Highlights of the January 2, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Michael Koplinka-Loehr Elected Legislature Chair
Members of the Tompkins County Legislature elected Michael Koplinka-Loehr (D) as Chair of the Legislature for 2008.  The position of chair, filled each year by a majority vote of the Legislature’s 15 members, is responsible for overseeing all legislative functions. 

Beginning his eleventh year on the Legislature and continuing in his third term, Mr. Koplinka-Loehr has for the past three years chaired the Legislature’s Budget and Capital Committee and, for the three years before that, led the Government Operations Committee.  Prior to his election to the Legislature, Koplinka-Loehr served three years on the Ithaca School Board.  A native Ithacan, he holds a Masters degree in City and Regional Planning (1984) from Cornell University.

Nominating Mr. Koplinka-Loehr for the leadership position, colleague Kathy Luz Herrera praised his more than two decades of involvement in local human services, including past employment with the county’s Department of Social Services  and county Youth Services, as well as positions with the Learning Web, Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, Cornell’s Center for Religious Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP), DeWitt Historical Society and the Village at Ithaca, where he is currently employed part-time.  Luz Herrera said Mr. Koplinka-Loehr is able to bring people and ideas together around what is best for the County, has demonstrated the commitment to balance life, work and family, and will “bring the community together in ways that make all of us stronger.”

Republican Mike Hattery nominated Frank Proto (R), the Legislature’s longest serving member whom he said has “served the County in every imaginable way a county legislator can.”  Koplinka-Loehr received 9 votes for chair, compared to Proto’s 4, the vote splitting along party lines, with Democrats Dooley Kiefer and Nathan Shinagawa absent.

In his address to the Legislature, Chair Koplinka-Loehr thanked his colleagues for the trust they have placed in him and, in particular to Leslyn McBean-Clairborne for two years of excellent service as Vice Chair and to his predecessor, Tim Joseph, for six years of “visionary, incredibly hard working and undaunted public service leadership.”

Reflecting on the state of the County, the new chair cited many successes, both from external and internal perspectives.  “From almost all external perspectives,” he said, “our county and Tompkins County government in particular have achieved exceptional standing” - recent successes including a state-of-the-art emergency communications system, the County’s 20-year capital plan (becoming a statewide model), and the County’s diversity and inclusion efforts over the past several years.  “Almost every department of county government has won praise at statewide conferences of peers for innovation, cost-effectiveness and model partnerships,” he stated.  “From transportation to human services to emergency planning to public safety and health to economic development and tourism promotion, Tompkins County government is looked to as a place where program innovators continually adapt to changing external forces to best meet community needs”  because of the “inspiring” efforts and high standards of service established by county employees and members of the County’s advisory boards and subcommittees. 

Building upon 190 years of County accomplishments, Koplinka-Loehr stated that 2008 “brings challenges and opportunities for significant change” - one of these challenges the selection of a new County Administrator within the next three months.  Steadily increasing fiscal pressures, an overloaded property tax burden and a myriad of other community-wide challenges all contribute to a “complex internal landscape”  as the year begins, with every employee helping to meet those challenges through a “common commitment to learning and improving every day - deeply dedicated to excellence in public service.”

Mr. Koplinka-Loehr advised that “the more we take a longer-term view, the better our decisions will become.”  He said that legislators must consistently look beyond their elected terms to invest resources wisely for the health of the community,  and that everyone - whether leader, manager, or citizen - must balance each others’ perspectives in decision-making and priority setting to achieve the best for the public good.  “Our essential task in our various roles…is to offer our perspective for the good of the whole,” he concluded.  “I look forward to this transition year with excitement, optimism and pride for all that we’ve accomplished and all that I’m confident we become, working together in the year ahead.”
(Mr. Koplinka-Loehr’s complete address is posted online at www.tompkins-co.org.)

Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (D) was reelected to her third year as Vice Chair of the Legislature, also by a party-line vote of 9-4 (with two legislators absent) over Republican Mike Sigler.  Democrat James Dennis also was nominated for vice chair, but respectfully declined the nomination.  Saying she is pleased and honored to serve another year as vice chair, McBean-Clairborne said among her priorities this year will be working with her colleagues to address the issue of poverty in the community.

Contact:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature, 274-5434 or 257-2329; Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Vice Chair of the Legislature, 277-5104.

2008 Committee Assignments Announced
Following his election as Chair of the Legislature, Mike Koplinka-Loehr announced standing committee assignments for 2008.  To allow continuity of multi-year commitments already underway, the Chair said the structure of last year’s standing committees remains essentially the same.  Leadership, however, has changed for four of the Legislature’s seven standing committees, and the former Personnel Committee will be known as the Human Resources Committee.  There are no special committees of the Legislature this year; the Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which previously had been classified as a special committee, now holds advisory committee status.

Nathan Shinagawa succeeds Legislature Chair Koplinka-Loehr as chair of the Budget and Capital Committee, and Frank Proto returns to chair the Health and Human Services Committee, led by Shinagawa in 2007.  Former Legislature Chair Tim Joseph has been tapped to lead the legislature’s Public Safety Committee, while 2007 Public Safety chair Leslyn McBean-Clairborne assumes leadership of the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee.  Continuing in their 2007 leadership positions are Martha Robertson (Planning. Development and Environmental Quality),  Greg Stevenson (Government Operations), and James Dennis (Human Resources).

Standing committee assignments are as follows:

Budget and Capital:  Nathan Shinagawa (Chair), Michael Hattery (Vice Chair), Tim Joseph, Kathy Luz Herrera, James Dennis

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

Planning, Development and Environmental Quality:  Martha Robertson (Chair), Pam Mackesey (Vice Chair), Frank Proto, Carol Chock, Michael Sigler

Facilities and Infrastructure:  Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (Chair), Kathy Luz Herrera (Vice Chair), Duane Tyke Randall, Dooley Kiefer, Pam Mackesey

Public Safety:  Tim Joseph (Chair), James Dennis (Vice Chair), Michael Hattery, Martha Robertson, Greg Stevenson

Health and Human Services:  Frank Proto (Chair), Duane Tyke Randall (Vice Chair), Martha Robertson, Nathan Shinagawa, Carol Chock

Human Resources:  James Dennis (Chair), Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (Vice Chair), Mike Sigler, Dooley Kiefer, Carol Chock
Contact:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature, 274-5434 or 257-2329.

Legislature Hears Consultant’s Presentation on Brown Road Health Department Site
Consultant Kevin Marren, of the firm LaBella Associates, presented to the Legislature the latest conceptual drawings for the planned site for a new headquarters for the Tompkins County Health Department, located at 55 Brown Road in the Village of Lansing.  After hearing Mr. Marren’s report late last month, the Health Department Building Construction Committee, with dissent of one member (Health Department employee Cindy Schulte), advised that, considering construction/renovation, including potential additions, the facility would be adequate to meet the Health Department’s present and future needs.  The consultant’s presentation referenced two potential future expansion options, if they are needed,  one that would modify the building’s entrance with a single-story addition with a large multi-purpose conference room, another that would provide additional office space.

Kathy Luz Herrera and Frank Proto were among legislators who asked for comparable cost figures to be provided, comparing the Brown Road location and new construction, regarding any potential additions to the Brown Road site, compared to new construction.  Legislator Pam Mackesey maintained the talk of possible future additions now just “muddies” consideration of the building, that the Legislature should be looking at the building as is. Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx noted the structure in its present form meets county standards for office space.

The Facilities and Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to consider within the next two weeks the recommended acquisition of the Brown Road  building from Cornell Real Estate, with consideration by the Legislature’s expected January 15th.
Contact: Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560; Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Chair, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, 277-5104.

Among other actions, Legislators

§ Welcomed new Legislator Carol Chock for her initial Legislature meeting. Ms. Chock, who succeeds former legislator Dick Booth, said she is particularly interested in encouraging more citizen participation and involvement, and in preserving the special nature of Tompkins County.

§ After hearing a presentation on the county’s beautification program, honored Chrys Gardener, ending five years as Beautification Coordinator for Tompkins County, with a resolution of appreciation, recognizing her “many significant contributions to preserve and improve the county’s quality of life.”

§ Adopted, by unanimous vote, with Legislator Kiefer absent, a revised administrative policy which clarifies the process by which County policy and procedures are established and existing policy and procedures are modified.