TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—October has been proclaimed United in Kindness Month to bring awareness to bullying and promote bully prevention strategies in Tompkins County, a decision made at last week’s Tompkins County Legislature meeting.

Brandy Remington from the Bullying Task Force accepted the proclamation. “Thank you for this proclamation and for recognizing October as bully prevention month,” she said. “We want to thank you for joining the community and letting everyone know that there is a way forward beyond the fear and the divisiveness and the bullying.”

As Tompkins County Legislature Chair Shawna Black was at home on the tail-end of isolating due to a COVID-19 case, Legislator Deborah Dawson filled in to run Oct. 6’s legislature meeting. The meeting can be viewed here, and the agenda can be found here.

“The members of the Tompkins County Legislature recognize that the indigenous peoples of the land that would later become the Americas,” Dawson read, stating that the month will be recognized as Indigenous People’s Month in the county.

Dawson also said that since 1989, October has been designated Italian American heritage month.

During privilege of the floor, Legislator Veronica Pillar noted that a survey will be available on Oct. 14 for couch-surfers in the community with the goal of informing homelessness service providers on how to address that population.

Black gave an update on the Opioid Task Force, which was officially created at the last legislature meeting. Legislator Travis Brooks will chair the task force, and Black, Legislator Randy Brown, two parents whose children have suffered from substance abuse disorder, “peers who have entered into treatment or are using harm reduction,” and City of Ithaca Alderperson Phoebe Brown will make up the rest of the group.

Brown spoke about visiting the encampments near Nate’s Floral Estates.

“I noticed that there was a lot of garbage, there were needles and there was a storm drain with needles in the water,” Brown said. “What I’m hearing is that the City of Ithaca isn’t able to provide enough police […] I do believe that the county needs to do something to help the City of Ithaca come out of this crisis they’re in of not being able to get police. I don’t know what that is, but I think it’s something we should talk about.”

Legislator Travis Brooks encouraged residents of Nate’s Floral Estates and the West End area to share their stories. At least some Nate’s residents have spoken up already about negative experiences in their neighborhood, either commenting at meetings or sending letters to elected officials.

“Until the electeds start to hear your stories and feel your pain, things are going to stay the way they are,” he said. “We’ve been talking about certain programs and projects for over a year now and nothing’s moved. Things continue, Code Blue is coming. The problem is going to be much worse than it was last year.”

Legislator Anne Koreman seconded Brooks’ statement, also inviting residents to keep coming to meetings and commenting.

Koreman also spoke on the topic of staff in public safety roles, stating that there have been unjust treatment of people of color, and that the goal of the overall Reimagining process is to remediate that.

“Might some people be hesitant to travel the new path that we’re going to be going on? Yes,” Koreman said. “I think keeping these conversations and being open to listening is one of the best things that we can do. I believe we are headed in the right direction, so I think it’s very important that we continue to do that as best we can.”

Community Justice Center leader Monalita Smiley also delivered an update on the Reimagining Public Safety plans in terms of data. A study will be done as part of the Traffic Calming Measures, which include things like traffic circles, more defined pedestrian and bike lanes, speed limits and other safety measures. Public input will be gathered to identify areas that the public feels are most unsafe and could use calming measures.

Law enforcement agencies will also be able to provide suggestion areas for potentially improving safety.

“We also reimplemented officer wellness and we’re meeting biweekly,” Smiley said. “We did a demonstration for an app that would be available to all law enforcement and EMS first responders, and we’re also identifying possible peer-to-peer support groups.”

The District Attorney and Tompkins County Assigned Counsel have been launched for community input on what information and data will be available.

Dawson thanked County Attorney Bill Troy for his work with the TCAT transportation agreement, saying that “We are very close to having a signed transportation agreement with Cornell and the city for the continued sustainable operation of TCAT.”

Other news and notes:

  • Legislator Greg Mezey spoke about how it was “neat to hear how first responders at the airport help out inter-agencies with the equipment they have up there” while he and a few other legislators visited the Ithaca-Tompkins International Airport, where they got to tour the facility and learn about grants and programs the airport has applied for.
  • Four public comments were made during that portion of the meeting. The first was Mary Hutcheons, interim chair of the community services board, who read a letter on the proposed term limits appointed for the advisory board. Nate’s Floral Estates resident Michael Fenner made a comment about the “out of control behavior” at nearby homeless encampments, and City of Ithaca resident Larry Roberts opposed the addition of term limits on county elected positions. Additionally, Republican candidate for Ithaca mayor Zachary Winn reiterated his request for a full pause on the Reimagining Public Safety process, citing EMS response issues, and former Tompkins Weekly columnist Deidra Cross made a public comment on her controversial termination from the paper, leading to a testy exchange with Dawson.
  • Advisory board appointments were made: David Harker to the Strategic Tourism Planning Board and Shawn Bossard to Water Resources Council.
  • Resolutions were unanimously passed: a resolution to support the Clean Water, Clean Air, Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022; a resolution Calling Upon Congress to Amend Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Regulations for Election Workers; and an authorization to Disburse Additional County Funds to the Community Housing Development Fund for 109 Morris Avenue; Appointment of Democratic Election Commissioner for 2023–24; Rescission of a resolution “Making a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance in Relation to Resolution No. 176 of 2022″ and Resolution No. 176-2022 “Authorizing the Sale of Fall Creek Road Tax Parcel Number 2.-1-2 to the Village of Freeville.”
  • A budget adjustment grant was accepted for the Tompkins County Office for the Aging Appropriation of Long-Term Ombudsman Program.
  • The motion to pass failed six to six on a resolution establishing a task force to review the existing relationship between Tompkins County and the Ithaca Area Economic Development Agency.
  • Legislator Rich John noted that there are currently 48 inmates at the Tompkins County Jail.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...