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Hamburg deserves a vigorous debate before vote on upsizing board

Seems some folks in the Town of Hamburg want a do-over on the downsizing of the Town Board. A loosely organized group of residents collected the petition signatures necessary to put a measure to add two members to the board on the November ballot.

The downsizing or upsizing of boards has been a topic for the past several years, pushed by activist Kevin Gaughan. He began his downsizing crusade after finding a section of state law that allows residents to force a referendum to shrink the size of boards.

Downsizing saves a relatively small amount of money, but it’s a way for overtaxed residents to say “enough.”

In many communities the people decided that smaller government is, indeed, better government. That didn’t sit too well with opponents, who have argued that downsizing dumps an overwhelming amount of work on the remaining members.

But rather than simply concentrating work on fewer members, downsizing requires a culture change. Much of the time-consuming constituent service that occupies board members should best be done by department heads or other employees, not elected officials.

Critics of the three-member board point out that two board members (a quorum) cannot have a conversation about town business outside a meeting because of the Open Meetings Law. That’s actually a plus for residents and for good government. Board members should be discussing town business in public, not in secret.

Back in 2009, led by Gaughan, Hamburg residents voted overwhelmingly to decrease the board from five members to three: two council members and the supervisor. The change took effect in 2012, and Hamburg joined West Seneca, Evans, Alden and Orchard Park as places with three-member boards.

The losing side didn’t give up, and began pushing to upsize boards. West Seneca and Alden voters decided they liked having fewer board members and turned down attempts by wide margins in 2012 to change back to five-member boards.

None of this deters supporters of the Hamburg upsizing movement.

Barbara Rogers, who has been leading the charge to upsize the three-member board, is willing to debate Gaughan. That should happen. Let both sides have a chance to make a case, and then residents can decide on the shape of town government.