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We Here Highly Resolve, Part 4

Peter Savage (left) presenting an award to Bill Swanson (right)
We Here Highly Resolve, Part 4
Asking the Question: Do we really need a county legislature at all?

For the past several years I have analyzed the resolutions filed by Erie County Legislators. In 2014 the Erie County Legislature addressed 683 resolutions. Of these 683 resolutions, sixty percent honored individuals and community groups, twenty five percent honored people who had recently died and only fifteen percent addressed county business.

In November all eleven Erie County Legislators are up for re-election. Sadly only six legislators have an opponent, so many will be re-elected without any real examination or debate of their record. This article is the last of four parts taking a closer look at incumbent legislators who have an opponent. Peter Savage represents a district covering the Buffalo neighborhoods of Black-Rock/Riverside, North Buffalo, UB and part of the Town of Tonawanda.

Peter Savage was appointed to the Erie County Legislature in April of 2014, filling the vacancy that occurred when Lynn Marinelli left. Prior to becoming a legislator, Savage, an attorney, served as Deputy Corporation Counsel for the City of Buffalo.

In 2014, Savage introduced sixteen resolutions honoring individuals and community organizations, and seven resolutions honoring dead people. As such resolutions have nothing to do with county business, the good news is that Savage filed a lot less of these pandering resolutions than his colleagues. It should be noted that Savage also did not serve a full year in 2014, as he did not take office until April 10th. Hopefully Savage will not fall into the vote trolling habits of his colleagues who spend eighty-five percent of their resolutions on non-county related items.

When it came to taking the initiative to file items of substance related to county business, Savage was the prime sponsor of one resolution regarding the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping in indoor places. The County did pass and implement a local law regarding electronic cigarettes in 2015. While one item of substance is not a lot, it was still more than several legislators who filed zero items of substance.

You can view Legislator Savage’s 2014 schedule here.

Savage is being challenged by Anthony Baney in the November election.

Freedom of Information Ain’t Free

I would like to commend County Executive Mark Poloncarz who has always provided his schedule to me promptly and without charge. The same is not true for Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, but that is a topic and perhaps a lawsuit for another day.

Several Erie County Legislators responded to my request for their schedules promptly and without charge. Under the law, government officials can charge a copying fee for responding to Freedom of Information requests and many government offices charge twenty-five cents per page. It galls me to no end when citizens seeking information from taxpayer funded elected officials and their taxpayer funded staff have to pay to obtain information.

To their credit, Legislators Burke, Grant, Miller-Williams, Lorigo, and Savage provided their schedules without charge.

Legislators Mills, Dixon, Rath, Hardwick, and Morton required that I pay to obtain their schedules. Legislator Loughran incredibly claimed that he did not have a schedule to provide.

Do We Really Need County Legislators?

As I have pointed out in this four part series of articles, not much of substance takes place at the Erie County Legislature.

Hundreds of resolutions are drafted to honor individuals living and dead that have nothing to do with county business and everything to do with trolling for votes. Just about every item referred to a committee is received and filed as a final action. One of the biggest responsibilities Legislator’s have is to pass a budget. Ninety percent of Erie County’s budget is mandated by the state and federal government and Legislators typically change less than one percent of the County Executive’s proposed budget. The telephone records I obtained through a Freedom of Information request do not show a great deal of activity for most Legislators. The schedules I obtained and reviewed show attendance at political parties, some community events and Legislator sponsored flu clinics, rabies clinics, etc.

Do we really need eleven separately elected Legislators at salaries of $42,500 and their staff for the efforts stated above?

Erie County Board of Supervisors

Perhaps the time has come to explore returning back to the Erie County Board of Supervisors. Up until 1968, Erie County was governed by a fifty-four member Board of Supervisors, consisting of elected individuals from the Cities of Buffalo, Tonawanda, Lackawanna and the supervisors from each town.

The Board of Supervisors was an interesting form of regional government that brought elected officials from across the county together to address county issues. Sixteen of New York’s fifty-seven counties currently utilize a Board of Supervisors. In today’s age I believe fifty-four members is not necessary for overseeing the business of Erie County. A twenty-eight member body consisting of the twenty-five town supervisors in Erie County, the Mayor of Lackawanna, Mayor of the City of Tonawanda, and the Mayor of Buffalo, should be sufficient. Members would cast their votes by a weighted vote based on the population of the municipality they represent.

A Board of Supervisors would eliminate the need for eleven separately elected County Legislators at a salary of $42,500, their office staff and district offices. The Clerk of the Erie County Legislature and other central staff positions would remain to carry out their duties with the Board of Supervisors. Every member of the Board of Supervisors stated above is already being paid and has staff members that could assist with any county-related work. The current yearly cost of the Erie County Legislature of $3.2 million, could possibly be cut in half to $1.6 million, even though the Board of Supervisors would have more members.

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