MAYVILLE - A vote to downsize the County Legislature has again been defeated by lawmakers in Mayville.
Following shorter than usual discussion on the issue, the Republican majority killed the newest proposal to downsize during Wednesday night's meeting.
All 14 of the legislature's Republicans voted against the proposal while the body's 10 Democrats and one Independence Party member voted for it.
During discussion of the local law, which would have cut the legislature by 10 seats, members of each caucus reiterated their party's long-held positions on the issue.
"Obviously, we've been debating this for many years it seems," said Minority Leader Rudy Mueller, D-Lakewood, kicking off discussion on the issue. "The reason why the Democratic caucus brings this up is for many reasons."
In short, Mueller explained that the Democrats want to downsize because they believe it will result in more competitive elections, better representation, better informed lawmakers and a smaller government for Chautauqua County. There's also the cost-savings argument, as cutting 10 seats from the body would result in $100,000 annually.
Republican legislators then explained that, while not opposed to downsizing, the caucus prefers to wait for the new census data.
"Our position really is consistent on this matter," said Majority Leader John Runkle, R-Stockton. "It has been specifically stated in our goals and objectives. We are not against downsizing. However, we would like to wait until the census data comes back, draw up the maps and then put them out to the public for their input. We feel to do it otherwise would be premature."
In an e-mail sent to several legislators on Saturday, Thom Shagla, chair of the county Independence Party, called on those who received the party's backing in the 2009 elections to not delay on downsizing.
Thom Shagla's letter to Independence Party-backed legislators:
As all of you are aware, one of the requests that we made prior to giving you our endorsement, was that you support a reduction of the County Legislature by at least 8 members. We had hoped that this past year some "meaningful" work would have been done by a nonpartisan group or by a group of legislators from both parties, to determine what is in the best interests of the citizens of Chautauqua County. As of yet we have seen nothing but excuses.
There certainly should be no reason for anymore delay to get started.
The people of our county are represented by MANY individuals on all levels of government. county, city, town and village. I am sure that these fine individuals on the smaller levels would have no problem informing you about any issues that are affecting "everyone's" shared constituents, without the need for a county legislator to worry about having "too" many people to serve and to continue with a legislature that is far to large for the population.
Yes, we have all heard how Erie County has paid legislators and that they have big staffs. Erie County has approximately 906,000 people. Erie County residents voted once again to reduce their legislature from 15 to 11. The TAXPAYERS voted in favor of the reduction by more than 80%! What makes anyone think that the people of Chautauqua County would feel any different?
It is time to think about the people, not your own political future. Start working on an agreement as to how many people you can represent. I will suggest that number could be around 9,000 or more. You already have city mayors, a village mayor and town supervisors that serve around those numbers. If they can deal with them, then you all should be able to do the same.
I urge both the Republicans and Democrats to sit down early in this new year and put together a plan. You can finalize everything when you get the census data. If you keep putting it off, I can assure you that it will come back to haunt you.
The Independence party stands ready to assist any or all of you in working together to make this work. There are several of you that I consider personal friends. You know I personally have no political agenda. My party wants to promote good open government that listens to the people. Please, I urge you to act now!
Thom E. Shagla
Chairman, Chautauqua County Independence Party
"We had hoped that this past year some 'meaningful' work would have been done by a non-partisan group or by a group of legislators from both parties, to determine what is in the best interests of the citizens of Chautauqua County," Shagla wrote in the e-mail. "As of yet we have seen nothing but excuses."
In the e-mail, Shagla goes on to implore legislators to think of the people of Chautauqua County and outlines his party's reasons for supporting downsizing.
The full text of the e-mail can be found online with this story at www.post-journal.com.