counties of the 23rd District. In Allegany County, Reed chalked up his widest margin, 75.5 per cent to Mitrano’s 23.3 per cent.
State Senate: The 58th District State Senate race similarly demonstrated the political divide that falls somewhere beyond the Ithaca city line.
The 58th District spans five counties in whole or in part. Republican incumbent Tom O’Mara made a pitiful showing in Tompkins County, earning just 21.1 per cent of the valid, machine-cast same-day or early vote. Democratic challenger Leslie Danks Burke won 78.9 per cent. But that was her best showing anywhere. District-wide, O’Mara took the lead, 61.6 per cent (61,743 votes) to Danks Burke’s 38.4 per cent (38,561).
Indeed, a full 32 per cent of the votes Danks Burke secured in machine-cast balloting she earned from Tompkins County. And while the 58th District includes the City and Town of Ithaca, it doesn’t include some of the county’s other liberal-leaning population centers, Dryden or Lansing.
As of Wednesday morning, when interviewed on radio, Danks Burke had not conceded the race, choosing to wait out the counting of absentee ballots. During an election night interview, Danks Burke told an Elmira TV station (WETM): “This is a neck and neck race. This is going to be very tight. We are not going to see any final outcome this evening. The only thing we’re going to see this evening, are the people who have chosen to vote in person.”
Since release of the unofficial county-wide tallies late Tuesday night, one persistent question has boggled the minds of election officials: What about those two missing districts?
Both Tompkins County’s and the State’s machine results show only 61 of the county’s 63 election districts reporting. Are there uncounted votes somewhere? And if so, where are they?
“I think we got all the votes tallied,” said County Democratic Elections Commissioner Stephen Dewitt Wednesday afternoon. Dewitt believes the same-day and early-vote totals released Election Night are complete, except, of course, for the yet-to-be counted absentees. But Dewitt remains at a loss to explain the district number discrepancy. He suspects it may have arisen because his department consolidated a couple of elections districts earlier this year, in part, to economize on staff in the face of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Dewitt reported as many as 11,700 absentee ballots are already in hand, waiting to be counted. He cautioned the counting will not begin until November 10th, the legal deadline for their mailed receipt. The commissioner predicted counting could take approximately three days to complete.