The issue of whether the Town of Amherst must place on the ballot in November a voter proposition that would transform Town Board member seats to district-specific seats will come before a State Supreme Court justice on Friday.
Town Democratic leaders submitted a citizens' petition several weeks ago to allow town voters to decide in the November general election whether they want board members to be elected based on districts. The petition represents the fifth time a ward-type system has been proposed for Amherst.
In response, town Republican leaders filed an objection to the petition questioning its validity.
Subsequently, those for and against the petition submitted court motions last week asking the court to rule on whether the petition to elect board members by district is valid and should be placed on the November ballot. The matter will be heard Friday morning by acting State Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walker.
The town is submitting its own response Wednesday for Walker's consideration.
"We're reviewing the allegations on both motions, and we will respond in a timely fashion," said Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones.
All Amherst Town Board members are considered "at-large" members who represent residents townwide.
A move to a district or ward system would be similar to what currently exists in the cities of Buffalo, Lackawanna and Tonawanda.
Town Clerk Marjory Jaeger said she expects the town will take a position regarding the petition but declined to say Monday what that position was likely to be.
"I'm not prepared to say whether it's a valid or invalid petition at this time because we're still in the middle of it," she said.
When the petition was first submitted, Jaeger said she would seek help from the Erie County Board of Elections to determine whether it was valid. But on Monday she said that between her office and the Town Attorney's Office, the town would make general observations about the petition and its validity in time to respond to the show-cause orders before Walker this week.
Proponents of the ward system say it makes board members more accountable to their constituents and less beholden to deep-pocket special interest groups. Opponents say having divided representation encourages boar members to take a narrow approach to town leadership and can prevent a board from working together in the interests of the town as a whole.
A district-based system also makes it easier and cheaper for more people to run for office, not just well-financed candidates. Republicans are generally better funded than Democratic candidates in town.
Unlike when the proposition was last reintroduced in 2010, local Republicans are working harder to keep the issue off the ballot.
Two years ago, the proposition was defeated by only 2 percentage points.