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CONSULTANT'S REPORT OPPOSES CHANGE IN COUNCIL'S SIZE

Buffalo's Common Council should be left intact with its current 13-member makeup, according to a consultant's report handed Thursday to the city Charter Revision Commission.

The report, which focuses on the most controversial issue facing the commission, also urges that the "burden of proof" be shifted to those who argue that a smaller Buffalo needs a smaller Council.

According to Buffalo State College political scientist Jon J. Lines, who compiled the report, the key question is whether having fewer lawmakers -- and saving $1 million to $2 million -- would justify the potential loss of representation for some city groups.

"I would be very hesitant to reduce the size or the basic composition of the Common Council . . . I lean toward retaining the current structure and size . . . At a minimum, I would argue that the advocates for reducing the size . . . should be expected to bear the burden of proof," the report concludes.

Commissioners have already heard opinions ranging from taxpayers who want to cut lawmakers' ranks to save money, to Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve, D-Buffalo, who warned that changing the Council size would be considered a racist move.

Summing up the testimony, many critics appear to advocate downsizing as an economy move, even though the savings would represent a tiny fraction of Buffalo's budget, according to Lines.

"There's nothing wrong with an economy argument, but it has to be balanced," he said after the meeting. "Saving money is a good thing, but you have to balance that against the potential loss of representation for groups -- ethnic groups, racial groups, income groups . . . And that, to me, is certainly as important a question as saving some money."

Lines, who serves as an unpaid consultant to the Charter Commission, compiled the 29-page report by studying testimony before the commission and academic research on municipal governments.

Commission members accepted the report and voted to hold a special meeting Wednesday to discuss it, beginning at 4 p.m. in Room 1417 of City Hall.

Commissioners also have set a Feb. 4 deadline to issue their tentative proposals regarding the size of the Council, leading up to final recommendations in the summer.

Proposed changes to Buffalo's 70-year-old City Charter are then scheduled to be submitted to the voters in the fall.

According to commission Chairman James Magavern, charter commissioners have raised a variety of questions regarding Lines' findings, and most continue to have open minds about whether to cut Council seats.

However, some wonder whether lawmakers should continue serving as ombudsmen, a traditional role in which they field complaint calls from district residents regarding city services or run interference for taxpayers who deal with city government.

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