April 11, 2007

Angry Cuyler residents want town board member to resign


Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Seated from left: Cuyler Town Supervisor Steven Breed and Town Board members John Van Dee and Richard Keeney wait as Lt. Mark Helms of the Cortland County Sheriff's Department attempts to calm residents who are asking Van Dee to step down because, they say, he is not a town resident.

Staff Reporter

CUYLER — State and county police officers stepped in to control the crowd at a Town Board meeting Tuesday night after a few dozen angry citizens and two board members called for the resignation of board member John Van Dee.
During the meeting, board member Richard Keeney read a letter written by Edith Allen, of 5544 Cuyler-Lincklaen Road, DeRuyter, and addressed to the county Board of Elections, stating that Van Dee does not live in Cuyler and asking that he be removed from his position.
“Please find the enclosed documents that prove John Van Dee does not reside on Van Dee Road in Cuyler, N.Y. His legal STAR (tax) exemption status is on 1760 White Bridge Circle Drive, Homer,” Allen says in the letter.
Keeney, a Republican, and Allen said they have contacted the state Attorney General’s Office about the dispute.
The Attorney General’s Office could not provide an answer on what defines a person’s residency when asked about the issue.
A representative from the state Department of State said residency primarily is defined by where a person is registered to vote and where the person spends most of his or her time.
Van Dee, who is a Democrat, is registered to vote at the Van Dee Road address, according to the county Board of Elections.
After Keeney read the letter, the crowd of more than 50 people quickly erupted into a shouting match, with several people accusing Van Dee and Town Supervisor Steven Breed of breaking the law.
Van Dee refused to address the audience about where he lives, saying only “I have a house in Homer.”
Van Dee’s term began in 2006 and he is not up for re-election until 2010.
Breed would not allow citizens, Keeney and board member Nancy Corbin, a Republican, to discuss the issue at the meeting, saying it was not on the agenda. He also asked police officers to remove Danny Philips, of Cuyler, who was yelling and cursing at Van Dee.
“Tell me you don’t live there,” Philips yelled, referring to the Homer address.
“It’s not on the agenda,” Breed said several times among the shouts and cursing. “We are not legally allowed to go after one of our own. This is nothing we can discuss. It’s not up to us.”
Corbin and Keeney asked Breed, a Democrat to put the issue on the agenda for an upcoming meeting, but he refused.
“I couldn’t get him to put it on the agenda,” Corbin said after the meeting. “I’ll look into it and see what I can do.”
The meeting became so out-of-hand that officers from the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department and the State Police, who already were present at the meeting, called for two more patrol cars to help keep things under control. Officers adjourned the meeting for around 10 minutes in an effort to calm the crowd down before the board resumed business.
No one was charged with a crime.
After the meeting, Van Dee and Breed would not answer questions about where Van Dee lives. But they did say that questions were raised when Van Dee ran for his position in 2005, and that he has sworn affidavits from the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department stating his legal address is the Van Dee Road residence.
Van Dee would not elaborate further about the issue.
Sharon Van Dee, of Keeney Road, said she knows John Van Dee does not live at the Cuyler address because her ex-husband, Jody Van Dee, John Van Dee’s brother, lives in the house with her children.
When the meeting resumed and most of the residents had left, the board also passed a resolution to hire a temporary town justice while the current judge is suspended.
The board voted to hire Taylor Town Justice Rollan Elwood for the next six months to fill in while Cuyler Town Justice Jean Marshall fights a state recommendation to have her removed from office.
The town will pay Elwood $200 per month, plus mileage, while it also pays Marshall, who is suspended with pay. Her salary is $5,000 per year.
The state Court of Appeals suspended Marshall on March 28 after the state Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded that she lied under oath and altered court calendars during an investigation into cases she dismissed in 2003.
Marshall is appealing the decision and says she never lied.



County land deal options down to two

Committee says the county should reject buying any _property, or purchase only two commercial sites on Main St.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Wearied by four months of uncertainty and oftentimes heated discussion, a majority of a special legislative committee agreed Tuesday that the county should not, at this point, purchase any of the properties involved in the controversial south Main Street land deal.
However, unable to agree on a unified recommendation for the rest of the Legislature, the committee settled on allowing the county a bit of “wiggle room,” narrowing a list of six possible options for dealing with the annulled property purchases down to two:
* Stand by its January vote to annul its initial decision to purchase the properties, with the hope that the county attorney can negotiate an “amicable agreement” with the sellers who have challenged the legality of that decision.
* Consider purchasing just the two commercial properties — the Moose Lodge and Robbins Vending buildings — and attempting to negotiate out of agreements with the other sellers.
Committee Chairwoman Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward) said the two recommendations are fairly similar, but the latter gives the county some room to “hang on to the two commercial properties,” if it wishes to attempt some sort of scaled-down project on the site.
The county voted in December to purchase nine parcels for $894,000, with the intent of building an estimated $5.5 million combined Health and Mental Health facility.
Of the six committee members in attendance, four — Tytler, John Daniels (D-Cortlandville), Mike McKee (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor and Willet) and Tom Williams (R-Homer) — said that at this point they felt the county should not purchase any of the properties.
Tytler said she did not want to see any residential properties purchased by the county, and suggested the two commercial properties would not be large enough for the desired facility.
“I don’t think just the two commercial properties would be enough to build the facility we need,” Tytler said. “Given the very clear directive we were given by (Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown), I would, at this point lean towards not purchasing any of them.”
Brown had asked Tytler to focus only on the properties currently involved in the deal and not consider other available properties, such as the site of the former Wickwire building farther south on Main Street, that are being discussed.
Tytler added that if the county opted to buy the commercial properties or was ordered to buy any or all of the properties by a judge, she would be interested in discussing putting a motor vehicles office there.
However, she said, the county should not let itself be pigeonholed into building on the south Main Street site.
“I’d be glad to consider it, but I think we should take a look at all the possible options,” she said.
This sentiment was echoed by Williams, who continued to insist that the county should have a master plan for all of its space needs — including the health departments, motor vehicles office and a county jail — before proceeding with any plans to purchase property.
“I don’t feel that we, as a group (the full Legislature), have done enough of the big picture stuff, and, for my comfort level, I need to have some of those questions answered before we purchase anything,” Williams said.
Committee member Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward) responded by saying that the General Services Committee had looked extensively at the county’s space needs, and that taking on a mental health/health facility was a logical first step.
Tagliente acknowledged that, with all of the public opposition to the project, a public health facility was probably not a good fit for the properties in question.
But, Tagliente said, the county had a responsibility to the sellers to go through with the purchases, and he hoped that some sort of project could be salvaged on the site.

County to study Harford road fix

Staff Reporter

It’s only a short strip of road, just a few hundred feet long, but the frequency and scale of damage along a portion of Daisy Hollow Road in Harford prompted the Legislature’s Highway Committee Tuesday to take the first step in seeking an expensive but permanent fix to the road.
The committee instructed Highway Superintendent Don Chambers to seek engineers to study the stretch of road and present possible solutions to the problem.
Those solutions could potentially include either reinforcing the soil beneath the road or moving the road further away from a nearby stream that is weakening the soil, said Deputy Highway Superintendent Bob Buerkle.
There’s no way to tell, without an engineering study, what type of fix would be preferable or how much either would cost, but Buerkle estimated that any project to fix the road permanently would likely be expensive, anywhere from $250,000 to $700,000.
“It’s hard to say how much it would cost,” Buerkle said, noting that high costs could potentially include purchasing land to move the road, or purchasing steel sheet piling to reinforce its base. “We need to hire some engineers with expertise in slope failure to take a look at it.”
The committee’s discussion was prompted by a petition, presented to the full Legislature at its March 22 meeting, signed by 172 county residents who travel Daisy Hollow Road frequently.
The petition noted that the road is prone to frequent erosion and decay causing a safety issue for those traveling it, and it requested a permanent solution to the problem.
“I signed the petition myself because as a surveyor, I travel that road a lot, and you have to go through that section at 5, 10 miles per hour just to be safe,” said committee member Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville). “I think it’s better to do it now, make it safe and permanent, rather than deal with a lawsuit down the line.”
The Highway Department has done frequent patchwork along the portion of road, filling potholes and fixing erosion, Chambers said, but the problems return quickly, due to a failure of the soil strata about 60 feet underground.
Buerkle called the problem “classic soil failure,” likely caused by the proximity to the creek, which lies about 170 feet from the center of the road.
“We know what the issue is, it’s the solution that needs the study,” he said.
Chambers said he hoped to bring an estimate for the cost of an engineering study from Liverpool-based Barton & Loguidice to the committee’s May meeting.
The cost of the study is difficult to estimate, Chambers said, but because it would likely involve extensive geo-technical work — work that requires surveying of soil deep beneath the ground — he guessed that it could cost up to $50,000.


Dairy cow breeder remembered as pioneer

Staff Reporter

His time in the area was short relative to his 81 years, but according to those who remember him, Albert Wright left a huge imprint on dairy farming in Cortland County.
Wright, who died March 22 in Forida, was the first vocal proponent of the artificial insemination of dairy cows in Cortland County, and his advocacy helped spark a transformation of farms all over the area.
“Albert Wright was a true pioneer, somebody who was out in front of everybody else on this,” said Duke Watros, who recalls Wright helping set up a an insemination system at his father’s farm in Marathon in the late 1940s.
“My father had probably the most sales resistance of anybody I ever knew, so when Albert Wright showed up at our farm, I thought to myself, ‘Buddy, you’re wasting your time,’” said Watros, who recalled Wright as someone who brought an “almost evangelistic fervor” to the new breeding process.
“By the time he left the farm though, he’d signed my father up, and two or three days later our bull was sold down the road,” he said.
When Wright first began promoting artificial insemination in the 1940s, as a technician for the New York Artificial Breeders Cooperative, all dairy farms in the area had a bull on hand for breeding their cattle.
By the 1970s the previously revolutionary methods brought to the county by Wright had become fairly standard, said Syd McAvoy, director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County.
Today there are very few farms who still breed with bulls, McAvoy said.
“Artificial insemination has been a great technology for the dairy industry,” McAvoy said. “It was probably a tough sell for him at first — people had been using bulls for so long — but it really did benefit local farmers.”
Artificial insemination allowed for much more efficient breeding, McAvoy said, allowing farmers to gather more comprehensive information more quickly on the genes of a bull, and ultimately producing better cattle stock.
Switching to artificial insemination was also an important safety measure, he said.
“I think safety was probably one of the biggest things,” McAvoy said. “Even though they were domesticated, we’re talking about a 2,000-pound bull, and that was always a safety issue.”
In order to sell artificial insemination to local farmers, Wright likely needed to do a great deal of educating, McAvoy said, not just on the benefits of making the switch from breeding with bulls, but also on the process of setting up a system, including how to freeze and thaw the seminal material and how to properly inseminate female cows.
“I’m sure to start, the conception rate was still a lot higher with natural insemination because it’s a pretty refined process,” he said. “They really would have needed a technician like him.”
Although he left Cortland County in 1964 to work for the American Breeders Cooperation in Honeoye Falls, Wright left behind a number of technicians he trained personally to continue to promote artificial insemination.
“Al Wright got us off to a great start, and when it was time for him to go we were ready to pick up the slack,” said Ray Green, of Tully, who succeeded Wright at the NYABC. “He was very much respected by all the dairyman because he was always a professional, 100 percent.”
Watros said he felt it was important Wright was remembered.
“He had a tremendous economic impact on the farmers he served, he gave us all better cows, and that impacted all the businesses in Cortland County that were dependent on dairymen back then,” Watros said.