ITHACA, N.Y. – Starting in May, parents will be able to drop their kids off in a makeshift City Hall playroom while they participate in Ithaca’s city government. Common Council voted unanimously Wednesday, April 3 to launch a free child care program during five monthly meetings.

The program will cover Common Council meetings, which take place the first Wednesday of the month, and meetings of the city’s four volunteer commissions – Public Safety and Information; Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources; Community Life; and Mobility, Accessibility, and Transportation – which meet each Monday.

“It really does support the initial conversations we had about creating the commissions, making sure they are as inclusive and diverse as possible,” said Alderperson Deb Mohlenhoff, who introduced the measure.

Mohlenhoff said members of two commissions have reached out about having trouble making meeting times due to child care needs, and at Monday’s Public Safety and Information meeting one commissioner’s 7-year-old sat patiently in the gallery through the two-hour session.

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Members of the public interested in attending meetings or volunteering on commissions will be able to use the service, as well as city staff and alderpersons.

“We know it will be used,” Mohlenhoff said.

Council member Laura Lewis agreed, remembering how years ago she’d drag her kids to City Hall where they’d sit on the floor with juice boxes and coloring books. “This is a service that I think is much needed,” Lewis said.

The program will be staffed by teens who have experience providing drop-in child care at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center. At events ranging from the Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast to community discussions, GIAC teens already help out with younger kids.

With the new program, teens supervised by GIAC staff will entertain kids in City Hall’s second-floor conference room while meetings are underway upstairs. A supply of toys, books and snacks will be available.

Mohlenhoff said Wednesday that after talking with GIAC’s deputy director Travis Brooks, she was confident implementation would be smooth. The city set aside $5,000 in the 2019 budget to launch the pilot program, which will pay for staffing and supplies through the end of the year.

Mayor Svante Myrick welcomed the initiative as a way to invite more Ithacans with young kids into city government. “I wonder if there’s a program like this anywhere in the country,” Myrick said, adding, “I think there should be.”

Cities including Pittsburgh and Bloomington, Indiana have launched similar initiatives, but efforts to welcome working families into the political process by offering child care are not widespread.

Council condemns hate

Common Council also unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday condemning violence and hate speech. The resolution, introduced by Alderperson Ducson Nguyen, notes a rise white supremacy and bigotry nationwide and points to FBI data showing an increase in hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim people and institutions.

The resolution states, “Common Council will continue to advocate for strong gun safety laws in New York State and the United States; and, be it further resolved that the Common Council condemns acts and statements that are anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, racist, sexist, and of any form of bigotry; and, be it further resolved that Common Council commits to pursuing a policy agenda that affirms civil and human rights, and ensures that those targeted on the basis of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, or immigration status can turn to government without fear of recrimination.”

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Nguyen said the immediate impetus for the statement was the March massacre at two New Zealand mosques, in which a white Australian man killed 50 worshippers and issued a white nationalist manifesto.

Myrick echoed the need to speak out against acts of hate. “While it might seem so obvious to many of us, white nationalism and white supremacy are gaining speed, they’re gaining traction throughout the United States… things like this can’t go unanswered,” he said.

Intercity buses will stay on Green Street

Council voted unanimously to extend the pilot program that has intercity buses picking up and dropping off passengers on East Green Street until August 2019. Buses began operating on Green Street in September 2018, after the privately owned West End depot they had long used closed. The Green Street stop is meant as a temporary fix, but Council has yet to come up with a feasible alternative.

Related: Intercity buses to stop on Green Street starting at end of September

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The pilot renewal came with strings attached for bus operators, which include Greyhound, New York Trailways, Coach USA/Shortline. Bus companies are not allowed to expand their operations while using the Green Street stop, need to notify the city ahead of time about additional routes on student arrival and departure days, and need to “provide accommodations for their passengers” by showing proof of an agreement allowing passengers to use nearby facilities.

Several council members acknowledged constituents’ concerns about the downtown bus stop, including traffic, noise and safety issues. At the same time, in lieu of an immediate solution they said the resolution would help mitigate problems while keeping intercity buses running.

Featured image: Toys from the Finger Lakes Toy Library (Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice)

Devon Magliozzi

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at dmagliozzi@ithacavoice.com or 607-391-0328.