Democrat candidates for Cortlandville Town Board said at a forum Saturday they want to reform town government, while Republican candidates emphasized their experience in government.
Candidates shared their views and answered questions moderated Saturday morning by event sponsor the Cortland County League of Women Voters at Homer Town Hall.
For the first time in recent memory, the town board, normally controlled by Republicans, is up for grabs; every seat is being contested.
The Republican candidates, led by supervisor candidate Thomas Williams, touted their government experience — a total of nearly 60 years, Williams said. They also pointed to their pro-business stance.
Democrats portrayed themselves as the party of change for a board fraught with controversy, namely a state comptroller report faulting the town for using public funds to build a boat launch on former board member Greg Leach’s property. Democratic supervisor candidate Doug Withey said past boards failed to be completely open with the public. If his slate is elected, “that’s going to end,” he said.
But candidates of both parties spent a lot of time agreeing and sounding a lot like each other while answering questions on economic growth, protecting the aquifer, government transparency, inter-municipal service consolidation, the future of the Gutchess sports complex, the Groton shopping plaza and very specific and unexpected stumpers about alleged fumes from the local Burger King and concerns about the College Suites student housing complexes.
Travis Dunn/Staff Reporter
Cortlandville town board candidates Jay Cobb, a Republican, and Robert Martin, a Democrat, listen to another panelist during a Cortlandville candidate forum Saturday afternoon at Homer Town Hall.
Here’s how the candidates distinguished themselves.
- Williams, a retired state trooper and business owner, served nearly eight years as county legislator. Williams repeatedly emphasized the need for economic growth and said continued support for the Gutchess Lumber sports complex was one way to help achieve that goal.
“It can be the engine that drives this community for a long time,” he said.
- Withey was elected to the board two years ago — the first Democrat in more than 50 years. Withey worked for the Cortland city water department for 35 years, including 17 as superintendent. He owns W2 Operator Training Group, which trains water and wastewater system operators. He talked about long-term planning for sustainable growth that would protect the aquifer and environment.
- Republican Jay Cobb is the only candidate from the McGraw area. Cobb served one term as mayor of McGraw and several terms as board member. He’s been a firefighter for 45 years. He voiced strong support for business growth.
“Cortlandville is the economic driver of Cortland County,” he said.
- Democrat Donna Johnson, administrative secretary in the Cortland County Office of the Assigned Counsel for 10 years, was also co-owner of Crown City Travel. She said board meetings need more transparency, and residents need to be involved, even if that meant tabling votes to get more input. She said the town needs a grant writer, possibly shared with the county, to secure the big grants hat would make the Gutchess sports complex sustainable.
- Democrat Robert Martin, director of facilities for Cortland Enlarged City School District, touted his engineering, accounting and management background. He called for transparency and accountability.
“I tend to stick to something and get it done,” he said.
- Theodore Testa, the only Republican incumbent running, did not speak. He has served on the board for 28 years and was instrumental in creating the town’s two parks, one of which is named after him.
Town board vacancy
Candidates to fill board post left vacant by Democrat Randy Ross, a term that runs through the end of 2021:
- Democrat Bekkie Bryan, a physical education associate professor at SUNY Cortland, moved to Cortlandville in 2014. Bryan spoke of the need for transparency, so residents could understand why and how the board makes decisions. She also said the board needed female members, which haven’t been elected in at least 50 years. “You have two very, smart capable women running this year,” she said.
- Republican Jeff Guido, a history teacher at Cortland Junior-Senior High School, served two terms on the Cortland Common Council from 2001 to 2005. Guido called for economic growth, but also protection of the aquifer, and voiced support for the Gutchess sports complex, suggesting the need for grants, and calling additional spending on it “an investment.”