November 13, 2007


Absentee ballots confirm Dafoe win

Election victory gives Democrats control of county Legislature


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Republican James Miller is consoled by his wife, Debbie, after election results were announced this morning. He lost to incumbent Democrat Steven Dafoe 235-215 after absentee ballots were counted.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Democrat Steven Dafoe won re-election in Homer’s 11th Legislative District seat, picking up 25 absentee ballots to James Miller’s additional 12 ballots during a count this morning. The final tally was 235-215.
With Dafoe’s win the county Legislature will remain in Democratic control by a slim 10-9 margin. The Legislature currently has 11 Democrats and eight Republicans and the current terms end Dec. 31.
Dafoe, of 28 Clinton St., Homer, had been only seven votes ahead of Republican challenger James Miller, with 210 votes to Miller’s 203 votes after last Tuesday’s tally, which did not include absentee votes.
Two absentee ballots were thrown out, one before being opened and the other because of a stray mark on the ballot.
“I have nothing to say,” Dafoe told the Cortland Standard after his win.
Miller, 44, of Greenwich Street in Homer, said he was disappointed.
Miller said he would consider his options for the future. “I’ll see what happens in two years.”
Miller, a salesman for Bus Parts Warehouse in Manlius, ran as a candidate who would attend legislative sessions _and committee meetings. He pointed out that Dafoe has missed several legislative meetings and even more committee meetings.
Miller also said, in an interview before the election, that he would work to bring more businesses to Homer and push for the county to adopt a master plan for its space needs.
Dafoe, 49, runs a tree service. He did not return calls requesting an interview before the election.
Legislative Republicans won two seats in the city of Cortland with Ward 2 going to Tony Piombo, a Democrat who ran as a Republican, and Ward 5 going to Kathie Wilcox. Democrats Ric Van Donsel and Ron Van Dee lost in Wards 2 and 5, respectively.
The Democrats did win one seat that is held by a Republican. Challenger Democrat Kathie Arnold, of Truxton, won against incumbent Merwin Armstrong in Legislative District 16 (Cuyler, Solon and Truxton).




New county proposal —

Election commissioners could be barred from leading political parties

Staff Reporter

At the urging of constituents and legislators, a provision that would bar county election commissioners from simultaneously serving as officers in a political party has been attached to a proposed local law that would set the salary for commissioners.
Some members of the Legislature’s Personnel Committee are confident the measure will pass that committee and possibly the full Legislature, but other committee members question the legality of barring the commissioners from serving as party officers.
The resolution is scheduled to go before the Personnel Committee at 8:30 Thursday morning.
Committee member Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer), who made the motion to introduce the law, said it came at the urging of Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward).
“I personally don’t have a problem with them holding both offices, but there’s some legislators that have a problem with it,” Cornell said of election commissioners Democrat Bill Wood and Republican Bob Howe, who also serve as head of their respective political party.
Brown said she “can’t imagine” that any legislators would not see holding both positions as a conflict of interest.
“There has been a lot of comments from legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, and from the public, thinking that there is a conflict of interest between being a chairman and being an officer of any political party,” Brown said. “I felt that if they want to address it, we should address it now or leave it as is.”
Personnel Committee member Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward) said he believes a commissioner should not also serve as a party officer. Fellow committee members John Troy (D-1st Ward) and Tom Williams (R-Homer) said they understood the appearance of a conflict of interest in the Board of Elections Office.
“I could see where that could be an abusive situation, for the voters. There’s the potential for that, anyway,” Williams said of the dual roles. “And for me, it (the resolution) just makes sense. I try not to prejudge things — on something like this, I’ll love to hear the debate, I’ll love to hear the discussion, and then I’ll vote on that.”
Troy said he would likely support the measure, but worried about its legality over barring a commissioner from serving as a party _official.
“It’s really not a conflict of interest, but it’s perceived that way by the public,” Troy said. “I don’t have any problems personally with Mr. Wood or Mr. Howe in those positions, but the perception is out there and we should do our best to avoid that perception.”
Wood, who was appointed election commissioner in 2006, refused to comment.

Salaries to be set for commissioners

The proposed 2008 salaries for both Cortland County election commissioners would be $29,968 for the part-time position and although there is language in the proposal that would set the salaries for 2009, the monetary amount has been left blank.
The county is paying both the Republican and Democratic commissioners $29,967 this year, based on a state Supreme Court ruling handed down in a lawsuit against the county filed by Republican Commissioner Bob Howe and Democratic Commissioner Bill Wood.
Last December, the county set their salaries for 2007 at $26,384 in response to a request from Wood and Howe, who had asked that their salaries be equalized.
For 2006, Wood was paid $25,616 while Howe was paid $29,967. Howe was being paid more based on his 10 years in the position. Wood is in his second year as election commissioner.
The election commissioners then sued, saying that it was illegal to lower Howe’s salary midterm — Wood wanted the difference between his salary and Howe’s for 2006 paid to him retroactively. This was not included in State Supreme Court Judge Kevin Dowd’s ruling in September.
The position had been removed from the county’s longevity compensation plan last December.
The question on the table now involves how much the salaries will be set at in the future, which is going to be difficult since the two-year terms are staggered, and the salaries have to be equal and can’t be lowered midterm.
Personnel Committee members Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward), John Troy (D-1st Ward), Tom Williams (R-Homer) said that they felt the salary should be lowered.
“I definitely think it should be lowered a little bit,” Troy said Monday, not sure exactly what a figure would be but estimating that something near $20,000 would be appropriate.
“It depends on the person — they can spend more or less time in there. We’ll have some debate on that I’m sure.”
“I guess I’d like to see what we get for our money,” Williams said Monday. “I would love to see some documentation as to how much they’re working for the county.”
Personnel Committee member Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) said she would like to hear the discussion of the salary question on Thursday before she would make a decision.
— Evan Geibel



No generation gap in war

Veterans urge troop support at SUNY Cortland Veterans Day Ceremony

Staff Reporter

The speaker at SUNY Cortland’s Veterans Day Ceremony on Monday called for peace, encouraged people to thank veterans and lauded benefits awarded to them.
“I would have never finished my Ph.D. without the GI Bill,” said Dr. John Gustafson, an 82-year-old Homer resident, former Marine and retired SUNY Cortland biology professor.
About 60 people attended Monday’s event, which was the second of its kind and held in Brown Auditorium in Old Main. Many in attendance were veterans dressed in uniform.
After his speech, veterans said they took Gustafson’s words to heart.
Gustafson, who joined the Marines in 1943 at age 17, said true soldiers do not fight for the sake of fighting.
“There’s always the hope that each war will be the last,” he said.
He said after the talk he was lucky enough not to have seen much death and destruction in 1945 when he helped to repatriate Japanese prisoners of war.
During the Korean War in the early 1950s, Gustafson served as a platoon commander for two years guarding a naval base in Kodiak, Alaska.
But for Charles Harrington, images of friends dying and the stress of combat mar his memories of service. The 63-year-old Cortlandville resident served in the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis and in Vietnam.
To this day, he said after the talk, he still has nightmares and receives counseling.
“There are still days I have problems,” he said.
Gustafson said soldiers need support. He encouraged people to say thank you or send an e-mail to a deployed soldier.
The American public generally looked down on Vietnam War soldiers, Harrington said.
“In the airport, I even changed into civilian clothes just to get away from them (war protesters),” he said.
SUNY Cortland senior Jason Uhlig, 27, said he thinks opinions have changed since Vietnam. The communications major recently served in the military police on the border of South Korea and North Korea for 16 months. He is now in ROTC at SUNY Cortland.
People now separate soldiers from policy makers, he said. Since he has returned to the United States, he has heard nothing but kind words, he said.
Uhlig is attending SUNY Cortland for free under the GI Bill, and gets a stipend of $500 two times a month. He said he appreciates the financial support by taxpayers for veterans’ services.
“That was major for me,” Uhlig said, noting it is his key to pursuing an eventual career in public relations for the military.




Salvation Army bell ringers getting online boost

People can adopt a red kettle through Web site and solicit donations through e-mails

Staff Reporter

With Christmas just over one month away, the local Salvation Army chapter is preparing for another year of its annual fundraiser, but with a new twist.
This year, the sound of volunteers ringing bells next to red kettles at the entrances of local grocery and shopping centers will be joined by the sound of keys clicking on keyboards as the local Salvation Army chapter takes a new technological approach to the traditional fundraising initiative.
Cortland residents now have the option to go online and start their own virtual red kettles to help raise money for the local charity.
The online kettle is a new feature to the national campaign that began in 2005. More local charities have been joining the promotion each year.
After adopting a kettle, people can promote it on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook and send e-mails with the URL to friends and family to help raise money for the local chapter of the Salvation Army.
“We’re just kind of trying it out this year,” said Scott Dorchak, captain of the local Salvation Army corps. “Our goal is to … have 1,000 people adopt a kettle. I heard some Salvation Armies ended up making $30,000 more with the online kettle.”
Dorchak said the local goal for the overall campaign is $37,000.
Online kettles were tested in 10 cities in 2004, and then joined the national red kettle campaign in 2005 after interest grew, said Melissa Temme, spokeswoman for the national Salvation Army.
“Bell ringers on the street will never go away and in fact will always be an important part of the Salvation Army. It lets people see us and know we are there. Unless you need our service, you don’t see us,” Temme said. “The online kettles are not a replacement, but it’s a nice and exciting complementary tradition … The Internet has no boundaries.”
The red kettles around Cortland will be set up Monday and be used to solicit donations until Christmas Eve.
“It is strictly a volunteer effort. Some Salvation Armies have to resort to hiring workers but we don’t want to do that because it takes away from the donations,” Dorchak said. “All the money raised goes here in Cortland.”