University Politics

How Chancellor Kent Syverud has played a role in city-county merger effort

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Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud has indirectly helped push a merger between the Syracuse city and Onondaga County governments.

Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud has indirectly helped push a merger between the Syracuse city and Onondaga County governments, a sticking issue that has put Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a feud.

A citizen group called Consensus released recommendations on Thursday urging the city and county to consolidate their governments and government services for efficiency and savings. Miner has sharply criticized the report as “a plan for the worst form of corporate looting” that does not benefit Syracuse residents.

The push for Syracuse to merge with the county also comes from Albany, with New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo in support of the government consolidation. Cuomo in 2015 awarded the central New York region $500 million through his Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

SU has not taken a stance on the potential merger, but university officials have both loose and direct ties to the commission.

Set aside in this initiative is $25 million for Consensus’ efforts with “government modernization” in the area. In an 88-page plan developed by the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council — one of the state’s 10 regional councils — the Consensus commission is listed as one of the group’s signature investments.

“Central New York will execute on the recommendations set forward by the Consensus Commission,” the report from the council states. “… At full implementation, the Commission’s plan will drive service efficiencies, generate tax savings, produce regional incentives to collaborate, and create the structural governance capacity required to address regional policy matters in truly regional ways, while preserving local decision making on truly local issues,” the report from the council states.

As a co-chair of the council, Syverud pushed for the Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

Syverud also successfully obtained from the initiative $12.5 million for the National Veterans Resource Complex, part of SU’s flagship effort to transform central New York into the “hub” of research and programming connected to veterans and military affairs. Syverud stepped down from the co-chair position in August 2016.

Cuomo previously said the state awarded money to the area because city and county leaders pledged to merge the two governments, and also said the leaders will have “a serious problem” if they are unable to advance the consolidation, according to Syracuse.com.

During a press conference on Monday, Miner refuted Cuomo’s claim and said it is “far from accurate” to say that Syracuse won the money because it agreed to consolidate everything. Miner also said there are certain people who are “clearly” pushing this merger effort, even though she didn’t name who those individuals are. Miner also compared the process for getting money out of the initiative to “The Hunger Games,” a popular book and movie series where children fight to the death.

“The recommendations don’t benefit the people in the city of Syracuse and that’s my job as a mayor: To stand up and to say what I think benefits them and don’t think benefits them and why,” Miner said.

Also from SU, Bea González, vice president for community engagement and the dean of University College, has served as one of 19 Consensus members who published the recommendation on government merger. She declined to comment on this story.

SU announced last year it will contribute about $7 million over five years to the city of Syracuse because of the renewal of a services agreement made with the city in 2011. It is unclear whether this investment would carry on if a Syracuse-Onondaga merger were to take place.

Kevin Quinn, senior vice president for public affairs at SU, said in a statement to The Daily Orange the university is “proud” to work with the city, county and state to advance the university’s academic mission and stimulate economic growth in the region.

“The University remains committed to doing its part to ensure the region continues to be a vibrant ecosystem by building upon current efforts and capturing new opportunities,” Quinn said. “At the same time, the University is one voice in the larger conversation about the future of the region, and will remain a steadfast partner to our local, regional and state governments – however configured – to ensure we achieve the collective vision for our community.”

The Consensus report anticipates a referendum to be held in 2017, a transition year to take place in 2018 and the first year of the new city-county and regional council to begin in 2019.

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