Tag Archives: Erie County Legislature

The “Audit” that Wasn’t an Audit

2 May

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw took a break from his busy schedule visiting random cultural sites and eating lunches at various and sundry senior centers, and released an “audit” revealing $70,000 in expenditures over five years that Mr. Mychajliw doesn’t like. The new Republican majority in the legislature commissioned this “audit”, and the best anyone could do was to find about $14,000 per year in allegedly excessive spending each year between  2009 – 2013.

“Audit” gets scarequotes because it wasn’t an audit. Even Mychajliw’s office calls it what it was – a review. It was not subject to any of the requirements or restrictions necessary within an audit environment.

For a $1.1 billion operation, $14,000 per year isn’t that horrible. But don’t tell the Comptroller that.

The manner in which taxpayer dollars were spent is troubling. We are concerned by the blatant misuse of county funds. The lack of oversight on spending leaves us disheartened,” Mychajliw said in a statement announcing the release of the audit

That strong language is out of proportion with the actual findings. The findings showed some pretty mild incidents of  unnecessary and excessive spending, but no “blatant misuse” or some pervasive “lack of oversight”. When does Stefan’s campaign end?

Wasteful? There are a few items that could have been handled differently, but nothing excessive.  Take a look at the major findings.

The 45-page report details nearly $5,000 that the Legislature spent on personal items. These included expenditures for snacks that were provided to outside guests who were honored by legislators at their bimonthly meetings; flowers; a shoe rack and the cost to stock some district offices with toilet paper.

Here’s what Democratic minority chairwoman Betty Jean Grant said about the snacks:

…most the food was purchased for World War II, Korean, Vietnam and the current War Veterans who have served their Country and who are members of the Valor for Valor Committee I created to assist our veterans. The refreshment they consumed after the county hall meetings, were not nearly as expensive as some of the things they lost such as limbs and even the lives for those who did not make it back. Someone needs to be ashamed of this despicable show of narrow-mindedness.

And toilet paper. Toilet paper? Do you remember during the red/green budget fiasco of the last decade, when the county couldn’t afford to stock the bathrooms in the Rath Building with toilet paper, so Charmin donated a truck’s worth?  Setting aside for a moment whether district offices are necessary, if we’re going to have them, are we going to begrudge their bathrooms having county-funded toilet paper? What’s next? Toner? Paper?

The report also notes how the Legislature spent too much on toner for the printers it leased and how it continued to cover the cost of Internet access for one of the Democratic legislator’s district office nine months after it was destroyed by fire.

But better still is how Mychajliw’s release characterizes this:

The Legislature spent almost $5,000 for personal items like flowers, cakes, meals, shoe racks, toilet paper, stamps, potato chips, plastic utensils, tissues, cookies, even soil.

OMG EVEN SOIL!!1!

And if you still don’t think this was a wholly political play, regard this line from the exit conference section of the review:

During the Exit Conference, some concerns were addressed regarding the severity of some of these issues and the verbiage which was used in defining them. Due to this, verbiage in some instances within this report has been changed to more accurately reflect the issues found.

UPDATE: Did you catch this line? 

“I think the most important thing to note is the fact that the Legislature initially wanted us to look at just one year of spending,” Mychajliw said. “When we showed them what we found just over one year, they formally asked us to expand it to five years and go deeper.”

A correspondent notes that this comment is false.This letter from Legislator John Mills, dated February 18 specifically requests a five-year review. The Comptroller’s office’s review entrance letter is dated the same day (efficient!), and notes – ab initiothat the review will be for the 5 year period of Jan 1, 2009 to Dec 31, 2013.  So, the 5 year period was decided on day one, before any data had been compiled, transmitted, and well before any data had been reviewed. Indeed, none of the information was due until February 25th. Nobody ever “formally asked” anyone to “expand it to five years”. There exists no earlier letter asking for a one-year review.

I’ll grant you the internet access thing is, I suppose, “wasteful”, as is the retention of an official photographer – although the photographs are presented to recipients of various awards, and make these people feel appreciated.  But the review itself reveals that Time Warner is refunding the money. There is the matter of a 45-cent stamp for which a staffer was reimbursed three times. I offer that staffer my thoughts and prayers, as he or she works to repay that $0.90 debt to the county. This is petty within the literal meaning of that word, coming from the French petit or small.

We already know that honoring people is most of what the legislature accomplishes.  If you want to talk about wasteful spending, it’s can rationally be argued that having an Erie County Legislature is, itself, fundamentally wasteful; its ministerial, rote “functions” outweigh its discretionary ones.

To give you some perspective, here’s what I wrote about the toilet paper fiasco of ’05.

Charmin wants to donate a truck’s worth of Charmin to the Rath Building. George Holt has already allocated some of his member money to his brother’s son’s girlfriend’s shell company, which knows a guy who can get some toilet paper that fell off a truck. So, they don’t need Charmin.

Thankfully, that sort of intentional and pervasive George Holt/Chuck Swanick style corruption is long gone. So is member money.

This whole thing is a persuasive argument against the continuation of partisan elections for the legislature. If this had been in any way legitimate, it would have been undertaken without the “aha” confrontational tone. None of this stuff is a big, earth-shattering deal, and there is no evidence whatsoever of deliberate waste or wrongdoing. The excessive rhetoric in the review and its accompanying press materials belies the notion that this was an apolitical review of allegedly excessive spending.  It is, instead, a wholly political piece of campaign literature.

And you paid for it.

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LD-3 Democrats Select Savage, Disrespect Females

7 Apr

The Erie County Democratic Committee selected loyal City Hall soldier Peter Savage III to fill the seat that Erie County Legislator Lynn Marinelli vacated in January. A vote Monday is expected to formalize the recommendation. Here is the press release that went out this past weekend: 

(Buffalo, NY) Democratic committee members in the 3rd Legislative District voted today to recommend Peter J. Savage III to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Lynn Marinelli. Savage currently serves as Senior Deputy Corporation Counsel in the City of Buffalo Department of Law.  He has worked in a number of roles in city government and served on the boards of West Side Neighborhood Housing Services and the Good Government Club of Western New York.

Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner said, “I would like to congratulate Peter Savage on his decisive victory in today’s vote.  He will bring a wealth of knowledge and passion for his community to county government.  On Monday I am sending a letter to the Erie County Legislature calling on them to appoint Peter quickly.  The people of the 3rd Legislative District deserve representation.  I look forward to working closely with Peter and County Executive Mark Poloncarz to continue moving our party and community forward.”  

When Bob McCarthy wrote about the hand-wringing that’s taken place over the past few months over this, he focused on factionalism; whether Savage is too close to City Hall.  That is far from any reasonable point.  

Under normal circumstances, it would be good form for Democrats to nominate and select a female to replace an outgoing female – not because of any quotas, but because women are generally underrepresented in elective office. The Erie County Legislature has three women remaining in an 11 – person entity. Savage’s entry does nothing to change that. Frankly, because Democrats are supposed to stand for some semblance of gender equality, justice, and fairness, you’d expect that the 3rd District would get it together to recommend one of the qualified females to replace Marinelli. 

Michele Iannello is a veteran of the factional wars, so I can see the committee passing her over, but what about Jennifer Diagostino or Amber Small? You mean to tell me there did not exist one qualified female in the 3rd Legislative District to replace a female legislator? 

This is not to say Savage is unqualified – he surely is. I also don’t much care whether Savage was Deputy Mayor Steve Casey’s right-hand man. The question is one of judgment, and what it means to be a Democrat. 

My problem is that Savage carried Conservative Party petitions for Republican Chris Collins during the 2011 County Executive race against Democrat Mark Poloncarz. He carried petitions for a piece of garbage fusion party that opposes reproductive rights for women, same-sex marriage, and every other social justice item for which Democrats are supposed to stand. He carried those petitions in opposition to a qualified Democratic candidate who had a very difficult race. Some say that sort of thing is just politics as usual; I call it an unforgivable betrayal. 

City Hall was quite open about its support of Collins in 2011 – after all, many of the benefits then-extant legislative coup granting Collins a de facto legislative majority inured to City Hall.  The quo for that quid came about with some Republicans close to Collins reportedly helped Brown against Sergio Rodriguez last year. 

It’s also come to light that Chairman of the Conservative Party – Ralph Lorigo (whose son is a County Legislator) – lobbied the Tonawanda Democratic Committee on Savage’s behalf. The Conservative Party which, when it isn’t busy wielding political influence that it hasn’t really earned, is busy advocating for things Democrats are supposed to hate, like reduction in spending on social programs and education. The tea party, for God’s sake. 

Savage heads up a PAC called the “Committee for Change” and is active in Steve Pigeon’s “Democratic Action”. Board of Election filings reveal that the “Committee for Change” donated to Joe Lorigo, who is a Conservative Party member who caucuses with the Republicans. How, precisely, does “Committee for Change” back Democratic candidates, as claimed, if it’s supporting Conservative candidates? Based on this, what guarantee is there that Savage will caucus with the Democrats at all? 

That’s some change. 

Congratulations seem to be in order for young Mr. Savage. But the Democrats in the 3rd LD should take a good hard look in the mirror and ask themselves whom they’ve become. It’s still a man’s world when a guy who so actively campaigned against the Democratic County Executive can get a nod to replace a female on the county leg. It’s a sick joke that an active supporter of the notorious Conservative Party – which stands against everything the Democrats should – gets an appointment such as this. 

At this rate, I’m shocked that Kathy Weppner wasn’t under consideration. She’s a conservative and a woman, but lives outside that particular district. 

Open Letter to the Erie County Legislature

23 May

Greetings.

I am a constituent of Mr. Rath’s but am writing to you to inquire about a resolution sponsored by Mssrs. Lorigo, Rath, and Hardwick, which will oppose Governor Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate the “Wilson-Pakula” law, which enables party bosses to endorse other parties’ candidates.

I submit that eliminating Wilson-Pakula is hardly enough to reduce the power of money and patronage in politics, and our entire system of electoral fusion should be abolished, full stop. Electoral fusion and Wilson-Pakula are not used for good; they are used for political advantage and power. The Independence Party is essentially controlled by one marginally intelligent character from Long Island, and exists to enrich and employ him and his close followers. Its name is constructed so as to confuse low-information voters who think they’re registering as unenrolled.

The Conservative Party is controlled locally by Mr. Lorigo’s father, and has shown itself to be exquisitely flexible – when convenient – with respect to the “principles” on which it purports to base its endorsements.

In my town of Clarence, the Conservative endorsement for Supervisor was allegedly withheld not on any ideological grounds, but partly due to personal animus, and partly due to private business interests. That’s the stuff of petty banana republics.

Political decisions and government leadership should be based on merit, not on personal vendettas or misinformation. The system of electoral fusion should be well known to the legislature, as the Independence Party was intimately involved in the so-called “coup” which took place in early 2010 whereby the Republican caucus joined with several breakaway Democrats to create an ersatz “majority”.

That was one of the most embarrassingly tumultuous periods for the Legislature and cheapened it and its mission, such as it is. If the Conservative and Independence Parties want to participate in New York or Erie County politics, Mr. Lorigo and Ms. Dixon have established that members of those parties can run and win.

But if anyone’s goal – at any point – is to establish a cleaner, more honest, and less corrupt political environment, then eliminating Wilson-Pakula is a great first step. Banning fusion altogether is an ultimate goal.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Alan Bedenko

SAFE Hysterics

13 Feb

I vaguely remember a White Plains police officer visiting my elementary school to instruct us on safety or being polite or some other inculcation of “how to be a civilized person”. Most of the boys in my class, myself included, were fascinated with the handgun the officer carried on his Batman-like utility belt. He was peppered with questions about how he likes it, whether he’s ever shot it, whether he’s ever had to use it, whether he’s ever shot anyone with it, and – naturally, whether we could touch it. The answers were all in the negative. Yet something stuck with me that day; not only had the officer never used the gun in the line of duty, but his respect for his weapon was matched only by his dislike for it. He hadn’t used it, and he expressed a hope that he would never have to. It was there, but only as a last resort – and he seemed aware that it wasn’t just loaded with bullets, but that each bullet could do as much damage to a human body as it could to the officer’s own psyche. 

Forget Sandy Hook and the federal government for a second – let’s talk about New York and the SAFE Act, which Albany passed a month ago. A lot of New York gun owners are upset about the law, and they will be going to Albany lawfully to protest it. They seem particularly aggrieved by the fact that; (a) Governor Cuomo executed a message of necessity, speeding the passage and avoiding legislators’ amendments to it; and (b) the technicalities with respect to some of the law’s definitions. 

You can disagree with those matters, of course, but they don’t amount to dictatorship, nor do they seem violative of the 2nd Amendment

Here is a nonbinding resolution that the Erie County Legislature’s Republican caucus will be introducing shortly: 

SAFE ACT Resolution by

(You don’t use an apostrophe to pluralize “New Yorkers”)

So, basically it praises every single portion of the NY SAFE Act, except that the definition of an assault weapon may allegedly include one particular pump-action shotgun (a particularly tenuous argument), and because it limits magazines to 7 bullets, rather than the previous 10. 

How is it that 10 bullet magazines are not violative of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, but 7 bullet magazines are tantamount to King George III stepping on the necks of patriots? 

Carl Paladino sponsored a bus trip / gun rally in Albany Tuesday, and his mass email doesn’t think the SAFE Act was legally passed, or a good idea at all. One unifying theme between Paladino and the County Legislature’s Republicans is the notion that there wasn’t enough time to “request and receive the input of constituents” regarding the law; but 2/3 of New Yorkers support it. Paladino’s list of grievances is amusing, however, for alleging that “there is no need for any change to current gun-control laws because it’s not the honest people who commit crimes.”  

You know what might be contributing to the gun violence? The Randian individualism that many gun huggers love – the ethos that nothing is greater than self, civilization and a functioning society be damned. The hippie peace and love individualist awakening has gone dramatically wrong in the last 40-some years. 

Another favorite argument is that registration is just a step towards confiscation. Just like the state has confiscated all our motor vehicles, which we are required to register from time to time. 

While Paladino’s protest reflects exactly how our system is supposed to work – government does something you don’t like, you protest and petition or agitate for something different, the legislature’s grandstanding is an utter waste of time and effort. Its nonbinding resolution is pointless, and its grievances largely without substance. 

Back to that mid-70s White Plains cop – I get the impression nowadays that gun owners have become gun huggers. They no longer view their weapons as tools they may someday be forced to use as a last resort for protection, but as objects for which they have almost a jealous longing.  They want to use them. 

Political Shorts

6 Jan

1. I am hearing that ex-County Exec Chris Collins is telling people that he’s going to run against Kathy Hochul for Congress in 2012. The redistricting issue is not yet settled, so it’s unknown what Hochul’s district will look like. If true, it immediately reminds me of the story in the Buffalo News in early 2010 whereby Collins – angrily, his natural state – confronted Hochul over whether she would be running against him for County Executive. As we all know, wealthy unemployed person Chris Lee went looking for sex with transexuals on Craigslist, resigned his Congressional seat, and Hochul went on to defeat Collins’ neighbor, Jane Corwin in May.

2. I’ve always been curious about the connection between Entercom and the SPCA – the hearts of some of the ultra-conservative hosts on Entercom bleed for animals while they have little compassion for down-on-their-luck humans. A tipster (actually, it’s the guy we all know as Doc Maelstrom, whoever he might be) emails the following with respect to the current controversy surrounding the Niagara County SPCA:

For the sake of disclosure it should be revealed that the President of the Niagara County SPCA, Brandy Scrufari, works for the President of the Erie County SPCA, Larry Robb, at WTSS radio. Robb is VP/GM of WTSS and several other Entercom radio stations where Brandy Scrufari has been working for the past 20 years. To have the Erie County SPCA scrutinize the claims of cruelty against the Niagara County SPCA is disingenuous considering the relationship Scrufari and Robb have had for two decades. Do not expect this investigation to reveal anything that Scrufari does not want revealed.

http://www.niagaraspca.org/Board%20of%20Directors_1

http://www.yourspca.org/page.aspx?pid=511

3. The atmosphere at yesterday’s Erie County Legislative reorg session was nothing like the last one, where the so-called “reform coalition” broke away to create a de facto Collins-friendly Republican legislative majority caucus. In 2009, when staffers were fired, Sheriffs were on hand to intimidate and impliedly threaten. Yesterday’s session, where Betty Jean Grant was unanimously elected chairwoman, was downright friendly. There was camaraderie among the legislators and their staffs, there were smiles, handshakes, and relief. The session took a little over an hour, whereas 2009’s went on for hours. While there is already some acrimony over borrowing versus spending from the general fund, yesterday’s session bodes well for a more functional and less acrimonious 2012 – 2014. There was some staff turnover yesterday, but I frankly detected more relief than anything even from those who didn’t know what their fate would be.

Here are some reminders from 2010:

Irony

9 Dec

I was unable to attend the Erie County Legislature’s final session of 2011, which was the last for six lawmakers, including Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams.

Miller-Williams led a breakaway faction of three Democratic legislators who aligned themselves with the Republican majority, thus helping Chris Collins move forward with an agenda that was oftentimes at odds with that of Miller-Williams’ constituents.

Chris Smith and I did this video two years ago to explain it all (language NSFW)

The Buffalo News reports this:

“I implore you to please put people before politics,” Miller-Williams told her colleagues as the meeting wrapped up. “It’s always the right thing to do.”

Ironic, seeing as how Ms. Miller-Williams seldom took her own advice on that point. Unless, of course “putting people before politics” has something to do with ensuring political jobs for certain people.

Reacting to Miller-Williams, Joseph N. Welch had this to say:

Erie County Posturing

8 Dec

I’m hearing that the Democratic majority in the Erie County Legislature may be in jeopardy; that a couple of legislators are busily trying to cut side deals regarding jobs and the chairmanship.

Are we looking at another January of fail, or will people get to work and start tackling big problems and big ideas, rather than angling for patronage and influence?

Redistricting: Broken, Like Everything Else

30 Jun

The Democrats on the Erie County Legislature picked one map. Chris Collins doesn’t like it. He liked another map. The Democrats don’t like it. So Collins vetoed the Democrats’ map, and the veto override vote is likely to take place sometime today in the legislature.

Of course, what should have happened is we should have had not a bipartisan – but a nonpartisan – commission made up of academics and professionals to help draw new district lines. What we had was political appointees who had marching orders and acted as proxies for larger interests.

Assuming the veto cannot be overridden (there aren’t enough votes, regardless of whether any Democrats align themselves with the Republican minority), the legislature has a big problem. The thing is going to go to court regardless of what happens, but don’t forget that the voters overwhelmingly voted to reduce the legislature from 15 to 11. Now what happens with that?

No one really knows.

It’s my hope that the legislature is dissolved by default and we can go back to the drawing board and create something less horrible to serve the people.  After all, 90% of their work is rubber-stamping and 10% seems to involve temper-tantrums.

I guess we’ll find out this afternoon.

Redistricting Nonsense-apalooza Begins

26 May

Note: This article looks much different from the version published at 1PM.  We use a scheduling system for posts and this was supposed to be released yesterday at 1PM, not today.  It has been updated to reflect reality.  Sorry for the confusion. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, all the better. 🙂

Yesterday, the Erie County Legislature hosted a public hearing to debate the merits of two competing redistricting proposals.

The first proposal (Local Law 3-2011), was assembled pursuant to the efforts of the Erie County Redistricting commission, which was chaired by Hodgson Russ attorney Adam Perry. The law is sponsored by Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller Williams.  This proposal also has the support of the six member Republican minority and the tentative support of West Seneca Legislator Christina Bove, who together make up the remnants of the much ballyhooed “reform coalition“.  Click here for a link to the map of the proposed new districts.

The second proposal (Local Law 4-2011), was designed by the Democrats and is sponsored by Betty Jean Grant. Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan was able to pull rogue Democrat Tim Whalen out of the “reform coalition” to support this proposal.  This bill has the support of the ECDC-loyal Democrats in the legislature, which gives them seven votes.  Most notable in the proposal is the redistricting punishment that will be given to “Reform Coalition” leader Barbara Miller-Williams.  Click here for a link to the map of the proposed new districts.

So, the battle is for the vote of Christina Bove, who again finds herself the subject of a political tug of war. Whichever group offers her the most comfortable level of “protection” and/or “lulus” will undoubtedly secure her vote.  If the Democrats can bring her back to their side, this will put County Executive Chris Collins in the unenviable position of vetoing the plan for downsizing and redistricting that was so central to his re-election plans.  A veto would provide a sizable political victory for Lenihan, the Democrats and County Executive candidate Mark Poloncarz leading into the fall.

So, Tina, what’s it gonna be?

We’ll find out at a special meeting of the Erie County Legislature in Old County Hall, 4th Floor, 92 Franklin St., in the City of Buffalo, N.Y.  14202 on Wednesday, June 2nd at 2PM when the final vote is taken on the competing proposals.  We’ll stream that meeting here on WNYMedia.

Redistricting Shenanigans

19 Apr

In the “Cow Days” episode of the Comedy Central series South Park, Officer Barbrady, officially declares “shenanigans” after discovering a carnival game is rigged.  The declaration of shenanigans by an officer of the law gives the townspeople free rein to destroy the carnival with brooms.

I think its high time to declare “shenanigans” on the Erie County Legislature redistricting process.  As I understand the law, declaration of shenanigans in Erie County gives the locals free rein to turn Spaulding Lake into a flexible lawn.

Due to the approval of a referendum measure in 2010, Erie County will be downsizing the number of legislators in time for the 2011 countywide election.

With the decision, next year’s candidates will run for 11 new legislative districts, drawn to reflect census-based shifts in population. If all goes according to plan, 11 lawmakers will take their oaths of office in January 2012.

The question then became, who will draw those new legislature districts and what methodology will be used to draw them?  The existing county law requires the Legislature to create a citizens advisory committee on redistricting, but that law does not stipulate that the Legislature follow the recommendations of the committee.

That Citizens Advisory committee, advertised as “non-partisan” is filled with active members of the Republican Party apparatus and various members of the Democratic Grassroots political club and the Erie County Democratic Committee.  It also offers positions to the two Board of Elections chairmen, Dennis Ward (D) and Ralph Mohr (R).  So, partisan arguing and bickering is the order of the day, as documented by Geoff Kelly from Artvoice after he attended the first meeting of the committee in early March.

So I wondered, as I considered these and other thorny issues, if many commission members on both sides of the political fence might secretly hope that time constraints would prevent the downsizing from occurring this year at all—that, come November, we will still have 15 legislators running along the current district lines, while the reapportionment process grinds slowly forward in the courts.

As the process has slowly marched on, I’ve been copied on several communications between the members of the committee that demonstrate Kelly was right to wonder if anyone was interested in meeting the deadlines for reapportionment.  Or, these emails show that the most petty and awful among our community are spending way too much time arguing over such horrible nonsense.  I report, you decide, or something like that.

Below are a series of e-mails between the Chairman of the Reapportionment Committee/Grassroots Muckety Muck Adam Perry and Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward which then branches off to include others. The exchange stems from Dennis Ward’s request that Legislative Staff bring, and display, his “examples” of newly apportioned legislature districts at the public hearings so that they can be discussed. An objection was raised because it would give the public the impression that the maps being discussed at the hearing are official proposals and they are not. Ostensibly, the purpose of the public hearings was to get public feedback on reapportionment, not to discuss specific examples.

On to the rancorous nonsense…

From: Perry, Adam [mailto:APerry@xxxxxx.com]
Sent: Wed 4/13/2011 11:40 AM
To: Perry, Adam; ‘Jeremy Toth’; ‘bbiggie@xxxxxx.com’; ‘dboody@xxxxxx.org’; ‘chapjc@xxxxxx.com’; ‘ecolaiac@xxxxxx.com’; ‘jderosas@xxxxxx.com’; ‘jsh@xxxxxx.com’; Mohr, Ralph; ‘jondrivera@xxxxxx.com’; ‘dsovinsky@xxxxxx.com’; Ward, Dennis; ‘bwittmeyermspt@xxxxxx.net’; ‘jwilmartjr@xxxxxx.com’; ‘lamparelli@xxxxxx.net’
Cc: Davis, John; Fiume, Bryan
Subject: Public Hearing Issues

Committee Members:

First, I apologize for my early departure last night. I did advise staff and a couple of Committee members that I would have to leave early, but I should have made that clear to all members and the audience at the beginning of the hearing. I do think attendance by all Committee members at all public hearings is important, which is another reason why it is my personal preference for fewer and better attended hearings at larger venues familiar to most citizens of the County.

Second, I understand that there has been a request by Mr. Ward to have the examples, maps, or whatever we are calling them (I’ll call them diagrams), displayed at the next two public hearings. I also understand that there is a disagreement as to whether such a process should occur. I am stating for myself that I don’t currently object to showing one of those diagrams as an example in the absence of substantial objections, but I oppose showing more than one. I also personally feel that the diagrams may be misleading and I would be inclined to vote against their use if there is substantial objection and we vote on the matter. Accordingly, I intend to poll the Committee by e-mail (and verifying with anyone who does not respond by e-mail tonight) as to whether the showing should be allowed. Assuming we vote to show a diagram, I also personally have no objection to allowing Mr. Ward a very short explanation of the diagram and an opposing view — if there is one — of his explanation. However, I do intend to subject this issue to a vote before the showing will be allowed within the public hearing venue. In any case, I do think we should re-emphasize that the diagrams are available on the website to the public.

Third, I believe we need to ask for a clarification from the Board of Elections commissioners on the issue of the software availability (I thought it was available some time ago and we were just waiting for the data), and how we address the counting issues based on the opinion of the County Attorney which is directly contrary to the opinion given by the Board of Elections on prisoner populations. I feel this is an important issue to have a clear understanding of in order to defend our process. Indeed, we were being urged by some to produce and distribute maps to the public which would have counted a statistically significant numbers of ineligible people and would have to have been produced without final Census date, and without correct designation of Census tracts, and without input from the public based on actual Census data, and without the software we were told was available to prepare the maps.

Adam W. Perry, Esq.

The vote to which Mr. Perry refers resulted in a decision from the committee to not display the maps.  Of course, Mr. Ward was not very happy with that decision and rapidly took fingers to keyboard to send his indignant response.  Note that he publicly copied Jay Rey of The Buffalo News on his reply.

—–Original Message—–
From: Ward, Dennis [mailto:Dennis.Ward@xxxxxx.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 1:46 PM
To: Perry, Adam; Jeremy Toth; bbiggie@xxxxxx.com; dboody@xxxxxx.org; chapjc@xxxxxx.com; ecolaiac@xxxxxx.com; jderosas@xxxxxx.com; jsh@xxxxxx.com; Mohr, Ralph; jondrivera@xxxxxx.com; dsovinsky@xxxxxx.com; bwittmeyermspt@xxxxxx.net; jwilmartjr@xxxxxx.com; lamparelli@xxxxxx.net
Cc: Davis, John; Fiume, Bryan; jrey@xxxxxx.com
Subject: RE: Public Hearing Issues

Members of the Commission:

I have never heard such absolute hypocracy about displaying the “examples” of how the ultimate map of the county Legislative Districts can be partially drawn. What is quite clear is that certain members of the Commission – those appointed by the ruling coalition of the County (the Chair and the Republican minority) have already made up their minds that they will split towns in violation of the provision of MHRL,  Section 10 (1) and, more importantly, in violation of good public policy. It is apparent that the so-called “gerrymandering” of the drawing of lines has already begun – among those appointed to at least try to avoid that at the advisory commission stage.

The examples that I had submitted were merely suggestions of how to avoid dividing towns – assuming that the commission wishes to follow the law, and more importantly, what is good public policy. It was in no way meant to preclude any commission member from doing the same, with other groupings of towns which differ from those I included. On the day I presented them and when we decided to put them up on our webpage, the invitation was extended to all other commission members (indeed, any members of the public) to produce additional such examples of the grouping of towns, to assist the commission in its task of drawing lines. The fact that no other commission members have bothered to do any work outside of appearing at meetings it is not my concern. Maybe it should be.

At some point, this commission will be sitting down in so-called “work sessions” and reviewing whatever has been submitted to the commission for its consideration – be they maps, partial maps, examples of how drafting can be done, together with a background of what has been derived from the hearings and public comment we receive. We will need it all so that an intelligent discussion can be had and work can be done in arriving at a map (or maps) we will be recommending to the full Legislature. At least, I assume that we will have work sessions since otherwise, it will be clear that members of the commission are merely “tools” of those in the ruling “coalition” in the Legislature that has appointed them, who are only interested in retaining the incumbents.

That is not to say that commission members cannot bring maps, or partial maps, that they would like to discuss, to those commission work sessions. Any such submissions will be of help to the commission and will be the subject of discussion, in public, by the members of the commission. That is what “transparency” is all about. That will allow the public to watch the process and ensure that the rationale for any such maps is well grounded in the law and good public policy – not just a furtive effort to advance the agenda of certain incumbents.

I am particularly amused that a commission member would suggest that the displaying of such examples of how to draw the district lines without dividing towns would be “misleading”. How, pray tell, and who would be misled? And misled about what – that it isn’t possible to do? How will the public be able to evaluate the position of whether it is possible to avoid dividing towns without actually looking at examples of how it can be done?

What is quite clear is that certain members of this commission are now all weighing in on the side of not allowing the public to see something that is in the record of the commission and which apparently will become the focus of an internal debate about the legality and the wisdom of dividing towns in arriving at a “gerrymandered” legislative plan. There are members have generally remained silent throughout the proceedings, so far, but now are moved to speak (in the security of e-mail) to deny the public the right to see what will be debated by the commission. What are they afraid of?

If they have some secret “plan” that is superior to adherring to the principle of not dividing towns, let’s hear from them – and let’s see something as a work product. To this point, we have seen nothing. Are we to truly believe that a map will sometime in the future just suddenly “materialize” – and drop on to the laps of the commission – which will then simply rubber stamp it? Is there no willingness on the part of the commission members to do any work for the public to observe?

And finally, let us allow the public to see both sides of the argument. Lets have them able to comment on what is clearly becoming a major (if not the issue) of dispute – whether the age old practice of dividing towns to promote a gerrymandered plan is really a desirable tool. Perhaps people from the many towns will come in to actually request that their town to be divided – who knows? But those who do attend these public hearings ought to have the tools and the information to know the issues involved and to be able to speak on them.

As for the “permission” of the commission to display the “examples” – I don’t need that nor will I abide by that. I will simply retrieve them myself from the Legislature as my work product. Since you are apparently taking the position that they are not a part of the commission’s body of information. I will bring them to every public hearing and I will have them displayed – period. The public and the media have a right to all information available, and which will be used in the commission doing its work. That’s what “open meetings” are all about.

I am shocked that any member of this commission, and in particular the chair, would be a part of suppressing public information. That reveals a story that itself needs to be told in public. I will see all my fellow members of the commission at the next public hearing tonight at 5 PM at ECC North.

Dennis E. Ward
Commission Member

This email about hypocrisy and undermining the will of the people from the elections commissioner who worked with his partner, Mr. Mohr, to keep the downsizing initiative off the ballot last November on technicalities.  Mr. Perry replied to Ward’s email with the following:

From: Perry, Adam [mailto:APerry@xxxxxx.com]
Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 2:50 PM
To: Ward, Dennis; ‘Jeremy Toth’; ‘bbiggie@xxxxxx.com’; ‘dboody@xxxxxx.org’; ‘chapjc@xxxxxx.com’; ‘ecolaiac@xxxxxx.com’; ‘jderosas@xxxxxx.com’; ‘jsh@xxxxxx.com’; Mohr, Ralph; ‘jondrivera@xxxxxx.com’; ‘dsovinsky@xxxxxx.com’; ‘bwittmeyermspt@xxxxxx.net’; ‘jwilmartjr@xxxxxx.com’; ‘lamparelli@xxxxxx.net’; Perry, Adam
Cc: Davis, John; Fiume, Bryan; ‘jrey@xxxxxx.com’
Subject: RE: Public Hearing Issues

I will not respond to Mr. Ward’s defamatory, misleading, and self-serving diatribe. I encourage others not to respond. His statements are not worthy of a response and not worthy of an individual admitted to practice law where duties of candor and civility are the rule and not an option. I intend to conduct all proceedings and communications with my colleagues in a professional and civil manner.

We’re 2200 words in, still with me?  If so, it appears Mr. Perry’s guidance to not respond to Mr. Ward was ignored by committee member Emilio Colaiacovo.

—– Original Message —–
From: Emilio Colaiacovo
To: chapjc@xxxxxx.com ; jsh@xxxxxx.com ; jderosas@xxxxxx.com ; dboody@xxxxxx.org ; Ward, Dennis; Mohr, Ralph; dsovinsky@xxxxxx.com ; bbiggie@xxxxxx.com ; Adam Perry ; Jeremy Toth ; lamparelli@xxxxxx.net ; bwittmeyermspt@xxxxxx.net ; jondrivera@xxxxxx.com ; jwilmartjr@xxxxxx.com
Cc: jrey@xxxxxx.com ; Fiume, Bryan; Davis, John
Sent: Thu Apr 14 13:55:37 2011
Subject: RE: Public Hearing Issues

I find this amusing, since you were instrumental in trying to keep the public referendum on downsizing off the ballot last year. Does this constitute suppressing the will of the public or at the very least suppressing public information? I really don’t want to get into this type of exchange with you, as I don’t have the free time to go on and on. This isn’t a contest on who can say more or the loudest. I think the process has been very deliberative and open. Many of us have concerns about your maps – my concern is I do not want the public to think that they constitute the work product of our committee, as they represent only your opinion (or the opinion of those you serve). I find the comments elicited from our public hearings important. I certainly do not wish to engage in map-drawing without first hearing from the public. While I don’t believe my comments are hollow, you need not disparage others who take a contrary opinion of what you believe to be gospel. See you tonight. Emilio

Emilio Colaiacovo, Esq.

The email chain here continues on with some explanation from Mr. Ward and another reply from Mr. Colaiacovo.  I’ve killed it here because I think we’re past the point of it being informative.

The larger point here is that this process for reapportioning our legislative districts is being undertaken by a political class which seems more interested in sweeping together and hoarding the crumbs on the table as if they were political chits to be cashed in at a future date.  Nowhere in this chain of emails does one find legitimate discussion about how to best realign our legislative districts to better represent the public and make government more efficient.  This small-minded political bickering is exactly why Kevin Gaughan had recommended outside consultants to design a reapportionment proposal for the Legislature itself to consider and vote upon.

Instead, we’ll get weeks of foot dragging, and backroom political bickering in order to avoid making a decision before petitions circulate for legislature candidates in early June.

Hooray!