When the only Republican on the Cheektowaga Town Board brought up the idea of downsizing the board from seven members to five, the reaction from her colleagues was less than enthusiastic.
Based on what has happened in the last five years when this issue has come up in other towns, I would like to offer the Democrats on the board a piece of unsolicited advice: Give in. Opposing downsizing is a no-win situation.
You might think that having a stranglehold on town government means that one Republican’s suggestion, which may or may not be a transparent publicity grab, is nothing to worry about. You might want to think again. Ask your friends in other towns how it worked for them when they got in the way of public downsizing votes. Even some residents who said they didn’t particularly care for the idea voted to eliminate members from their boards just because they objected to the arrogance of officials being opposed to giving the public a chance to have its say.
And those Town Boards had five members; you are the only Town Board in Erie County with seven. You say you’re all needed. But Amherst has 34,000 more people than you and is downsizing from seven to five. You’re not saying your job is harder than theirs, are you?
Although they complain incessantly about the difficulty in working within the confines of Open Meetings Laws, the towns with three-member boards also seem to be doing OK. But you’re going to make the argument that your town alone in Erie County needs a seven-member Town Board? Good luck with that one.
What you might not understand is that when you say no to downsizing – or worse, work against any proposal to let it come to a public vote – even your supporters wonder what you’re afraid of. If you’re sure that citizens love things as they are, roll out the voting machines and let the town electorate validate your opinion.
If you don’t, you know what’s coming: Kevin Gaughan and his volunteers knocking on doors to gather signatures to force a public vote. Gaughan has been here before, but now that he has an ally on the Town Board, there is a better chance that he’ll get enough petition signatures to force a vote.
If he does, don’t make the mistake of filing a lawsuit because then voters will really start to wonder why you seem hellbent on circumventing democracy.
And don’t make the case that Gaughan is an outsider who doesn’t understand Cheektowaga. You might be different in some ways, but you’re not unique. And he apparently has access to a street atlas because he figures out where the voters are and, from what I hear, even lets them use his pen.
Speaking of mistakes, don’t think this whole downsizing movement has fizzled because voters summarily rejected eliminating village government around the same time as the original downsizing votes. (I made the same mistake). It’s going to be tough to hear this, but it turns out the voters are more sentimental about the name of their community than they are about the names or the number of people making decisions about the community.
One last thing: In November, when voters in two previously downsized communities had a chance to go back to five members, they said no.
By doing what you did last week, you might think that this whole thing is over. It’s not. In some ways, it might be just beginning.