LOCKPORT – A Republican plan to alter how committee members are chosen in the Niagara County Legislature is to be changed after Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso pointed out it would prevent him from serving on any committees.
One of the co-sponsors of the measure, Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, said Friday the resolution will be amended to allay Virtuoso’s concerns.
The plan is a change from the traditional system, in which the Legislature chairman’s powers over the committee structure were almost absolute. The chairman got to decide how many committees there would be, how large they would be, and who the members would be.
Under the new system, the chairman still decides how large the committees will be, as long as there are at least five members on each.
The party leaders then will nominate members, and the selections are to be made in proportion to the strength of parties in the Legislature. At present, the Republicans have a 12-3 edge, so the Republicans will get 80 percent of all committee seats.
The majority leader is to recommend who the chairman and vice chairman of each committee will be, and the minority leader will recommend a “ranking minority member,” a title Niagara County has not used before.
The resolution also bars the Legislature and the majority and minority leaders from doubling as chairman or ranking member of any committee.
That, along with the low population of Democrats in the Legislature, was what Virtuoso concluded would keep him off committees.
The proportional representation rule would mean there would likely be only one Democrat per committee, Virtuoso said. Thus, that person would have to be the ranking minority member. And since the minority leader is barred from being the ranking member, Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, would be ineligible to serve on any committee.
He charged that that’s what the Republicans were trying to accomplish with the changes. “I ask too many questions,” he said when asked why the GOP would want to keep him off committees.
“That really wasn’t our intention,” Wojtaszek said. He said the measure will be amended to bar the minority leader from serving as ranking minority member of a committee “unless he is the only member [from that party].”
He said the resolution is being introduced to give the parties more of a say in committees.
“This resolution will engender more cooperation and less partisanship,” Wojtaszek asserted. “We’re trying to be open and transparent, and promote good government. As you know, it’s been a little less than harmonious lately.”