This is part III in a series about Mayor Svante Myrick’s first three years in office.
The series is meant to be read in order. Here’s Part I: “Entering 4th year, Mayor Myrick defends ‘complete revolution’ in Ithaca’s government,” and Part II: “Who opposes Mayor Myrick’s ‘transformation’ of Ithaca, and why?”
Meet Andre: TCAT’s Youngest Spokesperson
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Ithaca, N.Y. — Mayor Svante Myrick spoke at length in a wide-ranging interview with the Ithaca Voice shortly before beginning the last year of his first term.
Here are his takes on 4 important issues his administration is working on:
1 — Improving truck safety
It’s been over six months since the Simeon’s crash took the life of a pregnant woman in June. So far, officials have implemented changes to signage, but are still deliberating on the biggest possible fixes.
Our question for the mayor: Are lawmakers moving fast enough on improving truck safety, given history of these accidents in Ithaca?
“This problem happens often enough with tragic enough consequences that we have to act on it. But we have to be careful not to overreact,” Myrick says.
After a tragedy, Myrick said, there’s an urge to build impassable barriers and do everything possible to create the safest possible environment. But, he says, it’s also essential to “slow down (and) take a look at what’s reasonable and what’s practical.”
He noted that 94 percent of trucking trips that pass through Ithaca are either doing so as their final destination or as a stop along the way, making it so “you can’t just ban truck traffic from the streets.”
Then there’s the question of barricades. But, he said: “You look at the kind of barriers you could build: They’d have to be so large they’d first make the Commons and downtown an uncomfortable place to be.”
Another emerging solution is changing traffic patterns. But that, too, may be difficult without unintended consequences, the mayor said.
“So I think it will take time, and I think as long as we are still working … it’s okay that we are taking a rational approach to this and that we’re taking a fact-based approach and that what we do, we do it well,” Myrick said.
2 — Negotiating with Cornell
On the campaign trail, candidate Myrick and his opponents discussed how best to get Cornell to increase its voluntary payment to the city through its “Memorandum of Understanding.”
Myrick argued at the time that he had a more effective strategy than his competitors. Three years in, how successful has he been?
“We’ve made small gains,” he says. “Too small.”
Cornell committed $800,000 to rebuilding Stewart Avenue and $150,000 for the intersection of State Street and Mitchell Street, Myrick said.
“But given how small their annual recurring contribution is and how large they are, and how capable they are of contributing … It’s nowhere near where I think they should be,” Myrick said.
Myrick said he will try to make an honest case to Cornell’s new administration about “where they are failing the community.” He said he is optimistic because Cornell’s incoming President Elizabeth Garrett has a background in government.
“I hope we can make the new administration understand that the state of the roads in Ithaca reflect the state of the university,” Myrick said.
3 — Talking the Ithaca Commons rebuild
Mayor Myrick has faced some criticism for his handling of the Commons construction project, which has had a series of delays and came in a few million dollars over initial budget estimates.
Myrick, however, points to the city’s extensive outside fundraising efforts, noting that about half of the project will be paid for by outside grants. Part of the problem, he says, was overly optimistic assessments of the price and duration of the project as determined at early dates in the process.
“If we had told people it’s going to take 24 months and it’s going to cost $15 million, the city would have been ready for it and it still would have been worth it,” he said.
Asked if the city could have pushed harder for another contractor who could have done the work for cheaper, Myrick said the answer was almost certainly no.
“Projects like this aren’t secrets,” he said. “… We bid this at a time when the construction industry was on the upswing locally … A lot of contractors just had jobs.”
“So could we have waited some number of years and hoped the costs would go down? Maybe, but the rule of thumb is that a project delayed is a cost increased — the longer you wait … construction costs almost always go up.”
Myrick said that he has spent “more time than anyone thinking about what we could have done differently,” but that several major factors — the Simeon’s crash; NYSEG’s delays; and overly optimistic initial estimates — created a bad combination.
“People are disappointed, and rightfully so,” Myrick said. “There are a lot of good excuses, but excuses don’t get the job done.”
4 — Could Ithaca’s community police board be strengthened?
At a recent forum, Mayor Myrick was asked if the city could give its community police board subpoena or other powers to ensure more effective oversight of its police department.
He said that it doesn’t appear it would be legal under NY state law to follow the Seattle model of giving the community police power disciplinary power over police.
“I think I’ve demonstrated that I’m interested in any meaningful reform that will help our police and help our community do their jobs better together,” Myrick said.
“Anything that increases accountability, anything that lets people know that they’ll get a fair shake from the police and lets the police know that they’ll be given due process if something alleged against them is good.”
He also spoke highly of the current police board.
“The board is very good. There’s a big diversity of opinions, diversity of backgrounds,” he said. “They certainly don’t coddle the police but they don’t coddle members of the community either.”
Coming soon on IthacaVoice.com, the last of the series: Mayor Myrick calls 2015 ‘the year of asphalt’
From a previous interview: