The ponderers in The Buffalo News Opinion corner have, over the past couple of days, considered the question of villages in New York -- quoting one of the world's greatest revolutionary minds on why people usually reject revolution -- and examined the manner in which cities are managed:
- The question of villages - Buffalo News Editorial
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
- The Declaration of Independence
The voters of the Erie County villages of Sloan and Williamsville had a lot less at stake than the Founding Fathers, but they faced the same question of change -- and were not only unwilling to abolish their accustomed form of local government, they were at a total loss to see what evils they were suffering on its account.
That, not any self-confessed "fault" on the part of government downsizing crusader Kevin Gaughan, is the clear reason why those voters Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected motions to dissolve their respective village governments.
Gaughan worked long and hard, and put up with insults, aspersions and even physical confrontations, as he carried his dream of smaller and fewer local governments to the two villages. But Tuesday, in elections marked by exceptionally high turnouts, the voters who had the final say said no, with those voting against the question topping 80 percent.
[Opposition to change, unknown kills dissolution - Sandra Tan/The Buffalo News]
On paper, Gaughan's arguments make a lot of sense. New York is a crazy quilt of local governments, public authorities, special districts, school boards and the like.
But people don't live on paper. They live in houses, on streets and in communities. They either like where they live well enough, act on their own to change it, or move. They generally don't like being told by an outsider, even a near neighbor clearly well-intentioned and as well-educated as Gaughan, that they don't know what's good for them.
Gaughan's previous wave of voter initiatives, the one reducing the members of various town boards, was generally successful. But deciding that your town board can function as well with three members as with five is a far cry from the idea that your village government should not exist at all.
Most great cities are made up of neighborhoods -- London's Bloomsbury, New York City's Chelsea, Buffalo's Elmwood Village -- that are thriving communities without need of municipal borders. And Gaughan's contention that communities such as Williamsville and Sloan could live on in the hearts of their residents, even as such municipal details as snow removal and sidewalk repair were devolved onto their respective towns, [Amherst and Cheektowaga] can't be disproven. ...
For any real reform to happen, Tuesday's results show, the state and its counties are going to need a more carefully thought-out, big-picture approach to dissolution and consolidation than blow it up now and figure it out tomorrow.
Real reform might take the form of metro consolidation, of the type that has merged metropolitan areas from Toronto to Indianapolis into unified governments. It might look to dissolve towns, rather than villages, with counties taking over responsibilities for more rural areas and the more populated areas forming, or merging into, proper cities to provide proper city services.
None of that can be accomplished without changes in state law, without leadership on the county and state level and without some clear picture, no matter how badly broken our current set-up is, of what the next generation of government will look like.
-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News
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