October 16, 2021

10 Legislature hopefuls featured in second forum

Candidates debate wide range of issues

Travis Dunn/Staff Reporter

Joan Coombs, Conservative candidate, fields a question as Cortland County Legislature District 17 competitor Heath Phillips, a Family Values nominee, listens during a forum Saturday at Homer Town Hall.

Business growth, the future of the county jail, reducing greenhouse emissions, intergovernmental cooperation, party caucuses, the lack of a county administrator and breaking the tax cap were among the issues discussed by 10 Cortland County Legislature candidates at a Saturday forum.

The event sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Cortland County was held at Homer Town Hall.

This was the second forum featuring Legislature candidates. While the first was for Cortland-area Legislature candidates, Saturday’s event featured candidates for the remaining districts.

District 11 (Cortlandville)

  • Democrat Pamela Jenkins, who touted her two successful Article 78 actions against Cortlandville, said she was running to increase public accountability, bring the budget under control and getting the public involved. She said she was not in favor of the county breaking the tax cap, since Cortlandville is also planning to do this. “So it would be a double whammy,” she said.
  • Incumbent Republican Christopher Newell, also chairman of the Cortlandville Planning Board, also said he was against raising taxes, but noted major challenges the county was facing, including unknown variables, such as the fate of the county workers compensation fund. He spoke of the need to hire a county administrator; he said there are five candidates, and he was optimistic one would be hired this year.

Travis Dunn/Staff Reporter

Cortland County Legislature District 11 candidates Pamela Jenkins, Democrat, and Christopher Newell, Republican, listen to another panelist during Saturday’s forum.

District 12 (Cortlandville)

  • Incumbent Michael Barylski, the Democrat and Just the Facts nominee, said the county needs to reduce poverty and increase economic development, seeing the rising hemp industry as a possible way of doing both. He spoke of the county’s budget challenges, which he said were severe. He left open the possibility of overriding the tax cap, but said the decision would require “some soul searching.”
  • Republican and Conservative challenger Joseph Nauseef, volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, works as an electrician. He spoke against wasteful spending and high taxes. He said no administrator has been hired because of partisan bickering, which he said must stop to find a candidate. “We need to make it happen,” he said.

District 13 (Cortlandville)

  • Adrianne Traub, Democrat, is a business owner, farmer and educator. She cited the Legislature’s “lack of financial responsibility” as the biggest issue facing the county. She repeatedly spoke of the need for professional staffing and financial stewardship, as well as the need for an administrator and “fiscal planning by professionals.”
  • Eugene Waldbauer, Republican, previously served two terms on the legislature. He said the hardest work as a legislator is “getting 17 people to compromise and get things done.” “There are no quick and easy fixes,” he said. He said the county needs an administrator now, even if the choice isn’t perfect.

District 16 (Cuyler, Solon, Truxton)

  • Democrat Richard Nauseef Jr., a plant utility engineer at SUNY Cortland and past president of his local union, said the county was “on the path to insolvency.” He said the county needs an administrator and must increase transparency. “We need to address these issues and address them quickly,” he said. He questioned why the county recently shot down a solar farm proposal at the county land fill.
  • Paul Heider, the incumbent Republican, is a retired New York City detective who grew up in Solon. He said he regularly meets with town supervisors to make informed decisions. He spoke in favor of transparency and ethical behavior. “That’s how I do business,” he said. In response to whether the county could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he responded with one word: “Yes,” without elaborating, which received a polarized audience reaction of laughs and groans. Heider recently voted against the land fill solar project.

District 17 (Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor, Willet)

  • Joan Coombs, the incumbent, is running as a Conservative. A dairy farmer, Coombs has worked in banking, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and now serves as the treasurer for McGraw and deputy treasurer for Cincinnatus. She said she was against raising taxes, but recognized that “Cortland county is in bad shape.” She recommended blocking any wage raises.
  • Heath Phillips, the Family Values nominee, is a Navy veteran who regularly speaks on military issues in Washington, D.C. and nationally. He said the county should prioritize growth for agriculture. He suggested turning empty parking lots into green spaces and parks. He spoke in favor of solar projects, but said “we need to get the best bang for our buck.”
  • Mitchel Eccleston, the Republican candidate, was not present

District 10 (Homer)

District 10 did not have any candidate participating in the forum. Incumbent Republican and Conservative Kelly Preston said she was upset at being excluded from the discussion; her Democratic challenger, Julie McChesney did not attend.

Laura Dunbar of the Cortland County chapter of the League of Women Voters, said she followed established rules in excluding Preston. The “no empty chair policy,” Dunbar said, requires each open position to have any least two participants.