We live in difficult times. Almost every day the news brings an onslaught of bleak news; ethnic cleansing, wars, famines, fierce weather events and senseless individual acts of violence that destroy innocent lives. We are in our second year of a plague that has killed over 750,000 of us and sickened millions more. Malicious voices distort and amplify these troubles to divide, rather than to rally us together against a common foe. Just what, many of ask ourselves, in this holiday season of joy and good will, do we have to celebrate? To whom do we owe gratitude and thanks?
As I look around this small county we call home, I find one obvious answer to my question. I feel gratitude to the hundreds of public servants who govern, administer and deliver the services upon which all of us who live in Tompkins depend. For almost two years, these individuals have demonstrated how good and efficient government works for the benefit of all of us in difficult and extraordinary circumstances.
Events of the past years has highlighted the critical role that the Tompkins County Public Health Department plays in our community’s well-being. As soon as the seriousness of the Corona virus became apparent, Director Frank Kruppa initiated and continues to lead an exemplary response to this public health crisis that has never failed us. From the outbreak’s earliest days, the department he leads has offered transparent reassurance and good advice that has saved lives. The free testing center established at the Malls of Ithaca should be a national model, as should be the clinics asset up after vaccinations became available. Last month, only a few weeks after a vaccine was cleared for young children, my 11 year old grandson visited a clinic and became the last person in my family to get a shot. For that, I will remain enormously thankful. The Public Health Department’s strong advocacy and education efforts explains much of Tompkins County’s extraordinarily high vaccination rates
Every day, other services remind me of how the county government works for us.
During the lockdown, I became a weekly visitor to the Tompkins County Public Library where contactless pickup of books became a literary lifeline for me. The folks who work at our Board of Elections successfully managed four elections in 2020 and 2021 under the most challenging circumstances. During the 2020 primary, I was an older and unvaccinated voter. Voting options managed by the BOE meant I never had to choose between voting or endangering my health.
Almost every week I also visited the Recycling and Solid Waste Center or one of Food Scraps Recycling Drop Off Spots near my house. The Center’s mission to continually improve and implement sustainable waste management systems continued in an exemplary fashion throughout the challenges of the past two years. Read its most recent 2020 Annual Report that is posted online. You will be impressed.
County services enhance our lives in numerous other ways. Tompkins Cortland Community College has educated tens of thousands of our residents, even while providing integral support to economic development. County employees provide mental health assistance to our residents, staff our emergency system, run the Department of Motor Vehicles, maintain roads and provide and supervise a critical part of our policing and criminal justice system. Only space limitations keep me from naming all the services Tompkins County employees provide. (Visit the Tompkins County website to find a complete list County provided services.) Overseeing these resources and services is a Legislature-Administrator form of government. While the administrator is a nonpolitical position, fourteen elected legislators represent various geographical areas of the county.
No one is perfect. Politicians and public servants are human and, like all humans, sometimes make mistakes. Yet, the next time you find yourself railing against “the government” take a moment to really think about what these men and women do for us. And the next time you hop off a T-Cat Bus, drop off some recycling or take your child into a clinic for a vaccination, take a moment to really thank one of the public servants who enormously yet quietly enrich the fabric of our lives here in Tompkins County.
Ann Sullivan is a 40-year resident of Tompkins County. Thirty years as a librarian at TC3 has made her appreciate the vital role of county government in Tompkins County. Ann Sullivan is a member of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee and Ward Chair for the 3rd Ward. This was submitted for the Democratic View, published in the Tompkins Weekly, December 2021.