ENFIELD, N.Y. — The Enfield Town Board has filled one of the vacant seats on the board, but no decision has been made regarding the role of supervisor.

Former town supervisor Beth McGee resigned from her position on Sept. 30. Stephanie Redmond, who was named deputy supervisor in April and was elected as a councilperson last November, is currently the acting supervisor for the Town of Enfield. A special meeting was held Oct. 5 to vote on Redmond taking the role of supervisor, but it was not approved. Following the meeting, Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey, who has been on the board since January 2018, resigned. Michael Miles was appointed to fill Mehaffey’s position during a board meeting Nov. 11. His tenure will last through Dec. 31, 2021.

Miles served on the board in 2016 when he similarly filled an empty position on the board. He said that although he was appointed to the board, he would likely run for reelection because he thinks that it is important that these positions are elected. Miles has lived in Enfield for 19 years and is not registered to a political party.

During his time on the board, he said that he hopes to address some issues with the budget and to resolve tensions with Town Clerk Ellen Woods and Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins. Over the last few months, members of the board have been at odds with the two regarding funding and changing their positions from elected to appointed.

“I regret that we didn’t spend enough time on other town business (in 2016), because we were so caught up in the wind farm, that a lot of things did not get addressed that needed to be addressed, and I’m hoping that we can address some of those things,” he said.

Enfield resident James Ricks also submitted an application for the open councilperson seat. Ricks has lived in Enfield for 14 years and is a registered Democrat. Ricks acknowledged that he does not have governmental experience, but as a Black man, would bring a diverse perspective to the board. The town board has never had an African American serve on it, Redmond said.

“I’m really concerned about (my grandchildren) being in this community and what type of community this is in terms of diversity and the environment that they’re living in. I figured instead of standing on the side complaining, I’d try to get involved,” Ricks said. “Who will speak for the non-white? Not that I’m an expert, but I’m probably more of an expert than anyone else on the board right now.”

Woods said that appointing Miles would be a rare opportunity to have an Independent representative on the board, since most votes cast in Enfield are for Democrats. McGee, speaking as a resident, expressed her distaste with the preference of Miles over Ricks.

“When given an opportunity to use your white privilege to put an end to white supremacy in local town government in a town I’ve lived in for over 40 years before it is 200 years old next year, you decide to use your white privilege to put another white person in office,” she said. “I’m stunned and so ashamed for this board. … The idea that the town clerk would suggest that an independent has a lower shot than a person of color to be elected in a town where one has never been elected or appointed in local office is absurd.”

Tompkins County Legislator Anne Koreman, who was present at the meeting, spoke about the need for inclusivity on the board.

“As a white person, (Miles) has more privilege, and maybe he had the opportunity to be in office before, but to level the playing field, sometimes you have to give somebody else that opportunity,” she said. “Thinking about who else is not sitting at the table, if you look around the room, who else is not there? For me, running (on the legislature) as a woman, running as an openly gay woman, that helped put more people at the table to represent them.”

Redmond was the only councilperson to cast her vote for Ricks at the Nov. 11 meeting. Councilpersons Robert Lynch and Virginia Bryant cited the need for someone with experience on the board in their reasoning for voting for Miles.

“I feel that one of the issues we have with white supremacy is that we do often have more qualified white people because they’ve been given more opportunities,” Redmond said.

The town board only has until Dec. 31, 2020 to make an appointment for the position of supervisor. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, the vacancy can only be filled by a special election, which can be proclaimed by the governor or by the courts by petition. Holding a special election could cost the town thousands of dollars.

If Redmond was elevated to the supervisor through a board appointment, the board would have had two open positions for councilperson, meaning both Miles and Ricks could have joined the board. Lynch has refused to vote for Redmond’s appointment because he thinks that it should be an elected position.

The debate of whether certain positions in Enfield should remain elected or be made appointed positions has been a matter of contention over the last few months. Two propositions were on the Town of Enfield’s ballot for the 2020 general election to change the elected positions of town clerk and highway superintendent to appointed positions. Many Enfield residents expressed their disapproval of the proposed laws at public hearings in July. Also in July, over 100 Enfield residents submitted a petition, titled “Enfield’s Democracy is in Danger,” to the board asking for the right to vote on the next town supervisor and councilperson in the November 2020 general election rather than McGee appointing one when she resigned, and that the positions of highway superintendent and town clerk remain elected positions.

The unofficial results showed that approximately 84% of voters were against making the town clerk appointive and 16 percent supported the change, according to the Tompkins County Board of Elections. Similarly, approximately 84% voted against making the highway superintendent appointive and 16 percent voted in favor of it. 

Miles took the oath of office Nov. 13 and started his tenure at the special town board meeting Nov. 18. At this meeting, the board agreed to allow the highway department to keep a fifth staffer. In the budget for the upcoming year, the budget summary recommended that the number of full-time highway staff is reduced from five to four and part-time summer help is eliminated, which will represent approximately $70,000 of savings in payroll, health insurance, unemployment and other costs. The summary stated that the “highway budget is inflated annually to inaccurately reflect the cost of operations and improvements and accountability for such budgeting and expenditures is never forthcoming.”

The board also created an Information Technology Advisory Committee in response to its upcoming changes of town systems. Miles also has experience in this realm, working with IT at Cornell University. Additionally, a public hearing will be held Dec. 9 regarding a new three-year contract with the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company.

Madison Fernandez

Madison Fernandez is a contributing reporter at the Ithaca Voice. You can reach her by email at mfernandez@ithacavoice.com.