November 29, 2011

Common Council Faces 50-Percent Turnover in Its Representatives

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This January, five new Common Council members and a new mayor will join five veteran representatives on the City of Ithaca Common Council. The 50-percent shift in personnel represents the largest since 2003, when eight of the 10 representatives were new to the council, according to Alderperson Ellen McCollister ’78 (D-3rd Ward).

“It’s not like [new Council members are] just coming in like new kids on the block, not knowing anything. I think there’s a lot of experience there — certainly not on Common Council — but being involved in a lot of the boards and activities that have been going on is part of their regular life in the community,” incoming Common Council member Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward) said. “So we’re not starting from scratch.”

Because of the experience of many of the incoming councilmembers, Kerslick said that much of the challenge that he foresees with the influx of new council-members, such as himself, lies in the development of group dynamic.

“I think what is important to happen throughout the life of an elected body, a council, is working together as a group. Obviously a single person in an elected body needs to work with the others to discuss and reach a consensus. Obviously, you have one vote out of 10, so there’s not a lot you can do by yourself,” Kerslick said.

Current Alderperson Eddie Rooker ’09 (D-4th Ward) agreed.

“Every council develops its own relationships and its own personality so I think it’ll be a little bit different, but not in a bad way,” Rooker said.

Rooker — who was elected in 2009 — said that the new representatives would need to become acclimated to their environment, but he was confident their enthusiasm would allow them to do it.

“There’s definitely going to be a learning curve for the new people on [the council]. I think a lot of them have done a great job of coming to meetings and sitting down with” current council members, Rooker said. “We have some smart people coming onto the board, so we’ll definitely lose a little efficiency in the beginning and that’s a part of it, but we’ll catch up quickly and be fine.”

McCollister, the Third Ward representative, praised the previous civic involvement of several of the incoming Council members, including Kerslick and Joseph “Seph” Murtagh (D-2nd Ward).

“[Kerslick has] been involved in many committees over the years and really has a good working knowledge of city hall … [Murtagh] has been sitting in on meetings for a good six months now, and before that, he was a reporter for the Ithaca Times and he covered the city beat, so he really understands a lot,” McCollister said.

Representatives said that Mayor-elect Svante Myrick ’09 will largely set the Common Council’s long-term goals, but that the incoming Alderpeople have high hopes for their new positions.

“I’m sensing from the discussions that I’ve had with people that there’s a lot of enthusiasm for some of the issues facing Ithaca, like development [and] the economic situation in terms of the city being able to rely less on state funding,” Kerslick said. “Trying to make the local economy more resilient is a priority. I know it’s a priority for the mayor, and I think that people coming in on council feel that as well.”

McCollister said she is not concerned about new faces on the council.

“Having a change of this magnitude is really not that unusual. It sounds like it is, but it’s not,” she said.

Original Author: David Fischer