Image by Fagan Engineers
A lot of great things are afoot in Chemung County right now despite the unfortunate dispute between the County Executive and Legislature. The new building on Water Street, featured above, is nearing completion, construction is well under way on Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine’s campus, and community spirit was outright feverish on St. Patrick’s day when Elmira snagged the Guinness World record for the largest human shamrock from Dublin, Ireland.
Below is a recap on several other matters that are keeping everyone who is involved with local government very busy at the moment!
A City-County Commission, established earlier this year, has held four in-depth sessions, and is beginning to narrow its focus on 3-5 concrete ways the two entities may be able to work together to help shore up the Elmira’s financial situation.
The Commission – made up of County Legislative Vice-Chairperson John Burin, County Legislators Scott Drake, Marty Chalk, Bill McCarthy and myself, Elmira Mayor Dan Mandell, Elmira City Councilpersons Jim Waters and Joe Duffy, and former Elmira Chamberlain David VanderMark – will hopefully we have enough data to offer a comprehensive report to the public by the end of 2019, if not sooner.
What I can report is that we are working very hard to identify real-world solutions that will have identifiable benefits to taxpayers. None of the topics involve public safety consolidation, as we recognize the absolute need to have representatives from those sectors at the table before any such discussions could ensue. The resolution creating the Commission calls for us to share our ideas with County Executive Chris Moss periodically, something that should go a long way toward fostering a true City-County partnership on these issues well into the future.
Earlier this month the Chemung County IDA approved two new solar projects encompassing 188 acres in Big Flats and the Town of Horseheads, described here.
The Star Gazette offered a concise overview of the expected benefits along with public assistance for these projects:
A discussion ensued at the IDA meeting where we considered these projects regarding the proposed PILOTs. Through that discussion I learned the Chemung County IDA adopted a policy specific to solar energy roughly a year ago before I was a member to help encourage solar energy companies consider Chemung County for development.
Although I am still fairly new at analyzing and comprehending IDA matters, this policy seems to make a lot of good business sense. Job growth in the clean energy sector has been strong globally for the past decade, but the United States continues to lag behind as described in a 2018 article by Forbes Magazine, found here. Finding ways to help encourage that kind of growth right here in Chemung County seems like a very smart way to go.
New Visions Partnership
When I was in law school at the University of Montana, I took an innovative course called “Legislative Drafting.” Grouped with two classmates, we drafted a bill updating parts of Montana’s criminal evidence rules to comply with recent case law and, after presenting them to the state legislature, had the excitement of seeing our bill signed into law.
Shortly after being sworn in on January 1, I contacted Paul Richmond, the director of GST BOCES’ New Visions program to see if we could create a program similar to my law school class that would allow high school students to learn firsthand how local government functions.
New Visions, a highly selective program for high school students in the Southern Tier, allows participants to spend time in the field learning about potential career paths – and, I hope, showing them that Chemung County is a great place to live and work!
Paul Richmond quickly jumped on board. We currently have over a dozen students working on three relatively straightforward, non-controversial resolutions related to the environment because, as I stated above, our region has a lot to gain through clean energy.
Becoming a Complete Street County
A Complete Street is a roadway planned and designed to consider the safe, convenient access and mobility of all roadway users of all ages and abilities. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders, and motorists; it includes children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Complete Street roadway design features include sidewalks, lane striping, bicycle lanes, paved shoulders suitable for use by bicyclists, signage, crosswalks, pedestrian control signals, bus pull-outs, curb cuts, raised crosswalks, ramps and traffic calming measures. More information can be found here.
Local governments can adopt a policy to report the energy use of municipal buildings on an annual basis and, in large communities, also adopt legislation requiring the annual disclosure of energy use in large private buildings. This is one step Chemung County can take toward becoming a NYSERDA-designated Clean Energy Community. More information can be found here.
First steps toward becoming a DEC-certified Climate Smart Community
The Department of Environmental Conservation’s Climate Smart Communities (CSC) Certification program provides local governments with a robust framework to guide climate action and enables high-performing communities to achieve recognition for their leadership. This topic involves addressing steps 1 & 2: Adopt a Climate Smart Communities Pledge and Address Next Steps for Local Governments. More information can be found here.
Our plan is for the students to work with me to conduct a thorough analysis of each measure, including its potential economic impact, and we in a position to present three resolutions to the Legislature before graduation in June. Fingers crossed on all of this!
Town Hall schedule
Due to difficulties on my end, I needed to move my March Town Hall event to early April. This is a final schedule for the rest of 2018. Everyone is invited to attend regardless of whether you live in the 7th Legislative District.
Finally, I need to address a not-so-good matter. I saved it for last because the issue seems to be outshining all of the really great things that are happening and sends a confusing message to the community about the state of affairs in local government.
The bottom line is this: the Legislature was presented with a fight it didn’t want and one the community certainly did not need.
I was in a meeting with County Executive Moss and a small number of legislators when he announced he was “firing” our attorney. I asked the first question following his announcement, which was something to the effect of “[c]an’t we find a way to work this out short of litigation by using a mediator or some other type of independent person to help us sort through the law.?”
Moss’ answer was an unequivocal no, and we were told we would need to go to court if we wanted to challenge his authority.
Despite that proclamation, the Legislature showed restraint by not filing anything in court and, on March 11, tabling a resolution to hire lawyers for the ourselves and County Executive. The next day we learned Moss had already filed a lawsuit against us through the County Attorney, and we learned last night that even though we had tabled the resolution to hire any private lawyers, Moss disregarded it by hiring one anyway who prepared extensive papers that have now been served upon us.
The notion of spending taxpayer money or any additional time on this is incredibly disheartening, but there unfortunately does seem to be an alternative. Ithaca lawyer Ray Schlather had generously agreed to handle this case pro bono. His offer was turned down by the Legislature, and frankly now that Moss has made multiple extensive filings from two lawyers, asking Attorney Schlather or anyone else to do it for free is a probably a little unreasonable.
Last night the Legislature voted 14-1 to move ahead with hiring a lawyer to defend us. I was one of the yes votes because, despite what some people may think, this matter is not petty. It’s about fundamental separation of powers issues that if we ignore now will bog the entire process down over the next four years.
Moreover, it is about standing up for a person we have selected to represent us.
Dave Manchester, the Legislative Chairperson, offered this statement to the media following the meeting on behalf of those who voted in favor of the resolution to hire a lawyer:
Statement of the Legislature
On January 1, 2019, we unanimously voted to hire Bryan Maggs to serve as our attorney. From the time he was sworn into office, Attorney Maggs has worked tirelessly to fulfill his duties to us and to the community. He is an excellent attorney, is a good and ethical person, and he is highly regarded in the legal community. His working knowledge of this County’s operations, and his experience with municipal law have been very helpful, as nearly half of the Legislature is new. His willingness to explain and teach us has benefited the entire legislative process immensely.
County Executive Moss has raised several issues related to our attorney’s ethics, conduct and character. These are matters we take very seriously, and we have taken the time to investigate each allegation. In our opinion, based on everything we know and have seen, Attorney Maggs has not engaged in any conduct that warrants this target to remove him. To the contrary, what we have learned reaffirms that Attorney Maggs is the right person for this job.
Specifically, there was nothing improper about the Barclay Damon law office working on Chemung County cases. The Legislature and the County’s insurance companies choose (by authorizing contracts) the law firms that defend lawsuits brought against the County, not the County Attorney. The Barclay Damon law firm has achieved excellent results at a reasonable cost. Attorney Maggs’ activities as County Attorney were consistent with the expectations that were placed on the office of County Attorney by this Legislature.
My sincere hope is that we can work through this issue as quickly and cheaply as possible, and continue keeping our focus on the things that matter most.