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December 28, 2013

 

Outgoing county legislators reflect on tenure

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

As several long-term legislators are leaving their seats Dec. 31, ushering in a new 17-member Legislative body, many recall fondly the most memorable moments of their service and offer words of advice for future legislators.
Among the memorable initiatives, legislators highlight the rollover to a new emergency communication system and the Legislative efforts to streamline government as well as certain road projects and the implementation of a partial property tax payment plan.
Legislator Kathie Arnold (D-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) has been a legislator since 2008 and was rewarded with a standing ovation from her constituents at the final Legislative session of the year.
Arnold, who was very involved in reviewing the proposed Crown City Wind Farm by the United Kingdom-based firm TCI Renewables, saw the county pass a resolution removing itself officially from the project at her last meeting. She said it was rewarding and an important statement of the county’s intention not to be involved with the controversial project.
Arnold also cited the overhaul of the appointment process for the county’s five biennially appointed positions as an important achievement. In 2012, the Legislature created a merit-based system of appointment for the positions of county attorney, Legislature clerk, auditor, public defender and veterans services officer. Arnold said the new process removes politics from the decision.
In a recent email to the Cortland Standard, Arnold also praised the fact that the county allows delinquent taxpayers to pay their taxes and claim their properties up until nine days prior to a foreclosure auction.
Long-term Legislator Newell Willcox (R-Homer), who has served since 2004, highlighted several controversial moments of his tenure.
Willcox said he was “glad to see the last administrator go,” meaning former County Administrator Scott Schrader who was effectively ousted from the seat in 2010 when his seat was declared vacant at the reorganizational meeting because he had not signed the oath of office in the required time frame. Willcox said he disagreed with the decisions Schrader made for the county.
In particular, Willcox said he thought insurance proceeds from a fire that burned down the old recycling center in 2002 should have gone to pay off debt, rather than into the general fund. Willcox said he also thought Legislature Chair Mike Park (R-Homer) was treated unfairly in the newspaper and by his party, not given credit for things he was trying to do.
“I was pleased with his chairmanship, he wasn’t the essence of perfection but he certainly did a sincere job,” Willcox said.
The Republican Party in December overwhelmingly supported Legislator Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) to replace Park as Legislature chair next year, with Park casting the sole vote in favor of himself.
Briggs and Park were often at odds during his chairmanship, with Briggs disagreeing over Park’s leadership style.
Willcox was also pleased that the Legislature size was cut from 19 to 17, during his tenure, saying this was something he wanted to achieve since he ran.
“I ran on the basis to eliminate my job because I felt we had too many legislators from the get go. And I’m happy I don’t have a job because I got rid of two people,” Willcox said Tuesday.
For Legislators Dave Fuller (R-Cincinnatus, Taylor, Freetown and Willet), Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward), and Tony Pace (D-7th Ward), it was not so much particular initiatives that stand out in their mind but the overall experience of serving. Spaulding said the experience of working cohesively with all other legislators was a valuable one and one he wishes more community members could experience so they understand more about the workings of the county.
Fuller advises legislators to forget about party lines.
“Drop the party line and become a person that is most interested in doing the right thing, not only for this party or her party but for the county,” Fuller said.
Pace, who said he was proud of being part of the county’s switch from its Certified Home Health Agency to Rochester-based HCR Services in 2011, urges the Legislature to consider switching to three-year terms with term limits after three terms.
“Because the amount of time it takes to learn the job and go ahead and perform it, the two-year term it’s too short,” Pace said. He also thinks it is important to bring new people on board with different perspectives and ideas.
Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) was on the Legislature since 2002 and he said he will miss working with certain legislators and promoting the county.
“Our sales tax has been up every year and that’s because legislators promote the county and get businesses in,” Ross said.
Outgoing Legislator Ray Parker (D-2nd Ward) was proud of a resolution that passed at the legislative session last week, retaining the Child Advocacy Center in the County Office Building for the next three years.
“That was a big deal because you’re saving a program. A program that has worked and built itself up,” Parker said.
County Administrator Martin Murphy had advocated for instead putting the Public Defender’s Office in that 2,000-square-foot space because of cramped quarters that the department currently has and because he said the advocacy center was not paying its fair share of rent.
Departing Legislator John Natoli (R-8th Ward) declined to comment on his two-year term.

 

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