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Highlights of the June 21, 2022 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

Resolution Condemning Starbucks Closing of College Avenue Store Fails

A resolution brought to the floor by Legislator Veronica Pillar (D-Ithaca), “Calling on Starbucks to Re-Open the College Avenue Store and Stop Union-Busting,” failed 4-10 (Legislators Pillar (D-Ithaca), Koreman (D-Ulysses), Granison (D-Ithaca), and Black (D-Ithaca) in support). The resolution cites the recent successful unionization efforts at the local Starbucks locations and an “identified pattern of union-busting by Starbucks management…” and the corporation’s “June 4th decision to close the Ithaca Starbucks located on 402 College Ave, despite its location in a high traffic, profitable area and giving workers only one week’s notice.” The resolution would have condemned Starbucks’ tactics, demanded that they sign the Fair Elections Principles [document], and called upon Starbucks to immediately re-open the College Avenue store, allowing all its workers to return to work and stop its anti-union practices.

In remarks bringing the resolution to the floor, Legislator Pillar shared what has been learned speaking to employees and observing the union members’ strike, “the reason the store closed was because the workers went on strike” regarding a grease trap issue that impacted the ability for workers to feel safe and operate in the store. Pillar acknowledged the resolution won’t force Starbucks to do anything, but that it is important to assert that the County’s values are all things “that we’d like to see manifest in organizations in our county.” Legislator Amanda Champion (D-Ithaca) thanked Pillar and reiterated the organization’s values of respect, accountability, equity, and integrity, though shared that she cannot support the resolution because it speaks specifically to (and accuses) a corporate organization which is out of the norm of the Legislature. Champion stated, “I have a lot of compassion for people working at these businesses and that they feel wronged and that the store closed but I don’t think I can support this.”

Legislator Anne Koreman (D-Ulysses) asked Legislators who were on the fence or in opposition to the resolution to consider changes that may make it more agreeable. Koreman spoke about how the County has several unions of employees, and that unions often support other unions, encouraging Legislators to consider supporting the resolution with that in mind, “this would mean a lot to the community.”

Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) decried the resolution, stating “I don’t think it’s wise for a government body to weigh in on [things] like this.” Sigler added, “I think that you are facing a renaissance of unionization in this country… I don’t think what you want is for the government to ‘kind of’ come in and endorse… by making it a worker-driven proposal it has more power than if we as a government come in and say what should happen.”

Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) stated, “My challenge with this is that it is very strong language, accusatory, right or wrong I think it is a bit of a slope we need to be cautious of as a government body demanding of private enterprise certain things,” adding that Tompkins County should continue to be “an employer of example.” Mezey continued by thanking Pillar for raising the topic and local Starbucks employees for coming to speak at the meeting. Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) shared similar concerns and that he would have liked to have heard Starbucks’ side of the argument. Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) shared his personal experiences with union busting and labor law but shared concerns that “this isn’t the right resolution at this time.”

Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) offered a series of amendments softening the language in the resolution, which failed 5-9. In response to statements by other Legislators, Dawson stated, “If there was no role for government in trying to equalize the power balance between labor and ownership we wouldn’t have labor laws, but that’s not reality.”

Pillar responded to several comments, offering that the Cities of Minneapolis, Seattle, and Boston passed resolutions expressing solidarity with unionized Starbucks workers. “I want you all to think about the power imbalance here… that won’t lead to the majority of people being happy and healthy… I think it is entirely appropriate for government to step in and say ‘hey, we need to say that some curbs need to be set when far too much power has gone to a corporation at the expense (of its employees),’ it is a part of our role to look out for those who need looking out for.”

Tompkins County Independent Redistricting Commission Presents

Commission Chair Hank Dullea offered the proposed redistricted Tompkins County Legislature district maps along with a statement on the process and its independent nature. To read the report detailing the process and final maps, visit: Dullea ended his comments reiterating that the commission “believes that it has been a fair and productive process.”

Legislator Deborah Dawson commented on proposed District 4, which is “predominantly if not exclusively Cornell University,” adding her experience with “abysmal” voter turnout in that area. Dawson inquired about what was considered by the commission, to which Dullea responded that they considered this and discussed in statewide groups making similar considerations. Legal direction given to the Commission on this issue was that voter turnout cannot be legitimately considered as an element of redistricting, rather that it is an issue to be considered by Boards of Elections as they plan polling places. Dullea added, “It is up to communities who have substantial student populations think about how most effectively and educationally to engage that population in the political process.”

Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) thanked the Commission and remarked on the Legislature’s giving power away to this group and how this process is enshrined in the County Charter, “this is sharing power with people and the community. There are a couple of items I wish were different, but we have a process, and we go through it.”

Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) thanked the Commission members and remarked on the “tremendous capability” of the community who came together during this process.

The proposed maps will be considered next by the Government Operations Committee, and upon passage by committee, the entire Legislature.

Legislature Adopts TC3 Operational Budget

The Legislature unanimously (14-0) supported Tompkins Cortland Community College’s 2023 Operational Budget. Legislature Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) commented, “I’m happy to report that TC3 is not asking us to increase our allocation to its operating budget beyond the amount from last year.” Dawson added, “It’s sobering and distressing that an institution of higher education needs to spend so much of its time finding ways to make ends meet.”

Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) stated, “We understand how important our community college is and that’s why we support it the way we do. I wish New York State would understand how important community colleges are to our state… We have to help the people who need support in the workforce, TC3 is working on that with a whole bunch of new proposals for programming and curricula.”

Chairwoman Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) thanked President Kremenek and commended Deb Mohlenhoff (Associate Vice President for College Relations) and Bill Talbot (Chief Financial Officer) from TC3 for their efforts during the budget negotiations, “this is like the A-Team, TC3 is very lucky to have the three of you.”

American Rescue Plan Act Funds Authorized for use in Community Recovery Grant Fund

The Legislature voted unanimously to authorize the use of $6.53 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to support the Community Recovery Grant Fund program, rather than to use the previously allocated funds from the County’s fund balance. Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) who chairs the Budget Personnel and Capital Committee explained the need for the resolution and adjusted use of funds, sharing that previously it was determined that ARPA funds would be spent on government operations, with 75% going to capital programs. This was based in part on the U.S. Treasury Department’s proposed rule on reporting the use of funds, which ended up being less stringent than expected. It was also previously thought that fund balance could be used for a fund of this structure, which was a misunderstanding. The Treasury Department’s final rule was issued and made effective earlier this year, after the previous fund structure was decided.

Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes shared that following the passage of this resolution a meeting will be held with the consultant managing the program to prepare to launch and communicate more to the community.

Statements on Reimagining Public Safety

In her Chair’s report, Legislator Black (D-Ithaca) stated, “Today, Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis and I informed the Center for Policing Equity that we are no longer going to be working with their organization on Reimagining Public Safety. We continue to collaborate with the City, and we have built significant capacity since this work began, including the Community Justice Center. We thank CPE for their work and their staff efforts and contributions. I feel very strongly now that we have our feet under us, having a homegrown process for Reimagining will be the best as we move forward.”

Black also commented on the Sheriff’s Office’s unarmed pilot program under Reimagining public safety, stating “I want to commend Sheriff Osborne for the hiring and onboarding of the two unarmed Sheriff’s Clerks who started just last week, Tara Richardson and Sam Pulliam. They will be carrying out the work in the Sheriff's office unarmed pilot program plan, and I’m excited to hear about the program as their work begins.”

Legislator Veronica Pillar (D-Ithaca) who serves as the Legislature’s liaison to the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission read aloud the Commission’s recent statement in support of elements of the City of Ithaca Department of Community Safety plan. The full statement can be found here. Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) noted that the City of Ithaca Police Department receives frequent de-escalation training and commended the department for their efforts on mental health.

Among Other Business

On Tuesday the Tompkins County Health Department reported zero active local COVID-19 hospitalizations. Legislature Chairwoman Shawna Black thanked staff for remaining vigilant in case the situation changes.

Legislators Pillar and Koreman (D-Ulysses) thanked outgoing Chief Equity and Diversity Officer Deanna Carrithers for her service to Tompkins County. Pillar commented, hoping Tompkins County can “build further on what you’ve started here, the foundations and shifts in thinking you’ve brought to Tompkins County.” Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes added thanks for Deanna’s work.

Finance Director Rick Snyder presented data on sales tax receipts, showing records for the months of March, April, and May this year. Receipts are ahead of budget, though reflect the increase in cost of goods in addition to increased local economic activity.

A resolution was approved unanimously to continue offering surveillance testing for COVID-19 in partnership with Cayuga Health System, this follows the federal government changing the amount of disaster reimbursement from 100% to 90%, the County will pay the 10% difference.