Purported cuts to the Town of Tonawanda police force Monday night drew a large crowd, but the adoption of three Democratic-sponsored resolutions to dramatically reshape the Town Board dominated the long regular meeting.
The Democrats, with their 5-2 majority, got their way: They approved downsizing the board from six to four members and establishing a limit of three four-year terms for the supervisor and council member positions. Democrat Councilman John J. Flynn said the term limits would provide an opportunity for fresh faces and ideas to enter town government.
In addition, the board moved to repeal the seven-member Citizens Commission on Local Government, which was created last year by the then-Republican majority to look at the two resolutions and other issues. The reduction of the Town Board has to be decided by voters -- it will be on the November ballot as a referendum.
"We don't need to be listening to seven people; we need to listen to all of you," said Democratic Councilwoman Lisa M. Chimera.
The Council Chamber was packed to capacity with residents, many toting signs decrying rumored cuts to public safety programs and the Police Department.
"That's what was circulated in the town," said resident Regina Lyons, who is a member of the newly formed Town of Tonawanda Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community.
There were no such cuts on the agenda. However, the board did vote to approve three out of five police promotions recommended by the department's chief. After that action was taken, the vast majority of residents abruptly poured out of Council Chambers.
"They just cut the Police Department," one resident said as he exited.
During the public hearing, which spanned about two hours, the residents largely backed the minority Republicans, opposing the resolutions to reshape the board and repeal the citizens commission. Republican Supervisor Ronald H. Moline said the proposed changes were significant and should have been studied by the citizens commission.
"I'm not opposed to change; I think change should be looked at," he said. Moline added, "You can amend, you don't have to trash something to make it better."
Republican Councilman John E. Donnelly said $50,000 would be the savings from downsizing the Town Board, and he didn't think it was worth it.
"It's a huge loss," he said. "I'm not convinced."
The Republicans' comments were received with raucous applause. The Democrats were rebuked and described as reckless and delirious with their new-found power. The residents charged that the Democrats were taking away their voice by adopting the resolutions.
"The Democrats are doing everything to screw up this town," said resident Margaret Golden. "The Democrats have an agenda, and it's going to come back to bite you."
Former Republican Councilman Raymond Sinclair said the inexperienced board was misguided in its decision to downsize and make other changes, saying: "You are going to hurt the quality of life and damage [the town's] departments."
Four citizens commission members spoke, two to save the entity to continue to provide knowledgeable advice to the Town Board and the other against it. They said the commission is useless and ineffective because it was politically derived. They also pointed out that Carl J. Calabrese, former Erie County deputy county executive, a Republican, was a prominent member.
Flynn said the commission was a Republican "stalling tactic to stonewall" the resolutions to reshape the Town Board. He added that commission doesn't include Kenmore residents.