ITHACA, N.Y. –– In their first meeting of the year, the City of Ithaca Common Council gave updates on the continued Reimagining Public Safety Committee and also made the official declaration that dogs are now allowed on the Commons, amongst other business.

Here’s everything that was discussed at last week’s meeting.

To begin the meeting, City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick addressed the violence in the Capitol that took place last week, saying “this is not the way our politics should play out.”

He continued by condemning the actions of right-wing protesters saying, “this is terrorism.”

The Mayor’s address at the top of the meeting also included an overview of goals for the new year including working on continuing to stay evictions and house folks, to acknowledge the indigenous history of Ithaca and streamline snow removal services for those in need. Also on the Mayor’s mind for 2021 is reforming elected officials positions starting with the mayor’s office –– he stated during Wednesday’s meeting that he has too many responsibilities without proper compensation.

“We need a change. either moving towards a city manager or other change in our executive branch,” he said.

In addition Myrick discussed Governor Andrew Cuomo’s move towards legalizing marijuana, saying that the Common Council will continue to make sure that public safety is upheld especially in preventing products from getting in the hands of minors.

Overall in his address to council, the mayor seemed optimistic about the next year for Ithacans.

“There’s reason to be hopeful,” he said. “In this city there’s more right than wrong.”

Alderperson Deb Mohlenhoff was appointed acting mayor during the meeting, and Alderperson Seph Murtagh was appointed as the alternate active mayor. 

Reimagining Public Safety

Schelley Michell-Nunn, Director of Human Resources for the City, who has been co-leading the Community working group within the “Reimagining Public Safety” initiative, gave a presentation on the progress of the joint effort between Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca to reform and reimagine public safety policies.

She gave council an update of, “where we have been and where we will go.”

The initiative began back in August with an initial information session with Mayor Myrick after Gov. Cuomo declared that all municipalities across New York State would be required to participate in public safety reform. Subsequently the mayor was able to secure resources from the Center for Policing Equity (CPE), a research center founded at University of California-Los Angeles and now based at Yale University which has been helping guide community forums and structure data collection.

With guidance from CPE, the city and county established working groups based on local expertise with deliverables such as community feedback gathering and data assessment. 

Since the fall, the collective working on the project has engaged the community in a variety of different strategies including surveys, conducting “community voices forums” and moderated discussions more recently. 

“One of the main focuses we have had was that we heard from Black indigenous people of color and the most vulnerable in our community,” Michell-Nunn said. She continued in describing the data gathering process which concluded at the end of December saying,  “we really had an aggressive approach to make sure we heard voices from those communities.” 

As part of the information gathering, eight focus groups within law enforcement were also conducted with help from CPE. 

By the end of the month the information gathered will be given to academics from Ithaca College (as part of the internal research working group) who will condense the findings and present them for public comment. Between February and March of 2021, public comment will be considered by the working groups and legislative bodies will be asked to consider plans, provide feedback, finalize and adopt group recommendations.

Dogs on the Commons

After much discussion and a recommendation which was passed unanimously by Ithaca’s PEDC to allow dogs on the Commons back in October, the measure has finally passed.

The motion was tabled at last month’s Common Council meeting, mostly because of confusing language regarding fines and waste pick-up regulations, and went back to the Planning Board for language clarification.

“This version is clean, it’s simple and seems easier to enforce,” said Mohlenhoff Wednesday night. 

After years of the public basically ignoring the dog-ban, the resolution allowing Fido on the Commons passed 9-1 with Alderperson McGonigal voting against. 

City Administrative Committee

During the meeting council also voted to approve an application to the New York State “Main Street” program which looks to revitalize downtown areas through grants that prioritize mixed-use improvement projects with housing components in existing buildings.

Downtown Ithaca Alliance President Gary Ferguson presented possible project locations that would provide at least 12 affordable housing units at 114 -118 S Cayuga St. above Pete’s bar, some apartments above Aroma Pizza, a few State Street apartments and in some Todd Fox-owned downtown units. Under the grant application specifics, units would have to be priced at 90 percent Annual Median Income for the area. 

The grant, if given, would amount to $500,000.

Also passed unanimously was a repeal of residency requirements for city department heads in order to promote the “most qualified candidates” who have previously been barred from the positions as part of city code, and a piece of legislation asking the federal government for guaranteed income to supplement the last stimulus check. 

Planning and Economic Development

Several agenda items from the last PEDC meeting in December were up for council approval including a resolution of support for the Owasco Lake Watershed rules and regulations, Cass Park mountain bike trail development and the rescinding of a 2006 preferred developer status for Inlet Island site. All of those resolutions passed unanimously and can be read about in Brian Crandall’s recap from last month here.

What was new during the meeting was an amendment proposed by Alderperson George McGonigal to the development agreement with Rimland Construction for their project “The Ithacan.” 

McGonigal proposed Wednesday a 30 percent local labor requirement added to the agreement –– a stipulation that goes along with work that the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency has been working on to guarantee local labor for new projects. Currently the IDA is just requiring reporting data on local labor but has not yet enacted hiring requirements.

The amendment passed 8-2 with Alderpersons Fleming and Mohlenhoff voting against. 

“I don’t want to throw something in at the 11th hour if it’s nearly impossible to enforce,” Mohlenhoff said in regards to the complications the amendment might cause. 

The full resolution to pass a development agreement carried unanimously.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com