Issues over email befall candidate forum in Oneida

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ONEIDA — A wayward email left PAC-99’s Oneida candidate forum with only one party’s candidates to answer questions and outline their platforms.

Republican Party candidates were not present at the candidate forum last election cycle, and the same was true this time around as well. The Daily Sentinel reached out on Oct. 5 to Gary Reisman, Oneida City Republican Committee chairman and candidate for Ward 1 councilor, for a statement on the decision before the forum.

“As is true in the national, state and now we see in our city, the Democrats believe they can dictate unilaterally, and people will follow,” Reisman said. “Republican candidates weren’t invited. From presidential debates down to local elections, the standard practice is for both political parties to meet to agree on a date, time, location, and rules. None of that happened here because the Democrats clearly aren’t interested in a fair and bipartisan approach.”

The Sentinel approached Bruce Burke, president of PAC-99, who produced two emails he sent to the chairmen of both political parties to the Sentinel.

Both emails are dated Tuesday, Sept. 7, addressed to the chairmen of their respective parties and sent 11 minutes apart.

The emails are as follows:

“Public Access Channel 99, local Spectrum television, would like to announce their sponsorship of a Candidate’s Night at the Oneida Public Library. The date and time are: October 7 from 5:30 p.m. to closing time, 7:45 p.m.”

“We hope that all candidates for public office in and for the City of Oneida, will participate. However, if there are some who choose not to participate, it is our intention to carry on without them. We sincerely hope that you will encourage your candidates to join the program.”

The email used to contact the Oneida City Republican’s Committee was “oneidacityrepublicans@gmail.com.” The email listed on the Oneida City Republican Committee Facebook page is “OneidaCityTeam@gmail.com.” References to the former email being used by the Republican Committee were found in a Sept. 2018 publication by the Oneida Dispatch advertising the George Warner Memorial Golf Tournament.

Reisman said he became chairman of the Oneida Republican Committee in early 2021 and confirmed that the email used to contact is one he doesn’t recognize.

“It’s an old email and an email I don’t have access to,” Reisman said. Burke had said to the Sentinel on Oct. 5 that this was the email he had.

Candidates Attending

All but one of the Oneida Democratic candidates was in attendance. Lewis Carinci, candidate for Madison County Supervisor Wards 4, 5, 6, was unable to attend due to a family emergency.

Candidates attending included the following.

Margaret Milman-Barris is running for mayor. Milman-Barris is a project manager and senior geologist who formerly served as a Madison County supervisor for wards 1, 2, 3 and has served on the Oneida Water Board since 2018.

Lillian White is running for city chamberlain. White has worked in banking for 26 years in New York City and worked for J.P. Morgan Chase as an executive director. She’s known in the community for her work in the Oneida Rotary Club as past president and serves on the Oneida Library Board.

Sara Haag is running for councilor of Ward 1. Haag is a college professor, a non-profit director, and an administration. She’s known in the community for her work at Liberty Resources as director of the Help Restore Hope Center.

Jim Coulthart is running for reelection as councilor of Ward 3. Coulthart was elected in 2018. Among Coulthart’s accomplishments for Ward 3 is a measure to keep commercial tankers looking to enter H.P. Hood off of residential streets.

Mike Kaiser is running for councilor of Ward 6. Kaiser was originally the councilor of Ward 4 but resigned in 2012, citing a move from Ward 4 to Ward 5. Kaiser retired from the New York State Police with 27 years of service and previously served as Oneida’s public safety commissioner.

John Nichols is running for Madison County Supervisor of Wards 1, 2, 3. Nichols is a life-long resident of Madison County and is a retired teacher with 32 years under his belt. Nichols was also president of the East Syracuse Minoa United Teachers, and counselor at American Legion Boys’ State.

Joe Magliocca is running for reflection as Madison County Supervisor of Wards 4, 5, 6. Magliocca is a lifelong resident of Oneida and is best known in the community for his passionate work with Oneida’s parks and trails, putting many hours into cleaning, building, and advocating.

A Rebuke

Candidates were given around five to 10 minutes to introduce themselves and their platforms, but Magliocca said he was “...going off script” and instead rebuked the Oneida City Republican Committee for not attending the forum.

“That decision by [the Republican candidates] is a real disservice to the community,” Magliocca said. Magliocca specifically rebuked the assertion that there were meetings held to discuss things such as date, time, place, moderator, and more.

“There were no meetings or a Survey Monkey or emails that went around to coordinate this,” he continued. “We were all provided the exact same date, time, location, rules, and moderator information the local Republican candidates were given. And this has been well known for months.”

Magliocca said he preferred to spend his Thursday nights among friends enjoying tacos and craft beer at Mad Taco. “But I’m here. So it doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to know where I’d rather be. But it’s important to be here and give folks the opportunity to ask questions.”

Magliocca ended, saying elected candidates must serve all residents, regardless of party affiliation or voter status.

“There’s no place for partisan politics,” he said. “There are good and bad people on both sides of the aisle, as the expression goes. We need to work together in a collaborative and respectful manner. And we should expect and demand that. I think it’s unfortunate our Republican candidates chose not to be here tonight, and I see that as a disservice to the community.”

Question and Answers

Questions were taken from the audience and also from Matthew Schneider’s government class at Oneida High School. Some questions were general, and others were for specific candidates. The question and answer section lasted a full hour. The following is a sample of some of the candidate’s answers.

Moderating the event was Dan Jones, who had moderated the previous candidate forum.

Milman-Barris was asked what she could do better than the current mayor if she were elected.

“I believe in communication, transparency, and bringing people to the table,” Milman-Barris said. “That’s something I do every day in my line of work. We have to work together in different capacities to move the project forward. And I don’t see that happening in city hall right now.”

Specifically, Milman-Barris said the issue with Wastewater Treatment Plant is “...right in her wheelhouse” as she deals with environmental permitting and engineers all the time. “I think I’m in a better position to provide oversight to save the city money and be in compliance with the law.”

White was asked about a statement made by the current city administration. Oneida Mayor Helen Acker said she intended to bring about a referendum to eliminate the city chamberlain as an elected position and hire a tax collector. “My understanding is that there was a reason the chamberlain was separated and held as an elected position,” White said. “It’s a separation of duties from the city and chamberlain office. That said, I would have to go into the position and study the office and see what’s been going on. [But I feel] it should be a separate position.”

Her priority, if elected, would be to study the chamberlain’s office’s current process right now while looking at checks and balances, efficiencies, reporting, and more.

Haag was asked how she defined being accountable to her constituents.

“I think being accountable is all about sharing information and talking with people,” Haag said. “And that’s accomplished by speaking with the community and getting to know them. I think my approach would be much like how I approach things as a therapist and a social worker. I meet people where there are, what’s going on, and being accessible.”

In keeping things balanced, Haag said she’d try to understand all parts of any argument or conflict that comes to her attention. In addition, she’d do her research and not go into any topic blind.

Coulthart was asked what he felt the most significant challenge in the community was today.

On the subject of challenges, Coulthart held up a file about an inch thick.

“This is a partial file titled ‘Citizen Resident Ward 3 Concerns,’” he said. “The single biggest problem the city has right now is a multi-layered question. I’d say leadership is the biggest concern. There are people who are in an elected position who are just go-along types.”

One primary concern he had was the decision of the council to freeze the tax limit. “That has been a rote decision for years. Although we try not to spend more money than we need to, if we want to get something done, we need that latitude,” he said. “Putting a self-limitation on the amount of tax levied [will come] with hard decisions.”

Kaiser was asked if he felt the city of Oneida was in good shape and what he would do to make Oneida more successful.

“I think the city could be in better shape,” Kaiser said. “As for what I would do to make it better? How I approached the job of councilor when I was first elected back in 2009 was to study every issue, talk to every person, know every department head, and try to communicate with the people in the ward I represent. And I think that’s been lost. I don’t think the current administration is doing that.”

Kaiser said he doesn’t feel a lot of questions are asked and that many people don’t know happening in city hall. However, Kaiser added he likes to be engaged and ask questions, so that’s what he would do if elected.

Nichols said that while he is a proponent of solar energy, there are things that need to be considered and planned out.

“I think solar energy is great, it’s sustainable, but then I found out that they aren’t all regulated the way they should be,” Nichols said. “If a solar farm reaches end of life, there are things in solar panels that are poisonous. And you don’t want to put that in a landfall. Does the corporation just walk away? We have to have a plan. It has to be recycled to the best ability. And we have to take into account how many of these we are building.”

Nichols added that more solar farms that establish themselves in Madison County — farm country — could mean less land for farmers and less food in the area, driving up prices.

But above all, Nichols said something needed to be done. “Sustainability doesn’t mean I want to throw solar panels everywhere. I want it in such a way that we are realistic on how long it lasts, and we can keep it going. We have to move to electricity, but let’s be realistic.”

Magliocca was asked in what ways he can be effective in the minority party at the Madison County Board of Supervisors.

“The Madison County Board of Supervisors is majority Republican,” Magliocca said. “There’s partisan politics there, too. But being in the minority party, there is not that significant of an issue. There’s one strong advocate at the county that makes sure partisan politics don’t impact day-to-day operations, and that’s Madison County Administrator Mark Scimone.”

Magliocca added that Scimone serves as a strong example of why the city of Oneida needs a city manager or city administrator. “Scimone helps take the politics out of the day to day, brings accountability to department heads, sets goals, and is a very strong person at the county.”

Magliocca said while the supervisor has no legislative power at the city level, they bring back knowledge and information from the Board and committees, something he thinks he’s been successful at doing.

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