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Village of Lansing Voters: All four candidates will be participating at a moderated Candidates Forum on April 22, 4:00 - 5:00 at the Ramada Inn, 2310 North Triphammer Road.
Yasamin Miller and Brian Goodell are challenging incumbents John O'Neill and Julie Baker for their seats on the Village of Lansing Board of Trustees.  Miller has lived in the Village for 18 years with her husband Phillippus.  They have one son who is currently attending Cornell University.  She is Director of the Cornell Research Institute, a self-sustaining business within Cornell that conducts research and data analysis for academic, non-profit, governmental, and corporate clients.

Recently Miller has been a leader of residents opposed to the proposed Lansing Reserve development, which will, if approved, be built just south of her home.  She says that began her interest in Village government, then led her to expand her interest to other challenges and issues the Village faces.  If elected this will be her first municipal elected office.  She has served as President of the Association of Academic Survey Research Organizations (AASRO).

Miller says she is running because she believes in a government that is responsive to the values of the community and vigorous and healthy debate, and competitiveness.  She will bring her training and experience as a statistician, experience related to running a business to the Board of Trustees, and says her listening skills  will move the Village forward in the way residents want.  We talked at her home this week.

Lansing Star:  Why are you running, and what will make you a good Trustee?

Yasamin Miller:  I'm running because I believe in competitiveness and accessible inclusive, and transparent government, which is what I think I will bring to the table.

I also believe we're at a critical point now in the Village.  Our comprehensive plan is using data that is more than 12 years old.  I've got the analysis skills from my career I can use to survey the people so that we know what residents of the Village want for the next ten years.  That's really missing right now.  That's something I can really I can bring to the table.

I am good at listening.  I'm good at deciphering data, and summarizing, and being inclusive.  In my work background I have worked with people at all levels of government from Clinton and Bush to local governments like the Town of Ulysses when they were doing their comprehensive plan.

LS: What do you see as the key challenges the village will face in the upcoming term?

YM: I think the challenge will be to insure that the representatives open up and really listen to the residents, because what I see right now -- and my running mate Brian also sees -- is there is a block.  For some unknown reason, if there is any input from residents that is not in line with the current administration, they are dismissive.  They not only do not support you, but they are dismissive.

What I'd like to try and bring is a sense of cohesion so that everybody in the Village feels listened to, not just people who are members of one specific group.

LS: You have said you would like to see better transparency in the Village government.

YM: That's exactly right.  There is a lack of transparency.  My experience has been that when we ask a particular question, not only are we dismissed, but we find out later that they have done something completely different from what they said they were going to do.  That's really what has motivated the grass roots effort behind us running, this sense that they don't feel accountable, nor do they feel they need to explain what they're doing, or even tell us what they're doing.

LS: What would you differently to make the Village government transparent?

YM: I would hope my very first initiative would be to conduct a survey of all the residents of the Village.  It's very easy to do.  That would be the guiding point to revise the comprehensive plan and then set the goals for the Village for the next ten years.

LS:  The Dart development... if you're elected tell me how you see these issues that have been raised being both legally and fairly resolved?

YM: The Dart property issue that was brought up because of the NRP (Editor's note: NRP is a company that will finance and develop the project) proposal... what people don't understand -- and I really want to be very clear -- this proposal would never have come to fruition had the Mayor not signed his initial letter of support in December of 2010.

NRP would not have taken the option to buy the land and this issue would have gone away.  Now we're in the heat of it.  I still think the Village needs to look at the input from the residents.  If there is support from the majority of Village residents -- not just the Community Party -- then we move forward.  That's the Democratic process.  That's how it should work. It shouldn't be an agenda set by one person or a small group of people who are in power.  The agenda for the Village should be set by the people.

If it turns out the residents want subsidized housing at a cost to us -- and to be transparent it also needs to be shown that there are costs to us, and there are some very significant costs to us -- that's great.  As a Trustee that would be my responsibility, to represent the constituency.

LS: There are two parts of this issue that may be confusing.  One is the issue you just mentioned, and the other is what the Mayor has said about people having the right to do, on their own property, what it is legal to do.  Would you address that second part?

YM: There are two types of property owners.  If you're coming in as a private owner you absolutely have the right to do whatever you want with that property within the zoning requirements.  Absolutely right.

Second is the NRP situation, where it is not a private developer.  it is a developer that requires tax subsidies.  it requires my dollars and your dollars and everybody else's dollars to build this development.  And this development needs our approval in order to get the money secured.

That's the difference.  These are not comparable.  They do not necessarily have the same abilities or rights as a private developer does, because they require our approval and support on many levels.  That's why the Mayor initially wrote the letter of support.  They needed that letter for the application they submit to the state.  had they not gotten the letter from the Mayor they wouldn't get any funding from the State, and NRP would go somewhere else to find land.

yasamin_miller400Yasamin Miller

LS:  What specific areas would you be interested in working on as a trustee?

YM:  One interest is green space and parks.  I don't believe we have a sufficient number of parks in our little village.  In this northeast area (where Miller lives) we are very densely populated.  There are 1,100 apartment units in this square mile of the Dart Drive, northeast area.

We have a parcel of land here that's owned by the Village.  I would like very much to hear input from all the residents on whether they would like that to be a park.  That land is owned by us.  Would they like that to be a park?  We know there is some support, but as Village trustees we need to go out to our constituents and ask them.

I really believe a role of Trustees is to ask the people what they want, not to dictate.

LS: Because you came into this election because of the development controversy people may think you are a one-issue candidate.  How do you answer those people?

YM:  That's how we got started being interested in what the Village has been doing.  That's absolutely right.

But I have been attending the meetings fairly regularly for the last year.  What I see is there is no discussion.  There is no debate.  There is nothing in these meetings.  That makes me scratch my head and say 'where is the governing going on?  Why is it not going on in front of the public?'

So you're right.  I don't know all the issues.  But I'm not pretending to know all the issues.  I want to know what the issues are, and I want input from the village residents to let me and the other Trustees know what's of importance.  And then we move on it.

I really feel strongly that if you leave one party in power to unilaterally make decisions for 30-plus years, your agenda is going to be put to the side.  That's not why you have government.

LS:  Historically the Village has been all about zoning...

YM: Yes, and that's ironic because it was originally founded on the principal of controlling development.  It is very ironic now, because it looks like they have done a 180 degree turn and are suddenly 100% in support of development.

Why is that? I'm not sure, and that, again, is something else we'd like to uncover.

LS:  I want to ask about commercial development, because we've already talked about residential development.  I've always been struck by the irony that this is the only village in Tompkins County that doesn't have a village, a small central gathering area like Trumansburg, Groton, or Dryden have.  I think the sprawling village area predates the Village government in general and the Trustees did a really good job with sidewalks and street lights and so on, but it's still not a defined village area.

YM: It's not a village.  It's deteriorating and it's an eye sore.  If you walk around there you see shopping carts littered everywhere.  And I think that's the Village's responsibility to make it look like a village.  Make it warm.  make it welcoming.  Make it beautiful.

LS: As a trustee what kind of commercial growth would you advocate?

YM: This is an area where I think the government has been fairly responsible.  They have been responsible in terms of the amount of growth and type of growth occurring.  I would like to work with business.  The reality is that we all need to work, retail or otherwise.

I would like to see a business-friendly environment that is also sustainable.  That is also responsive to the environment and to the way we want the Village to grow.  So I think there is a good way to have balance, and not make it a business-hostile environment, but also insure that we get the revenue.

I am concerned about the environment, though, because the vast majority of our village is wetlands.  We have to be really, really careful.

LS: I think the Village's relationship with the Town deteriorated in 2010 when Village and Town officials clashed over issues to do with plowing Village roads, and went further downhill as the Mayor analysed the amount of taxes villagers pay vs. the amount of services they receive or avail themselves of.  What, if anything, would you do to mend that relationship if you are elected?

YM: As a newcomer -- and this is where I think Brian and I have a unique advantage.  We don't have a history of bad blood or hard feelings that have existed between the Town and the village -- I think it would be very prudent for the new trustees to try and mend relationships.  That can only benefit all of us.

We need to review and reevaluate everything, again with resident input, and determine what step we need to take next.  I think any hostile or unfriendly or uncooperative relationship between town and village is not good for anybody.

I have worked with literally thousands of people in the course of my career.  I know how to work with people.  I know how to get them on your side.  I know how to make sure everyone's agenda is met and sustained.

That would be another priority that we would try to undertake, because there is no point in it -- we are all losers.

LS: Do you agree with the general idea that the Village has been fiscally responsible?

YM:  That's what the Mayor tells us.  I don't have detailed information.  All I know is that we pay additional taxes on top of town taxes.

LS:  Well, because you're a village... it has to provide some services...

YM: Right. 

LS: If you think that town taxes or any taxes are too high, would that be something you would want to fight for?

YM: I would want to see the budgets in detail, how the money is being spent.  Then move forward from there.  It's very difficult at this point, not really knowing the details, for me to chime in and say I want to cut taxes or I want to raise taxes.  That's irresponsible.

With my background with the business I run at Cornell... when Cornell went through the economic downturn our unit was one of the very few that not only did not lose jobs, but we were hiring.  So I do come with a very strong business background.  I am very fiscally conservative, but I am rational.  By the same token I want to see parks in our village. I want to see green space.  And your point about having a village center -- why not?  But again I want to be responsive to the residents.

LS: What would you like people to know about your candidacy that we haven't already discussed?

YM: If you want the trustees to be accountable to you.  If you want to be listened to as a resident -- because I know many, many of us are feeling dismissed and unsupported.  If you want us to be a steward of our environment and not support corporate welfare, which is where our government is turning to right now, I think Brian and I are the candidates to vote for.

And to have a different voice.  We have had one voice for 30 plus years of one voice and that's not healthy.

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