Second Wind Funding takes maddening, muddling twists
By Robert Lynch, March 22, 2023
At 9:00, the pizzas arrived. Hungry, debate-weary lawmakers devoured them. But the nourishment did little to make sense of a most confusing, marathon meeting, a session in which those at the mic often chose simply to talk past one another.
In a surprise announcement to the Tompkins County Legislature, one that seemed more certain when light still lit the sky than it did five hours later when the meeting finally adjourned, Second Wind Cottages Tuesday withdrew its recently-revised request for Tompkins County Community Recovery Funds, moneys it would have used to expand its controversial homeless encampment in Newfield.
But a majority of legislators refused to take “no thanks” for an answer. Following extended debate, and after first tossing out legislator Randy Brown’s initiative to defund the project altogether, a split Tompkins County Legislature adopted member Anne Koreman’s competing measure that accepted Second Wind’s amended plans and advanced the project to environmental review.
The pair of conflicting actions left Second Wind in a confusing muddle. Second Wind Executive Director David Shapiro advised the Legislature late in its deliberations that he’d return to his Board of Directors and let them decide whether to rescind their earlier-directed withdrawal.
Nonetheless, two sources close to the controversy each indicate that most likely the organization will hold firm to its intentions and drop the project’s $510,000 request in the interests of instilling harmony with Newfield.
“Relationships matter,” Shapiro told lawmakers as he availed himself of brief floor privileges at the meeting’s start, remarks that concluded with his stunning announcement of the application’s withdrawal.
“Our whole programmatic philosophy is how to be good neighbors,” Shapiro explained. “And I know the Town of Newfield’s position that they don’t support us right now in expanding. And that hurts.”
“But what that tells me,” Shapiro continued, “is that we have some relationship building to do.”
“So we’re going to have to withdraw our application,” the agency’s Director concluded. “And I just want to thank you for considering us.”
Normally, that would be that. Second Wind’s half-million dollar request would drop out, leaving other applicants—most notably the Town of Enfield and its Community Council, rejected in an earlier funding round—an opportunity to tap Community Recovery moneys now up for grabs But not Tuesday. Not for Ulysses-Enfield legislator Anne Koreman, nor for the Democrat-dominated majority behind her. They pressed ahead for Second Wind’s support. And they prevailed.
“I’m not going to take it out,” Koreman insisted, referring to her Resolution to accept Second Wind’s proposed application revisions, even though they suddenly seemed irrelevant in light of Shapiro’s announcement.
Koreman reasoned that Second Wind pulled its application only because it had feared a legislative defeat. “I’m hoping it will pass,” Koreman said. “So I would like to keep my Resolution in.”
And it did pass… just barely. With seven Democrats joining Koreman and all three Republicans in opposition, the Ulysses Democrat’s measure to accept Second Wind’s revised application passed eight votes to six. Legislator Brown’s competing Resolution to defund Second Wind lost five votes to nine. All Republicans supported Brown’s position.
Koreman’s adopted measure overruled an early-March recommendation of the Legislature’s Community Recovery Fund Advisory Committee. The committee would have denied Second Wind’s request to substitute the construction of an additional 12 tiny “cottages” to house homeless men at the Newfield site, building them to replace the 25 “campsite:” shelters first proposed. Second Wind’s plans changed after the Town of Newfield in February imposed a one-year moratorium on new campgrounds in the Town, a move directly targeting the Second Wind initiative and a step that effectively made the agency’s first plans unbuildable during the time frame the Recovery Fund allowed.
But passage of Koreman’s Resolution in no way assures the dozen cottages’ construction, even should the agency’s Board reverse course. The project still needs environmental approval. The Town of Newfield will likely oversee the report’s writing. And Newfield’s review will likely be brutal, given the lopsided opposition expressed by Second Wind’s neighbors.
Three and a half-hours into Tuesday’s meeting and better than an hour into the Second Wind debate, Dryden’s Mike Lane had had enough.
“How long are we going to go on tonight, folks?” Lane interrupted. “You have three-quarters of the agenda that we haven’t even gotten to.” Fortunately for Lane, the final vote on Koreman’s Resolution came four minutes later, after members first rejected another lawmaker’s effort to toss the Koreman resolution back to committee.
The Second Wind discussion felt longer-winded than it actually was. That was due largely to a second item that legislators tackled Tuesday. It addressed state-proposed Living Wage laws, an issue that packed the visitors’ gallery and drew the number of public comments to more than two dozen. (See separate story soon to be posted.) Because of the meeting’s near record-setting length, the Legislature took the unusual step of throwing some agenda items overboard, including the County Administrator’s otherwise-newsworthy update on the potential building of a downtown Center of Government.
But where, exactly, does Second Wind’s withdrawn application now stand? In the heat of Tuesday’s debate, Budget Chair Deborah Dawson sought an answer.
“Is there an application or is there not an application?” Dawson asked Second Wind’s Shapiro. “Because if there is not an application, we are wasting our time.”
Still sitting in the gallery, Shapiro answered as definitively as he could.
“I was asked to come here and deliver a message that we don’t want to be in a posture where we’re defending ourselves and the work we do with our guys where we’re further stigmatizing the guys that live with us,” Shapiro answered. “And we don’t want to have animosity with the Town,” he continued, the Director signaling that for those reasons his governing Board had asked him to withdraw the application.
But then, Shapiro continued. “What I’m hearing tonight would make me want to go back and talk to them (the Board). I can’t tell you what they’re going to say, ‘cause they told me to come to withdraw the application, and that’s what I came here to do today.”
“I believe David and I are on the same page,” Newfield Supervisor Michael Allinger later stated, Newfield’s chief executive welcoming further dialogue with Second Wind, yet mystified by the County’s continued insistence on Community Recovery funding.
“I am amazed that the Legislature is pushing forward with this when this is something that David has stated that they don’t want to have happen to them,” Allinger told lawmakers. “Newfield certainly doesn’t want the animosity of the Legislature or ill will toward Second Wind,” the Supervisor continued. “They are a part of our community. They’ve been a part of our community for 13 years. And I expect they’ll continue to be a part of our community, and hopefully a more integrated part of the community, and one that the people who live in our community will come to understand and have time to make their own decisions about how to move forward with this. I don’t know how I can put it any other way.”
Newfield’s continued objection to Second Wind’s expansion took fire Tuesday on a couple of fronts. Ithaca legislator Travis Brooks compared the town’s stance to the redlining that he, a Black man, experienced in his youth. But it was Dryden’s Greg Mezey who leveled the strongest criticism.
“This is a painful conversation,” Mezey said, responding when Brown suggested that should Second Wind’s cottage expansion replace its campground concept, Newfield might just enact another moratorium to block it.
“People live there. These are people’s homes,” Mezey said of Second Wind’s present and future residents. “We’re trying to create more homes for more people.” Yet those residents, he asserted, “are being sort of talked about and traded around like a commodity in conversation.” Mezey labeled Newfield’s campground moratorium a “targeted, malicious approach.”
“That’s painful for me to listen to,” the Dryden legislator stated, “because that says that our local government, who is supposed to be there for the people, by the people, is taking a targeted approach to kick something out of their community, to make sure people don’t have homes. Like, find a way.”
“Right now, right here, this is our chance to do something,” Mezey concluded. And if the Legislature votes Second Wind down, “then we should just take the unhoused conversation off the table because we really are just failing to do anything at all.”
Caution found support from some corners at Tuesday’s meeting, and not just from hometown legislator Brown and his Republican colleagues.
“I heard Dave Shapiro loud and clear,” Legislature Chair Shawna Black said as she attempted to steer debate toward acceptance of Second Wind’s reluctance. “It sounds like they don’t want to pursue this, and I want to be respectful of that.”
Those comments aside, Black still voted in favor of Koreman’s supportive motion and against Brown’s efforts to defund.
Budget Chair Dawson took the strongest stand in Newfield’s defense.
“If Second Wind and the Town of Newfield came up with a proposal that they both found agreeable, I wouldn’t have any problem with that,” Dawson said. “But I firmly believe that Newfield, like any other municipality, has a right to make a decision about what it wants within its community.”
“And I don’t feel we as a county should violate the comity we owe a constituent municipality by forcing something on them that they don’t want,” the Lansing Democrat added. Dawson voted in support of Brown’s motion, and against Koreman’s.
With Second Wind’s funding standing for the moment very much in a “no man’s land,” the next chapter, if not written by Second Wind’s own Board of Directors, may play out at the Community Recovery Fund Advisory Committee’s next meeting April third.
“If we hear from Second Wind that they are continuing to withdraw their application, then the topic for that day will be reallocation of that money,” Advisory committee chair Dan Klein told a meeting whose members found themselves all too weary to consider the Recovery Fund for even one more minute. But if Second Wind changes its mind, Klein surmised, “we probably don’t have a meeting.” as there’d be nothing to discuss April third.
And if Second Wind does, indeed, bow out, Randy Brown is prepared to pounce. Brown has identified the $206,000 application by the Enfield Community Council and a pair of lower-priced Town of Enfield funding requests as prime candidates to soak up some of the $510,000 in Recovery Funds that Second Wind would likely shed. But his efforts may not prove a slam-dunk.
“I want to be very clear that if that is what happens, and there’s $510,000, it’s not going to automatically go to Enfield and Newfield,” the Town of Ithaca’s Amanda Champion cautioned. “It’s going to go to the best applications.”
Champion pointed to the comment of one speaker, namely this Enfield Councilperson, who’d earlier promoted those two towns’ eligibility, given that Enfield had been shut out the first time around. Oh, to be sure, in some circles, the funding battle stands far from finished.