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Voters In Two Towns Which Downsized, Will Decide Whether To Upsize | News

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Voters In Two Towns Which Downsized, Will Decide Whether To Upsize
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BUFFALO, NY - A few years back the buzzword in government locally was "downsizing".

But on election day, two communities which voted to reduce the size of their town boards, will vote on whether to "upsize" them to previous levels.

Those votes will take place in the towns of West Seneca, and Alden.

Harry "Bud" Milligan was the Highway Superintendent in Alden in 2009 when voters decided to reduce the size of the town board from five to three members.

"I didn't support it then, I don't support it now," said Milligan, who is currently serving his first term as the Town Supervisor.

Milligan says one problem with a three-member board, is that no board member can discuss town business with another outside of a scheduled town board meeting, because two board members would represent a quorum, and possibly violate open meetings laws

"The way I understand the law I can't call them, I can't text them, or e-mail them. I have to be able to talk to those people to get anything done, and be able to do it (only during board meetings) once every two weeks is very difficult," Milligan told WGRZ-TV.

"That's an overstatement," contended Kevin Gaughan, the downsizing advocate who lead the charge to reduce the size of town boards in Alden, West Seneca, and several other Western New York Towns.

Gaughan argues that part the benefit of a three-member board, is that it essentially forces all town business to be discussed only in public.

"That's a good thing. Every Western New Yorker knows, that the worst affliction that challenges government from Albany to Amherst is back room deals," Gaughan said.

Gaughan also confirmed plans to marshal his forces once again, as he did in 2009, to go door to door in the towns and ask voters to keep their town boards smaller.

"And I will ask them a simple question, which will be whether their town services have been reduced because of a smaller town board. And the answer to that question will of course be 'no'," Gaughan predicted.

Milligan says with three board members now doing the work, which five used to do, the workload has increased substantially, and he wonders aloud whether the absence of two town board salaries is really saving money in the end.

"We may have saved a few dollars, but we may have lost many more because we don't have five people discussing an issue. I think we could save more if more people had put their two cents in," said Milligan, who also believes a three-member board may leave too much power in the hands of too few.

Gaughan is unsympathetic.

"Here in the private sector, if we received a directive from our boss and we said, 'boss, it's a little difficult to do my job today,' I think the boss would say, 'Guess what? Do the best you can and figure it out,' and that's essentially what voters have been telling politicians in these downsizing votes...the fact that these politicians are kicking and screaming and whining about this disappoints me terribly," Gaughan said.

To be fair, Milligan neither kicked, screamed, or whined when speaking with Two On Your Side, while also expressing his feeling that Gaughan's position that citizens could voluntarily take on some of the work, isn't based in reality.

"One of the first things I did when I took office was to ask for volunteers, and not a single hand went up," Milligan said.

"It takes a time commitment to do that, and in this economy with people trying to work additional jobs, and with their busy lives, it's hard for a lot of people to make that commitment, and essentially serve for free, so I don't blame them if they decide they can't," Milligan said.

"To do that (engage and recruit citizens) takes time and effort," responded Gaughan. "And I haven't seen that so I disagree with the assertion that something won't work that hasn't been authentically tried."

The vote to upsize Alden's government was the result of a successful citizen petition to place the question on the ballot.

There was a similar effort underway in West Seneca, before the town board itself passed a resolution to put upsizing before voters..

West Seneca Town Board member John Rusinski sponsored the resolution, but insists he only did so in order to get the question on the ballot on Election Day...thus sparing the town the expense of holding a special election.

"That would have cost taxpayers $20,000," claimed Rusinski, who has only served on the town board in its current three member configuration and who says he has no strong opinion on whether it should remain that way.

"Let the people make the decision. I work for them," Rusinski told Channel 2.

"Exactly," agreed Milligan. "We'll work with it one way or another."

"I look forward to the decision," Gaughan said.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher from Eden.

Click here to read Dave McKinley's blogs.

Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2

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