ENFIELD, N.Y. — Expected discussion of resolutions extending the term of the Enfield Town Supervisor by two years and changing the positions of town clerk and highway department superintendent to appointees, rather than elected officials, were mostly tabled during the Wednesday, April 29 special meeting of the Enfield Town Board. The decision was made following the unexpected absence of councilperson Mimi Mehaffrey, who could not make it due to a death in the family.
A copy of the agenda can be found here.
Privilege of the floor
While much of the discussion of proposed resolutions was tabled, members of the public spoke for and against the measures during privilege of the floor. Town Clerk Ellen Woods, who began serving her term in January after winning a hotly contested primary, took the opportunity to voice her displeasure with the proposal to change the town clerk to an appointed position.
“Every town clerk in Tompkins County, except for Ithaca, is elected. And none of them, not even the appointed clerk for Ithaca, supports this,” Woods said.
Woods also read a previously drafted letter from 2016 written by a Tompkins County resident that stated maintaining the position as elected allows for greater accountability by allowing voters to choose if a clerk is qualified or not.
“Recently, whenever a town has tried this in Tompkins County it has failed. It failed in Ulysses and in Caroline it couldn’t even get a vote,” Woods said after the meeting.
While Highway Superintendent Buddy Rollins remained mum on the proposed resolution that would also change his position from elected to appointed, he did say after the meeting that he did not support it.
“I think this is just another way for the town supervisor to stab at me and I think it would be a mistake if voters went that way,” Rollins said.
He added that he believes the move by McGee to introduce the resolutions is personal in nature and not based on policy or philosophy.
“Because for some reason the town supervisor has been coming at the highway department since her first year because I don’t go along with some of her ideals. So it’s been an uphill battle and since towards the end of last year, she’s made a lot of (negative) remarks on Facebook and publications about the highway department and stuff. I have been on this job for 12 years and she’s been going on three years and that speaks for itself as far as I am concerned,” Rollins said.
Rollins added that he also believed the board to be engaging in a power grab, and that if successful, he believes it would not result in someone more qualified for the job than him.
“They want to control the highway department and tell it what to do. In my experience towns that switch to appointed highway superintendents boards hire people they know and feel they can control. It doesn’t mean you get someone with good qualifications, just good connections,” Rollins said.
Later in the meeting, McGee said that it was never her intention for any action to be taken on the resolutions during the April 29 meeting, just for discussion on them to begin in earnest. If the board passes any or all of the resolutions, which would require a public hearing prior to doing so, the resolutions would then go to the ballot in November for Enfield voters to have the final say on.
Also during privilege of the floor McGee, when asked if she was still planning on resigning, said she was still figuring that out.
“I am still evaluating this on a day-to-day basis,” McGee said.
She added that while she believes abandoning the town during a public health crisis to not be good leadership, she explained that if the people of the town want her to resign she has no issue doing so.
Members of the public also took the time to discuss a recently established detour of traffic on New York Route 79, which are also known as Hector Street and Mecklenburg Road, that they say has led to an incredibly dangerous situation along a three-mile portion of Hayts Road between Halseyville and Sheffield Roads and especially at the intersection of Hayts Road and Van Dorn Road North. Members of the public said that animals, including pets, are struck frequently and that in previous instances along that road pedestrians have been struck and killed. With the detour in place, many expressed worry that the increased frequency in cars would lead to another tragedy.
During the update from the highway superintendent, Rollins informed the board that, as of Wednesday night, only one employee in the highway department had begun to see unemployment benefits as a result of reduced hours.
“We will see what happens for the guys at payday,” Rollins said.
Councilperson Robert Lynch, who had been an ardent supporter of Rollins in his attempts to continue to pay highway employees full-time regardless of work done, seemed to shift positions Wednesday.
“We might have to put off some things and work with a reduced workforce due to the fallout of COVID-19, we don’t know,” Lynch said.
Lynch said his reasoning was based on county data that painted an incredibly grim financial outlook for Tompkins County.
“(Tompkins County) might have an $11 million shortfall, and it could be worse… and I know that the county has started to furlough highway workers,” Lynch said.
The board has scheduled a special meeting for next Wednesday to discuss outsourcing payroll away from the town bookkeeper, a position the town is currently hoping to fill, to a third party company. The previous stipend for the bookkeeper was $10,000, the current ad for the position running on the website lists the pay as $8,000-$10,000. It is estimated that the price of outsourcing payroll would cost roughly $2,000.
With much of the discussion surrounding the proposed resolutions to alter town positions tabled, much of Wednesday’s meeting was dedicated to the discussion of an emergency resolution drafted by Lynch to express concern regarding the increased traffic along Hayts Road as a result of being used as a detour for work being primarily done in Ithaca.
After members of the public had already expressed concern with the detour, Lynch introduced an emergency resolution that, with minor edits, was passed unanimously. Along with expressing concern over the detour and asking for it to be rerouted, the board asked that it be made privy to any similar road decisions in the future.
The resolution was sent to members of the New York State Department of Transportation and officials from the City of Ithaca, Town of Ithaca, and Tompkins County.
The discussion between board members never reached the fever pitch of previous meetings.
“I just want to say thanks, this was very collegial and is the kind of meeting I think we like to have,” Lynch said.
McGee and Deputy Supervisor Stephanie Redmond agreed.