ITHACA, N.Y. — The reign of Temporary Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature will continue after another leadership vote ended in deadlock on Tuesday.
The legislature again split 7-7 on the selection of a new chair with Legislators Mike Lane (D-Dryden) and Anna Kelles (D-City of Ithaca) both receiving nominations.
Supporting Legislator Mike Lane were Legislators Shawna Black, Amanda Champion, Deborah Dawson, Henry Granison, Dan Klein, Anne Koreman and Mike Lane, all Democrats.
Legislator Kelles received votes from the remaining Democrats, Legislators Rich John, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, and Martha Robertson and Anna Kelles. She also carried the legislature’s Republican contingent, Mike Sigler and Dave McKenna, Glenn Morey.
The Jan 7 meeting of the legislature adjourned after four deadlocked votes without breaking the loggerheads. It only took one vote at Tuesday’s meeting to make it clear that opinions had not changed among the dueling factions of mostly-Democrats.
Legislators will have until the Feb. 4 meeting to resolve the impasse or County Clerk Maureen Reynolds will cast the tie-breaking vote.
But the legislature was not done deadlocking.
The prospect of Legislator Mike Sigler, a Lansing-based Republican, presiding over the Democrat-controlled legislature was too much to stomach for some constituents, according to Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Villages of Lansing and Cayuga Heights), prompting her to move to reconsider the vote making Sigler temporary chair.
Again, the legislature voted 7-7 to reconsider, meaning the motion failed and Temporary Chair Sigler will remain in place.
Outgoing Chair Martha Robertson expressed a reticence to inject partisan politics into the legislature’s dealings, saying that she has always been impressed by how little a member’s party affiliation has mattered during her time on the legislature.
“When I joined this board 18 years ago, I was struck by how little of our business had anything to do with what party you’re in,” said Robertson. “I continue to feel this way, it’s mostly common sense…I’m sorry that our public maybe seems disappointed by us doing that. I have to say, Mike, you’ve done a great job. You’ve been engaged.”
Robertson was joined by Legislators Rich John, Amanda Champion, Glenn Morey, Dan Klein, Dave McKenna and Mike Sigler in voting against removing Sigler.
New director for the Office of Human Rights named
Elsewhere on the agenda, County Administrator Jason Molino submitted the search committee’s determination on naming a director for the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights.
Dr. Kenneth Clarke, who originally a special advisor to the department before being named the interim director in May of 2018. After vetting two other candidates for the position, the committee landed on Clarke.
“I will say that it’s good to be out of limbo. I have enjoyed my time working in the county,” said Clarke, after the legislature voted unanimously to approve his appointment. “I’m grateful for the opportunity. I look forward to what the future holds as far as working together.”
Clarke retired from Cornell University in 2017 after sixteen years as the Director of Cornell United Religious Work. Previous to his work at Cornell, he was the Director of the Center for Ethics and Religious Affairs at Penn State University.
He holds a Doctorate of Ministry from United Theological Seminary, a Masters of Divinity from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, and a Bachelor of Arts from Morgan State University.
DIA pitches Green Street convention center
Gary Ferguson of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance and Peggy Coleman of the Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau gave a presentation on the conference center being proposed as part of the redevelopment of the Green Street Garage site on Green Street in downtown Ithaca.
The complicated proposal received a significant boost last month, when the state Regional Economic Development Council awarded the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce Foundation $5 million for construction of the center.
Ferguson describes the conference center as a “once in a generation” opportunity.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, who says the convention center is a way to help struggling small businesses by diversifying Ithaca’s economy to be less incumbent upon college students for business while also bolstering the tourism and hospitality industries.
“This seems to be a project that is very, very important for the small business owners that are struggling to bring people into stores, and a great opportunity for us to diversify our economy,” Myrick told the legislature. “Unless we have a more diverse economy, we will still have a tale of two cities… A downturn in enrollment could mean a downturn in the quality of life for residents all over our county.”
Legislators were generally receptive to the project, which the DIA is asking the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County to backstop to assuage the worries of financiers, but need to know more about the County’s role in financing the project before moving forward.
The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will meet next month. The determination of the conference center is financially viable is on the agenda.