The three-member West Seneca Town Board got an earful from the public Monday night at its first regularly scheduled meeting since moving to place an upsizing proposition on November’s general election ballot.
It wasn’t all bad.
“I am for this upsizing of the Town Board,” explained Evelyn Hicks, a town resident who also chairs the community’s environmental commission and said she sees that board members are overburdened in smaller numbers. “I think a more fair distribution of the workload is called for.”
Town Board members explained their rationale behind agreeing to place the measure before the voters for the second time in just over three years.
Residents exchanged viewpoints on the issue during a public comment session. Downsizing advocate Kevin P. Gaughan was not in attendance at the meeting.
Councilman Eugene P. Hart, who as a private citizen opposed downsizing in 2009, isn’t so sure the three-member board is a bad thing after all, but he told the audience he wants to respect the wishes of the voters.
“Since being on the board [starting this year], I find this board has been effective as a three-member board,” Hart said. “I think it has been working. It can work better.”
On permitting the Nov. 6 vote to proceed despite a citizens’ petition drive that failed to meet a filing deadline, he said, “It’s all part of the democratic process. There was an opportunity to put it on the November ballot. That’s where it should be.”
“I’m hoping this upsizing or downsizing vote will put this issue to bed completely. I think it will,” Hart said.
Paula Minklei, a town resident who frequently contributes to discussion at Town Board meetings, also isn’t sold on the larger board. Minklei thinks more business was done out of the public light with two board members not constrained by the state’s Open Meetings Law like they are with a smaller board.
She suggests the smaller board just have weekly work sessions to make sure all the town’s business gets done.
David Monolopolus, who chairs the town’s Zoning Board, agreed with Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan’s point of view that the town has fallen victim to “missed opportunities” because of the inherent inefficiencies in a three-member board.
“It is the will of the people of the town of West Seneca,” Monolopolus said of the upcoming vote. “We love this town. We don’t want West Seneca to be a place – we want West Seneca to be the place.”
Heather Hill Drive resident Frank Boncore was less forgiving.
“Albany has ‘three men in a room’ and West Seneca has ‘two men in a room,’ ” Boncore said in referencing Hart and Councilman John M. Rusinski’s vote to place the proposition on the ballot. Meegan, who supported the motion, couldn’t officially vote on it at last month’s special meeting because of illness.
“The people voted to reduce the board,” Boncore admonished the board members. “If you cannot do the job, resign and let people who can do the job take your place.”
Yet another resident, Rudy Russo, said the size of the board was largely immaterial. He proposed Town Board members instead roll back the town’s policy of providing health and life insurance for Town Board members as well as pensions.
Russo cited a Town Board member who recently finished a dozen years on the board who earned $40,000 annually in benefits on top of what is one of the highest town board salaries in the area – now more than $22,000.
“People don’t have a problem with ‘4+1’; it’s the benefits,” Russo said, challenging the board to pass a resolution immediately doing away with the generous benefit package as of Jan. 1, 2013, and reducing salaries accordingly if the board is upsized. “As a taxpayer, I don’t think I should be paying it.”