LOCKPORT – Councilman candidate Paul R. Black presented the Town Board with referendum petitions Wednesday, calling for the establishment of wards in the town and a package of new rules for the board’s procedures.
By state law, unless the validity of the petition signatures is successfully challenged, the propositions will appear on the town’s general election ballot Nov. 5.
There were 456 signatures on the petition to establish wards instead of electing the four councilmen at large and 466 signatures on the petition to establish bylaws for Town Board meetings, which Black said would make the board more responsive to the public.
The minimum number of legal signatures needed to qualify each petition for the November ballot is 317, the Niagara County Board of Elections said. That figure is 5 percent of the town’s total vote in the 2010 election for governor.
Town Attorney Michael J. Norris said the petitions may be challenged in the same way a nominating petition for an office is challenged, with three days to submit a general objection and six days after that for specifics.
However, Norris said it would be up to Town Clerk Nancy A. Brooks, not the Board of Elections, to rule on any objections. Anyone who disagrees with her ruling could file a lawsuit.
Black, a Republican, is running in Tuesday’s primary against Councilmen Mark C. Crocker and Patricia Dufour for two available nominations. Crocker and Dufour have minor-party lines for November. There are no Democratic candidates for councilman.
Black said the board’s approval of the expansion of the mining area for the Lafarge North America stone quarry at a 1 p.m. work session Dec. 26 was one of the reasons for his ideas. He said there was “this disconnect, seen again and again,” between the board and the concerns of the residents.
Several people who live near the quarry returned Wednesday to restate complaints that the board has ignored their objections to the blasting. Some are part of a lawsuit against the town, pending in State Supreme Court, seeking to invalidate the board’s action on Lafarge.
“They filed a lawsuit against us. We can’t answer their questions, and neither can Lafarge,” Town Supervisor Marc R. Smith replied.
“It never should have come to a lawsuit,” resident Delphine Levesque said to applause from the nearly full room. “We want transparency. We want respect.”
Crocker and Dufour did not comment on Black’s petitions, but in a Buffalo News article published Aug. 4, they opposed his proposals.
Planning Board member Thomas F. Grzebinksi II, a onetime ward alderman in the City of Lockport, said wards would be bad. “Finding qualified candidates in each ward is a problem,” he said. “The town elections seldom have a competitive race even with a townwide pool to draw from.”
He said his research showed only 13 of the 164 eligible towns in the state have a ward system for councilman elections.
Black’s bylaws would require the Town Board to meet at night and never approve anything at a work session. Any agenda item that drew an objection from a resident would have to be tabled until the objection was answered; all documents would be available before the meeting online and at Town Hall; and anyone barred from public comment would be barred only for that meeting.
Smith prevented his Conservative primary opponent, David J. Mongielo, from speaking Wednesday because in the past he broke rules against personal abuse.