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Steuben County Legislature elects first female chair, swears in new legislators

The Steuben County Legislature has a female chair for the first time in its 40-year history.

Kelly Fitzpatrick, a Republican who represents the town of Bath, was elected chair at the start of the 2024 legislative session on Tuesday.

“As the first woman, what a way to break the glass ceiling and to forge that path for other women to follow in [that] footsteps,” said Fitzpatrick. “I love being a leader. Actually, what I should say is I'm not afraid to forge a path, not afraid. I wasn't afraid of how the vote was going to go, because I had a lot of good ideas for what I thought we could do. And I intended to work on them whether I won the chairmanship or not.”

Fitzpatrick said she would like to get the legislature past challenges within county departments and reconcile its relationship with the county sheriff. She said she also hopes to increase communication and assign the vice chair position a more active role.

She replaces two-term chair, Scott Van Etten. Fitzpatrick served as vice chair of the county legislature from 2022-2023. Republican legislator James Kuhl, who represents Erwin, was elected the new vice chair.

Joe Tobia, one of three new county legislators sworn into office on Tuesday is a first-time elected official. The Democrat represents District 2 in the city of Corning.

Tobia said he is ready to get to work with his colleagues in the legislature on issues such as mental health services within the county.

“There's a lot of opportunities coming down [...] the opioid settlement money that's being distributed for better mental health services, as well as addiction services and so on,” said Tobia. “So, I'm really curious about that, how we're using the money and how well we're using the money and where it's being spent.”

The newly elected official also said housing and homelessness are critical issues across Steuben County.

“We have to do a better job with housing,” expressed Tobia. “Right now, we're at a crisis situation. And it's not just in Corning. And it's not just in Bath. It's in the county and it's in the state. And we had better start paying attention to some of the things that we can put in place to better house these people in the rural areas and areas such as Corning and Bath and Hornell.”

Tobia said some ways the county can help curb the housing crisis include investing in more services to help people find permanent housing, jobs and resources for living independently.

Tobia is also looking to tackle safety, transportation, agriculture and addiction concerns within the county during his four-year term.

Two Republican legislators were sworn in alongside Tobia on Tuesday. Shannon Logsdon who represents Wayland and Cohocton, and Republican William Thew who represents Avoca, Fremont, Howard and Wheeler. All three were elected to office during last year's general election.

Tobia’s colleague in District 2, Democratic Legislator Hilda Lando, was reelected minority leader. Gary Swackhamer, a Republican legislator who represents Hornell, was reelected as majority leader.