Weekly Feature

2018-05-17 / Editorial

Changes seen with county leadership’s new majority

Erie County Legislator

As you may be aware, control of the Erie County Legislature switched in 2018. So far, it has been interesting. Oftentimes, the leadership of the new majority, moves items to placate political interests, not necessarily those of taxpayers. Other times, they attempt to prevent votes when they might fail. The difference depends on whether the issue is being pushed by the county executive and if there are enough votes to support his wishes

During our last session in April, the new majority forced a vote on two large-impact local laws. First was a “minor” language change to the county’s existing Apprenticeship Law, and second was the creation of a countywide Fair Housing Law. The new majority previously attempted to vote on these without discussion, but my efforts working across the aisle forced committee discussions. During committee, we heard from parties who would be affected. While not everyone was able to agree completely during the short time allotted, each seemed to believe we could reach consensus if we had additional discussions. However, the new majority didn’t care.

The change to the Apprenticeship Law was “minor” in terms of length, but major in terms of effect. Erie County has had an Apprenticeship Law since 2006, and it had been working well. We heard from union and nonunion contractors who agreed to one aspect of the amendment but were just a little apart on the other. Each side agreed that with more time it was likely that consensus could be built. Unfortunately, the new majority moved the flawed law for approval.

The Fair Housing Law added to existing federal and state laws that prevent discrimination. The additions prevent discrimination on gender identity and source of income. Additionally, the law creates a Fair Housing Board and allows anyone —regardless of if they have been aggrieved — to bring a complaint against a landlord. I argued that the way complaints are handled under the new Fair Housing Board created more governmental bureaucracy. I also argued that allowing anyone to bring a complaint, even if they had never been aggrieved, was dangerous and potentially unconstitutional. While many of my colleagues agreed, they cared only about passing the law during April — the 50th anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Law. Rather than work out a valid law without additional bureaucracies and potential constitutional issues, they cared more about the date on the calendar. It was disappointing.

Last week, two items were up for a vote, but the county executive did not have the support of a majority of legislators. Consequently, the legislature chairman attempted to prevent a vote. These items increased the starting salary of a senior executive assistant to $114,000 and increased the county’s “emergency credit card” fund by $10,000. This fund previously included purchases of gift cards, pizza and a “Mrs. Claus” costume — hardly “emergencies.” I did not support either of these items, and in speaking to my colleagues, determined that neither did a bipartisan majority. I was able to put these items up for a vote where they were ultimately defeated. I was pleased to be able to work with other legislators to do what was in the best interest of taxpayers.

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