AUBURN — A newly-released report highlighting where Cayuga County government could become more efficient and organized has shown the county is short-staffed and in need of upgrades.
Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods gave county legislators his recommendations for what measures to move forward with from the report compiled by the Center for Governmental Research, a firm the county hired last year. Woods rated those items on a low, medium and high priority scale, at a special Legislature meeting Monday night. His top two priorities? Hire two new probation officers and commence the creation of a department of public works.
The probation department has long been understaffed, with officers currently handling about 100 cases each. Raise the Age, legislation that raises the age of criminal responsibility from 16 and 17 to 18, requires new supervision for those teens and that's falling on probation departments. Probation director Jay DeWispelaere had told legislators in February that the number of juvenile delinquents his department may have to supervise could jump from about seven to 77.
Woods said he'd like the Legislature to hire two new probation officers now, with two more slotted for the medium/long-term haul. While there should be financial backing coming from the state to support the new legislation, Woods said hiring two new people was a necessity for the department either way.
Besides manpower, the department is lacking in space. Woods said that, too, is something the county needs to address, and soon.
"We can't just hire people," he said. "We have to have somewhere for them to work as well."
The county's public works got a hard look, too, Monday night. Woods took the report's suggestion of consolidating highway, parks and trails, buildings and grounds and weights and measures and making them all one department of public works with a new director. Doing that would require a heavy lift, he said, from the county attorney's office, considering some local laws would need to be changed.
Acting Highway Superintendent Dan Bowen has been receiving management assistance from Bill Dashnaw, retired St. Lawrence County Highway superintendent. That contract is nearly halfway through. Woods said Bowen and Dashnaw have finished assessing Cayuga County's county roads, and found about 47 percent of them are rated as deficient. That assessment did not include bridges, culverts, buildings and grounds, Woods added.
"We need to pull all of that into a unified plan, a multi-year plan," Woods said.
Aside from those two priorities, Woods said other things should happen sooner rather than later like potentially restructuring committees, upgrading the county's website, automating the payroll system, expanding hours for department of social services staff, and more.
Some medium- to long-term goals Woods proposed included hiring a deputy planning director, hiring a civil engineer, holding more training programs. expanding human resources' capacity, hiring a communications director, hiring a deputy administrator and establishing a defenders legal aid society, to name a few.
None of the suggestions, in the report itself or in Woods' initial presentation, included whether they would save the county money, or what they would cost. Most of the measures appeared to be pull on the budget, however, and that had some legislators hesitate.
Legislator Ryan Foley said he felt a conflict with adding new positions now and in a short-term manner considering historically legislators have asked department heads to wait for budget season. Woods said he did think adding two probation officers made sense at this time.
Overall, Woods proposed about 10 new positions in the county, though to be added over time and some likely adjusted within current positions. Legislator Keith Batman said many of these suggestions would be a draw on the budget.
"I think we have a lot of good ideas," he said. "The things we have money to do are very limited. ... We just need to move very cautiously to make sure we have money to do these things."
SYRACUSE — For the first time since The Clothesline Project debuted in Syracuse in the early 1990s, Vera House – a nonprofit dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault – joined with the Survivors’ Network to include an opening ceremony for the project on Sunday at Destiny USA.
"The clothesline project is a tribute to the strength and courage of the women, men, and children who are survivors of sexual assault and abuse. Individuals use this opportunity to express themselves through words and art design on a T-shirt," Alexandra Dukat, a member of the Survivors’ Network shared in her opening ceremony speech.
The Clothesline Project in Syracuse was initially organized by the Rape Crisis Center of Syracuse, and every April since its inception — in honor of sexual assault awareness month — T-shirts, now over 300, created by a survivor or someone who care about a survivor or victim are hung on a clothesline as a visual display bearing witness to sexual violence and domestic abuse. In 2006, Vera House merged with the Rape Crisis Center and the project continued.
Dukat shared that the Survivors' Network, formed in April 2016, was "a collective group of survivors who have experienced trauma in a multitude of ways and combinations." Now every month she sits at a table with men and women working together to "decide how to push the needle forward on ending sexual and domestic violence."
"This ultimately has meant that some of us have put ourselves in the spotlight – this isn't the first time I have spoken publicly and identified as a rape survivor, it won't be the last," Dukat said. "Identifying publicly as a survivor is a challenge – while some find it heroic, I am here to tell you it is terrifying. I am vulnerable.
"I am no longer anonymous. My pain is out there for the world to see, to feel if they want to, to judge if they choose."
Dukat asked the audience to remember when the Me Too movement hit in October, 10 years after Tarana Burke started it. She said to "settle back into that feeling, suddenly when you were surrounded by survivors and you didn't even know it. There they were right next to you, filling up your social media feeds with strength and courage for the world to finally see. Imagine if all the owners of the shirts behind me were here today to tell you their stories. You would hear 300 different stories, 300 different truths, 300 different accounts of trauma, abuse, and violence.
"Survivors stand next to you every single day ... we smile, laugh, cry, and celebrate your life with you. Prior to Me Too, you may not have known how many people that actually was," Dukat said.
As Dukat spoke, about 10 other women stepped forward, emerging from the audience, to stand alongside her. As they walked to the front they shed their coats or sweatshirts to reveal their own T-shirts.
Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted; one in nine girls and one in 53 boys under 18 have experienced sexual assault at the hands of a adult; 21 percent of transgender, queer, and non-gender conforming college students have been sexually assaulted; more than one in four black women experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime – these were just a few of the statistics Dukat continued to share.
"I am one of these statistics. But we are more than data. We are one of these white T-shirts. My name is Alexandra, I am a bisexual rape survivor," Dukat said, and then she passed the microphone. Each survivor who stood with Dukat shared her name and the type of sexual violence she was a survivor of.
Following their statements, every survivor symbolically hung her T-shirt on the clothesline.
After the opening ceremony, Dukat shared that she thinks this year The Clothesline Project has the potential to impact people in a way it never has before, thanks to the Me Too movement.
When the hashtag hit on social media, people were "overwhelmed for a few days at how many people they knew where impacted by sexual harassment and sexual assault," Dukat said. "You might know someone who made a shirt. I think it's going to bring a very different feel to the project this year.
"Seeing people walk through (the project), it gives me hope that there are still good people out there who do want to help," Dukat said, saying that often in online spheres people are more likely to be judgmental or not connect with the issue.
"Watching people go through (the clothesline project) ... you really see raw human emotion ... it's almost like everyone is actually human again."
A large collection of activists, including members of the Indivisible movement in central New York, reiterated its support for Dana Balter and questioned why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would intervene in the primary election.
The grassroots groups released a four-paragraph statement in response to Juanita Perez Williams' entry into the 24th Congressional District race and reports that the DCCC, the House Democrats' campaign arm, is assisting Perez Williams with her attempt to qualify for the June 26 primary ballot.
The DCCC's involvement comes at a pivotal point in the campaign. Candidates are facing a Thursday deadline to submit at least 1,250 valid signatures to qualify for the Democratic primary.
Balter, D-Syracuse, has been a candidate for Congress for seven months and won the Democratic designation from the four county committees in February. Two of her potential primary opponents, Scott Comegys and Anne Messenger, dropped out after the designation process. A third, Bill Bass, remained in the race but is now planning to run as an independent.
Last week, Perez Williams entered the race. She told The Citizen Thursday night that it was her decision to run for Congress and believes she is the best candidate to challenge U.S. Rep. John Katko, a two-term Republican.
The statement from members of central New York progressive groups doesn't mention Perez Williams. But they do question why the DCCC would intervene, especially this late in the process.
"Right now, they are paying people to pass petitions to get their handpicked candidate on the ballot," the activists wrote. "The DCCC is imposing its priorities and decisions on local residents. Instead of fostering a collaborative relationship with grassroots organizations, they are using their funds to erase our work."
The DCCC hasn't commented on its role in the 24th district race or its apparent support for Perez Williams' campaign.
The groups supporting Balter are familiar with her because of her work as an activist in the region. Before launching her congressional bid, she was a prominent member of the Central New York Solidarity Coalition, a group that formed after the 2016 election to oppose President Donald Trump's agenda.
There were "extensive endorsement processes," the grassroots groups said, to support a candidate in the 24th Congressional District race. They added that Balter is their "unanimous choice."
National Democrats hope for a "blue wave" in November. The party believes that they can at least win back the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. To regain the House majority, they must win in districts like the 24th.
But party infighting, at least in the 24th district, could jeopardize the Democrats' chances of winning in November.
"The DCCC has promised to focus on grassroots strength and listen to the people who live in districts," the coalition of activists wrote. "We call on the DCCC to honor their commitments, stop their activities immediately and instead join all of us in our support of Dana Balter."
The state Department of Environmental Conservation's Great Lakes Program is looking for ways to manage the ecosystem in Sterling and Wolcott Creek sub watersheds located in Wayne, Cayuga and a small portion of western Oswego counties.
People who live and work in the watershed, or any other stakeholders, are encouraged to fill out a survey, which the DEC will use to understand current conditions and capacities and the local interest in volunteer programs. The DEC is particularly interested in hearing from communities, organizations and public interest groups in the towns of Ira, Hannibal, Victory, Sterling, Wolcott, Rose and Huron.
The survey can be filled out online at surveymonkey.com/r/WD2VQ8V. Surveys must be completed by April 27.
The DEC plans to hold a meeting about the results at a Southeast sub basin work group meeting planned for May 9 at Fair Haven State Park. To learn more and receive a meeting invitation, sign up for Great Lakes news alerts online at public.govdelivery.com/accounts/NYSDEC/subscriber/new?topic_id=NYSDEC_153.