A resolution by Amherst Council Member Mark Manna to downsize the Town Board to three members has strangely evolved into an upsizing resolution to keep the board at six members.
Confused? You’d be in good company.
At a work session this week, Manna initially introduced a resolution seeking a referendum on whether the board should downsize to three members. The board now stands at six members – five board members and the supervisor.
The board is on track to further downsize to five members in 2014, with one more seat being eliminated at the end of this year.
Manna, who for many years was a staunch opponent of downsizing, argued last week that once the Town Board is downsized to five members next year, citizens will be allowed to submit a petition seeking a referendum to further downsize the board to three members.
Thus, he submitted a resolution for consideration Monday to reflect what he called “the inevitable.”
When the resolution was discussed at the work session, however, Council Member Guy Marlette pointed out that if the board remains at six members, a citizens petition cannot be submitted to further reduce the board to three members.
That sent the board into an in-depth discussion about whether the board should simply remain at six members, as it has been for the past three years. The board’s seventh seat was abolished at the end of 2009 when then-Council Member Barry Weinstein was elevated to supervisor.
Board members remarked on the fact that the board has worked surprisingly well together. Even though they comprise an even number of votes, relatively few votes have resulted in 3-3 splits.
“We can ask the public, ask the residents of the Town of Amherst, if they are satisfied with the size of the Town Board currently, and the council members that are on there, or if they want to see that the downsizing continue further,” Marlette said.
He submitted an amendment, with Manna’s support, to have the town attorney draft a local law for public referendum on whether to keep the board at six members.
Weinstein called Marlette’s suggestion “very creative.”
Manna said he was willing to support Marlette’s amendment, because it still gives town voters a choice.
“I’m saying I’m in favor of letting the residents decide what the size of the Town Board will look like,” he said.
Council Member Richard “Jay” Anderson chided Manna’s radical changing of positions on the Town Board downsizing issue over time, sarcastically complimenting Manna on his ability to “speak so eloquently from sound bite to sound bite to sound bite.”
Council Member Steven Sanders, meanwhile, said that while he would support Manna’s amended resolution, he felt uncomfortable about tinkering with the downsizing process that is already under way.
The amended resolution passed, 5-1, with Anderson voting against. The board directed the town attorney to draft a local law in time for a public hearing to be held March 4.
In other news, the board approved salaries for elected officials, department heads and other non-union employees. No elected officials received raises, but some employees who did not receive automatic, annual “step” increases because they were already at the top of their salary scale were given merit raises of roughly 1 percent by the supervisor.
Those employees included the town engineer/building commissioner (Thomas Ketchum currently fills both roles), planning director and deputy planning director, town attorney, deputy highway superintendent, an assistant to the supervisor, one deputy town attorney and an assistant town attorney.