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Highlights of the January 2, 2024 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

Dan Klein, 10-Year Legislator Representing Danby, Unanimously Elected Chair

In its annual organizational meeting, Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) was unanimously (14-0) elected to chair the Legislature in 2024. Klein was nominated by Legislator Amanda Champion (D-Ithaca), who stated “Dan fights hard for what he believes in, but he also respects others' positions and accepts when he makes a mistake or loses a vote… Early on in my time here, Dan shared with me his view on our role as Legislators. He said these seats are not ours, we are merely stewards of them for a short time. For Dan, this job is not about ego or power. It is about listening and learning, it's about making thoughtful decisions, and it's about operating a good government to support the community and provide services for the people of our County.”

Champion’s sentiments were echoed by Legislator Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton), who seconded the nomination and stated, “Over the past two years I’ve noticed something about Dan, he’s often the last legislator to weigh in and speak… my sense is that he is a person who listens carefully…” Shurtleff further lauded Dan’s leadership on the Health and Human Services Committee and shepherding the Community Recovery Fund.

Chair Klein accepted the nomination and shared that he felt honored and humbled to step into the position of Chair, adding that he will share additional comments and Legislative Committee assignments in upcoming meetings. Klein thanked outgoing Chairwoman Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) for her service in the role over the past two years. Black will serve as Vice Chair in 2024 per a unanimous vote of the Legislature (14-0).

In order to facilitate the election of a new chair, a temporary chair is chosen. Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) served as Temporary Chair and shared remarks thanking the County’s staff, namely Legislature Clerks, for their efforts to keep meetings and activities of the Legislature running smoothly. Lane also reflected on the importance of the County’s Charter and its mandate to re-elect Legislature leadership each year, whereas many other Counties elect leadership for an entire term or several years.

Tompkins County Human Rights Commission Presents Resolution Calling for a Ceasefire in Gaza

The Tompkins County Human Rights Commission presented their resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Chairwoman of the Commission Dr. Peyi Soyinka-Airewele read the resolution and outlined the Commission’s drafting process and considerations. The Legislature considered the resolution informally since there was no official resolution brought forth by a Legislator or Committee. The full text of the Commission’s resolution can be found Online here.

Dozens of members of the public provided comment in support of the Commission’s resolution.

Legislator Travis Brooks (D-Ithaca) thanked the public commenters and offered to gather with a few Legislators and members of the Human Rights Commission to draft a resolution for the Legislature to consider on the topic. Legislator Susan Currie (D-Ithaca), who serves as the liaison between the Legislature and the Human Rights Commission shared her support for Brooks’ idea. Brooks and other interested Legislators will convene and discuss a potential resolution to be brought forward in a future meeting.

Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) shared remarks on his perception of the Human Rights Commission’s resolution being one-sided, suggesting that even Hamas has reportedly rejected several ceasefire calls in addition to their being the initial perpetrators of violence in October 2023. 

Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) called into question the scope of historical context brought up by several public commenters. Dawson outlined a longer view of the “complex and very nuanced” history affecting the Jewish people rather than a more contemporary history impacting the Gaza Strip. On the topic of whether the resolution should be considered by the Legislature, Dawson added that “I’m pretty pragmatic… and I honestly don’t see what difference it makes to anybody outside of Tompkins County what the Tompkins County Legislature as a group has to say… so basically you’re asking us to take a moral position, you have every right to do that but if you’re asking me to take a moral position it’s my moral position, not yours…”

Among Other Business

The Housing and Economic Development Committee will discuss the concept of low-barrier shelter with representatives from the Tompkins County Continuum of Care. The discussion comes as a follow-up to the County’s December announcement that it is exploring solutions to unsheltered homelessness in the community, including the development of new shelter beds. (For a recording of the Committee’s January 3 discussion, visit the Tompkins County YouTube channel)