ITHACA, N.Y.—There’s famously no crying in baseball, but there’s been quite a bit of it among Ithaca’s elected officials to start 2022. A second straight Common Council meeting was rife with emotion Wednesday as Mayor Svante Myrick conducted his last meeting of the city’s governing body.

Myrick, who was presented a ceremonial key to the city during Wednesday’s meeting via Zoom, announced his pending departure last month to lead People for the American Way and has now finished his tenure as the longest-serving mayor in Ithaca’s history. Acting Mayor Laura Lewis is now slated to serve at least until November 2022, when a special election will be held to finish the remaining year of Myrick’s term. Thusly, there will essentially be two straight years with mayoral elections, in November 2022 and November 2023.

More details on Myrick’s final remarks can be found in the news and notes section below. You can watch the full meeting, briefer than usual, on YouTube here. The subsequent meeting (or Part 2) which took place after a brief executive session and consisted of the city accepting money from the Allergan opioid settlement, can be found on YouTube here.

In this February meeting, Common Council was given a relatively uneventful Reimagining Public Safety update (the real fun on that sounds like it will come next month with the arrival of the final recommendations and report), reallocated some money to help the Green Street Garage project navigate some construction troubles and showed that the city will receive money directly as a result of one opioid manufacturer’s settlement with New York State.

Reimagining Public Safety

There were some more details unveiled after questioning from Common Council members, but it seems like the final reforms and recommendations will be played fairly close to the vest until they are fully ready. Schelley Michelle Nunn said that will be at the end of March. Monalita Smiley, the newly introduced director of the Community Justice Center, has been meeting with local stakeholders in the law enforcement reform effort to further familiarize herself with the inner-workings of the process she is entering.

Plans are in progress at both the city and county levels, with the Ithaca Police Department redesign, Tompkins County Sheriffs Office Unarmed Office pilot program, a community healing plan and assembling data from the county’s District Attorney and Tompkins County Assigned Counsel departments all making slow but steady progress, according to Nunn.

Nunn also said that soon the collaborative efforts of establishing open traffic stop enforcement data for both the city and the county, as well as working on recruitment and retention of new police officers for both IPD and TCSO, would be starting soon.

Green Street Garage

The City of Ithaca gave about $247,000 to the Green Street Garage project (also known as Asteri Ithaca) from mortgage tax revenue. According to the resolution that was passed, the project has run into supply chain-related extra expenses but should still be slated for starting construction in May 2022.

In reality, the city isn’t losing any actually anticipated revenue from the project or from its bank accounts. Neither the city nor project operators Vecino Group expected the project to have to pay mortgage tax (Vecino thought they would be exempted), so the city is simply redirecting that money from their coffers back to Vecino. The state portion of the mortgage tax was indeed exempted, but the local portion was not.

Alderperson Robert Cantelmo said it was smart to reinvest the money into the project.

“We did not anticipate to receive the mortgage recording tax revenue, but as stated, the cost escalation due to supply chain and pandemic issues makes it prudent for us to reinvest that money in the project here,” Cantelmo said.

Opioid Settlement

The City of Ithaca will receive $24,518.16 from opioid maker Allergan thanks to a settlement between the opioid manufacturer and New York State. The settlement was announced in December at the state level and amounts to $200 million, though this was the first time the award figure was clarified Ithaca specifically.

In a visit to Ithaca in late 2021, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced the settlement and that Tompkins County would be receiving over $1 million from the settlement.

“The litigation alleges several causes of action against defendants Allergan, based on claims Allergan contributed to the opioid epidemic by falsely promoting prescription opioids it manufactured and sold and failing to implement measures to prevent diversion of prescription opioids in connection to the distribution of its products, all of which contributed to the opioid public health crisis,” according to the resolution, which was read aloud by Brock. “It is in the best interest of the city to resolve the above referenced litigation with respect to Allergan without further litigation and enter into the proposed settlement agreement and release, as encouraged by outside counsel and the New York Attorney General’s office.”

More news and notes:

  • The prestigious 2022 J. Diann Sams African American History Month Recognition was given to Eloise D. Barrett for her decades of being a “public and community servant,” during which she “maintained a laser-like focus on helping scores of local youth overcome barriers and achieve personal success.” A proclamation was read celebrating Barrett’s contributions to the community through the Paul Schreurs Memorial Program and otherwise by Cynthia Brock (that specific portion of the meeting is available to watch here).

Myrick credited Barrett with being one of the first people to inspire him to run for higher office in Ithaca, and showing him that there was a welcoming embrace in the city outside of Cornell University. Brad Nelson called Barrett a “silent giant in the community” and highlighted the extent of her beneficial impact on local youths; J.R. Clairborne additionally commented on Barrett’s symbolism in the community and her love for other people.

Barrett, the daughter of famed local church leader and Bethlehem Church of Jesus Christ founder Cecil A. Malone, spoke briefly after receiving the award. She thanked the city, Sams’ family for the recognition and the Ithaca Youth Bureau for allowing her the “autonomy to carry out the vision and the mission of serving the youth in this community.” Barrett also emotionally thanked her late husband and family for their help along the way.

“It would have been easy to give up many times if the fight was just about me, but it was about all of those that I was serving and those that will come behind me,” Barrett said. “An old song my grandmother would sing comes to mind: ‘If I can help somebody as I travel along, then my living will not be in vain.’ […] I will continue to stand up for right and justice, and I know I won’t be standing alone.”

  • Myrick, despite his own objections, then sat tearfully as now-Acting Mayor Laura Lewis read a proclamation from the City of Ithaca congratulating Myrick on his term as mayor.

“His experiences growing up in a small town in upstate New York, a child of a single mom, some of the challenges his family faced always informed his values and politics by infusing his advocacy and policy decisions with kindness and compassion,” Lewis said, before presenting Myrick with a key to the city. “His bold leadership has inspired and will continue to inspire countless members of the community to participate in local government.”

  • First Ward Alderperson George McGonigal was the only current Common Council member who followed public comment with their own contributions, primarily thanking Myrick for his stewardship of the city during his time in office.
  • The expansion of the Northside Apartments, which are going from 70 rental units to 82 upgraded rental units, will receive just over $100,000 from the city via a financial agreement with Tompkins County. People in Northside Apartments that are being displaced by the renovations will all be relocated, said Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency leader Nels Bohn, something that has been assured by the renovation leaders.
  • Public comment consisted of three speakers. Environmental scientist Paul Mutolo advocated for green energy solutions in the city, including expanding the Ithaca Green New Deal, perhaps with help from either the state or federal government. Zachary Winn condemned Myrick’s tenure as mayor, seeming to focus on his leadership since the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice protests began in 2020. Aryeal Jackson followed with her own recounting of Myrick’s time in office, congratulating him on his service and thanking him.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com