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Cayuga County Judicial and Public Safety Committee

The Cayuga County Judicial and Public Safety Committee Wednesday discussed the level of involvement individual legislators should have as the county's Emergency Management Office is restructured.

AUBURN — Amid efforts to maintain services at the Cayuga County Emergency Management Office following several staffing shakeups, county legislators Wednesday debated the level of involvement they should have in the office's day-to-day operations.

The office has been without full-time staff since two department leaders resigned in January and the third was placed on administrative leave in February. The state of the office, particularly how it relates to the county's fire departments, has been the subject of numerous public and staff-level meetings.

At Wednesday's meeting of the Legislature's Judicial and Public Safety committee, Legislators Timothy Lattimore, R-Auburn and Charlie Ripley, R-Sempronius, asked for County Administrator J. Justin Woods to involve the committee Chair Chris Petrus, R-Brutus, in meetings regarding the EMO.

"I want to make sure the chairman's involved in all the meetings that are going on and everybody's informed, all the committee members," Lattimore said.

Woods said he has kept Petrus, as well as the Legislature and the oversight committee involved and informed on issues regarding the EMO, especially when they relate to public-facing meetings, and that the meetings Petrus hadn't attended were regarding more basic operations.

"If it's who's managing grants and who's filing paperwork and who's answering phones, those are the kinds of things that we've been meeting with staff to work on," Woods said after the meeting.

Petrus himself said he did not want to be in every meeting, but wished to be kept abreast of discussions in the office so he could relay it to constituents, especially as the office goes through the current transition.

"I am trying and willing to be involved in any and all operations, however I do not want to micromanage the administrator," Petrus said.

Ripley said, given the nature of work the office handles, Petrus should at least be notified of all meetings regarding the office.

"This is a safety issue and he is the chair and needs the opportunity to show up," Ripley said after the meeting.

During the meeting, Minority Leader Keith Batman, D-Springport, said that, in general, committee chairs should not be involved that specifically with the operations of departments.

By the regular way of doing business, Batman said, the chair of the Legislature is the person meant to interface with departments. Having the chair of each committee get separate reports from all department heads or other staff would be unproductive, he said.

"It gets terribly confusing and disoriented and we can't move forward with a single voice," Batman said, though he agreed that the EMO is a unique situation. 

An operational framework of government approved by the Legislature in June 2017 describing specific boundaries said committee chairs and individual Legislators "do not work directly to Dept. Heads on an operational level but works through and with the Administrator."

Additionally, one of the roles and responsibilities of the committee chair is to serve as a "conduit between constituents and County Administrator and Department Heads."

While the committee met for an executive session, County E-911 Director and Moravia Fire Chief Mark Strong spoke and made progress on several issues raised in previous public meetings regarding the EMO, including several that Petrus expressed concerns with during the meeting.

"If we communicate better, a lot of this stuff gets fixed," Strong said.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin

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County government reporter