Western New York leaders have had such a gift for doing the wrong thing for so long that it can catch you unawares when they get it right. Nevertheless, that is what occurred in Niagara County this week when both the Charter Commission and the Legislature gave preliminary approval to a plan that would redesign county government to include an executive.
It was no sure thing this would happen. Although the county had been moving in that direction, leaders seemed to come down with a case of cold feet last month. Unsure they wanted to give up the current legislative committee system that gives them more power (and that helped bring the county to its current wretched state, but never mind), legislators suggested that maybe creating a county executive wasn't such a great idea, after all.
Fortunately, that turned out to be a temporary condition and legislators soon moved back toward the idea of a county executive. On Wednesday, the Niagara County Charter Commission voted unanimously to write a new charter that creates the position of executive. And the same day, legislators voted 13-4 to back the decision.
That's not the final word on this matter. Legislators will have to vote again, after a new charter is drafted. It they approve it, the matter goes to voters in a public referendum.
Nonetheless, this is a milestone on Niagara County's path to political sanity and financial stability. Change is not easy, and giving up power is harder still, but this was the right decision. It's what's right for the county.
Niagara County has been fractured by the current system, in which it is no one's job to look out for the county's interests as a whole. Someone needs to take the broad view, but the existing committee system works against that requirement. The results have been public and predictable.
Obviously, hard work remains, and legislators are now moving ahead with a plan to hire a lawyer who will draft a proposed charter. It's a good sign, but legislators need to resist the temptation to retreat again from this crucial change. Even more important, perhaps, is for voters to let those officials know they believe this to be a matter of urgency. It is their future that is the issue, after all.