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FACILITATOR TO HELP FOSTER OPENNESS ON CHARTER PANEL

The Niagara County Charter Commission will bring in an outsider Wednesday to help the 15 members speak frankly about their attitudes toward a new system of county government.

Although the facilitator is working free, the County Legislature is to vote Tuesday on whether to give the commission $25,000 to hire a consultant to help it write a new County Charter.

The panel is expected to present a proposed charter to the Legislature for action sometime this summer, and if the Legislature approves it by September, it would go on the November election ballot for a referendum.

It is presumed, based on comments from top legislators, that a county executive would be the centerpiece of the proposed charter.

But the commission, despite an informal consensus in favor of an executive, has not made any moves toward actually writing such a document.

Commission member Kevin Schuler, executive director of the Niagara Business Alliance, said the panel's meetings so far have not been very free-wheeling.

"Everyone's been very guarded, instead of saying, 'Hey, this is what I think,' " Schuler complained. "What I'm hoping is that (Wednesday's meeting) will be a brainstorming session to find out what their biases are."

The job of drawing everyone out goes to Peter K. Wendel of Lockport, president of a company called Strategic Futures. The former engineer has been a professional facilitator since 1990.

"My goal is just to get them together and get them talking about what they want to accomplish," Wendel said. "My understanding is they're focusing on a lot of stuff but haven't got a clear idea on their future outcome."

"I think it's going to be darn interesting myself, if everyone is open and honest," said commission Chairman Samuel P. Granieri, R-Niagara Falls.

Granieri said he called the session, scheduled to last three hours, "to foster a better group dynamic."

Schuler recruited Wendel to volunteer his time to the commission after Wendel conducted the annual planning meeting of the Business Alliance's executive committee in October, which Schuler said was a success.

However, the Center for Governmental Research, a Rochester consulting firm, does not usually work free.

Granieri said the Legislature will vote Tuesday on two resolutions to seek funds to pay the Center for charter-related services.

"They'll attend the meetings; they'll help us focus on the issues; they'll guide us through the writing of the charter," Granieri said.

Charles M. Zettek Jr. of the center attended the commission's Jan. 17 meeting.

The Legislature appropriated $5,000 for the commission in 2000, but none of it was spent. That appropriation is to be renewed, and there is another resolution to seek $20,000 from the state. Granieri said that this apparently would be a pair of $10,000 member items from State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda, and Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Niagara Falls.

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