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Highlights of the June 7, 2022 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

A proclamation was read recognizing LGBTQ+ Pride Month in Tompkins County. The proclamation celebrated “the equal dignity of all Tompkins County citizens,” and instructed all County flagpoles to fly the Pride/Rainbow flag during the month of June. Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) stated, “We have a lot of work [to do] toward equality and progress. I’d encourage people to have an open heart and mind, be willing to learn and listen, and ask tough questions – it’s okay to ask questions, it’s okay to not understand, it’s okay to give support and gain understanding. We should do that the next 11 months out of the year as well.” Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) shared her experience understanding the diversity of LGBTQ representation and flags, including flags celebrating those who are bisexual, transgender, pansexual, and the “progress flag” with arrows representing transgender and Brown and Black individuals as well as forward progress toward inclusion. Luca Maurer, Director of the Ithaca College LGBTQ Center and Interim Executive Director of Student Equity and Belonging accepted the proclamation and highlighted the guided tour available to showcase LGBTQ local history.

A proclamation was read celebrating Juneteenth and detailing a week of Juneteenth events, “to tell that story of Juneteenth by recognizing the past and honoring our future through presentations, Black owned business exploration, and a historical tour.” Juneteenth will be observed as a paid holiday for Tompkins County employees on Monday, June 20th. For more information on the Juneteenth week activities, visit:

Director of the Office of Human Rights, Dr. Ken Clarke accepted the proclamation and stated, “In honor of the historic and current struggle for the full human and civil rights of African Americans I accept this proclamation. Juneteenth provides such a prism into the wider American story.”

Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne and Community Justice Center Project Director Monalita Smiley joined the meeting to share updates on Reimagining Public Safety. Smiley shared an update that the Collaborative is continuing to work through details on the Community Justice Center contract and is resuming work on several plans including the Community Healing Plan. Sheriff Osborne shared a presentation detailing his office’s unarmed pilot program, one of the nearly twenty Reimagining Public Safety plans. This is a three-year pilot program to handle several non-emergency calls for service with unarmed Sheriff’s Clerks. Call types included in the program are car v. deer motor vehicle accidents, traffic issues and complaints, property complaints and lost DMV items such as driver’s licenses, intakes of vacant property check requests, fraud and telephone scams, larceny or thefts with no suspects, and noise complaints. The Sheriff’s Clerks are scheduled to start in mid-June and will be trained over the next month leading up to the launch of the program.

A public hearing was held regarding a local law allowing the County to continue to hold virtual public meetings. The local law passed (13-1, Legislator Henry Granison (D-Ithaca) opposed) and will allow for Legislators to join the meetings remotely only in extraordinary circumstances while a quorum of members must be physically present but will allow for staff and members of the public to join meetings remotely via zoom.

Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) welcomed Tompkins Cortland Community College Dr. Amy Kremenek. Chair of the TC3 Board of Trustees Ray Schlather introduced President Kremenek, who comes to the area from Onondaga Community College and has a background in enrollment, development, and communications. Schlather stated, “The College has a remarkable ability to attract super students, staff, and now super presidents. We’re so pleased to have Dr. Kremenek here at TC3, where we know she will stand tall, long, and with wonderful success.” President Kremenek stated, “When I was considering this phenomenal opportunity there was no question in my mind… I’ve been your neighbor for a long time and long admired the work of this institution.”

A resolution was passed 11-3 (Legislators Mike Sigler (R-Lansing), Randy Brown (R-Newfield), and Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton) opposed) adopting a local law authorizing the Legislature to override the tax cap exceeding the level set by New York State. The local law does not increase taxes or predict tax increases, rather it is a mechanism done to protect the Legislature’s ability to be flexible if necessary. The legislators who voted in opposition to the local law expressed concerns shared by their constituents on rising costs of goods and services due to inflation and other economic circumstances. Legislator Randy Brown (R-Newfield) stated, “I’m hearing from everybody – the stress on them financially, especially people who are in fixed income situations.” Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) who chairs the Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee stated “I appreciate my colleagues’ concerns for constituents, we’re all having a hard time… but I ask you all to remember that the County is kind of in the same position as the taxpayer, in that we have to pay for gas in our vehicles and continue to provide certain services,” adding that most of those services are State-mandated. Dawson added, “I don’t want to raise taxes, I know people are hurting, my first obligation is for the County to deliver the services that we provide… Lisa and staff need to know they have the flexibility if something goes way south between now and November.”

A resolution declaring support for the New York State Draft Climate Action Council Scoping Plan passed 11-3 with Legislators Mike Sigler (R-Lansing), Randy Brown (R-Newfield), and Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton) opposed, with Sigler citing the “unrealistic goals” in the document and a lack of protection for active farmland and little information on nuclear power. The scoping plan would commit New York State to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and “ensure a just and equitable transition that leaves no one behind, and dedicate up to 40 percent of the benefits of clean energy investments to Disadvantaged Communities.” Legislator Anne Koreman (D-Ulysses) defended the plan stating, “I think we need to do something really ambitious because we have a short amount of time to address this crisis. This resolution is to be supportive as the State has gotten a lot of negative comments primarily through millions of dollars spent through the fossil fuel industry… Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but I’m supportive of the State taking this on.” Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) thanked Planning Department staff for distilling the long document for the assessment by Legislators and to inform this resolution. The Climate and Sustainability Advisory Board recently hosted a virtual event detailing to the public how the plan could impact them, the recording is available on the County’s YouTube channel.

Several legislators denounced the recent increased spate of gun violence and mass shootings in the United States. Chairwoman Black (D-Ithaca) recounted her experience recently in Houston watching the television only four hours away as the shooting in Uvalde, Texas unfolded, stating “I sat there thinking of my own three kids that attend public school locally and how they could have just as easily been the target of such a heinous crime. And there is absolutely nothing I could have done to protect them. While I was in Houston, I kept thinking about the accessibility of firearms, the relaxed laws they have, and one thing that both Houston and Tompkins County share – the lack of mental health services and treatment options.” Legislator Randy Brown (R-Newfield) talked about mental health impacts on youth and the failures “that we have witnessed all too often,” suggesting that the Legislature offer more resources to the community’s youth.

Chairwoman Black (D-Ithaca) detailed recent incidents of violence in Ithaca near the Tompkins County Human Services Building, stating “While none of our staff were targeted or injured, it is upsetting to me that two individuals were shot and one individual was stabbed multiple times in the past few weeks. This violence is impacting our employees, community members, local families, and organizations in the area – and it has to stop… As we look at ways to provide a safer environment for our staff – we must balance that with the service we provide our community. We want everyone that walks through our doors whether it is to sign up for temporary assistance or checking into probation – to feel welcome. We want our community to feel safe and retain their dignity when receiving services. While future conversations might be difficult – the common goal for all of us is to provide a safe place for our employees and a welcoming place for our constituents.” County Administrator Lisa Holmes discussed safety plans and ongoing work being done by the County in her updates. Holmes stated, “I also recognize that there are multiple factors converging to make this area a hot spot: issues of poverty, substance abuse, mental health and expectations for law enforcement response all coming to a head in this area, all of which require a more thorough and ongoing response from all of us in the longer term – we’ll need to continue to work with community partners and find new approaches to address these longer term issues. We’ll keep working on these multiple fronts and keep the Legislature updated as we progress.”