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January 4, 2013

 

Legislature chair sets goals

Ongoing issues like assigned counsel, landfill deficit top list

ParkBob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland County Legislature Chairman Mike Park in his office at the County Office Building.

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Cortland County Legislature Chairman Mike Park has set some lofty goals for 2013, including the creation of a new county department to oversee the emergency communication system and possibly recreating a conflict defender position.
Park said he is confident 2013 will bring positive change for the county.
Sitting in his third-floor office Wednesday, Park discussed his goals for the year ahead and looked back on his first year as chair of the Legislature.
Among his top priorities are: Resolution of the assigned counsel issue with the local bar association, consolidation of courts and greater shared services countywide, resolving the county’s solid waste loss by possibly having an outside firm manage the landfill and creating a 911 department to oversee the $14-million emergency radio system that should take effect in April.
Park said he expects to reach a workable assigned counsel plan within the next two months through meetings between the county and the Cortland County Bar Association.
In December the Bar Association rejected the county’s plan to make the county attorney the assigned counsel administrator, who would handle the assignment of indigent client cases to local lawyers in the event the Public Defender’s Office has a conflict of interest.
“The next step is talking with the bar association and ... redeveloping the conflict attorney position and an assigned counsel plan,” Park said.
Park also wants to create a new 911 department that would oversee all aspects of the new upgraded emergency communications system. The county is expected to have its eight radio towers online by April as part of the Federal Communications Commission mandate that all radio systems be narrowbanded this year.
Park would not speculate on the cost of the department or who would oversee it, whether someone new would be hired or if it would be a reassignment of job duties internally.
He expects the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee to take up the idea in coming months and hopes the department could be created by midyear.
Another of Park’s goals is to get the controversial wind-farm draft Environmental Impact Statement, created by the United Kingdom-based firm TCI Renewables, handed to the public.
TCI plans to build a 48-turbine wind farm on lands in Solon, Cortlandville, Homer and Truxton. The future of that project is in question because TCI failed to meet an October deadline to turn the document over to the public and has since been removed from the state interconnection queue. But Park says public input is an important step if the project is to proceed and he expects the document may be released to the public in February.
Park also wants to have regular discussions this year between the county, city and towns and villages on areas that services can be shared. He wants to see consolidation of services and start by consolidating the courts, having about three or four courts to serve the entire county instead of maintaining the numerous courts in rural areas that are often underutilized.
Any consolidation of courts would require state approval.
Park expects this goal may take over a year and says that consolidation of services is something that will be a multiyear endeavor, since those goals should be examined and updated yearly.
He hopes the Budget and Finance Committee and Personnel Committee can be consolidated this year, saying there is often not enough on Personnel Committee agendas to merit a separate committee.
Majority Leader Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) said she wants as much information on issues presented before it comes time for a vote. Briggs said she thinks it is the responsibility of legislators to vote the way their constituents want them to.
Briggs said she favors streamlined, more efficient county government going forward. She wants to see the wind project end this year and she wants to explore enacting a flow control law, which would require all waste generated in the county be disposed of at the county landfill.
Briggs wants the Legislature to issue a public apology to former Public Defender Keith Dayton, whom the Legislature launched an investigation into early last year, which was later found to be meritless.
Park wants to see more cooperation on the Legislature in 2013, saying legislators need to communicate more effectively, come to meetings prepared and call him or County Administrator Martin Murphy if they need clarification on topics that will be discussed at meetings.
“I hope all legislators can start looking at what’s best for the county,” Park said. “There’s too much local politics ... too much behind-the-scenes driving legislators.”

 

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