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January 5, 2010

 

Daniels points to accomplishments during term

Former Legislature chairman says ethics law, south Main Street development highlight time in office

DanielsJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Former Cortland County Legislature Chairman John Daniels in the Legislature chambers on his last day Thursday.

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

When John Daniels reflects on his past two years as chairman of the Cortland County Legislature, he is proud of his accomplishments and says he always had the county’s best interests in mind with every decision he made, no matter how controversial it was.
Daniels, 63, lost to his Republican opponent Susan Briggs by a 60-40 ratio in November, a loss he attributes to the Republican majority in his district and a desire for change by voters.
Daniels (D-Cortlandville) was a legislator since 2006.
Daniels described serving as chairman the last two years with mixed emotions, saying it has “been an experience.”
In an interview Wednesday from his office on the third floor of the County Office Building, Daniels said he was honored to have been given the opportunity to serve the public. He said he would miss working with the county employees, praising the department heads for being competent, hard workers. But he said he would not miss the politics of the position.
He became a contentious figure after he was voted in as chair in 2008, despite the Democratic caucus nomination of Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward). A swing vote from Republican Tom Williams (Homer) won him the seat.
Daniels later removed Williams, Tytler and then-Legislator Chad Loomis (D-8th Ward) from their leadership roles as committee chairmen, saying they were not properly handling their positions, by subverting his authority or overstepping their boundaries.
Daniels said 2008 was a turbulent year with many Democrats still resenting the breaking of the caucus nomination. But Daniels said he thinks the Democrats became unified toward the end of the year when the Legislature ousted former Election Commissioner Bill Wood from his seat because the newly passed Ethics Code barred an election commissioner from serving concurrently as a party chair. Wood was also Democratic Party Chairman at the time.
A hard part of the job, Daniels said, was not knowing if legislation would pass that he thought was good for the county.
“We rule by a majority. If something passes 10-9, then it passes and those who didn’t get their way should say they support it because it passed,” Daniels said, criticizing legislators for rehashing issues.
Daniels used the example of the south Main Street properties that the county is swapping with Tompkins Cortland Community College so the college can build a new, larger classroom center in the city.
In 2006 the Legislature voted to buy the properties for a public health building that never came to be because public opposition killed the proposal. The Legislature tried to back out of its purchase contract but was forced to buy the properties, spending approximately $550,000 on the site that included the abandoned Moose lodge.
In 2009 the agreement with TC3 was set into motion and on Dec. 17 the county awarded a Boonville-based environmental firm $115,000 to do the asbestos removal of the Moose Lodge building in preparation for demolition.
“We made a decision not to sell and to transfer the property ... so let’s move forward. It will be fantastic for the community and make that section of Main Street a better place,” Daniels said.
This land swap with TC3 is one of the accomplishments Daniels is most proud of. Enacting the county Ethics Code, which became law in October 2008, is another.
“We never had a code of ethics and now people are being held accountable for their actions,” Daniels said.
He praised the fact that employees have to submit financial disclosure forms, and said he would like to see even more comprehensive and detailed forms filed.
Daniels is also proud that the Legislature’s Rules of Order, revised in April, call for bipartisan appointments of both the Legislature clerk and county attorney. Daniels also lauded the construction of the new Department of Motor Vehicles building on River Street. The new building was expected to open in December but is now delayed because of late furniture orders.
Daniels compared his leadership as chairman to his experience at the Cortland-based company Hevi-Duty Electric, where he was a plant manager for 10 years and plant superintendent for three years. Daniels said he brought that experience to the county both in terms of budget knowledge and management decisions.
“At times you have to make hard decisions you don’t really want to make, but you do it because you have to do it,” Daniels said.
But Legislator Kathie Wilcox (R-5th Ward) said she was disappointed in the job Daniels did.
“I think the chair needs to be able to look at both sides of the coin and not to have his or her mind already set,” Wilcox said, faulting Daniels for sometimes casting tie-breaking votes in committees on issues he wanted passed.
But Legislator Tom Hartnett (D-4th Ward) thought Daniels did “pretty well” as chair.
“It was a rough start but things got a lot better,” Hartnett said, adding he thought there were “reasons” for some of Daniels’ more controversial decisions to oust committee chairs.
Daniels defended his decisions to oust Loomis, Tytler and Williams from their committee chairmanships.
“All the decisions I have made have been for what I think is the best thing for the county, not necessarily the best thing for me personally,” Daniels said.
“I don’t like making enemies of friends, but if someone oversteps their boundaries and you try to get them back on track and they don’t get back on track, you have to make a choice,” Daniels said.
Tytler and Williams declined to comment on what they thought of Daniels’ chairmanship. Loomis was unable to be reached for comment.
But at a Legislative session in March some legislators called for an Ethics Board investigation into Daniels’ removal of the committee chairs. This motion, made by Kathie Arnold (D-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) failed 8-10 with Hartnett absent.
At that same meeting Wilcox stepped down as Health Committee chair, showing her disapproval of Daniels’ dismissing the chairs.
Daniels said overall he has a positive feeling when he looks back on his chairmanship.
Daniels thinks the $120 million budget adopted for 2010, which carries a 5.9 percent tax levy increase, was the best fiscal plan the Legislature could have passed without adversely impacting services.
Daniels said he would not completely rule out serving as legislator again but said for now he is looking forward to spending more time with his teenage grandchildren.

 

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