By Barbara O'Brien, originally published in The Buffalo News on 10/21/15.
Nonresidents weigh in on ‘upsizing’ at Hamburg political forum
Two Ivy League lawyers who don’t live in Hamburg had different takes Wednesday on whether Hamburg residents should increase the size of their Town Board when they vote Nov. 3.
Craig R. Bucki, who went to Yale, and Harvard-educated Kevin P. Gaughan discussed the merits of “upsizing” to a five-member board Wednesday night during a League of Women Voters forum at Union Pleasant Elementary School.
One of the questions to both men, who debated the issue in 2009 before voters decided to downsize the board to three members, from five, was how they could address the issue when neither of them lives in the town or goes to board meetings.
“The premise of the question is one of the mindsets we are attempting to overcome here in Western New York,” Gaughan said. “We’re all Western New Yorkers, we all live in the same community, and our fates are inextricably intertwined.”
The champion of the three-member board, Gaughan said he lived in Hamburg for 50 years and now lives in Buffalo. He said all residents in Erie County pay county sales, state and federal taxes that help support more than 40 local governments – and more than 439 politicians – in the county.
“That’s what drove us to having the fifth-highest property taxes in America,” Gaughan said.
Bucki, who lives in East Amherst, said, “I don’t think it’s necessary to be one of the town’s people to have a view on this issue, because both of us can look at the facts.” He said that town spending has gone up since the board downsized. “Reducing the size of your Town Board did nothing to control the cost of government,” he said.
Bucki said the budgets go up every year because of state mandates, not because of the number of elected officials. He was not calling downsizing bad, he said, but three members are too few.
“A three-member board has compromised deliberation, has compromised government function and relies upon a faulty premise that it’s going to decrease the cost of government,” Bucki said.
The forum included candidates for Erie County and town offices, including those running for the Town Board. Tamara Otremba Harbold gave her opening statement, and her opponent, Thomas M. Best Jr., had started his opening statement when he stopped in midsentence, paused and said he could not continue. He walked off the stage, and a member of the League of Women Voters announced later he had been taken to the hospital in an ambulance. No further information was immediately available.