AUBURN — The Cayuga County Legislature appointed a Victor man to the vacant county administrator position at a special meeting Tuesday night.
J. Justin Woods will start his four-year term as county government's chief executive some time prior to Jan. 1, 2018, and will receive an annual salary of $135,000. The pay is $40,000 more than what the county was paying former administrator Suzanne Sinclair and about $10,000 more than the county's highest offer in its advertisement for the position.
The Legislature passed a resolution 13-1 hiring Woods, with Legislator Joe Bennett opposed and Legislator Andrew Dennison absent.
Woods is currently a professor in the Master of Public Administration Program at Pace University, teaching some online classes and at times commuting from Victor. In the past Woods has served as planning directors for Ogdensburg and Big Flats. He also served as a private consultant for the city of Binghamtom and other clients in the Southern Tier.
"I've spent most of my career as a department head or working with municipalities as a consultant or non-profit community economic development role," Woods said in a phone interview Tuesday night. "I thought that was a good fit for some of the experience I had. I'm really excited to be coming."
Bennett said he could not support the hire because of the salary increase, calling it an "injustice" to county taxpayers. Other legislators said they, too, were unhappy with the salary package but still supported the hire.
"I'm hoping it's a sign of his intelligence that he can apply for a job and instantly get a pretty sizable raise, and hopefully that's a sign he'll do great," said Legislator Tucker Whitman.
In his absence Dennison sent a letter in support of Woods, though he, too, expressed his concern about the salary. Dennison was on the body's hiring committee and said that despite the salary qualms, Woods was his top choice.
"I hope he proves me right," Dennison wrote.
After the meeting Legislature Chairman Keith Batman and Majority Leader Aileen McNabb-Coleman said Woods is worth the investment. Batman said Woods' salary is still less than those of the Cayuga County district attorney, the president of Cayuga Community College and many public school district superintendents.
"It's not as much as a lot of people that are in charge of a $145 million corporation are paid," Batman said, referring to the approximate size of the county budget.
"We're all thinking long-term," McNabb-Coleman added, "way beyond ourselves and our seats. I think that's fantastic, and I'm thrilled."
McNabb-Coleman and Batman said they hope Woods will stay longer than four years, considering there's an opportunity to renew his contract. Besides the salary, Woods will receive health and dental benefits, disability and life insurance, New York State retirement, four weeks of vacation and county holidays off, and an employment security fund. He will be provided a county car for business travel and his commute. The county will also pay him up to $12,500 for relocation expenses, though that will have to be paid back if Woods voluntarily leaves employment within his first two years.
While he's not sure yet when he will arrive in Cayuga County, Woods said his first plan is to sit down with elected officials, department heads and members of the community to learn what issues to prioritize and how people work. He has not yet found a place to live, but Woods said he's looking at the city of Auburn. He plans to move with his wife, Jillian, and their three children, who are between the ages of 2 and 6.
Besides his work experience, Woods has a varied educational background. He earned his undergraduate degree from Green Mountain College in Vermont and his Master of Public Administration degree from Pace University. He also holds a Juris Doctor and Master of Laws degree in Environmental Law from Pace Law School in White Plains.
Woods is the fourth person to take on the county administrator position, which has seen a considerable amount of overturn in the past approximate decade. The position has been vacant since March, when Sinclair submitted her resignation, though she had not been working since Feb. 3.
Despite a couple of races too close to call, Democrats will keep their hold on the Cayuga County Legislature, according to unofficial voting results posted on the Cayuga County Board of Elections website.
Democratic incumbents Ben Vitale, Keith Batman and Ryan Foley will represent Districts 3, 7, and 15, respectively, and political newcomer Elane Daly will represent District 11. Republican incumbents Tucker Whitman and Paul Pinckney kept their seats representing District 1 and District 4, respectively. Republican Charles Ripley also grabbed the District 9 seat.
Two races remain tight for the District 4 and District 13 seats. Republican Chris Petrus has a slight lead over incumbent Legislator Grant Kyle for the elected office representing the town of Brutus. Incumbent Republican Legislator Tim Lattimore is holding onto his third and final term representing District 13 against Democrat Bob Nodzo by one vote.
Due to the Legislature's weighted voting system, Democrats needed 442 weighted votes to keep hold of the majority. They surpassed that Tuesday night with 479. Republicans had 305 votes in hand not including the two races too close to call.
District 1: With no challengers, Whitman will continue to represent the towns of Sterling and Victory on the Legislature. Unofficial results show 671 votes cast for the incumbent and three write-ins.
District 3: Vitale will also stay in his District 3 seat on the Legislature. Vitale had no challengers in Tuesday's election for representing the towns of Montezuma, Mentz and Throop. The unofficial vote tally showed Vitale receiving 750 votes, with 14 people writing in names.
District 4: Based on an unofficial 466 to 442 vote, the third time running for office might be a charm for Republican and Conservative candidate Petrus, but he wants to wait for the absentee ballots first.
Incumbent District 4 Legislator Kyle agreed, though he said it was looking unlikely that he'd keep his seat Tuesday night representing the town of Brutus. Kyle was appointed to the Legislature in 2016 following the resignation of former Legislator Mark Farrell. Kyle ran on the Democratic, Independence and Working Families parties.
"I'm feeling OK," Petrus said in a phone interview. "You can't count your chickens 'til they're hatched or whatever, but we have a good lead."
District 5: Pinckney will keep his seat representing the towns of Aurelius and Fleming after unofficially winning 591 votes against challenger Melissa Jenkin's 287.
Pinckney ran on the Republican and Conservative party lines and is the current chair of the Legislature's Planning Committee. Jenkin ran as a Democrat and under her own independent party called the Lake Party.
District 7: A write-in campaign challenged but did not unseat incumbent Batman Tuesday night. Republican Bobby Massarini threw his hat in the ring too late to be on the ballot, but unofficial results showed 436 write-ins against Batman's 740 votes.
Batman, who is the current chair of the Legislature, ran on the Democratic, Working Families and Women's Equality party lines to represent the towns of Springport, Scipio and Ledyard.
District 9: Summerhill Town Supervisor Ripley will take a new government seat representing District 9 on the Legislature. He beat out Democratic, Independence and Fix Our Roads candidate Kathleen Gorr in an unofficial vote tally of 844 to 576.
The Republican will represent the towns of Summerhill, Sempronius, Moravia and Niles, replacing Legislator Terry Baxter. In turn, Baxter ran and won the Moravia town supervisor position Tuesday night.
District 11: Daly will work for Cayuga County once more. The former director of the county's health and human services department will serve Auburn residents in District 11 after beating out accountant Mike Lesch. The unofficial vote Tuesday night was 682 to 451.
Daly ran on the Democratic, Working Families and Auburn First party lines and Lesch ran on the Republican and Conservative lines. Daly will replace Legislator Frank Reginelli.
District 13: One vote separates the two candidates for the District 13 seat, and it's in favor of incumbent Legislator Lattimore.
Lattimore had 305 votes against newcomer Nodzo's 304 votes. Ian Phillips, the county's Democratic Committee chair, said absentee ballots will determine the winner. Nodzo ran on the Democratic and Auburn First party lines while Lattimore, who seeks his third and final term, ran on the Republican, Conservative and Independent party lines.
District 15: With no challengers, Foley will keep his District 15 seat serving parts of the city of Auburn. Running on the Democratic and Working Families party lines, Foley received 347 votes, unofficially. There were nine write-ins.
Voters on Tuesday resoundingly defeated a ballot question which, if approved, would have scheduled a convention in 2019.
Unions, environmental groups, Planned Parenthood and officials from both major political parties had urged opposition. They warned that deep-pocketed special interests could use a convention to undermine existing constitutional rights and noted that the constitution can already be amended through voter referendum.
New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said working men and women "understood what was at stake."
"Our constitution has some of the strongest worker protections in the country, including the right to collectively bargain, unemployment insurance, workers' compensation," Cilento said. "... All of those rights will continue to be protected for the working men and women of this great state."
Supporters argued a convention would provide a chance to address chronic corruption and porous campaign finance rules while strengthening protections for education, health care and the environment.
The question of a constitutional convention is automatically put on the ballot every 20 years. The last convention was held in 1967.
If the question had passed, voters would have later picked delegates for the convention. Any recommended changes to the state's governing document would have had to be ratified by a statewide vote.
Voters approved a proposed constitutional amendment allowing judges to strip the pensions of corrupt officials, no matter when they were elected.
A 2011 law allowed judges to revoke or reduce pensions of crooked lawmakers, but it didn't apply to sitting lawmakers at the time. A constitutional amendment was needed to cover all lawmakers, regardless of when they were elected. This year's ballot question, if approved, will close that loophole.
More than 30 lawmakers have left office facing allegations of corruption or misconduct since 2000.
New York voters also approved a ballot question that tweaks conservation rules in the Adirondacks and the Catskills to make it easier for local governments to use land for public projects.
The constitutional amendment approved Tuesday will set aside 250 acres for communities to use for projects that support health, public safety and community improvement, such as bike paths or water lines.
The constitution now prohibits local governments within the Adirondacks and Catskills from building on state land unless they get statewide voter approval. It's a cumbersome and time-consuming process that local officials say often holds up progress.