Anna Kelles

ITHACA, N.Y. — Fall Creek homeowner Anna Kelles has announced that she will be running for the spot on the Tompkins County Legislature recently made available by Kathy Luz Herrera’s sudden departure.

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Nate Shinagawa, who resigned from his current seat on the Tompkins County Legislature to move, has also announced that he will compete for the seat.

Here are the 9 questions we asked Kelles in an interview on Friday; click on the one you’re interested in to see her answer, or read the entire story in order.

An interview with Shinagawa will soon follow.

(Did we miss your question? If so, email us at jstein@ithacavoice.com)

1 – Why are you running for the Legislature? What are your priorities? Why should people vote for you?
2 — What kind of advocacy work have you been doing?
3 — More specifically, what would you do to help the businesses in Ithaca through the Green Resource Hub?
4 – It’s interesting that you mention architecture. What do you think of the 11-story building the city wants to build in the downtown Ithaca Trebloc site?
5 — What do you think of tax abatements for developers?
6 — What do you think of jail expansion?
7 — What do you think of the new budget?
8 — What do you think of police body cameras for sheriff’s deputies?
9 — Last silly question… what’s your typical night out in Ithaca?


1 — Why are you running for the Legislature? What are your priorities? Why should people vote for you?

AK: “I grew up in this town and I am passionate about nourishing the growing community dedication to diversity, equality, a vibrant engaged culture, and sustainable development. In my District in particular, we have experienced a lack of response from our representative to supports these values.”  

“Because of my involvement with many local sustainability and social justice advocacy initiatives and my engagement as a Fall Creek homeowner, I feel not only connected closely to the pulse of the neighborhood but I feel that I could be a strong voice for what we want to see as a community in the county legislature.”   

2 — What kind of advocacy work have you been doing?

AK: “Most notably people know me for my work on the Old Tompkins County Library issue.  There was a proposal in front of the county legislature for an adaptive reuse mixed-use development of the building that would have maximized sustainable technologies, minimized loss of greenscape, and offered community space, a healthcare cooperative, and much needed homeowner options on a single lot. I organized the community to voice our desire for this project at legislative meetings through the development of petitions, op eds, and the formation of a neighborhood association. The county chose not to listen to the call from the community but we are still focusing on this initiative with the city.”  

Anna Kelles

“My commitment to advocacy work however started years ago while building the national Center for Nutrition Advocacy to outline existing laws and identify key battle states (including NY) with bills that would restrict the practice of nutrition based on political agendas. During that time I also took over as the Director of the Green Resource Hub, which is a local sustainability non-for-profit, and spent years educating, training, coaching and supporting businesses to adopt a triple bottom line people, planet, and profit practice.”

“I also became involved with We Are Seneca Lake and participated in civil disobedience and protests against the proposed Seneca Lake natural gas storage facility. For several years I was involved with organizing the Food Justice Fair to promote food equity and food justice in the community. For the last five years I have participated in the Women Swimmin’ event to raise money and awareness for Hospicare by swimming across Cayuga Lake.”

3 — More specifically, what have you done to help the businesses in Ithaca through the Green Resource Hub?

AK: “For example, I worked with Cornell and designed a program to train students to coach businesses through a national sustainability certification. After extensive training student teams worked with businesses to identify their goals and review their current practices using a validated assessment tool. This information was used to develop and implement a plan towards people-planet-profit sustainability. Several businesses successfully completed this program including Rasa Spa, Alternatives Federal Credit Union and Greenstar Cooperative Market.”

“As I stated before though, people connect me most closely with the library issue and my commitment to development that creates density while establishing mixed uses so people can live, work and play in the same place and uses architecture that maximizes greenscape and creates walkable neighborhoods.”      

4 — It’s interesting that you mention architecture. What do you think of the 11-story building the city wants to build in the downtown Ithaca Trebloc site?

AK: “We are absolutely short on housing in this town.  It is a real and serious problem.  How we address this issue however should be balanced and comprehensive. Last year zoning for the downtown core jumped from, I think, 4 stories to 10 stories in one leap. Overnight we have more than 7 project proposals for 10 story buildings. However, I have not seen any proposals to build supporting resources for incoming residents, for example, food markets.”

“With the Trebloc site there will not be any parking for all the residents of the 584 bedrooms. Unless these residents have walkable access to basic needs this could create a problem.  Last year a comprehensive form-based code was drafted. This plan outlines a strategy to create moderate density more uniformly in key areas that would meet our density needs while creating walkable smart growth neighborhoods and would not require the development of mega-rental buildings. There are over a million square feet of undeveloped and underdeveloped land in the city limits that could be targeted to meet our affordable, senior, homeowner and rental housing needs. I would note that not only will all of these mega developments be rental units but they will be eligible for tax abatements, which could have major ramifications on our economy.”   

5 — What do you think of tax abatements for developers?

AK: “If we are going to use them, I think they should be used strategically to support our local economy and local labor force. If we are engaging non-local developers we need to ensure that they are not making a profit here at the detriment to our economy and our community. We may be able to create more of a balance by obtaining a commitment to local labor and a living wage in return for a 7-year tax abatement.”  


6 — What do you think of jail expansion?

AK: “This is a complicated issue. It is critical that people who are in jail have basic rights and a basic quality of life. If we as a society believe in rehabilitation and successful reentry we cannot abide by mistreatment potentially leading to anger and hopelessness, and this includes severe overcrowding.”

“However, I believe focusing our money and attention on building more facilities is missing the core issue. We need to look at structural racism in the core of our economic system and foster equal rights and access to quality education, job training, and job promotion. We need to see equal representation in management positions and government.  If we focused our efforts and money on job training and rehabilitation and fostered equal representation around our decision making tables in our community would we need jail expansion?”

“We could also focus our efforts on initiatives like Ban the Box that would require employers to hold questions about felony charges until after the initial paper application phase. There are many things that we can do to both prevent jail entry as well as support reintegration. I would like to see these emphasized before jail expansion.”


7 — What do you think of the new county budget?

AK: “The county is currently going through a proposed budget review and approval process for 2016. I understand that the current increase was only 1.3%, and below the 1.8% state tax cap. That is a good thing. The county recommendation does not make significant cuts to county supported programs.”

“Tompkins County, unlike many surrounding counties has made a point of minimizing staff and program cuts as a priority for budget approval. The budget is of course one of the trickiest tasks of the legislature in an attempt to minimize tax increases while maintain program support. Overtime in the county jail consistently exceeds the allocated budget so a significant increase was added for overtime costs. I would like to see some creative solutions and investments in education and reintegration to help support the Sheriff in the long run and reduce these costs while supporting the community.”   


8 — What do you think of police body cameras for sheriff’s deputies?

AK: “This is a complicated issue. On the one hand body cameras increase accountability if they are worn and used properly but on the other hand infringe upon privacy issues. There is also the matter of technology. The technology is always improving but there are still plenty of cases of malfunction.

“We would need to be ready to address this when it happens and not become exclusively dependent on them. I think there are clear pros and cons but if I had to make a decision now I would approve them pending very clear and well thought through policies with the hope that they would create a standard of accountability and possibly even foster a more balanced and healthy dialogue between police and the public.”


9 — Last silly question… what’s your typical night out in Ithaca?

AK: “I think one of the most therapeutic things to do in the world is to go dancing. It’s my favorite form of exercise. There are amazing local musicians in town too so I love to catch live music, preferably earlier in the evening than later. I’m also a foodie and have a big group of foodie friends.”

“We love to cook so potlucks are a staple and we all like healthy local food so it’s common to meet up at the Farmer’s market to get our CSA shares and end up in the evening with a wonderfully eclectic meal. Regular dinners with my family, which is mostly still in town, is another common evening out.”

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