Irrelevance

31 Jul

The county legislature set up a commission to study ways in which that body could become leaner and more efficient going forward.  The commission recommended, among other things, that the legislature shrink from 15 members to 11, and that their terms of office be expanded from 2 to 4 years. 2 year terms were thought to be so short that legislators were running for re-election pretty much perpetually.

I would agree with a diminution to 11 with a maximum of two four-year terms.

The legislature, however, decided 13 was just as good as 11, and proposed that a ballot question be put to the voters this fall whether the legislature should shrink from 15 to 13 members/districts, and terms should go from 2 years to 4 years.  Chris Collins put up his dukes and decided to veto this.  He is outraged – OUTRAGED – that the leg combined the questions of term limits and district reduction into one question.

I think that if this is the kind of dumb shit that outrages people, that the legislature should shrink to 0 districts and 0 members, and that Mr. Collins can go back to work at Volland.

18 Responses to “Irrelevance”

  1. Mike In WNY July 31, 2009 at 8:52 am #

    I would disagree and think the Leg is 100% wrong for combining to different items in one referendum. There are 4 possible outcomes if the term length is separated from the downsizing. The legislature is effectively stripping us of 50% of our choices. Upon quick glance, what the leg is trying to do may violate NYS Home Rule Law, more research to follow on that.

  2. Larry N. Castellani July 31, 2009 at 11:34 am #

    Downsizing democratic representation is a mistake. Apparently both the people in Erie and Niagara have lost their sense of rationality on this issue. I’m still waiting for anyone to give good reasons why this is good for democracy, for the people, for the public sphere. This virtual hysteric ‘rationalization’ can only be fueled on the one hand by a public that is very pissed with politicians and rightly so. On the other hand the pseudo-justifications of liberal technocrats who have no use for real democracy anyhow are also adding fuel to this useless if not ultimately destructive fire. This will ultimately all play into the hands of state and party dominated centralized power grabbing. But we gotta get this in historical perspective and see what’s happening with respect to real conditions of self-determination. Orwell is turning over in his grave.

  3. Russell July 31, 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    Larry, it’s very simplistic to think more representatives automatically means better democracy. It’s simply not true. Besides, no one couched this under the auspices of bettering democracy because it doesn’t affect democracy. This is purely a pocket book issue. It’s better for the people because it means less money. Not only is it a direct savings of salaries and staffs and office space and all that jazz, but it also means fewer hands in the cookie jar, less pork and patronage being doled out. However, if it’s what the people want, isn’t that genuine democracy? If you’re so concerned with democratic rule, why isn’t that enough?

    As far as eliminating the County Legislature and Executive altogether, I do think an easy case can be made for that under your misguided conception of democracy. It is an extra layer that most voters are unsure what exactly it does or even who their representatives are. Its existence does more to disguise who is at fault than to provide accountability. It’s an unnecessary layer that provides little direct contact with those they represent. Generally, people can figure out when and why to call their town reps, or state, or federal. But what’s the purpose of your county rep? What problem does anyone call their county rep to assist them with? Even the County reps are quick to point out that most of what they do is derived from state mandates. Clearly, that hides accountability and masks direct democracy.

  4. Larry N. Castellani July 31, 2009 at 12:12 pm #

    There’s no good reason yet given why governments in Erie and Niagara county should be downsized. This isn’t merely what seemed a virtual hysteria. It’s actual hysteria. Fueled by constituent resentment and the objectively anti-democratic strategy of liberal technocrats the real conditions for democratic self-determination are slowly being removed. This so-called downsizing plays into the hands of the centralization process underway in America since the Civil War. The State centralists and part-dominated politicos are, through this process, one step closer to more complete control of the public sphere, the explicit will of the electorate and optimal representation of the people. Orwell is turning over in his grave. No good reasons have yet been given for downsizing let alone why downsizing solves any problems of over-bureacratiziation, excessive levels of government or issues of infrastructural consolidation. This is a power grab by the technocrats pure and simple.

  5. Mike In WNY July 31, 2009 at 12:24 pm #

    The most important thing to consider when trying to “reform” government is to keep as much control as possible local. The greater the local control, the greater will be accountability from politicians. Downsizing the Leg is feel-good, faux reform. The most serious problems stem from decisions forced down our throats from Albany and Washington D.C.

  6. Russell July 31, 2009 at 1:05 pm #

    Mike, no real decisions are made at the county level. Keeping them in place allows Albany cover when they do ram decisions down our throats. That’s the only purpose the County government serves.

    Larry, local government is far larger than it was prior to the Civil War. This government was created when this region was far larger than it is now. That alone is good enough reason. If government grew with the population why should it not also shrink with it? All we’re actually talking about is a change from one county representative per 63,000 citizens to one for every 73,000. Is that really shaking the foundation of democracy? Returning to representation rates we saw just 20 years ago in this county sets Orwell spinning? Really? The Erie County Legislature didn’t even exist until 1968. You two are really getting steamed up over a do-nothing, expensive level of government that’s only existed for 40 years.

  7. Mike In WNY July 31, 2009 at 1:32 pm #

    Mike, no real decisions are made at the county level. Keeping them in place allows Albany cover when they do ram decisions down our throats. That’s the only purpose the County government serves.

    And what purpose does further diluting the local representation make in the overall scheme of things? I guess we should be concentrating on taking back control from Albany and Washington instead of meaningless reform. Since you mentioned the Leg being created in 1968, I’m all in favor of returning to a Board of Supervisors.

  8. Russell July 31, 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    Yes, I think the Board of Supervisors would be the best reform route to pursue. I do not see the Leg as real local representation. Losing them would not dilute local representation. It would cut out what’s really just a distraction. It only serves as a cover for the state. Removing them would help voters and taxpayers focus on where the real problems are and where real reform is most needed. It’s an expensive, unnecessary level of government, but probably the easiest for local voters and taxpayers to do something about.

  9. mike hudson July 31, 2009 at 4:29 pm #

    was this some kind of dig at the fine amc gremlin? cramps drummer nicky knox had one in denim blue with a riveted denim interior and it drove the girls wild.

    • Alan Bedenko July 31, 2009 at 4:33 pm #

      Perish the thought! I think the Gremlin was, and remains, one of the finest examples of American ingenuity, as it introduced hatchbacks to the masses in the early 70s – way way before they became vogue during oil crises 1 and 2.

      However, it is a car that is woefully out of date, and its looks were often the butt of jokes. In retrospect, I should have used a Pinto, a Chevette, or a Pacer. WNYMedia.net regrets the error.

  10. Larry N. Castellani July 31, 2009 at 5:45 pm #

    Russell: I think I see what you saying. It’s not that I think an increase in representation is going to automatically improve democracy. I see it as an expansion of the possiblity of an authentic and/or creative if not inspirational voice stepping forward. But I don’t care how much of an economistic reduction of politics to tax and budgetary problems you fall victim to, this has everything to do with democracy. You presume that prior levels of representation were adequate. Why? That’s the question. What is adequate? You objection as to whether county government is “real representation” is legitimate. However, I think that it may well be capable of serving the purpose of regionalizing local governments as a community of communities. So even though their authority is mandated that can be changed. The State is clearly exploiting our region. We have to unmandate their hegemony. Apparently you are so accustomed to their domination it gets normalized and you reason around it rather than resist it. …. I don’t know Erie politics that well, but how would a Board of Supervisors be different as a regional authority than the County Leg is already serving as? …. Yes the Leg may provide Albany cover but if they are not going away, isn’t increasing their size increasing the chance that they are not controllable by Albany?

  11. LT July 31, 2009 at 6:25 pm #

    Collins is right–these questions ought to be separated–if the Legislature overrides the veto and the downsizing incumbent protection measure passes, maybe another referendum down the road could clean up the mess. Of course, the cynical amongst us see having the downsizing measure on the ballot this year as convenient, since most people aren’t going to give an RA—maybe refendum No. 2 can be on the ballot next year when the gang of 15 is up for re-election.

  12. Larry N. Castellani July 31, 2009 at 6:28 pm #

    Russell: I appreciate what you are saying. But I don’t think that an increase in the number of representatives will automatically improve the quality of the democracy. That would be overly simplistic. I do think that an increase in numbers makes it a better possibility that a politically authentic, creative and/or inspirational ‘voice’ speaking in the region’s interest may arise. …. Your assumption that representation should correlate with population presumes that the prior correlation was adequate. That’s the question really. Was it adequate? …. My point is to push for maximum inclusion even if the county is a foil for Albany or a distraction at present here and now. Given that the County Gov’s may well be here to stay, then wouldn’t an increase in their numbers make it more difficult for Albany to control it? …. It seems to me that County Gov could serve as a locus of execution of a regionalism proposing a community of communities. What would a “Board of Supervisors” be or do that is qualitatively different than what the County Gov could possibly do? Why is it that the Board would not as well be co-opted if it is true that the predilection for State centralist bureaucracy and Party politics hegemony is actually the case today? …. Rationality and critical thinking in and about democracy has been an issue since Socrates. Maybe Orwell wouldn’t turn over in his grave. But he would recommend keeping a sharp eye on the lack of discussion about what the so-called downsizing movement is all about.

  13. Pauldub July 31, 2009 at 8:30 pm #

    A Pacer would have been a much better choice.

  14. Jackstraw July 31, 2009 at 9:12 pm #

    What would be the virtue of a board of directors over a leg? I don’t see the virtue in the leg going from 15 to 10 or 5 to 30 and as Russell pointed out they are usless (and frankly just a nuisence) , however, I agree with Mike ( no suprise) that the issue is that function of a local legislator should take over many state functions. Bring the power back to the locals then we can hold them accountable when things go to pot. Bring back tar and feather ya know.

  15. Buffalo Mark July 31, 2009 at 10:01 pm #

    Erie County has a 1.5 billion dollar budget, in which we share less than $400 million of that from our sales tax revenues (most people don’t know that – the county’s sales taxes artificially keeps city, town, village and school district taxes lower than they could be). After we take out mandated services we are left with roughly $150 million and that is what most people assume is county government: my office, the legislature, the executive, a good portion of the sheriff’s office and then the departments that should be regional in nature: parks, libraries, public works, environment & planning, emergency services, smaller departments, cultural funding and rural programs.

    Many of these departments should be regional in nature, and if anything we should have more regional government, but that probably won’t happen in the near future. If county government disappeared, and that is something that would have to be decided on a statewide level, would you really want emergency services handled by each city or town, or for that matter the state? How about regional assets like the parks?

    Finally, people forget when we had the Board of Supervisors it was a much, much bigger entity because it just wasn’t the supervisors but City of Buffalo council members to meet “one person, one vote” requirements. Also, considering the population disparity across the county, would an Amherst resident feel comfortable knowing that a resident in the Town of Sardinia might have much more say in the running of the county. You would have to go to proportional voting to be fair and that creates a whole set of new issues.

    There is no easy answer on whether we would be better off without county government, but consider this: 90% of our budget is mandated by NYS. So if you really want to fix the costs associated with county government you need to fix NYS first.

  16. Russell August 3, 2009 at 8:16 am #

    Larry, sorry I was not able to reply sooner, but I’m not on here much evenings and weekends. The Board of Supervisors is much different because it’s not an extra level of government providing cover to the state. It is simply the Supervisors of each town. If you’re in favor of decisions being made more closely to the individual citizen, you would support this.

    Adding more representatives to the County Legislature would not make it more difficult for Albany to control them. I think you’re misunderstanding the point. I’m not saying the county reps are political puppets of the state. I’m saying that 80% of the county’s budget and the Leg’s dealings are state mandated. These are laws that would take court actions, major legislation and a total revamping of the state’s constitution to change. Two more or fewer county reps would have absolutely no impact on that. Add a hundred county reps if you want and this still would not change. You tell me what level of representation is adequate. You’re the one that was squawking about Orwell spinning and democracy crumbling because of a shift from 1 to 63,000 to 1 to 73,000. I don’t know what adequate is, but I do know that that kind of change is not catastrophic. It won’t damage our institutions or our democracy. Among a number of reasons, I know this because we were already at those levels and democracy functioned the same as it has.

  17. Hank August 3, 2009 at 4:22 pm #

    Pauldub–what about Garth Algar’s Mirth Mobile? A Jammin’ Pacer!

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