ENFIELD, N.Y. — After months of instability on the Enfield Town Board, a new supervisor has been named.
Stephanie Redmond was appointed to the position of supervisor Jan. 12, and her tenure will last until the end of 2021. Redmond’s appointment has been delayed over the course of months due to high turnover of councilmembers on the board and opposition to her appointment, most notably from Councilperson Robert Lynch, whose argument was that the position should be elected. After former town supervisor Beth McGee resigned from her position Sept. 30, Redmond, who was named deputy supervisor in April and was elected as a councilperson last November, was the acting supervisor for the Town of Enfield. In October, a special meeting was held to vote on Redmond taking the role of supervisor, but it was not approved.
“I’m excited to get to work,” Redmond said in an interview. “I know we have a lot of issues we have to work on and issues we have to work through, but I’m glad that we could put this part behind us and stop wasting energy on that and actually get to the business of the town. I think that’s really the most important thing for us to focus on at this point.”
The two-and-a-half hour long Jan. 12 special meeting for Redmond’s appointment had a similarly contentious tone to the meetings over the last few months, with board members stating they would resign if Redmond was not appointed. At the time of this meeting, there were only three councilmembers: Lynch, Councilperson Virginia Bryant and Councilperson James Ricks, the town’s first Black councilperson, who was appointed in December to fill Redmond’s empty councilperson seat. Councilperson Michael Miles resigned from his position on the board Jan. 9, citing a toxic nature on the board. Miles was appointed to the board in November to fill the spot of former Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey, who resigned from the board after Redmond’s supervisor appointment was not approved in October.
“It was my sincere hope that I could provide some level-headedness and help the town board move forward,” Miles wrote in his resignation letter. “I have not been able to do so. Instead, most of my time has been spent reading and watching the vitriol among town officials that prevents it from accomplishing basic, non-controversial tasks. I have a full-time job and a family and cannot continue to spend 20 to 30 hours a week resisting the inertia drawing me into the constant bickering and backstabbing.”
Lynch again asked to postpone the appointment to the board’s February meeting. He raised concerns about Redmond choosing McGee to be her deputy supervisor, to which Redmond said she would not do. He also raised concerns that Town Clerk Ellen Woods would leave if Redmond was appointed, which would leave the town in a vulnerable position during tax season. Woods has repeatedly raised concerns regarding appropriate pay for her work in the past. Before Miles resigned, he submitted a resolution to increase her salary. The resolution was not moved.
“I’m trapped,” Woods said in the meeting. “I can’t resign. If I don’t come in tomorrow, the taxes will not get collected and they will not be properly processed. I have to serve the residents.”
At first, Lynch abstained from the vote, meaning that it would not pass since all three councilpersons needed to unanimously agree. He said he would reconsider if Redmond and Woods worked to have a discussion to ease tensions, which have been elevating over the months. Redmond expressed frustration with how Lynch and Woods have treated her on social media, referring to Lynch’s website as “childish” and “embarrassing.”
“I’m kind of disappointed,” Ricks said. “I’m not seeing the reason for putting this off any further. I was ready to write my resignation after reading Mike’s. This is childish. You’re smart people, you can figure out a better way to do this. It’s made me nervous, it’s made me upset. … I saw a great group of people missing each other, and I figured some common sense … could get you guys to connect on a healthier, more progressive, sustainable type for everybody.”
Instead, Lynch moved to appoint former town supervisor Ann Rider to fill Miles’ vacant seat, which was met with opposition because it detracted from the supervisor appointment and would cause issues for the organizational meeting the following day. Bryant said that should be considered in the February meeting. In December, Lynch advocated for the opposite, at first abstaining from the vote to appoint Ricks to the board, instead suggesting to fill the position in January so members of the community have time to submit applications. For Miles’ vacant seat, interested applicants should submit a one page letter of interest by Feb. 9.
“I feel I am the victim of political extortion by two other members and maybe an acting supervisor as well, who want to blow up a town so that they can get a particular appointment of a person who feels entitled to a fault,” Lynch said. “I am being held with a gun to my head tonight. It’s either vote and do something that my conscience tells me I should not do, or else my town is going to be destroyed politically.”
Lynch finally voted in favor of Redmond’s appointment.
“I feel very hurt tonight,” Lynch said. “I feel very disappointed, but I can’t blow up this town. I can’t let it be non-functional in a pandemic.”
Redmond said that she thinks the instability on the board can be attributed to the learning curve that newly elected officials experience. She also said there have been personality conflicts and different perspectives of what constitutes as professional behavior. Redmond said that she wants to focus on tasks like writing grants for upgraded facilities, improving sidewalks along Route 79 and investment opportunities for the town.
“Unfortunately, I think that the way elections are set up is that they’re set up sort of competitively, which create situations where some people might want to promote negative feelings about another person, which I don’t find helpful in the long run,” she said. “That is difficult in the way that elections are set up, because then people still have to work together. … I think that our residents need far more than the mud-slinging aspect of election campaigning.”
Redmond said that she hopes more residents will engage with the board over the coming months.
“I felt a little bit alone in moving some of these forward, and so I’m hoping that now that we have gotten past this, we can start really working collectively as a board and working on them together,” she said.
Miles said that after he filled an empty position on the board in 2016 during the Black Oak Wind Farm debate, he considered returning to the board in the future. However, after his most recent tenure, he said he is not sure if he would return again.
“I think the Town of Enfield and the residents deserve better than this,” he said in an interview. “We’re a small town, and we don’t need to be having these kinds of dialogues with each other. … I think that the 2020 board had opportunities to better include people and provide better leadership, but I don’t think that happened.”
McGee said that it is frustrating that personalities and personal ambitions have gotten in the way of the board being productive.
“A supervisor’s job is to do the work of the town board, and when you have town board members tripping them up every step of the way, they’re defeating their own purposes by doing that,” she said. “I’d really like to see the competition end.”
Also at the Jan. 12 meeting, Redmond accused Woods of breaking the law by changing the coding on the budget without the approval of the board. Woods said that it was a mistake and that “the workplace environment for the town clerk is that if others make mistakes I help fix them but when I make a simple mistake or get the wrong impression based on real data, I am accused of crimes on record.” Redmond said that the Office of the New York State Comptroller will externally be looking into the issue.
Additionally, Redmond accused Miles of incorrectly giving Woods management of the town website. She said that the town is consulting with its attorney regarding if the management should fall under the purview of the town board or the town clerk. In January 2020, a resolution was passed saying these duties fall under the supervisor, and in March 2020, a resolution was passed saying these duties fall under the office of the town clerk.
Miles said that he was supportive of Redmond when he joined the board late last year, but was disappointed that she was not able to bring board members together and de-escalate situations. He said that he likely would not have voted for her appointment to supervisor if he had not resigned.
“I just wish that this town government could work better,” he said. “The larger community of Tompkins County probably gets the wrong impression of Enfield. It’s got a lot of wonderful people in it, and the town board is not an example of that. I’m hoping that through an election, we can get some new people in there that are actually committed to working with each other.”
The board’s 2021 organizational meeting held on Jan. 13 was notably calmer, with the majority of the resolutions passed unanimously.
“Your stamina is amazing, I don’t know how you do it after yesterday,” Ricks said. “I congratulate you guys. We did get a lot accomplished.”
A lengthy discussion ensued regarding the highway department’s 284 Agreement, which is for its expenditures. In the past, there have been tensions regarding funding for the department. Additionally, Lynch proposed an amendment that everyone says the Pledge of Allegiance in regular and special meetings rather than having the choice to say it under privilege of the floor. None of the other board members supported this. In the beginning of 2020, saying the Pledge was a matter of debate for the Enfield Town Board. Lynch also proposed and moved a resolution stating that each member of the board pledges to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, barring a medical waiver. The resolution did not pass because the deciding vote fell to Redmond after Bryant had to leave the meeting, and Redmond raised concerns regarding Health Information Privacy laws.
Redmond said that she hopes that the board can work together this year compared to how divisive it was in 2020.
“I’m going to encourage residents to get involved in various projects, however they feel like they want to add their energy,” Redmond said. “We definitely need all the help we can get to really invigorate our town and make it the best possible, most sustainable environment we can maintain.”
Photo courtesy of Supervisor Redmond’s Facebook page.