No-Authority Chautauqua County Landfill Commission Is Not Needed
There was a lot of opposition expressed recently to the creation of a Chautauqua County Landfill Commission.
We agree with many of those criticisms. Added layers of government are generally not needed, particularly in Chautauqua County, where so much of the government tends to do far too little. The Chautauqua County Landfill Committee is, in our opinion, not necessary in its current form.
Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point and legislature chairman, said the commission is modeled after the Chautauqua County Airport Commission to provide advice to the legislature about operations at the airport. Chagnon’s response to a question asked during the county’s July 15 Public Facilities Committee meeting is instructive — and, frankly, concerning.
“In my now nine years experience on the legislature is that as legislators we don’t hear that much about the landfill, except at budget time when we talk about the landfill budget,” Chagnon said. “We don’t talk about the landfill basically for the rest of the year. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It’s neither a good thing or a bad thing but it’s an opportunity in our opinion for a couple of legislators to be more intimately aware and involved with the landfill so … legislators on the commission have an opportunity to say, ‘Wait a minute, let’s take this back to the County Executive and the legislature and see if we can figure out a way to do this and accomplish this.”
There are two ways to take that comment — and neither makes the case for a landfill commission.
One way to take the comment is legislators are too busy to oversee the landfill intimately enough to take the initiative to be more than a rubber stamp when the landfill director appears at a Public Facilities Committee. That may be true, but we note some meeting times for the Public Facilities Committee just from this year hint time may be available to spend more time on landfill operations — 24 minutes on June 13, a little more than 10 minutes on April 18, 38 minutes on March 14, 32 minutes in February. Legislators often serve on more than one committee, so we understand the desire to spend less time in meetings — but there appears to be time to spend more time for the Public Facilities Committee members to learn about the landfill’s operations. A 10 minute meeting could be handled electronically, for example, in lieu of a tour of the landfill or a meeting at the landfill with landfill staff and leadership. A meeting with a light agenda could provide an opportunity to add to the agenda and ask for key landfill users their opinion of the landfill’s operations.
The other way to take Chagnon’s comment is legislators have for several years been so hands off with the landfill’s operation that they can’t step back at budget time and make a rational budgetary decision about a request from the landfill director. That says little about the legislature’s ability to make decisions.
It may make good sense to run the landfill more like the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities board, which has the authority to run Jamestown utility issues without constant council approval. The BPU board includes council members, city department heads and representatives from the business community. And, when necessary, council members can still have their say on pressing matters like garbage collection issues that created controversy earlier this year. If legislators truly don’t have time to properly understand the landfill, then give someone else the power to run it on behalf of the legislature.
But if legislators don’t want to give up oversight of the legislature, then they should get more involved in landfill oversight themselves rather than abdicating their responsibility to a no-authority commission.