Will Tompkins County be the “Votingest” in 2023? Civic Engagement Coalition Presents on Get out the Vote Initiative
Jeff Furman, a local activist and social entrepreneur presented on Rejoice the Vote, an organized effort to encourage civic engagement through voting. Furman portrayed a trophy that will go to the County in New York State that gets the highest percentage of its eligible voters to the polls in 2024. Furman challenged Legislators to help by encouraging voting in their districts. A copy of the materials presented by Furman can be found online here.
A proclamation was also read during the meeting “Celebrating Democracy Day,” which spoke to the need for a more informed and active electorate as well as highlighting the Voting Rights Act. August 6th of each year will be “Democracy Day in Tompkins County.” Furman accepted the proclamation.
Director of the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights, Ken Clarke spoke in support of the civic engagement efforts and his perspective on voting and the Voting Rights Act, stating:
The Voting Rights Act and the legislation it inspired expanded democracy. Civic engagement expands democracy. Vincent Harding, historian, activist and mystic, friend of Dorothy Cotton and Dr. King, said democracy either expands or it dies. We live in a time in which American democracy is under attack, and not for the first time. Black and brown voters have been targeted for voter suppression since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act 10 years ago. What better counter-narrative to communicate, what better message to convey—that we in this County have decided not to bury democracy but celebrate it. Not to hang our heads in despair but find hope in struggle to expand it.
In addition to these efforts, the Tompkins County Board of Elections is running an “I Voted” sticker contest for Tompkins County youth.
Legislature Passes Resolution Supporting State Raise the Wage Act
A resolution in support of New York State's Raise the Wage Act (New York State Senate 1978A/ New York State Assembly 2204A) passed 8-6 (Legislators John (D-Ithaca), Lane (D-Dryden), Mezey (D-Dryden), Shurtleff (R-Groton), Sigler (R-Lansing), Brown (R-Newfield) opposed). The act would increase the minimum wage upstate to $16.00/hour in 2024, $18.00/hour in 2025, and $20.00/hour in 2026, with further increases indexed to the cost of living. The resolution states that “increasing the upstate minimum wage to $20/hour in stages over four years and then indexing it to the cost of living is a powerful way to improve the lives of millions of working families and achieve greater racial and gender equity.”
Legislator Anne Koreman (D-Ulysses) spoke in support of the resolution and cited that in the newly published Community Health Assessment many of the issues raised had to do with affordability; of healthcare, housing, food, and childcare, “We have put a lot of effort into saying that people’s welfare in a just and equitable way is important to us…” speaking about the potential positive impact of higher wages.
Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) said that he finds it tough to support this resolution, “I did not vote for this in committee, it’s not that I’m opposed to raising the wage, I just want more time to have a discussion” and to explore further what the impacts might be. Mezey also spoke about how the County should make things like childcare and food more affordable but “what can we do to make our state more affordable.” Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) also said that having more time to explore the “complicated issue” would be helpful.
Legislator Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton) spoke about his experience as a small business owner, stating “There isn’t a day goes by that I’m not talking to other small business owners… and something you may not realize is that most of the owners of these businesses and agricultural operations many months of the year aren’t realizing a livable wage themselves…”
Legislator Veronica Pillar (D-Ithaca) spoke about how raising wages impacts the ability for people to pay their bills and afford to live in their communities. Pillar added that it is “also a racial equity issue, and if you believe in that, we should be second guessing going slow…. 74% of Black workers in Tompkins County were earning less than $16.61 per hour,” far higher than the comparable rate of white workers in the County earning less than that wage.
Several members of the public, including public workers and union members spoke about the Act and the detailed their support. Pete Meyers from the Tompkins County Workers Center spoke in support of the act and detailed the history of local advocacy efforts and activities supporting a living wage.
Second Wind Cottages Proposal Kept in Consideration for Community Recovery Fund
During public comment Executive Director of Second Wind Cottages, David Shapiro spoke about the challenges that the organization is facing and announced that they would be pulling their Community Recovery Fund application from consideration. Shapiro detailed the hard work, dedication, and resiliency that the organization has shown while it constructed the permanent supportive housing units in Newfield for men experiencing homelessness and a new project to house women in Dryden. Legislator Anne Koreman (D-Ulysses) refused to remove her resolution supporting the application from consideration, stating that she believes the organization was going to pull it because they didn’t think it would pass – ultimately Koreman brought the resolution forward to accept the revised application and it passed with a vote of 8-6.
Legislator Randy Brown (R-Newfield) proposed an opposing resolution that would have removed Second Wind Cottages’ application to the Community Recovery Fund, citing the Town of Newfield’s recent moratorium on campsites. The resolution failed 5-9 (Legislators Brown (R-Newfield), Dawson (D-Lansing), Lane (D-Dryden), Shurtleff (R-Groton), and Sigler (R-Lansing) in favor).
Legislator Koreman’s proposed resolution accepts the revised application (12 cottages rather than 18 campsites). She spoke about how the cottages have been a proven method of addressing homelessness for individuals. In response to the question of whether there is even an application, David Shapiro took to the mic and said that their intent was avoiding animosity with the Town of Newfield and expressing that the organization’s board of directors was not interested in continuing to defend itself amidst the mounting criticism of their operations. The resolution accepting the revised application passed 8-6 with Legislators Dawson (D-Lansing), Lane (D-Dryden), Shurtleff (R-Groton), Sigler (R-Lansing), Brown (R-Newfield), and John (D-Ithaca) opposed, meaning that a State Environmental Quality Review would now be done on the project proposed in the revised application. Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) who chairs the Community Recovery Fund Committee shared that if in fact Second Wind reiterates their decision to withdraw the application then the discussion at the committee level will be on reallocating that funding.
Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) spoke about how Second Wind residents are community members that aren’t being treated well in some rhetoric on the issue, and added that he believes that the local governments are here to support people in need and shouldn’t pick who should and shouldn’t have access to housing or services, adding in response to comments on the proposed campsite moratorium in the Town of Newfield, “The idea of changing the rules mid-game, I can’t stand behind.”
Legislator Travis Brooks (D-Ithaca) shared a personal reflection on his experience with redlining and that when he hears, “we don’t want them” he thinks of his family having been discriminated against when purchasing a home because they were Black. Brooks added that when thinking about how a community says “we have enough of them” and changes the rules to keep people out, “that’s a problem.” Legislator Anne Koreman (D-Ulysses) reflected on the history of a recent affordable housing proposal in Trumansburg, which “got smaller” because of the “hoops that Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services had to jump through” during the approval process and how there was more actual public support for the project than showed up during the initial public comments and newspaper articles, which were initially loudly in opposition.
Among Other Business
The Legislature unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Governor and NYS Public Service Commission to deny the energy utility companies rate hike requests and to correct billing problems.
A proclamation was read celebrating Vietnam Veterans Day in Tompkins County, it was accepted by Director of the Veterans Services Department, J.R. Clairborne. Clairborne stated, “Thank you to the Legislature on behalf of our Vietnam Veterans. This is a population where many of those who went to Vietnam did not come home, including 12 of our own residents…” Clairborne added that many veterans continue to pay the price for their service, as do their families.
Chairwoman Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) appointed the Jail Task Force, which will include Legislators Travis Brooks, Mike Lane, Rich John, Greg Mezey, and Veronica Pillar, as well as community members Tony Sidle, and Paula Ioanide. The task force will make recommendations related to the design of a jail facility that accommodates community priorities – more information on the task force’s charge will be shared in future meetings.