LOCKPORT – Niagara County legislators will meet less than ever in 2013.
The schedule of meetings for the new year, distributed at last week’s reorganizational meeting, almost abandons the traditional format of meeting on the first and third Tuesdays of every month.
Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, made a schedule that includes only 15 meetings of the full body. There will be two meetings in January, March, May and December, and one meeting in all other months, except July, when the Legislature won’t meet at all.
Ross pointed out that little business was conducted in many of the 19 meetings last year.
“Some of the agendas were ridiculous. There was nothing there,” Ross said.
“I’m willing to try it,” said Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls. “Anytime you can streamline things, it’s always better. It cuts down on staff time and overtime. … If we need another meeting, we can always call one.”
There were two such special meetings in 2012.
With the reduction last year from 19 to 15 legislators, lawmakers have larger districts that require more attention, said Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport.
Ross added: “The [majority] caucus felt there’d be more time for these people to be in their election campaigns or attending events in the districts.”
Meanwhile, Ross announced that the size of the five standing committees will be reduced from seven members to five. There will be four Republicans and one Democrat on each panel.
That’s in line with a rule change passed last month, which required proportional representation of parties on all committees. The Legislature is currently Republican by a 12-3 margin.
The rule change also barred the chairman, vice chairman or majority leader from serving as committee chairmen.
That means that at least two committees will have new leaders, as Updegrove is barred from his former post as chairman of the Economic Development Committee, and Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster had to give up the Public Works Committee.
But Ross said he expects more changes than that. Updegrove said the committee chairmanships haven’t been determined, but announcements will likely come this week.
“We’re going to have a more comprehensive ad hoc committee structure,” Updegrove said.
Ross said spreading leadership roles around is a good idea.
“The tendency is, if you’re not involved, you sit back,” he said. “People, when they’re given a leadership position, will step up and do an excellent job.”
Virtuoso decried the smaller committees.
“It’s not enough people looking at issues,” he said. “I think it’s easier to slip things through with five people instead of seven. … You only need three people to pass things. It’s not enough of a cross-section of the Legislature.”