Local elections can be pretty messy, and they usually hinge on some pretty local stuff: unpopular development projects, taxes, and political grudges.
Typically, the contests don't receive much attention outside of the town or village they happen in, due to their backyard politics. But this fall, people across Monroe County are watching the contest for the Henrietta supervisor's seat. Embattled Republican Jack Moore is seeking reelection, and he has two challengers: Pictometry founder Stephen Schultz, who's running on the Democratic line, and Jeffrey Kueppers, who is running on the independent Bright Futures line. Kueppers also made unsuccessful bids for the seat in 2007 and 2009.
Outsiders commonly reduce Henrietta to one big strip plaza or mall. And that's certainly the environment around its Jefferson Road-Hyland Drive–West Henrietta Road commercial corridor. But heading south, the scenery shifts to houses, fields, and active farms. Parts of the town still have a relatively rural feel.
Henrietta, however, has been growing. RIT has been building out its campus and housing. Commercial development is creeping outward from the town's main retail area, even though the plazas, big box stores, and chain restaurants on those drags experience almost constant churn. More houses are being built in Henrietta, too. The town has issued dozens of residential building permits each of the past few years.
As a result of the growth, development and planning issues have been at the forefront for many Henrietta residents. And their concerns peaked last year when Moore and the Town Board advanced a land-use plan that identified more than 1,000 acres of fields and farmland in the southwest part of town for potential industrial use. The designation would allow for everything from factories and auto repair shops to large apartment complexes.
Moore's critics framed the proposal as a rezoning plan, but Moore says it wasn't. No property's zoning would have changed without an application from the owner, he says. The whole idea was to identify potential development areas, so that developers and the town could work to get water and sewer to the sites. But residents showed up to Town Board meetings in droves to share their objections to rezoning farmland, and the town ultimately shelved the effort.
Schultz says the land-use plan is part of the reason he's running. Residents want to see farmland and open space preserved, which they indicated in a town survey about 20 years ago, he says. The plan that town officials developed could have done just the opposite, and without adequately consulting the public, Schultz says.
"I'm OK with development, but it has to be planned growth," Schultz says. "It can't just be this haphazard massive growth that we're seeing going on right now."
Some of the land identified in the plan does make sense for rezoning, since it's next to existing commercial or industrial areas, Schultz says. Those properties include some land just to the south of RIT and some land on East River Road, near an old Kodak facility, he says.
Kueppers says that the town is allowing too many inappropriate development projects and that the supervisor has betrayed the town's trust. He also questions whether the town's new recreation center is worth its $9.3 million price tag, since it doesn't have air conditioning or workout equipment. (It does have programming, a track, a batting cage, and courts for basketball, volleyball, and pickleball.)
Moore is focusing on what he's accomplished working with the Town Board. People are enjoying the recreation center, which is something residents have been requesting for almost 30 years, he says. And it fits into the town's ongoing efforts to develop a "town center" around its complex on Calkins Road. When Henrietta voters go to the polls on November 7, they'll also be asked to approve $10 million in bonding for a new library building; the town's courts would eventually move into the current library building, saving the town money on rent, Moore says.
Moore and the Town Board are completing a farmland protection plan, he says. Moore's campaign literature notes that the town has preserved 150 acres of open space during his tenure. It also notes that he and the Town Board lowered town tax rates, and Henrietta already has one of the lowest town tax rates in the county.
"We've gotten a lot done in the last four years," Moore says.
But Henrietta's been in the public eye for reasons that have little to do with development or town facilities.
Three town employees filed nine complaints against Moore with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – starting in 2014, the year he first took office as supervisor – claiming that he made offensive, harassing, sexist, and discriminatory remarks to or around them. Among the salient accusations: he used a racial slur, called a male employee various names, referred to two women by their breast size, and said a female employee looked like a man.
The commission investigated the claims and concluded that there was evidence that Moore violated the workers' rights. The findings could serve as the basis for lawsuits, and in one case they already have.
Henrietta Democrats hit Moore and the town Republicans on the findings. So did some local progressive groups, who called for Moore to resign. The former Henrietta Republican chair, Alan Schaurer, also made a public call for Moore to quit. (Schaurer resigned his position in March and no longer lives in the town.)
Kueppers says the allegations are serious, but he thinks issues such as spending on the rec center are just as important.
Moore and his supporters have dismissed the Democrats' criticisms as a smear campaign. The employees are making the claims "to create problems," Moore says.
Moore says that the employees responsible for the EEOC complaints were removed from their positions in the 1990s by former Supervisor Jim Breese. Town officials laid off one of the employees and moved another to an isolated office and reduced her pay. The Public Employees Relations Board later ordered that both workers be restored to their prior positions. In its decision, the board said both of the workers were active in a town employees union and that the actions appeared related to their positions.
The EEOC is hardly a neutral forum and serves to advocate for employees, Moore says. Neither he nor the town attorney had a chance to present arguments during the hearings, he says. An attorney for the Town of Henrietta says the claims aren't valid and that no discrimination took place.
But Schultz argues that the complaints are troubling.
"The idea that this is just allegations is just plain wrong," he says. "It's not. It's much worse than that."
Moore is running on a Republican ticket with Town Board candidates John Howland, a county legislator and former Town Board member, and Kristine Demo-Vazquez, a criminal defense and family law attorney.
Schultz heads a Democratic ticket that includes Town Board candidates Rob Barley, a town Zoning Board of Appeals member and an entrepreneur who started an investment firm, and Michael Stafford, president of a printing industry workers union. Barley and Stafford both ran for Town Board in 2015.
Kueppers is joined on the Bright Futures ticket by Town Board candidate William Wu, who ran for supervisor in 2009 as a Democrat, and challenged Moore in the 2015 Republican primary.