ITHACA, N.Y. — The Tompkins County Legislature, at its annual reorganization meeting Tuesday night, adjourned without reaching any decisions on new leadership after four deadlocked votes on this year’s chair and vice-chair of the legislature.
The positions are filled each year by a majority vote of members of the Legislature. County Legislator Mike Sigler was named interim chair at the opening of the meeting, presiding over the meeting until a chair is chosen. Legislators Mike Lane of Dryden and Anna Kelles of Ithaca were nominated to serve as Chair of the Legislature.
Legislator Dan Klein moved to nominate Mike Lane, saying that as chair, Lane has served “while never letting politics get in the way.”
“At the last meeting, we heard an accounting of a bunch of accomplishments that Tompkins County has experienced over the last 10 years… and Mike Lane was on the legislature for those 10 years,” said Klein. “Mike Lane was chair of the legislature for those 4 years. So, clearly, he had a big hand in germinating and nurturing and bringing to fruition a lot of those projects.”
Legislator Martha Robertson nominated Anna Kelles for Chair was, citing Kelles’ engagement at the State level with the New York State Association of Counties, her strong environmental background and her commitment to local issues of equity and diversity. Robertson praised Lane’s tenure as Chair, but said “that was a different time with a different Legislature.”
“Locally, there is nobody more engaged than Anna in many, many networks around the community,” said Roberston.”I just asked her recently whether this would be her full-time priority, I know she has a lot of other commitments, and she said ‘absolutely.’ Being chair would be her full-time job, this is something that I think would benefit everybody on the legislature, but especially everyone in the community as well.”
Two rounds of voting ended in a 7-7 deadlock.
A recess was proposed for Democrats to caucus and potentially come to some sort of agreement on a nominee for chair. The legislature voted 7-7 on that move as well.
Legislators then voted to table the vote until the end of the meeting, leading to a discussion over whether the vote of the vice-chair should also be deferred. County Attorney Jonathan Wood said when a similar situation occurred in 2013, the leadership of the Legislature wasn’t decided until the second meeting of the year, adding the vote of the Chair could impact the vote of the Vice-Chair.
Revisiting the issue at the close of the meeting, two more votes again resulted in a 7-7 deadlock. A motion to move ahead with the vote of the vice-chair did not pass, and the meeting was adjourned with Legislator Sigler remaining temporary chair until the next meeting.
Voting in support of Legislator Lane were Legislators Shawna Black; Amanda Champion; Deborah Dawson; Henry Granison; Dan Klein; Anne Koreman and Mike Lane.
Legislator Kelles received votes from Legislators Rich John; Leslyn McBean-Clairborne; Dave McKenna; Glenn Morey; Martha Robertson; Mike Sigler and Anna Kelles.
The deadlock means that, at least for a couple weeks, the Tompkins County Legislature will be lead by a Republican in Legislator Mike Sigler.
“This is how democracy is, sometimes it’s messy. We have excellent department heads, staff, and administration,” said Sigler. “Our services will not be affected at all by this and any major policy shifts still have to go through the entire legislature. This is not a presidency, it’s the legislature, and all the norms that were in place yesterday, are in place today.”
Sigler says he had been briefed by outgoing Chair Martha Robertson and County Administrator Jason Molino and is prepared to handle the responsiblity.
“I’m going under the premise that this will be worked out and we’ll have a new county legislature chairperson within the month. In the meantime, I’ll do what’s expected of the chairperson, attending meetings, meeting constituents, addressing those issues that the legislature has agreed are our primary concerns and I’ll represent the county to the best of my ability,” says Sigler.
The legislature meets next on Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 5:30 p.m.
This story has been updated to include comment from Temporary Chair of the Tompkins County Legisalture Mike Sigler.