Four-year terms for Erie County legislators moved one step closer to reality Tuesday. Lawmakers, in a special meeting, voted 9-1 for a local law that would extend their terms by two years, expand ethics provisions, and encourage greater gender and racial diversity in county government leadership.
Legislators had previously toyed with an alternate proposal that would have excluded four-year terms, but Legislature Chairman John Mills, R-Orchard Park, said he couldn’t get enough support for that proposal to pass, so he gave up on it.
The new proposal would lengthen terms for legislators among other changes to the county charter that most legislators agree are needed. Some of the changes, such as paying full salaries to military service members called to active duty, are considered substantial reforms. Many others are technical changes, like using gender neutral language and eliminating references to committees that no longer exist.
County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz vetoed the Legislature majority’s first attempt at making charter changes. He said the initial law legislators voted for would have weakened the County Executive’s Office by restricting the executive’s control over the County Attorney’s Office.
Mills said he is much more optimistic that Poloncarz will sign the new compromise law, which would place no restrictions on Poloncarz’s existing control over the county attorney.
Legislator Thomas A. Loughran, D-Amherst, was the only lawmaker to vote against the local law Tuesday.
Loughran called the inclusion of four-year terms a major disservice to the public.
“Don’t think you’re going to get away with it,” he said. “When it goes to referendum, expect the people of Erie County to vote it down.”
Those in favor said legislators would govern better and accomplish more if they did not spend every other year trying to raise money while running for re-election.
Other legislators, including Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca, and Lynne M. Dixon of Hamburg, expressed ambivalence about extending legislator terms but said the law includes too many other positive changes and reforms that they support.
Dixon said that although she supported the local law, she would encourage her constituents to vote against four-year terms if the law comes up for referendum in November.
There is no way, however, to separate a vote on four-year terms from the rest of the recommended charter revision changes because the Legislature opted to package all charter changes into a single local law instead of separating more controversial changes for residents to vote on separately.
Before the law can be placed on the ballot, it must be signed by the county executive. Poloncarz was not available to comment Tuesday, but spokesman Peter Anderson said the county executive will hold a public hearing and make his decision within 30 days, as the law requires.