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Bill Kinne on the Campbell Conversations

Bill Kinne

Program transcript:

Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher. My guest today is Bill Kinne. He's the Democratic nominee for Onondaga County executive in this November's elections. Legislator Kinne is currently an Onondaga County legislator representing the 15th Legislative District, having served in that capacity from 1992 to 2011 and then again since 2020. He's the owner of Bill Kinne Property Management Services which performs snow removal, lawn care, landscaping, caretaker and handyman services. Legislator Kinne, welcome to the program.

Bill Kinne: Thank you Grant, it's very nice to be here.

GR: Well, it's great to have you here. So, let me just start with a very basic question about your sense of Onondaga County right now. How would you describe the current state of the county?

BK: Well I think we have some severe issues in this county. You know, we have a mental health issue that's really across the whole country but we're seeing it here, you know, unfortunately for people shooting each other, but other reasons. You know, I think we need to work on infrastructure. I think we're just doing patchwork. We're not dealing with the infrastructure for the future. And I think it's time we change that.

GR: Okay. And let me ask you now about the incumbent, because, you know, every challenger obviously is making the case that the incumbent should not be returned to office. So what initiatives or decisions that were taken by the current county executive, Ryan McMahon do you do you not approve of?

BK: Well, there are several. The aquarium obviously. I mean, it used to be that the Republicans were the fiscal conservatives and they would watch the budget. This administration seems to throw that out the window and just spend money crazily for an aquarium. Also, he wants to get rid of the jail up in Jamesville Penitentiary. I think that's a public safety issue that he's on the wrong side of. I also don't like the fact that he spent $6,000, or close to it, on making a video of himself claiming that it was to promote Onondaga County. But he finally got it off the website because he was getting so much feedback. I mean, it was clearly just a promotional video for himself and not the county.

GR: Yeah, I wanted to probe a little bit on that last point and see if you would want to expand it, because I was looking at your campaign website and, you know, your main tag line, one of them is you want to restore integrity to the county executive's office. And I wanted to probe a bit on what you mean by that. Is that an instance of what you're talking about?

BK: That's one clear instance what I'm talking about, yes. Another one is that when I was a legislator from 1992 to 2011, if I wanted to talk to a department head, I could do that. Since Ryan's been in charge, you're not able to do that. And I think that's fundamentally flawed and does not serve the taxpayers. As an elected official, I ought to be able to talk to a department head or anybody in county government and find out what's going on. He likes to control things to protect his whatever, I don’t know, protect his, you know, his feelings. I don't know. But he's a control person and I'm not like that. I believe in listening to people and them telling me no, if I need to hear that word no. He obviously doesn't believe in that.

GR: So, two things that I wanted to follow up on from that. The first one is, what then is the current practice, let's say as a county legislator, you want to talk to someone in county government. What's the practice now? Do you make an application or what?

BK: No, you have to call the deputy county executive that's in charge of that department and talk to them.

GR: I see, and then go through them. Are you, though suggesting, and so I just want to make very clear, are you suggesting, though, that the county executive and the county's executive office is at this point corrupt?

BK: I don't know (if) corrupt is the right word. I think they are not serving the public well by that policy. I mean, and I don't want to get into rumors, there's all kinds of rumors out there about things, but I'm not talking about the rumors. I'm talking about the things that I see every day. There's no reason that any person that's elected, no matter what legislator you are, Republican, Democrat, doesn't matter, you shouldn't have to go through the deputy county executive. You should be able to talk to the department head and get the real sense what's going on.

GR: I want to come back to the two things that you mentioned, that you think the county needs to pay more attention to, mental health and infrastructure and see what you want to do about that. But let me just stick with the incumbent here for another minute or two, and then we'll get into your vision for how things should be different. But are there things that Ryan McMahon do you think has done well in his time as county executive?

BK: You know, that's a hard question to answer. He did work hard to get the land for the Micron deal.

GR: Okay.

BK: Got to give him credit for that. The Micron deal, though, was not because of Ryan McMahon, the Micron deal was because of President Joe Biden, Senator Chuck Schumer, even Congressman Katko when he was in office. Governor Hochul, most of the reason we have Micron is because the Democratic leadership in this country. Ryan got the land, he did good with that. Other than that, that's the only thing I can think of.

GR: I think in some ways you're circling back to that video that you mentioned before when you're when you're delineating things to get credit for regarding Micron.

BK: Yeah. I mean, look, it's one thing to be pragmatic, it's another thing to be proud. I prefer humbleness in a person rather than pride. And especially if that person is not telling the whole story for the whole county government.

GR: One of the things that the county executive, Ryan McMahon was in the media almost constantly for, obviously was the COVID pandemic when it was at its height. And he did get, from some quarters, praise for his leadership during that. How would you assess his leadership during the COVID pandemic?

BK: I would have to give him fairly high marks. I mean, I thought being on TV all the time was a little bit over the top. And I think it affected his health, but that's for his decision to decide. But, you know, again, we had a lot of help from other people during COVID, which we needed. But overall, I got to give him high marks, although I have to tell you, I had a doctor approach me that disagrees with that. And I wasn't able to get into the reasons why. But I hope to next Monday because I have an appointment with his doctor, see what he what his rationale was.

GR: Okay. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and I'm speaking with Bill Kinne. He's a Democratic Onondaga County legislator who's running for Onondaga County executive this fall. So now getting into to your record and things that you want to do, what accomplishments during your time as county legislator are you most proud of, the things that you think have made the most difference for the county?

BK: Well, the thing I'm most proud of is my constituent service. And I've helped people not only in my district, but in several other districts that I know of for a fact. I mean, I believe in public service. I believe that you're there not to help yourself, but to help the people that elected you. So I'm very proud of that. I'm proud of the fact that when we were building the new jail downtown, I was the person behind getting, at least, build the extra foundation for the fourth tower if we needed it. The reason I'm proud of that is because at the time we were being told that the jail wasn't big enough. So I thought, (unintelligible) spend the money, let's spend it when it's going to be less expensive and get that fourth foundation in. And, you know, even the Republican legislators agreed with that, so that was done. Thankfully, we haven't had to build it, but if we do, the foundation is there. And I'm not a big person on getting recognition for things, I'm just there to serve the people. And I was away on vacation last week and I got a call from someone who doesn't live in my district that had an issue and I was able to help them. So I people know that I'm out there and I help, so I'm grateful for that.

GR: So you mentioned at the outset of our conversation the importance of mental health and infrastructure and that the county needed to do more on that. And I want to explore those two things with you. Before I do that, I just want to make sure, because you also mentioned the jail and you just mentioned it again, make sure that I'm absolutely clear on what your position is. So you would want to keep the two facilities that currently exist, rather than combine them into one downtown, correct?

BK: Absolutely correct.

GR: Okay, all right. And so let's go back to mental health and infrastructure. What are the things that the county, if you were county executive, that you would want to see being done or new initiatives that would help that situation of mental health in the county?

BK: Well, it's my understanding from people I've talked to that we are extremely short of mental health workers. Psychologists, social workers, extremely short. I would like to see the county, with the state, if we can get them to buy into it, but if they can't, just the county. I'd like to see some type of program that we help people that take that field up at Syracuse University or LeMoyne and get involved in that field and stick around the county for a period of time, whether it be, you know, five years or ten years some frame of reference that we might reimburse them for their college experience, college cost. I mean, we need people. People need help for whatever reason, this COVID situation certainly has made the situation a lot worse and we need we need people to fill that role. And if we're short those workers, we need to find a way to get them to come here and be those workers.

GR: So, similar in some ways to some of the programs that are out there for teachers to stay in a certain area, it sounds like what you're saying then.

BK: Yeah, absolutely. Maybe at the time that the county had to step in, I mean, we have a tremendously large surplus. Maybe it's time to dedicate some of those funds to helping get new people to stay in the field and in live in Onondaga County.

GR: So you also mentioned infrastructure, and I wanted to probe on that one. And just as a backdrop, when Ryan McMahon first ran for county executive, he had three things he said he was going to emphasize and it's still on the county website today which is poverty, infrastructure and economic development. So you've got mental health and infrastructure. What should we be doing more about infrastructure that we're not doing, what aren't we paying attention to?

BK: Well, one of the problems I have with infrastructure is the way it's been handled since I've been in office and probably before that as well, I'm sure. We do piecemeal fixes. There doesn't seem to be a long strategy, a long plan. Everywhere I go, people are complaining about the roads, they're complaining about the bridges. We spend a lot of money on the sewer system, which we have to, there’s no question but we're spending it all at the metro plant and the main facilities. We're not fixing the pipes that run throughout the county. I mean, two years ago, I received several phone calls from constituents that had sewage in their basements. And in one of the particulars in Geddes, the county's known about this problem since I found out (in) the early 90’s or maybe possibly the late 80’s, that the pipe is not the right size. And yet the county still wants to patchwork this. I think sometimes you have to bite the bullet and replace things. You know, we're putting a lot of homes in the town of Onondaga which is good for the county, good for the town, but that sewage goes down, doesn't go up, it goes down to the valley, it goes down into Geddes. And maybe we need to rethink how we're dealing with that. I just feel that we're doing in such a patchwork, like we're going to build this great pipeline out to Micron, which is needed, I get it. But what about all those people that have been paying taxes for years and years and have sewage in their basements and are going to have trouble selling their houses because of that? I think we need a better overall plan and be upfront and tell the taxpayers what we're doing and why we're doing it.

GR: You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and I'm talking with Onondaga County legislator Bill Kinne. He's a Democrat who's challenging Ryan McMahon for County Executive this November. So, Micron has come up a couple of times in our conversation and the first half of the program, and this is the enormous investment by the company on building a mega complex for microchip manufacturing. Obviously a huge development for the county and the entire region. And it's something, I'm sure that the current county executive is going to be emphasizing on his reelection bid. And you in the first half of the program did give him credit for acquiring the land for that. Now that development creates enormous opportunities for the region, there's no doubt about that. But it also perhaps creates some challenges and maybe the infrastructure issue that you were talking about is one of those. But I wanted to get your sense as what you see as the opportunities and the concerns and challenges that that come from Micron's investment in this area.

BK: Well, the opportunities are going to be, you know, wonderful for, I think, everyone. Good paying jobs, so there's no question about it's going to be good for the county, good for the whole region. But are we going to be prepared to handle all the extra traffic, all the underground piping, you know, what are we doing, the amount of water they're going to be using? We have to find a way, I would hope we find a way to treat that and reuse it if we can. But I don't think the county executive is so caught up in just talking about how great Micron coming is, I don't believe from what I've seen, there's a good overall plan for what we need to do for not only Clay and Cicero, but other areas of this county, that, you know, these people are getting someplace to live. We have a severe housing shortage. Sure, if the people out there who are making $100,000 a year they can probably afford a $500,000 home or $300,000 home. But what about not everyone is going to be making $100,000 a year? And we have problems right now with people that are making, you know, $60,000 a year that can't find housing or even a decent apartment for a reasonable price. So I mean, I don't believe he’s given enough thought into what's going to happen in the county as a whole.

GR: Does the Micron Development, this is right on the point you're making, but does the Micron Development change any of your thinking regarding what should be done regarding I-81 o,r perhaps more to the point, the redevelopment of the area underneath it right now? Because that, up until Micron, that was the big development story for the area. Now it seems small in comparison to this, but I wonder if it has implications there, do you think?

BK: I think it has some implications, but look, this 81 has been in desperate need of repairs for years. They’re doing patch work on that. The bridge needs to come down. That's what the plan is and those people that want to try to build a bridge or whatever, I understand their thinking, I don't particularly like the good plan, but that's what the state wants. The experts say it'll work, I'm not an expert, so I have to take them for face value. But it will create opportunities. We have space, we should be able to do something with that space and hopefully have a better connection between the community and the university and the hospitals. It would seem reasonable to think that's what would happen, but it'd be nice once both projects are done. But that's going to take quite a few years before they're done.

GR: Yeah, well, we also talked a little bit before about COVID and the current county executive’s leadership during COVID. It looks like now, unfortunately, it's getting ready to resurge. There's some evidence that this is already happening. Are there things the county should be doing about that now that it's not doing?

BK: Well, I'm not a health expert whatsoever, and I would hope that the county executive is in communication with our head of the health department, who's a very qualified and a good health director. You know, I just I'm not on the health committee I haven't seen anything about it. But I got to believe that they're talking and getting things ready. That's what I would do if I was in charge. I would be working with the experts and getting ready and trying to be ahead of the game instead of them behind you playing catch up.

GR: If you've just joining us, you're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, and my guest is Onondaga County executive candidate Bill Kinne. He's currently a legislator in the Onondaga County legislature. So my next question we could be talking for hours about, but unfortunately, I'd like to ask you to try to keep your answer pretty succinct. But as long as I've been living in Syracuse, for over 30 years, it seems like the thorniest question has been what's the proper relationship between the city of Syracuse and the county, and what is the county owed to the city and so on. What's your take on this? What's the proper relationship between the city and the county?

BK: Well, it's been a thorny issue ever since I was old enough to remember. I humbly disagree with some of my Republican counterparts who I like. They could care less about the city, they tell you that privately. I believe that you need a strong center in the city, the city has to be the strong center of the county, and there should be a better relationship. I was hoping that since the present county executive and the present mayor were on good terms, that things would change. They haven't changed, at least not as far as I can tell. Some people think that the city gets too much, which I find mind-boggling because, you know, look at all the tax exempt property that we have in the city, all the county buildings, LeMoyne College, Syracuse University, all the hospitals. I mean, people are using the services of the city, and we've got to find a way to treat the city better, in my opinion. Look, the city has responsibilities and they have to deal with those responsibilities and they may need to make some changes, too. I'm not giving them a free card here. There’s issues that need to be addressed as far as I'm concerned, and I hope, if the voters elect me, I'll have a chance to sit down with the mayor and talk to him about my concerns and talk to him about his concerns, how the county can help. But those people that think the county would be better without the city, I think are sorely misled and not thinking correctly. Because you need a strong city to survive. And if you don't take care of the problems that the city has, those problems are going to come out to the county eventually. I think we've already seen some of that and some of our next door neighbors. I love the city, it's not perfect, but we need a strong city. I could have moved out of the city many times. I chose to stay in the city, it's where I grew up. I love the city, but we got problems and I think the county has to step up to the plate and help address some of those problems.

GR: And one of the things that occurs to me that kind of underlines your point is, it seems to me combining some of these things we've been talking about, that the folks that are likely to work for Micron are going to be probably pretty interested in the city in a lot of ways. And a lot of the younger ones are going to want to live there. So I think those issues probably are going to only become more important.

BK: I agree.

GR: Yeah. And so I want to circle back, though, with thinking about the city and the county to something you mentioned at the outset, at the very beginning of our conversation, when you mentioned mental health. You mentioned gun violence and people dying from that. Is that more of a city issue or is that something that the county needs to be more involved in as well, do you think?

BK: I think the county has to be involved. I mean, first of all, the city taxpayers are county residents, okay? Secondly, we all should be concerned about people dying. I mean, it's just not right in this day and age that we say, oh that gets killed in the city that's the city's problem. It's just not right. I mean, unfortunately, I've known a lot of good people who I like, but want to, you know, give up on the city because of the violence and other reasons. Yeah, we could give up, but eventually the county would suffer. Might not be in two years, it might not be in four years but it would be down the road and we'd all regret that decision, I believe. I think that we have to deal, one of the main things that the county can help with, in my opinion, is police services. There's got to be a better way for the Syracuse City Police Department and the Onondaga County sheriffs to work together. It just seems unnatural that the sheriff's office has their hands, what appears to be have their hands tied by certain policies. I certainly, if I'm fortunate enough to get elected, would try to work with the mayor, Toby Shelly our sheriff and the chief of police. I’d like to work (with) the towns and villages. We need to have a cohesive plan to provide better services for everyone so that everyone feels safe. Whether you live in Pompey or you live in the city of Syracuse, you're live in Cicero, if you’re going to come downtown, you want to feel safe.

GR: We've only got about a little over 2 minutes left, but I want to try to squeeze two last questions in if I can. The first one goes back to the relationship between the city and the county. And I'm going to make it even a little bit more touchy, if you will. And that is, do you think that given some of the wealthy suburbs that are in the county, you know, you mentioned $500,000 homes earlier, for example. Do you think that those areas have any special obligations to the city that they're not fulfilling right now?

BK: You know, I don't think so. I mean, at least I can't think of anything. What I would tell them is that you elect representatives that should serve no matter where your district is, should serve the whole county. I’ve served with some legislators who I like personally, but if it didn't affect their district, they didn't care. I think that's a terrible, terrible attitude. I think if you're an elected official, you should care about everyone, especially if you're a county legislator and the county executive. You've got to look at every part of the county. I believe there's a lot of those people that have those $500,000 homes or $300,000 homes that live outside the city that come into the city to work. So it would seem to me it'd be in their best interest to want the city to be, one, safe to travel, safe to get out of your car and walk to the shopping center or to a restaurant or to your office. You know, they should take that in consideration. So, as far as special interest, I think it has to be a common interest, a human interest.

GR: And we've only got a few seconds left, and so I apologize for that, but I did want to leave you at least some time. And you're going to make this just a couple of phrases or two but is there anything else about your campaign or about you that I haven't asked you yet that you want our listeners to know about?

BK: Just the fact that I really believe in public service, you know, helping people is what this should be about not making yourself rich or special or popular. It's about helping people. And as an executive, that's what I would try to instill in my all my staff and that’s about it.

GR: Well, that's a nice note to leave it on, we'll leave it there. That was Bill Kinne, Legislator Kinne, Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. And I want to wish you good health for you on the campaign trail, I know it's a stressful thing to do.

BK: Well, that's very kind of you, Grant. Thank you. I'm working hard, but I'm not killing myself.

GR: Good, all right, you've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

Grant Reeher is Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is also creator, host and program director of “The Campbell Conversations” on WRVO, a weekly regional public affairs program featuring extended in-depth interviews with regional and national writers, politicians, activists, public officials, and business professionals.