Highlights of the April 21, 2009 meeting
of the Tompkins County Legislature

Legislature Urges Clarification of State Law on Political Caucusing

The Legislature, by a vote of 12 to 2, urged the New York State Legislature to clarify the New York State Open Meetings Law regarding political caucuses, to better differentiate between political and public matters. (Legislators Tyke Randall and Kathy Luz Herrera. voted no.) The open meetings law was amended in 1985 to exempt such caucuses from provisions of that law. The measure states that, while political caucuses are appropriate to deal with policies and priorities, they should not be used to make decisions on public issues and that the County Legislature firmly believes that public business should be considered and debated in public.

Calling the measure a “feel-good resolution” to justify actions during the Legislature’s leadership dispute at the beginning of this year, Legislator Randall said he has never been comfortable with the matter of caucusing and believes all matters should be discussed in public. Legislator Luz Herrera objected to the resolution, claiming it’s an effort to pretend that everything is right with the current practice of caucusing.

Legislator Jim Dennis said political caucusing carries educational value, since all Legislators do not serve on all committees. Legislator Martha Robertson maintained, “I think we do our business in public, and I am proud of that.”

Contact: Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee, 280-7557; Legislator Tyke Randall, 898-3995.

Legislature Adopts Climate-Smart Communities Pledge

The Legislature formally went on record in support of a ten-point program to combat climate change. By a vote of 10 to 4 (Legislators Frank Proto, Mike Sigler, Mike Hattery and Tyke Randall voted no; Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne was excused), the Legislature adopted the Climate-Smart Communities Pledge documenting county government’s actions to date and its plans for the future to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Four State agencies—the Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the Department of State—are encouraging municipalities to sign on to the pledge. It includes such elements as maintaining an emissions inventory and reduction targets; decreasing energy demand for and encouraging renewable energy for local government operations; utilizing recycling and other climate-smart solid waste practices; promoting climate protection through community land use planning; planning for adaptation to unavoidable climate change; supporting a green innovation economy; informing and inspiring the public; and committing to keep pace as the field of climate protection continues to evolve.

Legislator Proto said he’s troubled by some of the language in the resolution, including what he sees as a hint of possible state financial assistance from supporting the pledge, which he called disingenuous to the public. Both he and Legislator Hattery suggested there are many questions that still need to be answered on the issue of global warming.
Planning, Development and Environmental Quality Committee Chair Pam Mackesey said the agencies are trying to organize all municipalities across the state to work together to address climate change, and while the County is already accomplishing most of this, the action officially adds the County’s support.

Contact: Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560; Pamela Mackesey, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 273-6203; Legislator Frank Proto, 277-4875.

Peter Jackson Recognized as Distinguished Youth

18-year-old Groton high school senior Peter Jackson is this month’s Tompkins County Distinguished Youth, nominated by Groton School Superintendent Dr. Brenda Myers Dr. Myers called Peter multi talented – strong in academics, leadership, arts, athletics, who communicates a sense of hope and understanding and has “an enormous heart.” Peter’s many community activities include teaching middle school students about the adverse effects of peer pressure, producing a workout video for elementary school students, and volunteering regularly to distribute food to needy families in the Groton area. He is recipient of a Hartwick College scholarship which recognizes “students of character.”

The Distinguished Youth Award is cosponsored by A&B Awards and Engraving, Bangs Ambulance Service, Purity Ice Cream and the Cayuga Radio Group.

Contact: Legislature Office, 274-5434.

Among other actions, the Legislature

§ Awarded more than $200,000 in tourism program grants under four separate grant programs, funded through Room Occupancy Tax dollars. Actions included approval of a contract with the Community Arts Partnership to support the Tourism Program’s ongoing arts and cultural organization development program. Legislators amended recommendations of the Strategic Tourism Planning Board, restoring $2,000 in Community Celebrations funding for rededication of monuments in Ithaca’s DeWitt Park

§ Adjusted payments to City of Ithaca agencies which receive sales tax proceeds under the Municipal Sales Tax Agreement, appropriating just over $65,000 in contingency funding to the agencies to reflect a 6.9% increase in sales tax collections over the budgeted amount for 2008.

§ Authorized an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration and an initial payment of more than $140,000 to the agency for costs associated with relocation of one of the airport’s localizer arrays, as part of the Airport Improvement Project. With nearly all the expense to be reimbursed by the FAA, local cost will be just over $3,500.

§ Approved $2,800 in support for sponsorship of the Diversity Consortium of Tompkins County’s biannual Community Roundtable Event, to take place May 7. The vote was 10-4, with Legislators Proto, Sigler, Randall and Hattery voting no, and Legislator McBean-Clairborne excused. Legislator Proto questioned financial support of the event in this time of budget constraints.

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