Tag Archives: Blasdell

Small Mindedness in Small Doses can have Huge Consequences

28 May

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Via Bruce Andriatch’s column today, I find this recount of Kevin Gaughan’s “The Cost” tour’s stop in the Village of Blasdell:

we arrived in Blasdell last night with heads high and spirits even higher. As we entered village hall, though, Mayor Ernie Jewett summoned me to his office and changed everything. He said that I could not use the word “consolidation” or “dissolution” in my presentation. If I did, he would end the meeting and have me removed from the hall.

Two of my students from UB Law School, Lindsay Heckler and Dan Lesniewski, were along last night. Dan was outraged by Jewett’s stricture. Lindsay seemed almost saddened at the notion that anyone, let alone a public official, would attempt to curtail another’s right to free speech.

But to cast Mayor Jewett’s order in a constitutional context elevates his small gesture beyond its worth. Jewett acted out of fear. Fear of having residents learn that perhaps there’s a better way to govern than his; fear that citizens would connect the dots between too much government and too little growth; and fear that a system that’s served him better than it has served residents might be forced to change.

The once proud Village of Blasdell today bears more resemblance to an abandoned community. In the over 30 years since the steel industry that sustained it collapsed, no government and no politician has reversed its painful decline. If you are under 18 or over 65 and live in Blasdell, according to the most recent U.S. Census, you likely live near or under the poverty line. And no matter what your age, the value your home, the number of your neighbors, and the quality of your life have all declined.

Against that painful backdrop, last night Ernie Jewett refused to discuss the need for reform. As far more powerful politicians throughout history have learned, though, while he can ban the idea of change in his chambers, he cannot banish it from the minds of citizens.

Constitutional issues of prior restraint of political speech aside, the entire community should be outraged at this sheer, patent idiocy. Gaughan’s advocacy for downsizing and consolidation is dangerous to a certain class of people which thrives on waste, redundancy, and ignorance. What Mr. Jewett did by prohibiting Gaughan from bringing up consolidation is underscore its very need. We don’t need small-minded emperors running needless political entities which serve to spend taxpayer money in unsustainable ways. What harm is there if the villages of Hamburg and Blasdell are no more? I don’t really know. But I do know that there’s great harm in prohibiting the discussion of that topic.

Andriatch spoke with Mr. Jewett:

Asked about the matter the following day, Jewett offered this response: “Mr. Gaughan was invited to speak about his previous presentations to all the boards, village and town. And he was told that it was the unanimous decision of the [Blasdell] Board of Trustees that he was welcome to talk about downsizing, and he was told he was not allowed to talk about dissolving the village.”

Why is that?

“Why is that?” Jewett said, repeating the question as if shocked that it needed to be asked. “Because the village is willing to listen to any way that we can better serve our constituents, but that’s a decision that the board feels is up to the village residents and the board.”

The mayor noted that Blasdell already has taken steps to consolidate some services, including merging its building department with the Town of Hamburg’s. And he is open to other ways to save taxpayers money.

Asked if refusing to allow a speaker to use a word or espouse an idea might have been overkill, Jewett reiterated that Gaughan was invited to speak about downsizing.

Perhaps, Mr. Jewett, the best way for you to serve your constituents would be to make them constituents of a different political corporate entity. Sounds to me as if you inadvertently made that case for Mr. Gaughan.