Highlights of the January 2, 2007 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Tim Joseph Reelected Legislature Chair
The Legislature elected Tim Joseph (D) to his sixth year as chair of the Tompkins County Legislature.  The position of chair, filled each year by a majority vote of the Legislature’s 15 members, is responsible for overseeing all legislative functions.  Democrat Nathan Shinagawa, who nominated Joseph, praised him as “a solid and supportive force in the legislature.”  Republican Michael Hattery nominated Frank Proto (R) for the post, citing his long and productive service.  The vote split along party lines, with the eight Democrats in attendance voting for Joseph, the four Republicans voting for Proto.  (Three  Democratic legislators were absent.)

In his address to the Legislature, Joseph spoke of progress, successes and continued challenges.  Completion of the county’s new 800 megahertz communications system this summer, he said, will produce vast improvement in emergency communications and will culminate many years of effort and planning and investment by the county’s taxpayers. With that project nearly completed, work toward another potential project will begin in earnest:  Joseph has appointed a special committee to begin research toward a proposed new headquarters for the Department of Public Health, identified as the top priority in the county’s 20-year capital plan.  The committee is charged with preparing location and design options for review, so that the Legislature can decide how to move the project forward. 

Strides have been made, Joseph noted, in working toward workplace diversity, with the Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Committee now formalized as a county advisory committee; in the area of economic development, with a long-sought Empire Zone designation to support local job creation; and with successful partnerships with organizations including Tompkins County Area Development, the Industrial Development Agency and other partners to help make that happen.  The coming year, he said, will see the county playing an active role in promoting the “availability and affordability of housing in the county.”  Jail crowding and the consequent boarding-out of prisoners also will remain an issue, with many of the entities involved in the criminal justice system continuing to work together through the Criminal Justice Advisory and Alternatives to Incarceration Board to “develop new strategies and plans to both reduce the jail population and make our communities safer.” 

While counties across the state achieved success to win a cap on the local share of Medicaid costs, Joseph cautioned that the issue of unfunded mandates still looms, in the form of large and rapidly growing local costs for education and other services for children with special needs.  “The state requires counties to pay for much of these costs,” he noted, “yet we have no control over what services are provided, by whom, and at what price.  Once more, we see the potential for large property tax increases to pay for an expense that is expanding out of our control.”  Collective political action, he added, will be essential to address this problem.

Joseph praised his fellow municipal officials, who have collaborated this year to address shared issues through the new Tompkins County Council of Governments, and his colleagues on the county legislature, especially the seven new members who joined the Legislature last year.  “Some are moving into new positions of leadership,” he said, “and all have demonstrated their ability to work together and to contribute their thinking, their judgment, and their hard work in service to the public.”   (Complete address posted at www.tompkins-co.org.)

Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (D) was reelected to her second year as Vice Chair, reelected by a party-line vote of 8-4 over Mike Sigler (R).

Joseph Announces Committee Assignments
Following his election as Chair of the Legislature, Tim Joseph announced standing and special committee assignments for 2007.  Leadership has changed for three of the seven standing committees, all of which carry over from 2006.  Greg Stevenson becomes chair of the Government Operations Committee, with former Government Operations chair Kathy Luz-Herrera assuming the leadership position for Facilities and Infrastructure.  Nathan Shinagawa assumes chairmanship of the Health and Human Services Committee, while former Health and Human Services chair Frank Proto now chairs the new special committee to consider options for a proposed new Health Department headquarters.  Continuing in their 2006 leadership positions are Michael Koplinka-Loehr (Budget and Capital), Martha Robertson (Planning and Environmental Quality), Leslyn McBean (Public Safety) and James Dennis (Personnel).

Committee assignments are as follows:

Budget and Capital:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr  (Chair), Dick Booth (Vice Chair), Nathan Shinagawa, Kathy Luz Herrera, Michael Hattery

Government Operations:  Greg Stevenson  (Chair), Michael Hattery (Vice Chair), Pam Mackesey, Mike Sigler, Dooley Kiefer

Health and Human Services:  Nathan Shinagawa (Chair), Mike Sigler (Vice Chair), Frank Proto, Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Martha Robertson

Planning, Development and Environmental Quality:  Martha Robertson (Chair), Pam Mackesey (Vice Chair), Frank Proto, Duane Tyke Randall, James Dennis

Facilities and Infrastructure:  Kathy Luz Herrera (Chair), Dooley Kiefer (Vice Chair), Pam Mackesey, Greg Stevenson, Duane Tyke Randall

Public Safety:  Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (Chair), Dick Booth (Vice Chair), Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Martha Robertson, Michael Hattery

Personnel:  James Dennis (Chair), Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (Vice Chair), Mike Sigler, Greg Stevenson, Dooley Kiefer

Special Committee - Health Department Building:  Frank Proto (Chair), Tim Joseph (Vice Chair), Kathy Luz Herrera, Duane Tyke Randall, James Dennis
Contact:  Tim Joseph, Chair of the Legislature, 274-5434, 277-2519

Paul Hamill Named Poet Laureate 
Legislature Chair Joseph appointed Paul Hamill as Tompkins County Poet Laureate for 2007.  Educated at Boston College and Stanford University, Mr. Hamill taught at Morehouse College, Indiana State University and Temple University and served as an administrator at the College of Charleston, before joining Ithaca College twenty years ago, where he currently serves as Director of Academic Funding and Sponsored Programs.

The new Poet Laureate’s published works include longer poems, multi-page narratives, meditations and monologues.  Published works include three chapbooks – Saint Ariadne, Last Things at Night, and Winter Mind – and a book-length collection of poems, The Year of Blue Snow, and his work has appeared in a number of small magazines and journals.  He served as first board chair of the local Community Arts Partnership.  Mr. Hamill holds special interest in “highlighting the county’s broad poetry scene” and in serving schools and the elderly.
Contact:  Tim Joseph, Chair of the Legislature, 274-5434, 277-2519

In other business, without dissent, the Legislature
  • Awarded a tourism capital grant in the amount of $60,000 to the Sciencenter, from the room occupancy tax fund, for enhancement and upgrade of its outdoor attractions.  The grant was recommended by the county’s Strategic Tourism Planning Board, resulting from a grant review process administered by Tompkins County Area Development.  The allocation is funded entirely through local room occupancy tax dollars.
  • Accepted a New York State Small Cities economic development grant in the amount of $516,000 to support the RPM Ecosystems Growing Operation Project, which will establish a 159-acre nursery in the Town of Dryden, creating 56 full-time permanent jobs.  $500,000 of the grant will be provided to RPM Ecosystems as a low-interest loan; the remainder will go to the Planning Department to support its administrative oversight.
Contact:  Martha Robertson, Planning, Chair, Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 272-0584