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I have had a crazy few weeks as my daughters’ school and spring sports ended while a number of my cases at the Ziff Law firm started really cranking. As a result I have not been able to put together a update-style post in quite a while.

The list below demonstrates that there is a lot going on in local government right now. As always, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these and any other matters as greater public involvement with government results in better government overall.

Shared Services

Last Thursday Chemung County Executive Moss held a meeting for all municipal mayors and supervisors where he laid out a new plan for shared services in Chemung County. Unfortunately the Legislature was not informed of the meeting, and to date has not received any information from the Executive’s office about what the plan entails.

The Executive’s Office is holding two public meetings about the plan on Thursday, June 27th in the Hazlett Building’s Second Floor Conference Room. The meetings will start at 10:30 and 2:30, and it is my understanding that the content will be the same at both. The meetings are open to the public and will be live-streamed on the Chemung County Matters Facebook page.

Legislator Compensation

Last year a number of candidates, including me, expressed concerns that our Legislators receive too much pay and too many benefits. In order to further investigate how our legislative compensation compares to other legislatures across New York as well as similarly situated part-time Chemung County employees, a “Legislative Compensation and Benefits Review Committee” comprised of five legislators has been established.

The members of the committee are Legislators John Pastrick, Mike Smith, Rodney Strange, Bill McCarthy and me.

The goal is for this committee to be able to make recommendations to the Legislature before we vote on the 2020 budget in late fall. To that end, the meetings will start soon. They will held in the Hazlett Building’s Fifth Floor Conference room, are open to the public and will be live-streamed on the Chemung County Matters Facebook page.

The first meeting will be held on July 8th immediately following the Full Legislature meeting. All others will be held at 6:00 on the following dates:

  • Monday, July 22
  • Monday, August 5
  • Monday, August 26
  • Monday, September 2
  • Monday, September 23
  • Monday, October 7
  • Monday, October 28
  • Monday, November 4

Term Limits

Like legislator compensation, term limits for legislators was also a hot topic last year. To that end a “Term Limit Study Committee” has been created to look at how other counties have addressed the issue and identify best practices.

The members of the committee are Legislators Tom Sweet, Joe Brennan, John Burin, Mike Smith and Peggy Woodard.

The enactment of term limits is potentially subject to a referendum. In other words, if the Legislature passes a Local Law that puts limits on how long legislators can serve, it is possible that the law will appear on the ballot for a public vote. It is unclear whether the committee will finish its work to allow for a Local Law to pass this year, but, as we are in the first of four year terms, there is time to make sure we get the issue right.

The meetings will start soon. They will held in the Hazlett Building’s Fifth Floor Conference room, the are open to the public and will be live-streamed on the Chemung County Matters Facebook page whenever I am able to attend. A schedule will be posted as soon as it becomes available.

Moss v. Legislature

I have been asked many times recently about the status of the lawsuit County Executive Moss brought against the Legislature after he unsuccessfully attempted to fire the Legislative Attorney.

The short answer is that oral argument will be held in front of Judge Eugene Faughnan in the Hazlett Building’s Third Floor Courtroom on July 19th at 9:30 a.m. The hearing is open to the public but live-streaming is most likely prohibited.

The longer answer is that the entire issue is now legally moot. The Legislature voted 14-1 to override a veto by County Executive Moss and allow the Charter to be amended. This amendment was necessary to clean up any perceived ambiguity between the Charter and actual practice in Chemung County from the time it first hired independent counsel for the Legislature in 1984 until today. County Executive Moss had an opportunity to pass petitions to place this issue on November’s budget, but that time has since passed, meaning that the Charter has officially been amended.

Second, and more fundamentally, the issue is also moot in terms of where we are as a county government. There was a lot of change and many new faces at the start of the year. Even though there are still some bumps, we are learning how to work together. The Legislative attorney has not missed a day of work since his attempted firing, and I am willing to bet if you polled the Legislators you would learn we unanimously support him and his work, and are extremely satisfied with the job he has done so far.

We should all move on from this issue to avoid wasting any additional time, energy or money on it.

City-County Committee

The City-County Committee has been working extremely hard since the start of year to identify ways the two entities can better partner in order to help the City through this period of fiscal hardship.

The Committee Chairperson in John Burin and its members include:

  • Dan Mandell – Mayor, City of Elmira
  • Joe Duffy – Elmira City Councilman Third District
  • Dave Vandermark – Former City Chamberlain
  • Marty Chalk – Chemung County Legislator District 10
  • Bill McCarthy – Chemung County Legislator District 12
  • Scott Drake- Chemung County Legislator District 13
  • Me

We are getting close to sharing our findings with County and City leadership as well as the public. I am not permitted to speak about our recommendations yet, but can say I believe they will spark a much needed public discussion about the importance of the City of Elmira for the rest of the County, as well the best path forward for all of us at this time.

New Visions Students

At the beginning of the year I began working with a group of high school seniors through BOCES New Visions program. Modeled after a class I took in law school, the idea is that the students will work with me to draft legislation, then present it to the Legislature in the hope that it will pass.

The legislative drafting program is good for the students (they learn about local government), good for the Legislature (we get an in-depth look at issues that may otherwise not come before us), good for New Visions (it is another way to expose students to government) and good for the community (the more young people are invested in our community, the more likely they are to consider coming back someday.)

Last night the first group of students – Jackie Kinner of Odessa Montour and Catriona Huber and Alivia Vandaalan of Horseheads – made an excellent(!) presentation about Complete Streets, a program in New York whereby municipalities agree to take all aspects of road safety, including pedestrian and cyclist safety, into account before starting new work. The municipality can ultimately decide against things like additional bike lanes and wider shoulders if it deems them coast prohibitive, just must at least consider what options are available.

A document produced by the students is embedded below:

Their presentation can be viewed below starting at at approximately 51 minutes.

Marijuana Citizen Advisory Board

In May several Legislators including myself approached Chairperson Dave Manchester about identifying a group of citizens who could look deeply into the question of whether Chemung County should opt out of growing, selling and distributing marijuana in the event the New York Legislature votes to legalize adult use and possession across the state. Our concern is that if nearby counties do not opt out, we will still bear the cost of problems associated with adult recreational use but will cut ourselves out of the potential revenue from growth, sales and distribution.

I specifically would like people from underrepresented sectors to sit on the board such as farmers, small business owners, drug treatment providers and people already involved with CBD oil and medical marijuana to help the Legislature sort through this tough topic.

Our Charter allows for the creation of Citizen Advisory Boards from time to time when the Legislature feels it needs additional or more specialized information.

The Legislature voted to create a nine person Citizen Advisory Board, with Chairperson Manchester selecting three members, County Executive Moss selecting three members, and the board itself selecting three people to fill the remaining spots.

We learned the names of the first six members last night. They include:

  • Acting Chemung County Sheriff Bill Schrom
  • Chemung County Communications Director Vinnie Azzarelli
  • Chemung County Social Worker Jennifer Emery
  • Chemung County Legislator Scott Drake
  • Chemung County Legislator John Pastrick
  • Chemung County Legislator Bob Briggs

One thing is clear – this is anything but a citizen group. All six members are county employees, four of whom are elected and one who serves as a high level administrator for County Executive Moss.

Moreover, the group includes the acting sheriff, the former chief of the Elmira Police Department Chief, a retired Deputy Sheriff and a person with an extensive military background, something that may not lead to diversity of viewpoint.

This is a tough issue. Last week the New York State Farm Bureau came out in favor of both recreational use and opting in, yet my involvement with a current case involving driving under the influence of marijuana drives home the risks in a profound way.

Hopefully this group will choose three members from other sectors, and arrange for Town Hall style meetings where the community has a chance o be heard.

Town Hall Meetings

Speaking of Town Hall meetings, I held my second one of the year in early June. A recording of it is embedded below:

I hope to see you at the next one in September!

Communications with Union Leadership

The Legislature has unfortunately become aware of concerns some Chemung County employees have about work conditions, salaries and other issues. In particular, numerous past and present employees of the Nursing Facility and Child Protective Services have come to our meetings to speak publicly to these matters.

This type of communication is good, as county employees should feel they are able to speak to the Legislature as a whole or individual members about what is going on at work. However, the situation is a little bit different if there on ongoing, active union negotiations.

I raised this issue at the end of last night’s meeting embedded above, and learned that the easiest thing to do is for employees and legislators to avoid talking about topics that are the subject of negotiations. We are available and want to listen on all other topics.

Live Streaming and COG

Two last quick matters…

It would be great if the County could start live-streaming all public meetings. We were told in January the service would be provided soon.

In my opinion we need a Council of Governments. What do you think?

There are many more issues to discuss, but this will have to suffice for today. Once again, please let us know what you think about these topics and anything else that matters to you!

Christina Sonsire