Geneva City Council held its monthly meeting Wednesday at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Public attendance was limited to 20 individuals due to COVID-19 restriction. Most City residents could only observe the proceedings via the City’s YouTube channel or via the Zoom web conferencing platform.
The City experienced significant audio difficulties during the meeting. Much of the early portion of the meeting was unintelligible to those listening via Zoom or YouTube. In response to an inquiry made by Fingerlakes1.com, Assistant City Manager Adam Blowers responded during the meeting that “We are aware of the issue and doing our best to fix it.” However, Council continued to meet despite staff being aware that people watching on YouTube and Zoom could not understand much of what was being said.
In a bizarre twist, although Mayor Steve Valentino, Councilors, and speakers were almost completely unintelligible, internal communications between City Manager Sage Gerling, Blowers and others trying to resolve the problem and communicating with speakers came through almost crystal clear.
The audio problems were particularly difficult for residents who have hearing loss as the City continues to not provide captioning of televised meetings as required under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.
It took staff roughly one hour and forty minutes to partially fix the problem so that the audio was mostly understandable. However, portions of the meeting remained difficult to impossible to understand.
Portions of Wednesday’s four-hour and 15-minute meeting were very confrontational. The conflict that had simmered at different times during the meeting broke out into the open during Council’s consideration of individuals to appoint to the Geneva Police Review Board (PRB). Fingerlakes1.com reported on the PRB appointments in a separate article.
Council Considered Resolution 40-2021, which was tabled during the May 2021 Council meeting. Resolution 40-2021 proposed authorizing the Community Choice Aggregation Program. Council heard an extensive presentation from Joule Assets and Roctricity regarding the proposal. However, those watching on YouTube and Zoom missed this presentation due to the City’s audio technical difficulties.
A Community Choice Aggregation program would allow Geneva to establish a default electrical supplier for City residents that would be different from the City’s current supplier NYSEG. Residents would have to “opt-out” of the program if they wished to remain NYSEG customers or select a different energy supplier.
The program would also provide energy through renewable green energy sources, such as solar power. The program would also potentially save City residents as much as 10% on their electric bill. The reliance on renewable energy sources would also likely make the City eligible for additional grant resources.
Councilor Jan Regan (Ward 3) stated that she believed the program would benefit residents and would move the City closer to using cleaner energy. Regan strongly supported the resolution.
Valentino did not like the “opt-out” provision because it put the burden on residents. Councilor Frank Gaglianese (At-Large) also did not like the “opt-out” requirement. Gaglianese was particularly concerned that elderly residents would be confused and frustrated by the “opt-out” rule. Councilor Anthony Noone (At-Large) was also concerned about the “opt-out” process.
Councilor Laura Salamendra (Ward 5) believed that the Community Choice Aggregation program would be better than being automatically opted in as a NYSEG customer. Salamendra also felt that residents were entirely capable of figuring out the “opt-out” portion of the program. Regan agreed with Salamendra that residents would not have problems opting out if they wanted to. Regan also felt that some councilors were “selling residents short” by believing that they would be confused by the “opt-out” rule.
At one point during the discussion on Resolution 40-2021, Councilors were talking over one another with opposing views. Valentino had to repeatedly call for order to get the meeting back on track. Valentino also spent time to call Councilors’ attention to the Rules of Order and Procedures rule that Councilors shall not interrupt one another.
When the discussion got back on track, Councilor John Pruett (Ward 6) was concerned about the number of people who live below the poverty level in Geneva. Pruett believed that the electricity cost savings offered by the program would benefit lower-income residents.
Councilor William Pealer (Ward 2) was concerned that the claimed savings were not accurate. Pealer also did not believe that it was the City’s job or right to tell residents how they should spend their money. The discussion once again deteriorated into Councilors talking over each other.
Eventually, Salamendra moved to call the question to force a vote. Salamendra’s motion to call the question passed. When the Council voted on Resolution 40-2021 it passed 5-4 with Noone, Gaglianese, Pealer, and Valentino voting no.
Council also considered Resolution 41-2021 that authorized the continuation of a Community Support Agreement with Finger Lakes Health. The Community Support Agreement was originally created as a settlement of a lawsuit between Geneva General Hospital and the City. The hospital sued the City regarding the enactment of Local Law No. 2 of 2011. To settle the lawsuit, the parties agreed to a ten-year contract where the hospital would donate a specified sum to the City to be used for civic and community purposes. The original contract ended December 31, 2021.
Resolution 41-2021 proposed a new ten-year contract between Finger Lakes Health and the City. The new contract called for Finger Lakes Health to pay the City $46,866.39 beginning January 15, 2022. The contract called for annual payments that increased yearly through January 15, 2031. The final payment under the contract would be $56,009.67.
Camera asked Blowers how much Hobart and William Smith College was paying under their agreement with the City. Blowers stated that the College was paying over $200,000 per year. Camera then asked why Finger Lakes Health was paying so little. Bowers stated that Finger Lakes Health pays more in annual property taxes than does the College. Blowers also stated that the City had no leverage over the hospital to force them to pay more. Blowers clarified that the only other option would be for Council to form a Benefit Assessment District, which would likely lead to litigation.
Several Councilors stated that they would like to see Finger Lakes Health pay more annually. In the end, Council approved Resolution 41-2021 on a 7-2 vote with only Camera and Pruett voting no.
Valentino presented two complaint investigation reports issued by the Geneva Ethics Board. Both ethics complaints were filed against Camera.
The first complaint accused Camera of disclosing confidential information during a January 21, 2021, Council meeting. The confidential information related to the City’s reasons for terminating two probationary police officers. The Board of Ethics report stated that at least three complaints were filed regarding Camera’s comments.
The Ethics Board stated that Camera acknowledged that he failed to follow proper procedures in divulging confidential information. Camera felt that he had to disclose the information without filing the required Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request because the information was relevant to the meeting and was time-sensitive.
The Board concluded that Camera was not justified in divulging the confidential information without following FOIL rules. The Board felt that Camera’s disclosure exposed the City to potential litigation. The Board concluded that Camera violated Tenets 1, 2, 4, 10, and 16 of the Code of Ethics.
The Board called on Camera to apologize to the Mayor, City Manager and Council. The Board also recommended that Council and Camera review New York State laws pertaining to confidential information.
The second complaint against Camera related to a January 30, 2021, op-ed in the Finger Lakes Time written by Camera. In the op-ed Camera discussed how he thought Council’s decision to purchase a ladder truck for the fire department was unwise.
On February 4, 2021, the unnamed complainant wrote an email to the Mayor and Council thanking them for approving the ladder truck purchase. In the email, the person suggested that Camera was uninformed about the true value of the new fire truck. The individual also spoke of the money she was able to save on her insurance because she lived close to a fire station. The individual also referenced the Fire Department’s high rating with the Insurance Services Office (ISO).
Camera responded to subsequent emails by saying “if taken at her word” the individual writing the email may have been the “victim” of a “clever insurance salesman who took advantage of the misinformation that has been allowed to waft over the City of Geneva for way too long in order to make a big commission”.
The person who wrote the original message felt Camera was making her out to be a liar and that she had been “canceled” by Camera’s remarks.
The Complainant accused Camera of slander for implying that she was a liar and for questioning her personal experience.
The Ethics Board indicated that during their investigation Camera stood by his statements.
The Board found that Camera’s statements violated Tenet 3 of the Code of Ethics. The Board recommended that Camera make a “sincere” private apology to the Complainant.
As has been Council’s practice with Ethics Complaints against Councilors, Council took no actions on the complaints filed against Camera.
Council unanimously approved Resolution 42-2021 designating the City Council as the lead agency for SEQRA review of the application for rezoning and a planned development at 1115 Lochland Road.
Council also tabled a discussion of possibly opting out of New York’s marijuana legalization legislation. Council planned to have a detailed discussion on the issue at a future work session.
Council also appointed Christen Davis, and reappointed Dahlia Wist to the Shade Tree Committee.
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