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ACTIVIST WHO HELPED CREATE BOARD TO MONITOR SITES FOR SOCIAL AGENCIES CLAIMS IT SELDOM MEETS

Neighborhood activist Ellen Burns, who helped form a county siting committee to relieve the West Side from an influx of more social agencies, protested Tuesday that there are few meetings and members don't know what is going on.

"This is the first meeting since March," Ms. Burns said Tuesday. "I'm completely in the dark."

The committee was created in 1995 after Deputy County Executive James P. Keane met with neighborhood groups that complained of a saturation of social agencies. The panel, organized with the blessing of the County Legislature, has accepted new members, with the result that social agency supporters became the majority.

The panel's main project is a computerized map of neighborhoods and services available.

The Rev. Daniel Weir, director of the Erie County Commission on the Homeless, now is chairman of the panel.

Ms. Burns asked what had been accomplished in the six months since the last meeting.

Mr. Weir replied that data from a questionnaire distributed by Central Referral Service, which publishes and sells a directory of community services, was shared with Erie County planners and made available to the Erie County Department of Mental Health.

The Mental Health and Social Services departments distribute funding to many of the agencies that were targets of neighbors' complaints.

Ms. Burns asked several times to see the collected data, described by Douglas Frank, director of Central Referral Services, as a thick printout.

"It's huge, maybe too much data," said Frank. He offered to provide a section defined by specific streets. "I would like to see the whole database," Ms. Burns replied.

Patrick Henry, a Social Services housing official, questioned whether the secrecy required by social agency regulations would limit access to information by the committee.

"I think it would be awful for any citizen to have to do a Freedom of Information request," said Ms. Burns. "I repeat I would like a copy . . . I think all of the various agencies have functioned in a vacuum."

Mr. Weir said the siting committee controls information assembled by Central Referral. There has been little opportunity for the committee to discuss the program, Ms. Burns said.

Mr. Weir said the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning provided a trial computer run to show what could be accomplished. He said right now the computer program will have to be made available to county departments and possibly later to non-profit agencies seeking sites. "I think we are going to have to plod along in this direction," he said.

Ms. Burns, who asked half a dozen times during the meeting to see the data, said after the session that she is confident that Central Referral Services will make a copy available to her and other members.

"My understanding is that I will get a copy of it," she said.

The work of the project should not be under the control of one or two people for prolonged periods as it has been for six months, she said. "I want to have information, and I want to have the committee meet on a regular basis," she said. "I don't want decisions made by the people who have made decisions right along."

The next committee meeting is scheduled for 8:45 a.m. Dec. 2.

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