2013 In Review: In January Mike Backus takes office as youngest county clerk in NYS

OSWEGO, NY – Here’s a glimpse of the some of the news from the past 12 months.

Michael C. Backus of Mexico was sworn in as Oswego County Clerk on Jan. 1.

Accompanied by his family including his brother SSgt. Robert P. Backus USMC, Backus was sworn in by NYS Supreme Court Judge James McCarthy.

“I’m humbled by the outpouring of support from the entire county today, but most important to me was having my brother Rob there to hold the family Bible,” said Backus. “Tomorrow morning I am looking forward to joining the office and working with the staff.”

Backus was joined by Judge Spencer Ludington who was also sworn into office as Oswego County Surrogate Court Judge.

“I am honored to share this day with Spencer and his family,” Backus said. “We had a lot of fun on the campaign trail and I look forward to working with him through the court system.”

Backus, 29, took office as the youngest county clerk in New York State.

Most recently Backus served as Regional Director for Assembly Leader Brian Kolb and prior as Field Director to former US Rep. John McHugh.

Oswego Council Reorganizes For 2013

The Oswego Common Council got reorganized on Jan. 2.

Councilors voted to reappoint Ronald Kaplewicz (Seventh Ward) as the presiding officer of the council for 2013.

He was approved 5-0. Councilors Fran Enwright, First Ward, and Mike Myers, Second Ward, were excused.

The councilors also approved reappointing Myers as the council’s vice president.

That vote was also 5-0.

However, the proceedings hit a snag when it came time to adopt the rules of the council.

Councilor Dan Donovan, Fifth Ward, sought to have part of the rules stricken.

Rule III, line 6 and Rule IV, line 1, would authorize an additional compensation of $5,000 per year for the council president and $2,500 for the vice president.

“They wanted a raise; the president and the vice president. It’s not right,” said Councilor Shawn Walker, Fourth Ward. “It’s not time yet.”

Walker was council vice president in 2011, 2010 and 2009.

Donovan, who was council president prior to Kaplewicz, agreed, adding with everyone else taking cuts, now isn’t the time for them to take a raise.

When people are facing tax hikes, now isn’t the time for raises, Walker said, adding, “Maybe somewhere down the road. But not right now.”

The council rules of 2012 were carried over for a while longer and this issue was to return to the committee level for further discussion.

Eventually, the raises were approved and became a lightning rod for criticism in late December at the public meeting regarding the 2014 budget plan.

Oswego County Legislature Elects Its Leaders

The Oswego County Legislature got its house in order for 2013, and it looked quite similar to 2012.

On Jan. 3, Fred Beardsley of Hastings was re-elected as the chairman of the Oswego County Legislature.

Fellow Republican Kevin Gardner, of Mexico, was elected vice chairman. Taking over the role the late Art Ospelt held last year.

Both votes went according to party lines.

The Democrat nominations were Amy Tresidder, of Oswego, for chair, and Jacob Mulcahey, of Oswego, as vice chair.

“Amy has the propensity to be able to be a true leader in this legislature,” said Mike Kunzwiler in his nomination. “She has the respect of her peers.”

Wendy Falls was unanimously re-elected at clerk of the legislature.

The Republicans named Jim Oldenburg, of Scriba, as majority leader, the post previously held by Jack Proud, of Mexico.

Milferd Potter, of Richland, is the majority whip for 2013.

Things stayed the same on the other side of the aisle with Kunzwiler, of Oswego, and Doug Malone, of Oswego Town, retaining the positions of minority leader and minority whip, respectively.

Oswego School Chief Resigns

Citing a lengthy contract negotiation impasse with the school board, Oswego Schools Superintendent Bill Crist announced his resignation at Jan. 8’s board of education meeting.

Crist, who graduated from Oswego High School and was a teacher in the district, said he would retire as of July 1, 2013.

He notified each board member via a letter, he said.

“Based on the board’s notice to not extend my contract agreement and inability to agree to contract terms,” Crist said he will pursue other opportunities and interests with his family.

“I’m asking the board of education to consider my letter of resignation, effective July 1, 2013, so that the successor process can begin as soon as possible in the best interest of the faculty, staff, parents, students and community,” he said.

He thoroughly enjoyed his time as superintendent in the community where he has lived and worked for the past 30 years, he added.

“I am proud, honored and humbled to have served in the positions of teacher, administrator and superintendent for the wonderful school district from which I graduated,” he said.

He wished the board success in identifying the individual who will continue the present achievements of the district while pursuing a path that will better align with the goals and interests of the community, he said.

Oswego Council Narrowly Approves Raises For Its Leaders

In a split vote Jan. 14, the Common Council approved salary hikes for its president and vice president.

At its reorganizational meeting at the start of this month, the council elected Ron Kaplewicz as president and Mike Myers as vice president.

Councilor Dan Donovan, Fifth Ward, sought to have part of the rules of the council amended.

The vote to approve the rules was passed 5-2 with Donovan and Councilor Shawn Walker, Fourth Ward, voting “absolutely not.”

It’s not a personal thing, Donovan said of his motion to ax the pay hikes.

“I think our president and vice president are doing a great job,” he said. “But after asking every department to make cuts, I don’t think this is the time or place to give raises.”

“I support what Mr. Donovan is saying. How can we ask our department heads to cut their budgets and give out raises. I don’t believe we should do this,” Councilor Walker said.

The council president defended the move.

“In any business when a particular position is given more responsibility, there is recognition of those responsibilities,” Councilor Kaplewicz told Oswego County Today.

For examples, he cited the Oswego County Legislature with its chairman, minority and majority leaders all getting extra compensation.

“In this case, you have a president and a vice president; a president that serves in the absence of the mayor. I’ve sat in the (mayor’s) chair many times and have had added obligations and responsibilities as well as other obligations and responsibilities,” he said.

Oswego OK’s Taxi Law

Local Law No. 1 of 2013 rode a unanimous vote to approval at the Jan. 28 council meeting.

The law amends Chapter 228 (Taxicabs) of the Code of the City of Oswego, in particular who can be taxi divers in the Port City.

Last fall (2012), the first version of the law was the target of a lawsuit filed by the Workforce Advocacy Center.

The law barred persons with felony convictions from driving taxis, the center’s founder and CEO claimed.

However, at the meeting, Jeremy Zielinski spoke in favor of the latest incarnation.

Laws and polices that discriminate against people with criminal records are inaccurate and counter-productive, he said.

The proposed law now proposes that licensing be done in accordance with New York Human Rights Law Section 296 and New York Correction Law Article 23-A.

“We changed the code so that it reflected the state’s Correction Law, which has the appeals process for this type of thing spelled out. So if someone feels they have been wrongfully treated, the appeals process is now clearly marked,” explained Sixth Ward Councilor Eric VanBuren. “It makes the whole thing more clear for those involved.”

The local law shall become effective immediately upon filing with the Secretary of State.

Gun Law Forum Draws Crowd

State officials came to Oswego Jan. 30 to talk about the nuts and bolts of the state’s new gun laws, but some people came to the meeting to complain about the law itself.

A large crowd at the Armory came with questions about the law, which was passed quickly by the state Legislature as a reaction to the shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. A panel of state officials had some of the answers, but referred to a new hotline questions about whether specific guns will be legal under the new law.

Under the new law, the state will create a gun registration database, check to insure that people with mental problems do not own guns, ban certain types of weapons, restrict the number of bullets that can be in the clips that feed guns, close a loophole that makes it easy to sell weapons through private sales, and more.

Gun rights groups have argued that the law, which Governor Andrew Cuomo says is the toughest in the nation, is an unconstitutional overreaction to Sandy Hook.

The Governor sent state officials – not the political leaders who approved the bill, but the managers who will implement it – across the state to meet with angry gun owners.

“I’m going to assume there’s an overwhelming majority of people here who have displeasure to voice with the statute, but the statute is what it is,” said Mike Green, executive deputy commissioner of Criminal Justice Services, who said that he was there to answer questions about how the law will work.

“Should 80 percent of us just get up and leave, because that’s the reason why we came here,” said one audience member to loud applause. “You just made New York safer for criminals and not for law abiding citizens. If they go to break the law, they’re going to go shoot 20 people in the school….the least of his concern is how many bullets he has in his clip.”

“We’re trampling all over the second amendment,” said another man, to applause. “It’s wrong what you’re doing here.”