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PANEL OKS EXECUTIVE FOR CHARTER

The Niagara County Charter Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to write a charter containing a county executive.

At Wednesday's meeting of the County Legislature, the lawmakers voted 13-4 to support that decision.

Opposition came from four Republican town legislators: Majority Leader Shirley G. Urtel of Cambria, Gerald E. Meal of Royalton, James W. Ward of Newfane and Gerald K. Farnham of Lockport.

Meanwhile, the commission is strongly considering hiring Buffalo lawyer James L. Magavern to help write the charter.

Legislator Samuel P. Granieri, R-Niagara Falls, said Magavern would be invited to the commission's next meeting March 7.

"We need some professional help here to move us along," said Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls. "We're sitting here talking among ourselves as to what the law is. We need someone to answer our questions."

During the meeting of the Legislature, Urtel said: "I'm still not in favor of a county executive. I'm in favor of a referendum."

That is exactly what will happen if the 15-member commission delivers a charter with an executive to replace the county's current committee system of government by part-time legislators.

The Legislature would have to take a formal vote on the completed charter to actually place it on the ballot. Wednesday's votes were nonbinding.

The eight members of the commission who showed up for Wednesday's meeting were not all enthusiastic about a county executive, either.

Newfane Supervisor John J. Connolly said he wants to know what impact a charter would have on the towns' power to control their own planning and zoning laws, and on the towns' management of the county water and sewer districts.

"For me to say I'm on board with this without having those concerns answered would be irresponsible," Connolly said.

But he added that for now, "we don't need consensus. Consensus will come as we move toward the end. Let's move down that road."

County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said he had received proposals from two Buffalo attorneys to help write the charter. The commission seemed to favor Magavern's bid, a maximum of $31,000, over a $50,000 offer from Buffalo lawyer Daniel A. Spitzer.

Joerg said Magavern has a lot of experience, having headed the commission that wrote a new Buffalo City Charter and saw it passed in a 1999 referendum.

Magavern is a former Erie County attorney and counsel to the state comptroller's office, which means that he supervised the writing of hundreds of opinions on legal questions from localities.

Joerg said the commission should hire Magavern instead of a Rochester consulting firm that offered its services for about $25,000.

"If we want to meet our deadlines, we're going to have to do this," Joerg said. The charter must be done by roughly mid-July so that a public hearing process and Legislature vote could be completed in time for the November vote.

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