I've got a guest post today from News columnist Donn Esmonde, who has written a lot about reducing the size of local government. As Donn notes below, the politicians haven't been open to the idea of letting voters weigh in on the issue. Too much democracy, I guess.
Take it, Donn.
The current litmus test for local politicians is whether they allow people to decide on the size of their own governments.
Count Amherst Supervisor Satish Mohan as the most recent politician to fail the exam. He has plenty of company.
Civic leader Kevin Gaughan's study of local government found that Erie County has a disproportionate number of elected officials: 439 (including judges), at an annual cost in salaries and benefits of $32 million. We have four times as many politicians as greater Baltimore and seven times as many as boomtown Charlotte. The political overweight adds to the taxpayer load and, claims Gaughan, promotes political infighting and lack of accountability.
Gaughan presented the information to the county's 41 separate town and village boards over the past year, with a proposal that each cut two members. To date, only Lancaster's village board agreed to put the downsizing question to a public vote (it passed last month in a 91-to-9 percent landslide).
Gaughan recently pressed the issue in West Seneca, bypassing the board's rejection by collecting -- with the aid of a volunteer army -- enough signatures to put the board-downsizing question on the ballot. West Seneca board members, in a painful irony, spent tax dollars on private attorneys in a court appeal that successfully denied citizens the right to choose.
Last week, the Amherst town board -- in a 4-3 vote -- stopped citizens from having a say in the board's size. The swing vote was Mohan, the UB professor who was elected town supervisor three years ago with a campaign of change. Apparently the more things change, the more they stay the same.