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Erie County charter package ready for Legislature review

WBFO's Mike Desmond

Three top Erie County leaders put away their political hatchets and, instead, put together a package of major changes in the county charter.

The Charter Revision Commission had a long and detailed package of changes for the charter sent to the Legislature. In turn, an amended version went to County Executive Mark Poloncarz. He vetoed it, citing a series of perceived problems including the switch from two- to four-year terms for lawmakers.

With the county executive, Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo and Minority Leader Thomas Loughran favoring some provisions of the revision proposal, the three got together and hammered out some changes.

"This was a rough road getting here, but I think that these are reforms that we can all be proud of," said Democrat Loughran. "Something that concerned me, a major concern, was the extension of the four-year term. I asked the county executive to veto this legislation."

The package does not include extended legislative terms.

"If anybody has fought with the county executive in the past four-and-a-half years more than me I'd be surprised to see," said Republican Lorigo. "But the fact remains is we both have an obligation to our constituents and the residents of Erie County and this is a good deal. And, as I told the county executive from the very beginning, I'm willing to work together with you on certain things. We're not going to agree on everything. That would be surprising if we did."

Poloncarz says the result is a good package the Legislature can start working on during Thursday's session.
"What we've done is what I've always hoped we would be able to do with the Erie County Charter amendments," said Poloncarz. "Fix some problems that exist in the charter - and there were some problems that existed in the charter. Address needs that need to be done that truthfully were brought out by the Charter Revision Commission, but eliminate some of the issues that I think in the end were contentious, not only with people in county government, but in the public's eye."

The three say the proposed changes do not affect the powers of the branches of county government, so no public referendum is required and the package can be passed quickly.

The biggest single change in the package is an entirely new ethics law, melding a series of them into one law, with more power for the Board of Ethics and stronger public employee disclosure rules. There is greater clarity on what gifts county employees can accept, from food or drink worth less than $15 to limiting time spent on individual travel junkets out of town. There are also transparency rules requiring listing relatives with public employment anywhere in the eight counties of Western New York.

The package also prunes sections of the charter that have become outdated as the structure of county government has changed, as well as changes in mandate requirements for more women and minorities to be interviewed for top county positions.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.