WRFI Community Radio and The Ithaca Voice are bringing you conversations with candidates in the three contested Ithaca Common Council and the mayoral races.
Matt Butler, Editor-in-Chief of The Ithaca Voice questions Ward 1 candidates.
In the first half of the hour, you’ll hear from Phoebe Brown and Zach Winn who are running for a 2-year seat on Common Council. Incumbent Phoebe Brown is part of the Solidarity Slate. She’s on the Democratic party and Working Families party ballot lines. Her opponent is Republican Zach Winn.
In the second half, you’ll hear from incumbent Cynthia Brock running on the Ithacans for Progress line, and her opponent Kayla Matos. Matos is part of the Solidarity Slate and is on the Democratic party and Working Families party ballot lines. They are running for a 4-year seat on the Council.
The Ward includes Southside, Northside, and the West End.
Each candidate was given 90 seconds to answer each question. Then had two minutes for closing remarks. You’ll occasionally hear a squawking sound in the audio. That’s just the timer going off when a candidate runs out of time.
NOTE: This has been edited to remove the repetition of the questions.
CELIA CLARKE: WRFI Community Radio and The Ithaca Voice are bringing you conversations with candidates in the three contested Ithaca Common Council and the mayoral races. I'm Celia Clarke here with Matt Butler, editor-in-chief of the Ithaca Voice. Today, Matt questions Ward 1 candidates. In the first half of the hour, you'll hear from Phoebe Brown and Zach Winn, who are running for a two-year seat on Common Council. Incumbent Phoebe Brown is part of the Solidarity Slate. She's on the Democratic Party and Working Families Party ballot lines. Her opponent is Republican Zach Winn.
In the second half of the hour, you'll hear from incumbent Cynthia Brock running on the Ithacans For Progress ballot line, and her opponent Kayla Matos. Matos is part of the Solidarity Slate and is on the Democratic Party and Working Families Party ballot lines. They're running for a four-year seat on the Council.
The Ward includes Southside, Northside, and the West End. Each candidate will have 90 seconds to answer each question, then they'll have two minutes for closing remarks. Occasionally you will hear the timer when a candidate runs out of time.
MATT BUTLER: So the first question and we'll start with, we'll start with Phoebe for this one. Ward 1 is a vast area with and really diverse voting population. So now two weeks out of the election and with months of campaigning behind you. What is what are the issues that are at the forefront for the voters in your ward? Let's say the top three.
PHOEBE BROWN: I'd say homelessness, the rising homeless encampments. And crime is what I hear from my constituents.
MB: And, Zach
ZACH WINN: I would agree on the issue of homeless encampments that have spread all across the First Ward and even outside of the town, or the city of Ithaca, excuse me. I would term them as opening drug scenes or drug encampments. I don't believe that the root issue actually is homelessness or a lack of housing. Crime clearly is a major issue that is affecting, you know, all the businesses in the West End. And then also a major issue is the lack of [the] route 14 bus service or bus service in general to West Hill with 14 has completely eliminated, and now multiple trips, eliminated from the route 14 bus which now ends at 8 pm, seven days a week, which is massively inconvenient for a number or a lot of people and makes you know, the idea of somebody living on West Hill working anywhere downtown, or perhaps at Itahca College or Cornell, and getting home on the bus, literally impossible. So those are the major three issues that I see.
MB: Between numbers and anecdotes. I want to touch back on the crime issue. Local crime. It seems kind of confusing between the differences between what, and how people feel and what the numbers sometimes represent. So do you believe it has gotten more dangerous in the last, say, five years? Or do you think it's just become more visible? And do you think, I guess what's your thought on the cause for this and the solution?
ZW: I think it's clear that the crime has increased. A lot. And, you know, I just saw a woman who is, has made waves here locally for smoking crack on the Commons walking down the street talking to herself, as I was on the way here. I found a bag of meth the other day, turned it in to the cops. And there's just, you know, a loss loss of quality of life. And it doesn't need to be perhaps someone getting stabbed behind the public library, or kidnapped and tortured or your house getting shot up for you to be affected by crime that can be as simple as your package going missing off your porch. Or you know, even your, your, your swing on your porch getting stolen, I see these Ring camera videos that are just, just very odd. And there are people who are, you know, intoxicated on methamphetamine and fentanyl, which have basically completely supplanted cocaine and heroin, and it causes people to go into what is like an a psychotic episode.
And with bail reform, you know, these people who might have ended up in the jail in order to sober up. That's a place where a lot of people have hit bottom and gotten clean, that is no longer an option. You know, you hear about people getting arrested at the shelter for attacking staff, and they're back hours later doing exactly the same thing or shoplifting at Walmart. So yes, I think it's gotten much worse. And the numbers don't really communicate that because if somebody doesn't get arrested for the crime, it doesn't make the stats.
MB: And just one follow-up to that would be a lot of people would try to steer people away from incarceration around here, but you, it sounds like at least you think a little bit more would be more beneficial. Is that right?
ZW: I think there should be something in between sending someone to jail and sending them to the Green Zone in the Jungle. There, there needs to be some sort of intervention for people who are in crisis that doesn't necessarily involve them getting in legal trouble. But certainly taking them out of the situation where they can continue to harm themselves and others understood.
PB: Yes, I think it's become more visible. I've moved here 31 years ago, and crime was happening, then I think a big part of what is happening is it has moved, it's not in the same areas that people didn't pay much attention to. And now it's in areas that people feel privileged to use their voice. And I believe that we have now – which I'm not saying it's a bad thing – I'm glad that it's out. Because it's been happening. And the whole time that I'm here, right? It hasn't, from my perception, it has, it is come out of the hiding places, right into communities that used to feel that did not have to handle this, right? However, the solution is community. Community working together to help people heal. And I think an important part that was not mentioned is the systemic piece of it, that many of these people are dealing with homelessness, substance abuse, mental health. And there's a systemic piece that goes along with all of that. And the discussion in the community is, if you don't clean the root, you're not going to clear the problem. And so for me, it's all about going back to the root of the problem.
MB: Lower-income residents of the West End face a different existence than people in poverty living downtown, they have higher barriers to access and services. You mentioned the transportation issues as well. Is there a feasible solution that the city could help facilitate? What could they do to address that sort of thing, I think we're gonna start with Phoebe this time.
PB: Actually, I'm really delighted that the zone [the boundaries of the city districts] has changed that I can be a part of representing that community and be involved with that community. I think building trust, building consistency, will help this, this population in that community feel encouraged, and feel empowered. Um, and so for me, it's important, very important to me to remember all times, that I have to be in touch, and close and asking them asking that community what it is they need, and what it is they want of me to see happening. I have a lot of ideas, yes, but I want to first get input from that community.
ZW: I would like, I have, for many years hoped to see a store at West Village. Because once you get past Pete’s, there's nothing you and that marching up and down Elm Street is that's a rough trek, even under the best of circumstances as far as the weather. And I think it would be interesting for the city to work with the landlord of West Village to locate a place, perhaps on the property or nearby. And, you know, do what would be necessary with zoning to put a small store there that could provide basic essentials without having to take an Uber or the bus, if it even comes down to go [to the] grocery shopping, the 14S, total elimination of that, and potentially it could serve you know, a lot of people who live on West Hill aren't necessarily in public housing or struggling with poverty, who just don't want to have to march all the way downtown to get a gallon of milk. And I just think creating circumstances where, you know, individual people can, can flourish and provide for one another instead of having to, you know, go and spend money at a corporate store with the money itself ending up somewhere outside the community, there could be, you know, a lot of people would perhaps jump at the opportunity to open up a small, small store, just to provide for the basic needs of, of people who exist on West Hill.
MB: Now that the unarmed responders unit seems to be moving forward, it seems like structural support is going to be pretty crucial to its lasting success if there is any, what do you think should be the metric to measure that success in say, two years, four years, five years?
ZW: I'd like to make sure that none of those people are physically harmed. I think that is one of the most important things for the city to be sending unarmed people to respond to crises, they cannot be allowed to be hurt or injured, because that is one of the reasons why you have an armed officer to go with clear scene. Whether that be for the fire department, or first responders under any circumstances. So I would just be very cautious with sending people in to, you know, what is an emergency call without having the ability to defend themselves, or the assurance that they will continue to remain safe. I, as far as you know, sending an unarmed person to respond to any call, you'd have to be certain that what they were being sent there for was actually what the issue was. I'm sure a lot of cases where, you know, something like a cat up a tree is the call and when police show up, it's a completely different situation unfolding. Or the situation itself can evolve from when the time when the call comes in to when people arrive. And I just I'm really I'm very, very cautious about sending unarmed people to respond to crisis in general, because it's better to have a gun and not need it than need a gun and not have it.
MB: And that caution is the main motivator for you to say the the metrics of success should be that. At least it sounds like the metrics of success should be that none of these online responders are harmed.
ZW: One of the metrics, metrics of, of failure of the system I imagined would be someone getting hurt, as far as success, you know. What do these diversions from traditional law enforcement to an unarmed responder, what, what is the actual result? What influence can those people have, at the end of the day?
PB: Well, for one, I'm very excited that it's finally come to fruition, it was a big X from the Black and Brown community, because of executive audit tool three. So this is really exciting for me. Kathy Zoner is now the consultant that will be working with them. And I have very high respect for her. And I'm sure she'll do an awesome job. I think having someone come at a time of crisis, who you can relate with, who you feel safe with, is very important in a time of heightened feelings. So I'm looking forward to it. The success is I'm just I have great hopes and the success the way that we will measure it is seeing, get some feedback from community on how this has made them feel safer. And how has it changed, right? To see community and IPD working together to make a safer community? So that's important for me.
MB: So you would think it sounds like that, at least that your, your metric would almost be more sort of a community feeling thing versus a statistic or something like that?
PB: Yes. Surveys and, and conversations. So at, at some point, say within the next year, after we can make sure that conversations I had with community members and IPD to let us know what the success has been for both of them.
MB: We will start with Phoebe for this one. In May. City HR director Shelley Michelle Nunn said that the city should have, I believe a list of candidates in 120 days for the police chief search. We're now nearing six months since that statement. So about 180 days without any public list of candidates despite nearly $200,000 in salary and a signing bonus package. Why doesn't the city have a police chief yet?
PB: Because we are now interviewing. We are on our way. And we're in the process. Right. And so it's been important for us to find the best fit for this position. So we've we're in the process of it. It's not going to be 180 days, soon.
ZW: I think this speaks to the lack of transparency in City Hall. This is just one issue. But there were many issues. There is just not a lot of public disclosure of information that you would expect there to be under normal circumstances. And why would a police chief candidate want to work in Ithaca given what happened to Acting Chief Jolie and him being raked over the coals accused of racism by sitting members of Council? I just think that you know, this is not the most inviting environment for a law enforcement person to come and potentially uproot their life move to Ithaca, and take this job when they're is, you know, the sword of Damocles dangling over their head at all points. And also the fact that you know, there are individuals who are hostile to even the very concept of law enforcement who are sitting on Council who have spoken about wanting to defund the department. So if you are going to come and be an officer in Ithaca, why would you do that if there's the potential for the entire department to not exist in the sense that it does now? So I think that's one of the main reasons why there might be some reluctance on behalf of people who are applying for the job, why there hasn't been public disclosure of the, the list of candidates, I think that you've put on that put that on the list of a lot of things that have not been publicly disclosed by City Hall, to the citizens.
PB: Is there any way that I can respond to that? Because I think it's really damaging to have that message go out. And that is why we don't have people wanting to come here. And actually—
MB: We'll have to hold on that. And we can —
PB: Yeah. But if I can't respond, that's fine.
CC: At this point, we pause the recording for a brief discussion amongst ourselves. When we invited the candidates, we described a format that didn't allow for rebuttal, but would allow them two minutes at the end to make whatever remarks they want. As you heard, Ms. Brown said, she's fine with not having time to respond to Mr. Wynn's comments. And so we moved on to the next question.
MB: What is your opinion of local government officials spending time talking about or weighing in on international issues, as we saw at the top of the Thai legislature, with the Israeli-Hamas flag debate? And I believe, Zack, we'll start with you on that one.
ZW: I think it's a complete waste of the public's time, the body of the legislature or the Common Council, there are many major crisis, crises playing out right now in the community, and to distract, you know, other legislature or the council with international issues, which, whatever the conclusion of the statement from either body, it's not really going to make much of a difference.
Meanwhile, there are people who are dying right here in the community, whether that be from being shot, from overdoses, that that are not being given the same level of urgency, as, you know, an ancient blood feud that is transpiring thousands and thousands of miles away. I do understand that, you know, American tax money probably shouldn't be going to fund either side of this conflict. And I totally sympathize with, you know, the desire to be heard, and, and to address what is clearly, you know, potentially World War Three and that really would affect everyone here if that happens. At the same time, I would like to see the same type of focus that is given to these you know, hot-button issues of the day, as to that is that is given to, that is not given to that, you know, everyday problems that are affecting people here.
PB: Right now, I really just feel like, you know, right now announcing, honoring or asking for peace would come from me with peace for everyone. I don't, I don't think that I feel that my only place is to worry about what's just happening here. I do worry about international. However, I don't want to get into the debate, because I want peace for everyone, alright. So I don't know how to answer, to be honest to answer. Is it appropriate or is it not? Right? I know for me, I don't want to do nothing but ask and wish for peace around the world. Right? I don't know if I answered your question. But that's where my heart is. Right? I can't really give you a ‘Is it right, is it wrong?’ answer from me. I can only speak that all I want is peace.
MB: So the unsanctioned homeless encampment plan passed this summer. It includes certain elements of the Ithaca designated encampment sites plan from last year, but it's a far cry from that proposal. What is the most important thing you think was left out of the plan in its final form? And what else should the city do to address the homelessness issue locally and by extension, the jungle? And I believe we'll start with Phoebe on this one. Okay.
PB: So I think we've done, I give kudos to everyone who's been working on the encampment plans, right? And I think we're I'm farther along than, than, then people know why. And I want to see it happen. Every day, and in the position that I hold outside of counsel, I have been in the last week, at least 15 people in need of shelter, right? So I think the encampment is important.
However, I do think we should be thinking deeper on something that people can have immediately, right? I had people call me this weekend, one disabled family, and they had nowhere to stay. They had nowhere to stay. They've been sanctioned from the shelter, different things like this. So you know, me and some others got together to make sure that they had a place to stay this weekend.
So my vision is to see, see another shelter. But that's not the city. That's not our responsibility is what I'm hearing. But I just want to see something more stable because our homeless population has risen. So we need to find something stable. I feel like I haven't answered your question. But thank you for asking.
MB: No, I think the note of the emergency shelter that that makes total sense. Yeah, for sure.
ZW: I think the number one issue that was left out of it was the enforcement of camping on city property. That is not in the Green Zone, there really is nothing preventing anyone from camping on city property, city-wide, or in the space behind Agway, Warehouse Carpet Outlet, that is railroad property that is, you know, one of the most hot zones as far as crime, overdoses, violence, human trafficking. So the the lack of a policy that that actually gives the city some sort of clear guidance on how to manage these encampments outside of the Green Zone, I think, is the biggest piece of of the encampment plan that was was left out.
And just as far as there's no water in the Green Zone, I've been in there a few times I've walked through it, there is a camp, flying a Confederate flag, covered in swastikas with dozens, if not a 100 stolen bicycles. So there is it's not really a homeless issue. It's a drug issue. And it's a crime issue. And couching this all as, you know, homeless people just, just trying to put a roof over their head or find a place to sleep is not really an accurate description of the problem. So I think that it's just a bad plan. In general, that's gonna go off the rails immediately after it is implemented.
CC: Next, each candidate was given two minutes for closing remarks. Zack Winn spoke first then Phoebe Brown.
I'm deeply concerned about what I what I believe to be a seizure of power by members of the Solidarity Slate of which Phoebe Brown, you know, is a member. There has been open talk about you know, this is a takeover of Common Council. And the fact that Solidarity Slate has committed to not only voting as a bloc, but are seemingly all opposed to just the idea of law enforcement in general, I think is a major issue. The rhetoric coming out of members of the Solidarity Slate, including Jorge DeFendini and Miss Brown, regarding wanting to redirect funding from the Ithaca Police Department is tremendously damaging to the morale of the remaining officers and makes it a less attractive place for law enforcement personnel to come and do their job. Luckily, two officers have elected to laterally transfer into the department. So that's the first two officers willing to join this department in several years. And the the idea that police are the protectors of capital, the DSA democratic socialists of America, rhetoric of you know, police protect property and not people that is not constructive dialogue coming from members of council. And to have the the rhetoric go from the, you know, classrooms of Cornell into Common Council chambers, I think is a very bad turn. And I am opposed to the seizure of power and the commitment that has been made to enact socialist policies, whether that be from Miss Sims, who, you know, is a prominent member of the DSA to you know, Genevieve Rand who is I believe the architect of this takeover, and I have to give them credit for you know, going in and making it happen and getting the bag as they put it because consequences for this community I think are going to be massive.
PB: I'd like to first thank this community for believing in me, for giving me an opportunity to do what I believe is my calling. I don't have time to defend the Solidarity Slate, our work proves itself. We are here for the people, right? We are who you've been waiting for. It's funny that somebody who could take the African-American flag [a Black Lives Matter flag] and burn it can have such harsh things to say about the Solidarity Slate.
I need to be very clear about my stance about police. I am someone who came together to start a community Meet The Chief monthly meetings with the chief. Also, my problem is not with IPD. My problem was with the behavior of some policing throughout new, throughout New York State throughout America. I don't have a problem with, I don't I've never, I don't know where the defund the police comes from, because we can't at this present moment. However, what I do know is there are other people in this community, grassroot organizations that keep us safe. And yes, we need police, but they usually get there after the crime is committed. How is that preventing crime? And these other organizations do that.
I am so proud to be a part of the solidarity slate. I'm not slinging mud at anybody. What I say is my place is to be here for the people of Ithaca, to make sure that they are not only surviving but they're thriving. I do not have this dim picture of Ithaca. We are doing an amazing job.
CC: Thank you both.
PB, ZW: Thank you.
CC: Next Matt posed questions to Cynthia Brock and Kayla Matos. They are competing for a four-year seat on the Council.
Matos will answer first,
MB: Ward 1 is a vast area and a diverse voting population. So now two weeks out of the election and with months of campaigning behind you, or what are the issues that are at the forefront for the voters in your ward?
KAYLA MATOS: During my campaigning, I have noticed that the main issues within my ward have to do with property taxes, the flooding maps that FEMA has written, as well as affordable housing, and the encampment.
CYNTHIA BROCK: What I hear most often from constituents first starts off with the state of our infrastructure. Our roads are, have not received the type of maintenance that we would expect. That also results in stormwater issues and flooding issues. The other concerns that I hear mainly have to do with public safety concerns with regards to the staffing levels in our police department, and response times to emergencies as well as the growing impact of homelessness and theft in many downtown areas of Ithaca.
MB: So to touch on crime, actually, between numbers and anecdotes, local crime can be a little confusing for kind of everyone, you know, locally. Do you believe Ithaca has gotten more dangerous in the last five years? Or do you think that it's just that you know, issues have become more visible? And you think there's a root cause for that? Or that it's just sort of a phenomenon a cyclical thing, maybe.
CB: The report of shots fired has definitely increased in the last two years, but this year has had a high level of reports of shots fired. There have been obviously, incidents involving individuals with machetes and hatchets who are engaging in our commercial areas and in our neighborhoods, threatening individuals, individuals who are accessing in their homes to either sleep or take materials from people's homes. And of course, we have a lot of activities around the Jungle that cause levels of concern. The issue also becomes when we have low staffing levels in IPD. There is a very delayed response time and there is a need to prioritize responses. And so a lot of calls go unanswered. And as a result, people stop calling. So when we think of about creating a dashboard as a measure of what's going on, we need to recognize that it is only a semblance of reality because if people don't call because they know there won't be a response, it doesn't mean that things aren't happening, it just means that people aren't calling.
KM: I do believe that crime has went up within the last five years. However, I think we have to focus on the fact that we aren't providing our community the resources that we need. I think a lot of calls, like Cynthia just referenced like with the machetes, and commercial areas, so on so forth, are individuals who are struggling with mental health, and even some folks drug struggling with drug addiction. And I do understand that those sorts, such social services are up to the county to be responsible for however they are this is these things are affecting our city and are happening within our city. So I do believe the city has to do its due diligence, and also supporting more social services to provide resources such as counseling, such as you know, counts therapy, of course, is one of the number ones, but therapy and other like social services regarding food security, housing, security, even clothing to our community, because I do believe that would start tackling and taking care of some of the problem. Crime that we are seeing here and in the city of Ithaca, especially with folks in the encampments.
MB: This is going to start with Kayla.
Lower-income residents of West Hill on the west end face a different existence than people living downtown, even people who are living in poverty in downtown with different barriers to access for services and transportation issues. Is there a feasible solution that the city city could help facilitate, to I don't know, to bring down those barriers of access for people in the West End or the West Hill?
KM: By access? You were touching upon transportation? I just want –
MB: Transportation is one aspect of it. But I think just generally, you know, geography is probably the biggest, you know, barrier, I think. But yeah, I think more of an overall it's more of a conceptual access versus like direct transportation, although that would be an element probably.
KM: Um, so when it comes to transportation, I think what first we have to tackle, of course, TCAT is our, our go to, and they have their experience staffing shortages. So I think working with TCAT to look at their work environment and look at how we can communicate, market and also change the environment within TCAT to get more workers so that we can get more, more routes back. It's one way to tackle transportation also working with, you know, Ithaca Bike Share in the Center of Community Transportation, to get creative, on ways to increase transportation on the west, on the West End/West Hill.
But more specifically, as I'm going into West Village and speaking with folks. One thing for one thing I've noticed within canvassing is that West Village has a high turnover rate. And it's really the conditions of their housing. They are facing bug infestation, you know, they're facing unfair treatment by their property managers, so on so forth. And as city officials, I do understand our hands could be limited to what we can do to help support those residents in West Village. However, I do think that it is our due diligence to at least explore the options and what we can do to make sure that they are being in that they are getting the proper housing that they deserve.
CB: Yes, I think obviously TCAT is a resource that is essential for the communities, especially in West Village Apartments. Topography is our biggest barrier. As you mentioned, we really need to work on sort of mid-block crossings like how can we create a direct line from West Village down to Floral Avenue for example, so that you don't have to go all the way around. And then of course with the new pedestrian bridge that will cross the inlet right there. I believe at – it’s not City View – apartments but the pedestrian crossing will also allow people to go directly from West Village down to Floral across the inlet and then get into town safer and faster.
I'm very intrigued by the Unbroken Promise Initiative where they are looking for on-demand transportation systems to serve the West End. One of the biggest limits and limitations for individuals is not many individuals have the opportunity to have a nine-to-five job they're they're working from like five to, to noon or noon to eight at night and the transportation is not there. And so having an on-demand system that is actually more reflective in meeting people's needs and the lives that they have, I think will go a long way to serving that community.
MB: So this is gonna deal with the the memorandum of understanding if you guys have heard about this whole thing. Yeah, yeah. So, so the memorandum of understanding with Cornell has has been settled. What else would you have wanted the city to get in the deal? And how would you have achieved that concession from Cornell,
CB: I would have loved to see an increased partnership with Cornell to address, to find a way to support our mutual goals. One of the innovations in the partnerships that I think was a missed opportunity that it wasn't included, is in Cornell's expansion. They are using their lake source cooling facility. And one of the requirements is, is that they need to offset the phosphorus that would otherwise be – Okay, long story short, they have an obligation to reduce phosphorus going from the hills into Cayuga Lake. So, they could have worked with the city to support our dredging in the our water resource in our reservoir in dredging that reservoir in creating ways to settle out the sediments and nutrients before it comes into our water reservoir. To keep those nutrients from then going down into the lake. We could have worked together to help them achieve their goals of reducing phosphorus submissions to the lake to help us achieve our goals and maintaining our dams and offsetting our costs in addressing dredging and other infrastructure input issues relating to our water source. It was a win win for both of us if that could have been addressed. And I think it was a real missed opportunity.
KM: So the biggest thing, I would have loved to see a shorter term contract. I think that's how we could have really made sure we were building towards the goal of holding Cornell accountable to similar institutions like Harvard that paid to the city. However, one of the things that I do find interesting within the contract is the fact that Cornell faculty in the city of Ithaca could ultimately work together on projects. Um, this came up last night during the budget.
And, but I would like to see an increase in that, like Cynthia just touched upon Cornell and the city should be working more as partners. In the city that we all reside in, we are no matter if you're a student, a faculty or just an Ithaca resident, there are many issues that we are facing overall, when it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to flooding, or just overall climate justice that we are experiencing here in Ithaca. So I think having the Cornell, Cornell University more onboard to tackle these projects and work with the city so that it can reduce funding on city costs. And also give Cornell I guess, more, more evidence or more ways, quote, unquote, ways to back the city and show the city that they truly care about them, or the city that they are based in.
MB: Okay, so we will start with Kalya. And go to Cynthia.
Now that the unarmed responders unit seems to be moving forward, it seems like structural support is going to be really crucial. So that doesn't fail right away. What do you think should be the metric to measure that unit success? And what are the structural supports you think could help it succeed?
KM: So this is obviously something that I don't have much knowledge on, and being not on Council yet. So I would love to look at that. I know that right now, the police department uses a dashboard to kind of keep count of like crime that's going on. So looking at ways that we can use a dashboard to examine how the unarmed respond, responders are successful. But also seen on looking at the crime that we will be experiencing once the unarmed responders are put out in the field.
I'm seeing how that's going to change and ways of support. I think, one having the police department to back up on unarmed responders just in case they're needed is a way for structural support to happen but also the city and the city like CJC also being there to support, show, creating workshops so that our unarmed responders are de-escalating situations appropriately, making sure that they're also getting proper training so that they themselves are safe during these situations and are staying on level-headed because, you know, going into a mental health crises could sometimes you know, leave an individual on short, so just making sure that they're there as properly prepared for these situations as much as possible.
CB: I do want to clarify that what this is, is a emergency or a crisis, call response team made up of police officers who will respond with peers, and basically social workers to respond to nonviolent call types.
And one of the things I think we've come to see is that when you have individuals or families in crisis, oftentimes they aren't receiving the types of supports and connections to services, whether it's mental health or housing, or food stamps, or other types of resources that can help provide stability to those families. So with this response team, we can have a response where, when the crisis is over, law enforcement can leave and those individuals can stay and help and continue to support those families and individuals and connect them with services. And hope that over time, we will see those individuals and families have less and less need for crisis call response team because they are more than fully connected with our nonprofit organizations, our county’s support structures to assist them and provide them, a more stable environment.
So in terms of structure, what we definitely want to do is make sure that all individuals have the training and access to all of the resources that are available to assist those families.
MB: So it will start with Cynthia. In May, city HR director Shelly Michelle Nunn said that the city should have, quote, list of candidates by 120 days for the permanent police chief position. That's about four months, but we're now nearing six months since that statement without any public list of candidates, despite, you know, raising the salary and adding a signing bonus package, why doesn't the city have a police chief yet?
CB: Well, I mean, in all honesty, the our HR department and our city administration has really been focusing on bringing our four labor units up to actually having a contract. And I think that's been a focus. And so I appreciate them accomplishing that. And perhaps that has impacted other searches that have gone on at the same time. In addition, I do think that there is a perceived lack of stability on city council, especially ahead of this transformative election, which will bring an entirely new cadre of individuals, and professionals in the field are going to want to know that the community that they are applying to is going to be a community that supports their mission and their work, and will be a partner to them. And I do think that when there is a sentiment, and perhaps it's strong or not that there is not support for policing or police officers, it's going to make it harder for us to attract quality candidates to the chief position as well as positions down the line.
KM: My question is, how do I answer that if I'm not on council yet?
MB: You're right. It's a different perspective.
KM: So I agree with Cynthia that, you know, we went through the city just went through almost a year of negotiating the city employees contract. So and that was really precedent because even working at Southside Community Center and being closely with in close interactions with like the DPW workers, I've heard, I've heard their stories. And I'm really glad that we, they were all able to receive, you know, increases within their contracts.
However, I think this is also, us not having a police chief, is also an effect of us not continuing to focus on Reimagining Public Safety. I think when the executive order was put out, you know, the city started doing its due diligence on working on reimagining and reexamining our police department, so on so forth in our interactions with our people. But there's been sort of a pause on the conversation around reimagining that, or at least it's not as public.
So I think we have to, in order to get a police chief, we have to also understand what we want our police department to look like what we want our police officers to do what the unarmed responders will do and look like. And I think so I think we have to have a couple more things flushed out before we are able to bring in the leadership that we would like to see.
MB: We'll start with Kayla and then go to go to Cynthia.
The issues with infrastructure locally, do they come down to just DPW staffing? And, if so, can DPW make a similar turnaround with a new contract? I heard that IPD has where they say now that they have momentum towards hiring more people. Do you? Could you envision the same thing happening with DPW?
KM: I think it's not just solely DPW staffing. I think we also have to look, the city has a lot of needs that need to be met. And we have, we had to stick by a budget. So being able to afford all the infrastructure projects, the roads being redone, repaved sidewalks being redone. It's hard to fit all into one budget. I think it is nice that now with the new contract and being able to get more staff on board, we'll be able to tackle more projects more quickly, and hopefully roll out more, you know, roads getting redone, sidewalks getting redone. But I don't think we can, we can say that the sole solution is staffing in the DPW. Department, I think we also have to find a secure more funding sources, which is something that I would have loved to seen from the MOU contract through Cornell ways that they can also partner or, you know, put into the pool of money for infrastructure. But yeah, I think staffing is yes, a way to help solve that problem. But having the funding set aside to fix it, infrastructure also needs to be ensured.
CB: I think the pandemic had an incredible impact on our community. And our roads are just one way that is represented. We ended up furloughing a significant portion of our staff during COVID. And many of those did not return. And of course, the longer you delay, the more wear and tear that we have on our on our infrastructure. We are now with a new contract able to start rebuilding those crews. But we've lost a lot of institutional knowledge, we have to train them, we have to train them to train others. And so it's going to take some time to build those crews up to where we had intended them to be in 2020. You add into that the supply chain issues that we are seeing across the nation, I mean, the, I believe the project on college town, for example, we couldn't get the pipe, you just could not get the pipe. So you have delays pertaining to that as well. So I am hopeful that in the next few years, we will be able to get up to speed, it will take a long time if ever to be able to catch up to where we intended to be. And that will come at great cost and expense.
MB: Okay, starting with Cynthia, what is your opinion of local government officials spending time talking about or weighing in on international issues like we saw with the Tompkins County legislators debate about whether or not to fly an Israeli flag in chambers.
CB: Perhaps it's a matter of age, but I've come to respect the things that I have impact over and the things that I don't, I tend to focus my time on things that I can actually improve and make better. I do believe that it is the role of elected officials to elevate voices and help to represent the sentiment of our community and bring it up to those who can make a difference who can take a stand. So I do appreciate that role and responsibility, I myself will tend to focus on things that I can actually impact. And because the needs ahead of us as a city are so great. Oftentimes, these other national and international issues, take out all the energy and focus and attention and we end up not being able to focus on the things that we have to address right in front of us, too.
KM: I think it it is needed one is a way to also educate our people. There might be folks within Ithaca that might not know what's going on. So it's one it's a form of education. But also it's it shows that we stand in solidarity and support of I think even though once again, this is an international issue, and it's above what local elected officials could do. It is important that we show our stance and we show our and we are heard and like Cynthia said earlier as elected officials on a local level, we can bring these matters and these concerns up to higher to higher levels on the state level which could make true impact. So I think it is needed. But I also do understand and respect putting our local needs first and having making sure that those needs are accomplished and we are tackling our goals but also acknowledging the the need for conversations.
MB: The city's unsanctioned a homeless encampment plan passed this summer and included certain elements of the ethical designated encampment site plan, but it's a pretty far cry from that proposal. What is the most important thing you think that was left out of the plan in its final form? And outside of that plan? What can the city do to address homelessness? And by extension, the Jungle?
KM: One of the things I think and Cynthia I think we both agree on this on that I would have liked to see in the encampments were like the shelter, like heated little shelters, um, for folks. Because honestly, tents and sleeping bags, it's it's terrible that people have to just live it like that, especially now that we are approaching the colder months. So I would have loved to see that included.
And obviously, this is still a developing this as a developing plan or policy. And it's not at its final stages. But I would also love to see a way to integrate nonprofits or, you know, while working with the county, on the encampment sites, how can we utilize the county social services, so that we are making sure that the residents are also getting the needed resources and support along with the infrastructure that will be placed within the within the encampments?
CB: There are three elements that I think were left out that are essential. First, as Kayla mentioned, is the need for actual structures and cottages with electricity and heat with the door that can lock. As a woman, I'm very sensitive to the vulnerability that individuals have when they are in a tent when they cannot protect themselves when they're sleeping. And frankly, it's more humane. Honestly, it's more humane. And I think that should have been the first threshold of anything is to create a humane environment for people to reside while they're waiting for housing.
The second element is I do believe that we need an administration of the camping policy so that we can direct people to spaces that are safe and supportive of of them residing there that needed to be incorporated. And I think that without an administration, program or policy, we will then tend to see new enclaves of encampments and the type of violence and lawlessness that has been happening in those areas are incredibly distressing to me.
Third, I was really disappointed to discover that the county has not put aside any funds for their support for encampments, and those living unhouse to coordinate and collaborate with the city to help support the individuals and deliver services there.
CC: After the questions, each candidate was given two minutes for closing remarks, Cynthia Brock spoke first, then Kayla Matos.
CB: It is an honor and privilege to represent the residents of the First Ward on Common Council. I'm grateful for the projects I've been able to support and implement during my 12 years of service. I'm proud of the public-private partnership I structured with the Guthrie Medical Center to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I'm proud of the miles of new sidewalks that have gone in on South Hill West Hill Old Elmira and Spencer Road due to our sidewalk improvement districts. I'm proud of the relationships I have with residents and businesses in the First Ward and my commitment to constituent services.
The common thread throughout my time on Council is my dedication to working with individuals with different and sometimes diametrically opposite interests and perspectives. I've learned that respectful collaboration is the best way to successfully design and implement meaningful and long-lasting solutions that enhance our city and prepare us for the future.
The coming years will bring tremendous opportunities as well as significant challenges. City government will see a turnover of Council, mayor, city manager, and senior staff.
Climate change will bring increased costs to our residents and our city budget. We must not only mitigate against flooding, but we must also prepare and adapt. If reelected, I will continue my commitment to open, transparent, and participatory governance. I will continue to strive for the highest standards of accountability in myself and others. I’ll work across differences to develop meaningful solutions. I will sweat the details I will advocate for and represent all of my constituents, not just those who look like me or come from the same background that I do. Over the next four years. I promised to remain dedicated to supporting and implementing policies and programs that serve the needs, values, and interests of our residents and our community. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. Please vote Brock for Ward one on the Ithacans for Progress line.
KM: I am a born and raised Ithacan, who came from a single mother of three. And I have and because of that I have experienced our government’s history of allowing profit to dictate our policies, which in return has harmed our people. As a community organizer, I have seen the ways our community tries to transcend the systems designed against us. I have seen our communities bring ideas and budgets to common consoles for amazing programs and services that provide food, shelter, education, care, and safety to, for our people. And too many times our Common Council has denied or limited these funds in favor of things like tax breaks for real estate developers.
The time is now to come together as a community to get true grassroots representation in our government. Representation that spends its days among everyday Americans, not just up on the hill living in luxury while people suffer. Times are changing and our society is changing. It is time that we bring in new leadership ready to fight the fights we need to save our country from climate disasters and fascism. These are real threats.
I have lived and breathed this community since the day I was born and want to uplift and strengthen the city in which I was raised. And in doing so and continue to plan to do so by doing research on policies, building connections and working with county and state officials so that I can come back with laws that center our people over profits. I'm a proud member of the Solidarity Slate because I believe in collective power. To make things happen in City Hall it takes someone who can work in coalitions with others, someone who understands that they don't know everything but can learn from those with different experiences. We all come from different backgrounds on the Solidarity Slate, but the thing that unites us is our belief and community and our trust in one another and the people we organize alongside as a member of the Solidarity Slate when I go into those council chambers, I know I am not alone. And that is the beauty and strength behind being a part of something bigger than myself belonging to a community.
CC: This has been a WRFI News special with Ward 1 candidates Phoebe Brown, Zach Winn Cynthia Brock, and Kayla Matos tune in tomorrow at 6 pm for an interview with Ward 3 candidates Pierre St. Perez, and Pat Sewell. Early voting started Saturday and goes through November 5. Election day is next Tuesday.