Canandaigua City Council supports renaming ‘Squaw Island’, narrowly approves school resource officer program

The Canandaigua City Council met Thursday via Zoom conference call due to COVID-19. During Thursday’s nearly two-and-a-half hour session Council approved 8 resolutions.

Resolution #2020-051 proposed supporting efforts to rename “Squaw Island” because of the “defamatory stigma attached to the name”. Several Councilmembers spoke in support of the resolution because they believed renaming the island was the right thing to do out of respect for the Native American community. Councilmembers clarified that the term “Squaw” does not have a positive historical reference as many have assumed, but rather in the Native American language is an extremely derogatory term towards women.

Renee Sutton (At-Large) asked those who believe the name should remain unchanged due to “nostalgia” how they would feel about addressing a Native American with the term “Squaw”. Sutton concluded that the pain caused by the name should be far more important than nostalgia.

The Council’s only dissent came from James Terwilliger (At-Large). Terwilliger took pains to clarify that he was not opposed to renaming the island but rather opposed the resolution because the issue was not within the City or City Council’s purview. Terwilliger pointed out that the island is actually located in the Town of Canandaigua and that renaming it could only be done by the State of New York and may require the approval of the Federal government. Terwilliger also did not think it was appropriate for the City Council to use resolutions to simply make political policy statements.

The Council approved Resolution 2020-051 with only Terwilliger voting no. City Manager John Goodwin clarified that he would be sending the resolution to the State of New York to show that the City has officially supported renaming the island.

Erich Dittmar (Ward 4) presented Resolution 2020-052 regarding the City’s Snow removal fees for 2020-2021. This resolution was proposed in response to the passage of Ordinance 2020-002. The resolution proposed setting the City’s snow removal fee for those residents who fail to clear their sidewalks in a timely manner at a flat $50 per incident. There was no substantive discussion on the resolution, and it was approved unanimously. Sutton asked about how Canandaigua would notify the public of the new fee and Goodwin indicated the fee would be publicized via water bills, social media, the City’s website, and word-of-mouth.

Resolution 2020-053 presented by Steve Uebbing (At-Large) proved to be the most controversial action item of the evening. The resolution proposed authorizing a municipal cooperation agreement between the City and the Canandaigua City School District to provide school resource officers (SROs) in Canandaigua schools. The resolution proposed that the Canandaigua Police Department would provide 1 part-time and 1 full-time SRO to the Canandaigua City School District. The school district would reimburse the City for 100% of the cost of the part-time SRO and 50% of the cost of the full-time SRO. The City’s cost for the program would be approximately $60,000. Uebbing stated that the purpose of the program was to build positive relationships between students and law enforcement.

The Council was divided into two points of view on the issue. Councilmembers Sutton and Karen White (Ward III) were adamantly opposed to the proposal stating that there was absolutely no evidence that the program had any benefits and that the money could be spent better elsewhere. White also felt that the school district should bear the entire cost of the program if it was something they wanted. Dittmar also expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the program and stated that there was absolutely no data showing that the program had been effective. Dittmar also felt that spending money on school support and mental health counseling services would be far more effective. Sutton specifically stated that she thought the purpose of the program was in reality more law enforcement and public safety-oriented and that there were far better methods of building student relationships with law enforcement.

Those who supported the proposal felt that it builds solid relationships between students and law enforcement, increases safety in schools, and provides students with an important resource. Uebbing argued that students support having officers in the school and that they ultimately come to trust officers because the officers help students build a good school environment. Uebbing also felt that it is the City’s responsibility to bear the cost of the program because the school is located within the City’s jurisdiction.

Canandaigua Police Chief Stephen Hedworth indicated that the City receives a benefit from the SRO program because during the summer the full-time SRO works road patrol specializing in youth issues. Hedworth also stated that the officer fills regular patrol shifts when the Department is shorthanded. Hedworth also said that as both the Chief of Police and as a parent, he believes students have far more positive interactions with law enforcement through the SRO program in school than they would on the street. Hedworth argued that it would be a disservice to the community to eliminate the program.

Mayor Bob Palumbo closed the discussion by indicating his support for the program. Palumbo stated that he had talked to many, including several students, who strongly support the program.

Resolution 2020-053 was passed on a split 5-4 vote.

Councilmember Dan Unrath (Ward II) presented resolution 2020-54 which proposed permitting closure of the parking lot between Simply Crepes and the Chamber of Commerce to accommodate weekend outside dining. This proposal is part of the City’s continuing effort to support downtown Canandaigua restaurants struggling because of COVID-19. The parking lot closure would permit restaurants to serve approximately 100 patrons in a safe outside environment.

All of the Council supported the resolution, but Robert O’Brien (At-Large) sought an amendment to clarify who was in charge of the program, and Sutton sought an amendment to clarify the program’s operating schedule. Ultimately, the Council approved an amendment that the outside seating area would be operated by Simply Crepes with support from the Business Improvement District (BID) and Local Development Corporation (LDC), and that the outside seating area would be available 4:00 P.M. – 11:00 P.M. Friday-Sunday August 28, 2020, to October 3, 2020.

O’Brien also asked about the City’s liability for this program, and the City Manager clarified that Simply Crepes would be providing insurance for the operation, which satisfied O’Brien’s concerns.

Following the amendment, Resolution 2020-054 was approved unanimously.

The Council also considered resolution 2020-055, which proposed an additional 90-day deferral of payments under the Small Business Loan Program. There was no discussion on the resolution, and it was approved unanimously.

Councilmember Nick Cutri (Ward 1) introduced Resolution 2020-056. The resolution proposed a budget amendment to pay the cost of removal of a recently discovered underground gas tank located at 25 Ontario Street. The proposed budget amendment would be for up to $15,000 and would fund tank removal and any environmental remediation necessary because of soil contamination. Palumbo asked if the tank removal and environmental remediation expenses would be covered by insurance. Both the City Manager and City Attorney stated that it was highly unlikely that any of the City’s insurance coverage would cover these expenses. Resolution 2020-056 was approved unanimously.

The Council also unanimously approved Resolutions 2020-057 and 2020-058. Resolution 2020-057 declared a City-owned 2013 Chevrolet Impala as surplus to be sold by auction or sealed bid, or traded-in. Resolution 2020-058 set public hearing on Local Law No. 4 of 2020 authorizing a property tax levy in excess of the limit established in General Municipal Law Section 3-C. The proposed local law was also read for the record, and the Council indicated that this was a standard annual routine process that it is required to take. The public hearing was scheduled for September 3, 2020, at 7:00 P.M. via Zoom conference call.

The Council’s final action of the evening was to appoint Thomas Lyon as Chair of the Climate Smart Canandaigua Task Force.

In addition, during the City Manager’s report, it was announced that Kershaw Beach would be closing to public swimming on August 22, 2020, due to a staff shortage. The City Manager also cautioned boaters that blue-green algae had been detected in parts of the lake.