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Anti-patronage bill too harsh, critics say

An Erie County legislator agreed Wednesday to revise her anti-patronage bill after it was panned at a public hearing by representatives of business and organized labor, and by government-watchers and government officials.

"Maybe we do need to adjust the language in here," said Legislator Michele M. Iannello, D-Kenmore, when told by speaker after speaker that the bill gave future legislators too much power and could inject even more politics into county affairs.

"I will move forward to make any amendments to get this passed and to make sure it's legal," she said.

With eight co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle, the bill could have passed easily when the Legislature meets today. Iannello had scheduled a premeeting news conference to herald its seemingly certain approval and the fact it would be sent to County Executive Joel A. Giambra.

Assuming Giambra signed the bill, it would have gone to the voters in November, because their support is needed to alter the balance of power between the Legislature and future executives. But speaker after speaker told Iannello on Wednesday that her bill was too broad and gave the Legislature too much power.

The Legislature would have the right to reject any contract in mid-stream, which would scare away government vendors, warned James Magavern, a local attorney who was active in the Charter Revision Commission that sent a slate of Erie County Charter updates to the voters last November.

Further, by giving the Legislature the right to delete any jobs during the year, lawmakers would be able to barter with county executives year-round, not just during those weeks when they are approving a budget, he said.

Craig Turner of the pro-business Buffalo Niagara Partnership said contractors and employees could be dismissed for political reasons, threatening government services.

Officials for the county's blue- and white-collar unions said that while the bill is well intended, it ignores the state's civil service laws because it would let the Legislature cancel a collective-bargaining agreement or any job within it -- even though Iannello insisted that was not the intent.

In part, the lawmakers backing the measure were motivated by the rehiring of former Budget Director Joseph Passafiume under a $6,000 personal-services contract that skirted the oversight of both the Legislature and the state-appointed control board. But the new budget director, James M. Hartman, said it was his decision, not Giambra's, to hire Passafiume, who had been volunteering in the budget office without pay.

Several speakers agreed there were simpler ways to give lawmakers more sway over personal-services contracts. Said William Greiner, the former University at Buffalo president who also sat on the Charter Revision Commission: "We have here a cannon intended to kill a flea."


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