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Second ex-legislator poised to become a Cayuga County civil service commissioner

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Cayuga County Legislature reorganization meeting

Reelected Cayuga County Legislator Ryan Foley is sworn in for his second term on Jan. 4, 2018.

For the second time this year, the appointment of a Cayuga County Civil Service commissioner is creating a partisan divide on the Cayuga County Legislature.

The Legislature's Republican majority is poised on Tuesday to appoint Ryan Foley, who served two terms as a legislator representing part of Auburn before choosing not to seek re-election last fall.

Foley is a Democrat and is filling a seat that cannot, under state law, be held by a Republican because that party already holds the other two seat on the commission. But he was not the first or second choice of the Legislature's Democratic conference.

The need to appoint a new commissioner first surfaced in April when Democratic incumbent Commissioner Todd Delaney informed commission Chair Bruce Sherman of his intentions to step down from the post, although he never submitted a formal written resignation. The Legislature's Democratic conference nominated Weedsport resident Melody Smith Johnson, a human resources professional who had been the conference's choice for the post dating back to a previous vacancy that emerged in the middle of 2020.

But shortly after Smith Johnson's nomination was on the original agenda for the Legislature's April Ways and Means Committee meeting, the appointment was pulled by committee Chair Hans Pecher, a Conservative who caucuses with the Republican majority.

The position did not resurface until the May full Legislature meeting, when Foley's name was put on a resolution along with a list of appointments to other county boards.

At the meeting, Democrats objected to the nomination, saying that Republicans chose Foley without Democratic conference input.

Legislature Chairman David Gould, a Republican, said Foley's nomination was communicated to Democratic legislators who are part of the Legislature's leadership council, so it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone.

Democratic Legislator Eileen Daly, who is part of the leadership group, said the problem was with how Foley was presented to them.

"It wasn't debated," she said. "We were told that this is what the Republican caucus has decided."

Legislator Brian Muldrow said he was concerned because Foley would be the second straight Civil Service Commission appointee who just finished serving as an elected legislator. In January, the Legislature approved appointing former Legislator Timothy Lattimore in a party-line vote. That came after Democrats attempted to have Johnson considered, and Johnson herself spoke to legislators about her qualifications.

"We are recycling old legislators back into the pool of making decisions," Muldrow said at the May meeting, referring to the nomination of Foley.

He was also upset that Johnson has been twice rejected.

"We talked about her last year, we talked about her this year, and this time we got almost blindsided by a Democrat chosen by the other party," he said.

When she addressed legislators in January, Smith Johnson, who is Black, said her appointment would provide a strong message to minority job candidates, whom the county has struggled to recruit into the workforce. The Civil Service Commission oversees the county, school district and municipal adherence to state civil service law governing public employment and hiring.

Realizing that Republicans still would not support Smith Johnson, Legislator Heidi Nightengale, who serves as minority leader, said Democrats now were willing to support the continuation of Delaney in the post. Delaney changed his mind about stepping down after he learned that Smith Johnson would again not receive any Republican support.

"The fact that everybody knows that it needed to be a Democrat, and the minority Democratic caucus wasn't collaborated with, is just discouraging for us," she said at the May meeting.

Gould, though, said Delaney could no longer be an option.

"(Delaney) told Bruce (Sherman) he was going to resign ... Then a month later, he changed his mind. If he hadn't done that, then he would still be on the ticket," he said.

Eventually the resolution appointment was tabled at the May meeting. It came up again at Thursday's Ways and Means Committee, where Foley's nomination was advanced. It will be voted upon at Tuesday night's Legislature meeting.

Civil service commissioners are paid an annual salary of $10,300. The seat Foley would fill carries a term running through May 31, 2028.

Jeremy Boyer can be reached at (315) 282-2231 or Follow him on Twitter @CitizenBoyer


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