Highlights of the January 6, 2009 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Koplinka-Loehr Reelected Legislature Chair. Robertson Assumes Vice Chair Role In Disputed Election
Members of the Tompkins County Legislature reelected Democrat Michael Koplinka-Loehr as Chair of the Legislature for 2009, beginning his second year in the chairmanship role.  The position of chair, filled each year by a majority vote of the Legislature's 15 members, is responsible for overseeing all legislative functions.  While the election of Chair was completed quickly- with Koplinka-Loehr winning support of the Legislature's 11 Democrats to Republican Frank Proto's support by its four Republicans, the determination that Democrat Martha Robertson will serve as vice-chair came only after multiple split votes and nearly two hours of debate, with the ultimate result declared through a Chair's ruling.

An initial vote for Vice Chair supported Democrat Leslyn McBean-Clairborne by eight votes (the Legislature's four Republicans plus Democrats Kathy Luz Herrera, Greg Stevenson, McBean-Clairborne, and Chair Koplinka-Loehr.)  Robertson received seven votes in that ballot (Democrats Will Burbank, Jim Dennis, Nathan Shinagawa, Carol Chock, Pam Mackesey and Dooley Kiefer, as well as Robertson.)  Some confusion prior to that vote had initially suggested an 8-8 split (greater than the number of legislators), since Chair Koplinka-Loehr had inadvertently voted twice.  

Legislator Kiefer then called for reconsideration of the vote for Chair.  After a recess to permit party caucuses, Chair Koplinka-Loehr called for a revote for Vice Chair to clarify the confusion.  In that ballot, Legislator Robertson garnered eight votes to McBean-Clairborne's seven, with Chair Koplinka-Loehr changing his vote.  While the Chair apologized for the confusion, there was much debate about the validity of the revote.  Republicans maintained that there was no confusion over the vote, that McBean-Clairborne was selected and had accepted and that, by County Charter, it was too late to reconsider.  And they argued that the call for a recount was improper, since it followed a motion to reconsider the Chair's election, not Vice Chair.

Chair Koplinka-Loehr ruled that Robertson was chosen by eight votes, followed by more debate about whether the Chair's ruling could be appealed as in normal practice, in the case of an election.  Several Legislators expressed concern about the pain involved in coming to the decision, affecting the two fine candidates who were competing for the leadership position.  Robertson characterized the leadership decision as a fundamental democratic process, and said that a majority of the Democratic caucus had asked her and Koplinka-Loehr to serve as a new type of leadership team.  Legislator Hattery said Republicans do not approach this as a political matter, but as an important issue for the Legislature, with legislative rules that must be followed.

Ultimately, Chair Koplinka-Loehr confirmed his ruling that the election of Robertson as Vice Chair is the final and valid vote, and there was no move to appeal the Chair's ruling, which would have had to occur the night of the meeting.  Republican Proto said he would instead seek counsel at the State level.

2009 Legislative committee appointments are expected at the Legislature's next meeting January 20.
Contact:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature 274-5434 or 257-2329; Martha Robertson, Vice Chair, 272-0584; Legislator Frank Proto, 277-4875.

Legislators Hear Presentation on Proposed Cooperative Program to Address Affordable Housing
Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx briefed Legislators on a proposed new partnership, involving Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca and Cornell University, aimed at helping to achieve the goal of creating about 4,000 new affordable housing units in Tompkins County over the next decade, as part of the County's Housing Strategy.   In two weeks, Legislators will vote on a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the parties on this initiative.  The agreement would put into place a Community Housing Affordability Program, which would provide low-interest loans for up-front development costs, and a Community Housing Trust Program, which would make available financial assistance to permit the separation of housing and land costs, to help keep housing affordable.

Under the initiative, Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca over the next six years would each appropriate a total of $600,000, which would be matched by $1.2 million from Cornell University, to be used for affordable housing funding awards to be made over the next six years, which would support $400,000 per year in grant awards or loans.  The County's contribution comes from federal Housing and Urban Development funds which have been loaned and repaid by borrowers under the County's Home Ownership program.  No County  tax dollars will be used to support this program.
Contact:  Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx or Planner Jeanne Leccese, 274-5560.

Legislature Supports Festival Technical Assistance Program
The Legislature, by a vote of 10-5, awarded $20,000 in county Tourism Program dollars to support a pilot project through the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) to provide technical assistance for local festivals.  (Legislators Tyke Randall, Mike Sigler, Greg Stevenson, Mike Hattery and Frank Proto voted no.)  Through the program, the DIA will produce a “how to” manual on special event planning for organizations new to event planning; conduct a series of workshops to help organizations take advantage of grant opportunities through the Strategic Tourism Planning Board; and provide assistance in negotiating bulk services and product contracts aimed at reducing overall event costs.  The Alliance seeks to provide at least 200 hours of assistance to at least ten organizations during this year's pilot period.

The Legislature, by a vote of 13-2, Legislators Proto and Randall voting no) also awarded a $25,000 tourism program grant to the new Finger Lakes Wine Center under the New Tourism Initiatives grant program, which will provide start-up funds to support a temporary director and fundraising position.  It also, without dissent, awarded six tourism program grants.  All tourism grants are funded through Room Occupancy Tax dollars.
Contact:  Martha Robertson, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 272-0584; Jackie Kippola, County Administration, 274-5551.

Legislature Stands By Current Composition of the IDA
By a 5-10 vote, the Legislature failed to approve a recommended change in the composition of the County's Industrial Development Agency (IDA).  Only Legislators Frank Proto, Mike Hattery, Tyke Randall, Mike Sigler and Martha Robertson voted in favor. The IDA board and the Legislature's Planning, Development and Environmental Quality Committee and recommended a change which would reduce the number of County Legislators on the seven-member board from 4 to 3, which would have meant legislators would no longer have a majority.  The proposed change came in response to advice that such a majority was not good business practice for such agencies under the state Public Authorities Accountability Act, but supporters, including Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera, maintained that the current structure remains in the best interest of county taxpayers.
Contact:  Martha Robertson, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 272-0584; Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera, 273-8169.