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SANTILLO PROTESTS CHANGE IN MEETING TIME SAYS EARLIER START FOR WORK SESSIONS DISENFRANCHISES HER CONSTITUENCY

Amherst Council Member Peggy Santillo, a teacher who can't get to Town Hall earlier than 3:30 p.m. on weekdays, Thursday protested a new 2 p.m. starting time for the work sessions the Town Board holds each Monday.

"I feel that they're consciously disenfranchising me, that they're eliminating the one person who usually represents a different viewpoint," said Mrs. Santillo, one of two Democrats on the seven-member Amherst board.

But other board members said they can get a lot more work done if they start at 2 p.m. instead of 3:30.

"We're not as rushed, we accomplish more," said Supervisor Thomas J. Ahern, a Republican. "People start getting antsy around 5:30 or 6," especially when there's a regular board meeting at 7:30, Ahern said.

Mrs. Santillo -- top vote-getter in the 1991 Town Board race -- said colleagues have suggested that she keep up with town business by listening to tapes of what goes on at meetings before she arrives.

But she said the tapes of the informal sessions are sometimes hard to hear, or are inaudible. "And they turn (the tape recorder) off when they go into executive session," Mrs. Santillo complained.

"Besides," she told The Buffalo News, "I think that I was elected to represent a certain viewpoint, to be part of the process. The people knew I was a public high school teacher and mother when they elected me; I don't think they elected me to be excluded."

The board moved up its work sessions to 2 p.m. over the past several weeks while Mrs. Santillo was recuperating from surgery. She is due back Monday, but board members say they like the new schedule and plan to stick with it.

Mrs. Santillo and the board's other Democrat, Council Member Michael G. McGuire, often are on opposite sides of controversial issues. Mrs. Santillo is perhaps best known for her frequent minority-of-one votes against rezonings.

Ahern said the board's decision to start earlier from now on was not political. "This is not about politics; it has to do with administering town business more efficiently," he said.

"We simply haven't been getting to all the business we should. The agenda's often too long to get through completely," and the board winds up rushing through matters that deserve more attention, Ahern explained.

"I suppose we're all also guilty of inviting too many guests that take up too much time," Ahern said.

For many years, Town Board work sessions began at 1 p.m. Mondays. "I don't know how the hell (the current board) can get anything done" starting at 3:30 p.m., Jack Sharpe, supervisor in the 1970s and 1980s, remarked Thursday.

"Of course, a lot depends on your work load. There was a lot more development going on then than now," Sharpe said.

Harold J. Collier, a Republican councilman for 20 years, also was a school administrator who also couldn't get to Town Hall until about 3 o'clock. "We'd just delay Hal's (committee) report until he got here," Sharpe recalled.

"Hal (Collier) kept up without any problem," said Council Member and Deputy Supervisor Lynn Millane, a board member since 1982.

Veteran officials recalled that the meetings were moved back to 3 and 3:30 p.m. several years ago when the board found itself with two members who couldn't be present until about 3 -- Collier and former councilman Gordon J. Kuzon, also a school teacher.

Mrs. Santillo said that since the problem is the workload, the solution is more work sessions. She proposed the board try 3:30 p.m. work sessions on the Thursdays preceding Monday night voting meetings.

"They were meeting at 3:30 long before I came along (in 1992) to accommodate members of their own party," Mrs. Santillo said.

"When you want your work sessions to include all points of view, you schedule them at times that will accommodate everyone. But here, it looks like they're going back to the old days, when instead of honest discussions, the work sessions were dress rehearsals for the evening meetings out in front of the public.

"The people who voted for me have to understand that I won't be part of the process now if they don't change their minds about this.

"A lot of what I do involves making phone calls, making copies and getting information out to residents and homeowner groups. A lot of the subject matter comes out of these work sessions, which I'm now apparently going to miss big parts of. I'll keep trying, but the board is definitely trying to make it a little harder," Mrs. Santillo claimed.

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