June 29, 2007

City promotes firefighter, adds new recruit


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Retiring Cortland Fire Capt. Thomas Owens pins the rank of captain on Lee Price as Deputy City Clerk Sherrie Massmann and Mayor Tom Gallagher look on at ceremony Thursday. The captain’s rank insignia is a pair of silver bugles to signify the trumpets used in the past by officers to give orders during an emergency.

Staff Reporter

The Cortland City Fire Department held a swearing in ceremony Thursday to promote one firefighter to shift captain and welcomed another firefighter to the department’s ranks.
Ten-year veteran Lee Price, 39, of East Freetown, was promoted to captain after a vacancy was created by Training Capt. Tom Owen’s recent retirement.
“I will probably be wise to sit back, watch, listen and learn,” Price said of taking command of a new shift. “Basically I want to make it as seamless as possible.”
Chief Dennis Baron said Price was chosen for the position because of his dedicated service to the department.
“Once he came on the career staff, he set his cap on being a part of the answer instead of part of the problem,” he said, adding Price was a member of the city’s volunteer staff before he was hired as a career firefighter in 1997.
Assistant Fire Chief Charles Sherman said Price will become a shift captain, filling Capt. Erik Verfuss’ position, and Verfuss will take over as the department’s training captain position.
“Erik has always shown an interest in training,” Baron said. “He has worked as an adjunct instructor at the (state) Academy of Fire Science.”
Owen was the city’s training captain for nearly four years. He is retiring after 18 years with the department because of a career-related disability.
Owen said he is sad to leave the department but because of multiple injuries and surgeries to his back as a result of two different rescues over the years, his legs and back can no longer handle the job.
“My left leg is pretty much useless,” Owen said. “It wasn’t a choice I wanted to make. I planned on staying another 10 years or so.”
“He made a legacy for the position,” Baron said of Owen. “He managed to convince all the firefighters, both career and volunteer, that he cared about their training.”
Kenny Thompson, 36, of Trumansburg, will be filling the opening created on the 34-person roster by Owen’s retirement. Thompson, who said he will be moving into the city because of his new position, has been a volunteer firefighter since 1986 and a paramedic with Bangs Ambulance Service in Ithaca since 2002.
“Everyone I’ve talk to about him said, ‘You’re getting a good one,’” Baron said of the new hire. “He explained to us that this is a job he set his cap for as a very young man.”
As a requirement for the new position Thompson will be attending firefighter school in Montour Falls from August through November.
Price will also be receiving new training for his promotion. He will attend a month-long leadership school in New York City that also begins in August.



Legislators oppose Howe’s reappointment

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Cortland County Legislature Thursday night voted against reappointing Republican Election Commissioner Bob Howe.
Those opposed to the appointment voiced concerns over the fact that each party’s election commissioner is also chairman of his respective party’s political committee.
Howe still could be appointed by the Legislature’s Republican caucus, county officials said after the meeting. However, three of the seven Republicans on hand voted against the reappointment Thursday.
Newell Willcox (R-Homer), who was absent due to illness, potentially could split the vote 4-4.
Should the caucus vote not to reappoint, the Republican Committee would be asked for another recommendation, Minority Leader Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) said after the meeting.
Howe declined when asked to comment after the meeting.
A motion to reappoint was not on the regular legislative agenda Thursday, but Ross asked for and received a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules to allow for a vote.
“I wanted the full Legislature to vote on this,” he said afterward.
However, legislators from both parties, Ross included, immediately made it clear that they were concerned with reappointing Howe both because of a perceived conflict of interest with his position as Republican Committee chair and because of a pending lawsuit that Howe and his Democratic counterpart, Bill Wood, recently brought against the county.
Wood also serves as both the Democratic election commissioner and the Democratic Committee chair, and was appointed to a two-year term as commissioner in January 2006.
“I firmly believe that the chair of the political party should not also be the commissioner of elections,” said Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward).
Legislator Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville) agreed, saying she had heard concerns from constituents and that there is a “fundamental perception” that the positions present a conflict of interest for one another.
Breed also noted that party chairmen ultimately control the flow of funding to various candidates, and that her voting the chairman of her party into another position would in itself represent a conflict of interest.
“And they’ve already cost us money through the lawsuit, which just left me with a basic distaste because I think that’s an issue that could have been settled through personnel,” she said.
Breed was referring to the lawsuit Howe and Wood brought against the county regarding their salaries as commissioners.
The suit was argued in court March 16 and is awaiting a decision from state Supreme Court Judge Kevin Dowd.
Ross said his “no” vote was not prompted by the lawsuit but solely by the potential conflict of interest.
“It may be legal, but I still think holding both has got to be a conflict,” he said.
Ross and Breed were joined by fellow Republican Merwin Armstrong (Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) in voting ‘no’.
Legislators Brown, John Troy (D-1st Ward), Sean Clark (D-2nd Ward), Tom Hartnett (D-4th Ward), Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward) and Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward) also voted against the appointment, resulting in a 9-8 vote, with Willcox and Steve Dafoe (D-Homer) absent.
Legislator Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward), who voted in favor of the appointment, noted that numerous other counties have election commissioners serving both roles.
The state Board of Elections has said in the past that there are no restrictions on election commissioners also acting as party chairs.
Howe has served as election commissioner for 10 years, however, he was only appointed Republican Committee chairman last summer; this is the first time his reappointment has come up when he’s held both positions.
Van Dee also said the Legislature should confirm the Republican Committee’s recommendation for Republican election commissioner, a position that handful of Democrats who voted for the reappointment agreed with.
“The committee appoints who they want and I just don’t see where we have the power to say otherwise,” Van Dee said.
Van Dee said that Wood’s appointment in January 2006 was the first time in recent memory that the Legislature had openly questioned either party committee’s recommendation.
It was also the first time the Legislature was faced with appointing someone who would be holding both positions.
Wood was appointed by a 15-3 vote, with Breed, Willcox and Tom Williams (R-Homer) voting against the appointment and the rest of the current Legislature voting for it.
However a handful of legislators, most vocally Breed, questioned his past practices during campaigns as Democratic Committee chairman.
Williams brought up the issue of Wood wearing “two hats,” according to minutes of the Jan. 19, 2006, meeting, but Brown at the time said she did not feel the question was appropriate.
Since then, Brown said, her opinion has changed, partially due to the lawsuit brought by the two commissioners.
“One major factor is obviously the lawsuit — we certainly didn’t anticipate that when Mr. Wood became election commissioner,” Brown said. “Really though, that was the first time we’d seen that, with a chairman of the party as commissioner, and I don’t like how it’s progressed — I don’t think that’s the way it should be.”


In Cuyler —

Citizens’ group sparks renewal of celebration

Staff Reporter

CUYLER — A recently formed citizens’ group has planned major changes to this year’s annual Fourth of July festivities, with the hope of bringing people together after months of local political turmoil.
Town Clerk Louanne Randall, a Citizens of Cuyler member, said for the group has organized a cook out, children’s games, a concert and a bake sale in the town park.
In addition, she said, Citizens of Cuyler co-chairmen Vera Leete and Wendy Custer will set up at a table during the event, handing out community event calendars and registering people to vote with the hopes of raising community interest in the town’s government.
“We want to unite the citizens and people of Cuyler,” she said, explaining that residents had similar festivities around 20 years ago. “That’s what we are trying to get back.”
The group also cleaned up the park area, rewired lighting and painted the playground and bleachers in preparation for the event, Randall said.
Randall said her group hopes the new activities will enhance the town’s yearly Fourth of July parade and fire department chicken barbecue.
Town Historian Ann Ludke said members of Citizens of Cuyler also helped her clean up the town’s old train depot, where she will put historical items on display, including war photos and railroad memorabilia.
“They’ve been wonderfully supportive,” she said, of the group. Ludke said the town’s historical society used to open the depot every year for the July Fourth festivities, as well as for monthly meetings, but because the group has become inactive, the depot has not been used to host displays in two years.
Ludke said she believes the town has become less unified over the years because the children go to four different schools and many of the residents work outside of the community.
“It’s been Cuyler’s tradition to have a community day,” she said of past years. “Cuyler doesn’t have much to bring it together any more. I think we have forgotten our neighbors.”
Randall said the parade will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Main Street and the festivities in the park are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. The fire department also will begin its chicken barbecue at 11 a.m. at the new fire station on Route 13.
Randal said Gospel Way and Diamond Sunday will play bluegrass music during the event and the Citizens of Cuyler will run water-balloon tosses and three-legged races for the children. The group will also be selling hotdogs, hamburgers and cans of soda, and all the money raised from the events will go to future projects the group hopes to do to for the town, she said.
Citizens of Cuyler was formed in April with the objective of removing former Town Councilman John Van Dee from office after several citizens claimed he was not a town resident and that he lived in Homer.
After Van Dee resigned from his position in May, the group decided to stay together and work toward creating a stronger community, and raising awareness of local political issues.
Group members are also concerned about the town justice position, which is being filled by a neighboring justice while Town Justice Jean Marshall is suspended. The state Court of Appeals suspended Marshall in March after the state Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended she be removed from office.
The commission accused Marshall of unethical practices while serving as judge and of lying under oath during a commission investigation. Marshall is appealing the recommendation and could be removed permanently by the appeals court.