Batman, Shea bring different perspectives to Cayuga County race

Keith Batman said there is “unfinished business” the Cayuga County Legislature needs to tackle next year and that his background and experience make him better prepared to help. Robert Shea believes that “change is good” and he wants to alter the direction the county has been heading in.

The two are running to represent District 7, which includes the towns of Ledyard, Scipio and Springport.

Batman, a Democrat seeking his third term on the Legislature, said that new people joining the Legislature would be at a disadvantage right off the bat because they would be “starting from scratch.” Shea, a Republican newcomer to politics, said that although he does have some homework to do he is ready to bring new energy to the office.

Since its most recent appointed administrator was fired in 2019, the county has been relying on the Legislature chair to juggle the day-to-day operations of the county. Shea said that a series of missteps by the Legislature has resulted in county taxpayers paying for the buyouts of two former administrators and that it’s clearly time for a change in direction.

He wants to put a referendum before the voters on having the county move to an elected executive position used in Onondaga County and other municipalities.

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“Put the decision in the hands of the people,” he said, and if an executive fails to do a good job “the people can vote them out.”

Batman agrees that hiring administrators over and over again has been a problem and said that because the Legislature has been unable to agree on a long-term solution, “we need external support.”

He said that one of the first things he wants the Legislature to do after the election is begin putting together a small group of citizens with no vested interest in government operations to come up with some thoughtful feedback on how the county should proceed with its top leadership.

He said the intermediate-term plan is to continue have the chair act as CEO and policy leader but to staff that office with a professional operations officer to take on the day-to-day work.

Shea said that while he’s not necessarily against having the chair continue in this role for the time being, he said the Legislature needs to “keep taxpayers in mind” and avoid adding to what he calls an already “top-heavy” government.

Batman said one of the top priorities for the Legislature next year will be figuring out what to do with the aging, inefficient county office building and deciding how best to organize staff to serve the public. The need for asbestos abatement constrains the amount of interior work that can be done on the building, and Batman said the county is prepared to put out requests for proposals to find out how best to proceed and how much it would all cost.

On the coronavirus pandemic, Shea said that while he is against heavy-handed government interference and supports the rights of people who “want to hold off” on getting vaccinated, he said that the availability of clinics in the county has been “a great thing” and praised the job the county has been doing in contact tracing to inform people who may have been exposed.

He hopes that in the coming year that an increase in the number of vaccinated people will allow the county to pull back on the number of clinics it needs to operate.

Batman has high praise for the job Legislature chair Aileen McNabb-Coleman has been doing, especially with regard to the coronavirus pandemic. Under her leadership, Batman said, the county was able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries with a targeted furlough of workers who wouldn’t be harmed financially because they were eligible for enhanced unemployment benefits from the state and federal governments.

He said the county needs to continue trying to get as many people as possible vaccinated and encourage the public to cooperate by staying home if they feel sick and fully cooperate with contact tracing to protect the community.

Shea and Batman agree that the lopsided nature of the county’s 15 legislative districts with regard to population and weighted voting needs to be addressed.

Shea said that consolidating some districts may be the way to make things more efficient and he wants to see representatives of rural districts and those in the city of Auburn work cooperatively on a solution.

Batman said that because redistricting is coming down the road, the first order of business will be having legislators agree on what the number of districts should be and continue collecting data and talking things through as they wait to see how congressional districts will be redrawn.

Shea wants to make sure that lawmakers in Albany understand the concerns of small towns on controversial topics such as defunding police departments and what he calls the “catch-and-release” bail reform that eliminated bail for most crimes in New York.

Batman said that he has been involved in community service his entire life and that being a member of the Legislature is a continuation of that. He said he wants to continue to serve by being involved in helping meet the challenges facing the county.

Robert Shea

Keith Batman

Keith Batman

Managing editor Mike Dowd can be reached at (315) 282-2234 or [email protected].

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