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Toning down politics in City Hall

So, four members of the Common Council want to prohibit City Hall employees from politicking - no campaign donations, no circulating nominating petitions, and so on. The proposal is being advanced by members who are on less friendly terms with the Brown administration, although you'd never know it by their voting record.

“I don’t think City Hall should be a political arm,” said Niagara District Council Member David A. Rivera. “People feel compelled to donate money, collect petitions and take days off to work on campaigns. People’s arms are almost twisted off.”

It's been that way for years, not only in City Hall, but in government offices across Western New York. But some veteran City Hall types maintain things have gotten worse since Brown took office as mayor in 2006.

Small wonder: Deputy Mayor Steve Casey functioned as Brown's campaign manager in 2006, putting in long hours while claiming to be putting in a full-days work as a member of Brown's state Senate staff. Casey may be the most political person a mayor has had in the No. 2 job in recent times. I question how much city time Casey already spends attending to political matters.

Brown_and_caseyThere are some pretty pointed examples of how the Brown administration is using the city work force.

For example, Brian Reilly, the new economic development chief, is among those passing petitions. The poor fellow. Brown hires him to do one job, then saddles him with the work of two or three people and also expects him to knock on doors to collect signatures on nominating petitions of favored candidates. I'd leave him alone to scarf up some jobs - after all, we are the third-poorest city in the nation.

Then there's hitting up city employees for contributions. Council members said Brown has raised some $53,000 from them so far this year alone.

Here's a link to the Brown's latest financial disclosure reports filed with the state Board of Elections. Brown For Buffalo, which has raised $199,125 so far this year, and Mayor Brown's Leadership Council, which has raised $23,540.

Again, none of this is new. Been going on for decades.

So the question is, should it stop? After all, don't city employees have a right to engage in political activity?

And if it stops in City Hall, what about county halls and town and village halls and board of educations across the region?

To me, the Council proposal begs a larger question: What could or should be done to clean up the region's, even the state's, political culture?

"Its a culture of entitlement that has evolved into a culture of aggression," said reform advocate Kevin Gaughan. "They're milking the system for everything they can, and taxpayers foot the bill."

The options are many.

Term limits. Campaign finance reforms. Simplified petition requirements. Downsizing of city councils and town and village boards. Consolidation of towns, villages and school districts. Limits on bulk mail privileges for incumbents. Prohibitions on pols soliciting vendors for contributions. No-nepotism rules.  Disclosure of payroll practices that grant employees paid time off by accumulating comp time off to work on campaigns. Ending exemptions to the state Freedom of Information Law.

Wouldn't it be something if a grassroots movement put a reform package before voters across the region? Gaughan is making some headway on the issue of government consolidation, but that's only a piece of the puzzle.

What do you think?


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