AUBURN | Mary Jones carried out what would ultimately be her last meeting as clerk of the Legislature on Wednesday night.
By a weighted majority vote, legislators chose not to reappoint Jones as Cayuga County's clerk of the Legislature.
Instead, officials appointed Deputy Clerk Sheila Smith to the position. The Legislature stood divided on the issue.
And Joe Bennett's inability to vote proved crucial to the decision. Bennett, a Democrat, is a Cayuga Community College maintenance employee.
Because the Legislature votes on the college budget, Republican legislators took legal action last year challenging whether he can serve on the Legislature and be employed by the college at the same time. Since then, Bennett has been excused from voting until the issue can be resolved.
Both Jones and Smith were nominated for the position that is appointed annually. The vote was taken and handled by simple majority but when the result was a 7-7 tie, newly appointed Legislature Chairman Michael Chapman advised legislators that the vote would fall to a weighted majority to break the deadlock.
As the roll was called, legislators and county employees sat in silence, gazing at the projector screen showing the decision. Immediately following the result, Smith was sworn in, Jones and Smith embraced, and Jones walked out of the room.
It was a bittersweet moment for Smith, who said she was ready to be the clerk but immediately choked up when the topic changed to Jones' dismissal.
"I've worked with her for almost five years," she said. "It's very sad."
Legislator Tim Lattimore offered his own concern.
“We had an important vote tonight and I'm hoping that this issue with Joe Bennett can be resolved,” Lattimore said. “Since that vote was so tight, I'd like to make sure the issue regarding Mr. Bennett gets top priority following this new year.”
Legislator Mark Farrell reiterated Lattimore's sentiments.
"Mr. Bennett has sat here silent for 12 months now without a voice and without a vote and I hope that within the new year we can come to a resolution on that issue.”
Chapman agreed the issue would take top priority in the coming year, and following the meeting, legislators went into executive session to discuss pending litigation regarding Bennett.
Despite the divided atmosphere, Chapman, who replaces Legislator Steve Cuddeback, took time to address and thank the Legislature. He said he plans to do everything he can to foster commitment and teamwork within the Legislature.
“I hope to continue to celebrate the accomplishments of our employees,” he said, “and spread the word that Cayuga County is a great place to be.”
He added: “No matter where you are, this truly is a garden spot in our country and a lot of people know we're here so let's build on that for our future.”
The Legislature also voted Joseph Runkle as vice chair, Michael Didio as majority leader, Cynthia Aikman as minority leader and Hans Pecher as Conservative minority chair.