AUBURN — The four candidates running for the two open seats on the Auburn City Council took part in the second political forum of the election season Wednesday morning, and the candidates disagreed considerably over the state of the city.
Vying for the spots are incumbent councilors Terry Cuddy and Debby McCormick, previous city councilor John Camardo and first-time candidate Adam Miller. Cuddy and McCormick are running on the Democrat, Working Families and Auburn First ballots, while Camardo and Miller are on the Republican and Independent tickets. Camardo is also the sole Conservative candidate.
The forum was held during the monthly Wednesday Morning Roundtable meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn. Former Auburn mayor and Cayuga County Community College Foundation Executive Director Guy Cosentino was the forum's moderator.
Camardo and Miller both expressed disdain with the direction the city of Auburn is headed in.
"I love Auburn," Miller said during his opening remarks. "I was born and raised here in Auburn and I'd like to continue to live in Auburn. I'd like to raise my family here in Auburn some day. Right now, with the direction the city is going in, it's hard to see that possibility."
Camardo echoed Miller's sentiments. Camardo said his two oldest sons moved out of Auburn to find jobs because there are no opportunities in the area. Both said that taxes are too high, spending by the city council is out of control and the current city council is out of touch with the people.
"I want to push the doors open at city hall. I want to have a city that listens to your concerns," Camardo said, adding that if elected, he would like to hold bi-monthly town hall meetings on Tuesdays.
However, Cuddy and McCormick highlighted the positive changes Auburn has experienced since they both took office in 2013. Since their election, 10 firefighters who were previously laid off were rehired, the city hired a comptroller to address the city's previous budget deficit and the Code Enforcement Office was reopened full time to combat zombie properties in Auburn's neighborhoods, the incumbent councilors said.
"While we still face challenges, I think Auburn is on track and headed in the right direction," McCormick said.
On Monday, the city hosted a public meeting to discuss the future of the former Kalet's department store building property on State Street. Cosentino asked the candidates what they would like to see built on the lot.
Camardo, Cuddy and McCormick all support the lot being used as a public space. Miller, however, said he thinks residents should have gotten more of a say in how the property would be used.
"It's not the job of the city councilors or city hall to dictate what goes on that lot," Miller said. "It's up to the citizens to decide."
He said residents should be allowed to submit ideas for the site and then have the public vote on what they would like to see based on the top ideas. He said the city council's only job in the process should be to make sure that what the citizens want is done legally in order to avoid a lawsuit.
Camardo pointed out that he is not the same person who filed several lawsuits against the site when it was the slated to be a theater; that was his brother, attorney Joseph Camardo Jr., who owns a neighboring property to the site. John Camardo accused his opponents of "mudslinging" regarding the issue.
In terms of the public meeting held this week, all were supportive of the city deciding to get the public involved in the process.
"I think it's a fine example of the city getting feedback from the public," Cuddy said. "There were a lot of great ideas that were exchanged."
While discussing what role the city should play in restoring the vacant Auburn Schine Theater, Miller said the city can help private organizations or investors organize fundraisers or recruit volunteers to help, but that's it. The city shouldn't put tax dollars into "trying to bring back something that is virtually beyond repair."
"We shouldn't be throwing our taxpayer dollars at it when we have so many other things that need to be done," he said.
Cuddy pointed out that no local taxpayer dollars have gone into the Schine. The $800,000 grant the theater project is slated to receive for asbestos abatement came from the city's Community Development Block Grant entitlement, which are federal funds.
"What government is actually there for is to help move things that need to happen," Cuddy said. "I have a problem when people paint government as the problem and then run for office. It doesn't make sense to me."
Camardo said he would like to see the theater come back to life, but thinks the project needs a major private investor to continue. He disagreed with Cuddy, arguing the primary role of the government is to provided critical services to taxpayers.
"We're being taxed all over the place — trash tax, water tax — there will be an air tax before you know it unfortunately," Camarado said. "But not when I'm elected."
McCormick said the city should do "anything we can to support" the Schine Theater project.
"I think we should stand behind anyone that wants to invest in Auburn and try to make it better," she said, crediting the Auburn Downtown Business Improvement District for downtown Auburn's recent growth and development.
Another candidate forum will take place Oct. 31 at Cayuga Community College. It is a televised debate and will be broadcast at 7 p.m. on local cable public access channels and on auburnpub.com.
AUBURN — The Auburn Fire Department celebrated a major achievement Wednesday morning as it became one of seven departments in New York state to earn the highest ranking insurance classification.
Several city and state officials attended the department's announcement at the firehouse on Market Street, where members of the Insurance Services Office explained what the new classification means for the community.
According to ISO Community Hazard Mitigation Manager Hugh "Skip" Gibson, Auburn has been rated a "Class 1 city," an upgrade from its previous Class 2 qualification. In short, he said, that means the department will receive the best insurance protection while providing some of the best fire protection to the community.
Gibson said there are only six other cities statewide that are ranked Class 1; there are only 270 Class 1 cities in the nation.
"You are in an elite group across the country, so it is a great accomplishment for everyone," he said. "You have a wonderful city protected by some of the best fire service."
Nationwide, Gibson said the majority of cities fall under classes 4, 5, 6 and 9. There are a total of 10 classes — or Public Protection Classification (PPC) — with ISO.
Every four years, each city is graded in four areas: emergency communication, fire department, water supply and community risk reduction. Cities can earn a total of 105.5 points; anything above a 90 is considered Class 1.
This year, Auburn scored a 90.23.
"That means we have a very good fire department ... and we provide the best fire protection possible to our community," Auburn Fire Chief Joseph Morabito said. "It also means (businesses') insurance rates will get better after Jan. 1. ... And the more businesses we can attract to the city the better."
Auburn Mayor Michael Quill recalled the department's efforts to improve its ISO score in the 1990s; Quill joined the department in 1973 and became its fire chief in 1995.
"At that point, we were a Class 3 city at risk of dropping to Class 4," he said, noting that a large part of the lower classification was due to a lack of documentation. "Everyone here has done a great job. ... We're very proud of you. But don't let your guard down. We have to keep going."
Wells College junior Mackenzie Porter said she was struck by recent social media posts on sexual assault from her fellow students, friends and family members.
She said the posts reference the "Me Too" campaign, in which people have been writing "Me too" to indicate they have been sexually harassed or assaulted at some point.
Porter, a student representative with the sexual assault survivor advocacy student/faculty group Campus Climate Committee, said her social media feeds have been stacked with the phrase. She was inspired to create a gathering to support campus violence survivors.
The event, being held Thursday night, will feature a march through the residence halls, along with an open-floor discussion allowing students to share stories, poetry and more. Porter wants survivors' voices to be heard so they know they can stand strong knowing they are supported and do not have to suffer in silence.
While she said she feels safe on campus now, she didn't always feel as confident about the campus environment. She said a "Title IX incident" took place against her during her first semester at Wells, in fall 2015. She felt the perpetrator received "very lenient" treatment, and that experience spurred her to join the campus committee, she said.
Title IX is legislation from 1972 that forbids discrimination — including sexual assault and harassment — on the basis of sex in any educational program that receives federal funding.
Porter said she met in secret with fellow students at first, but representatives have since had monthly meetings with school administrators such as President Jonathan Gibralter, Dean of Students Jennifer Michael, Wells' Title IX coordinators and other faculty and staff members for the last couple semesters.
Porter said that administrators have been supportive about creating lasting change on campus. She said the committee — which holds educational events and other services on campus — was called Students Against Sexual Assault before administrators and staff got involved.
For around the last year, the Sexual Assault Victims Advocate Resource service has been working with the campus. The service — from Cayuga Counseling Services — includes staff privately speaking with students about incidents they have gone through. Porter said she felt having the services on campus has been a huge step in the right direction.
Porter said Anthony Pluretti, Wells' director of safety and security, has also been extremely helpful. She said Pluretti is highly knowledgeable about properly detailed sexual violence reporting. Porter believes Pluretti and the advocacy resource service have helped make Wells more comfortable for students.
"It started to feel like campus was actually safe for people," Porter said.
Megan Flaherty, the college's deputy Title IX coordinator and the director of campus life and student leadership, said other services available include counseling. She's glad the campus could work with students on the gathering.
"We're a small campus, so we're able to work with students individually about how to make them feel best supported on campus," Flaherty said.
Porter has noticed positive changes at the college already, as she said she heard many students suggest a couple years ago reporting any incidents would be pointless because any victims would ultimately be silenced by the administration or the Wells community. She said she hasn't heard any suggestions like that in a while.
Gilbralter, who has been Wells' president for about two years and who previously ran several other colleges, said sexual assault and other issues that create a harmful environment for students have been around as long as he's been in higher education.
He said having the advocacy resource service on campus was an outgrowth of the group meetings with administrators. Colleges must do everything in their power to make sure students are well-informed and safe, he said. He added he's proud of the students involved in the gathering.
"No means no, enough is enough and nobody ever deserves or could be asking for something that is a violation of their safety and of who they are as a person," Gibralter said. "Nobody could be asking for that."
The fate of the Cayuga Nation's Seneca Falls properties remains uncertain, as two factions within the nation continue to meet in state Supreme Court.
Clint Halftown and his federally recognized nation council have been working to evict nation members, many of whom make up the group formerly called the Unity Council, from a gas station and convenience store in Seneca Falls, among several other properties. The latest court order provides a kind of insurance on the properties while a federal court in Washington D.C. considers a challenge filed against the Bureau of Indian Affairs for recognizing Halftown's council as the nation's leaders.
Issued by State Supreme Court Justice Dennis F. Bender on Tuesday, the order requires both parties to post bond on the properties within a week. The defendants, which currently occupy the Seneca Falls stores, are to post $2 million. If they do, Halftown will be required to post $2,100,000 while the defendants may remain in the properties for at least a year.
If the defendants, represented by Syracuse attorney Joseph Heath, do not, the original court order requiring the properties to be vacated will be upheld. The defendants will be evicted, and Halftown and his council will post $50,000 bond on the properties while the federal court makes its decision.
"We are working to see if we can post the undertaking, but this is a very high amount, which we think was not supported by the evidence and will not be easy to meet," Heath said in an email to The Citizen.
Heath added that Seneca County has been made an intervenor defendant, and if the county files a notice of appeal, there would be an automatic stay on the latest court order. Seneca County Attorney Frank Fisher said that the county would not be doing that.
"They're going to have to come up with a bond," Fisher said. "They've been selling tax-free cigarettes down there for three or four years. One would think there would be some capability down there."
In a statement to The Citizen, Halftown and the nation council said they are pleased with the latest court order.
"The Nation looks forward to the return of these properties and the end to the misappropriation of Nation assets," it added.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, a branch of the U.S. Department of the Interior, recognized Halftown and his council as the nation's government leaders in a July decision. Heath challenged that decision at the end of September.