Who's on first?
It probably seemed logical to the City Charter Review Commission to start at the beginning.
Well, actually it skipped Article I of the charter, which mainly outlines the city's boundaries and some other legal niceties. And, it decided it was far too early in its deliberations to deal with Article II - the form of government. So it decided to start its review with Article III - the City Council and legislative branch.
Unwittingly, that offended former Niagara Falls Mayor Jacob A. Palillo, who isn't one to take a perceived insult sitting down. Palillo on Wednesday, for the second time in a month, chided the commission because, in his view, he was "the last to be called" to give his views on the city's form of government and governing document. Palillo took special exception because a couple of members of the media appeared before him.
This time, commission members set him straight. He wasn't the last to be called, said Chairman Sean Q. Kelly. In fact, Palillo was the first to testify Wednesday as the commission moved to Article IV - the mayor and executive branch. There was no political motivation to the order in which people were asked to come, assured Kimberly Leoncavallo, a commission member.
"You're not at the end of the process. In fact, you're pretty much at the beginning of the process," Kelly said, adding that most of those who testified so far on the makeup and powers of the city government wanted to get rid of the mayor. "Not surprisingly, you want to get rid of the Council."
At that point, Palillo, who already had spoken for an hour and told the commission it would take him at least several hours to give members a complete rundown on how the charter could be improved, asked the next speaker, former Mayor James C. Galie, for a little of his time.
"You can come back," Kelly assured Palillo. "We're not going to get tired of hearing from you. Well, we might. But we can't get tired of hearing from you."
Some fightin' words
. . . Palillo wrapped it up a few minutes later after making clear his opposition to the move to a five-member Council that will occur in January. Relating that to the old council-manager form of government, when three Council members could, and often did, fire city managers, Palillo said:
"Three people are going to run this city. Isn't that a scary thought?"
"If you want to follow me on that, Jim, go ahead," he told Galie.
"I've been in a few fights myself," said the 30-year veteran cop, not intimidated.
Man of the streets
. . . Galie, who has been rumored to be considering another run to regain the office he surrendered to Mayor Irene J. Elia less than two years ago, showed no sign of it.
"I'm enjoying myself. I have no headaches. I travel a little," he said.
Still, he said he hasn't lost his concern about the city's future:
"I have three kids who work in the Police Department. So I have a lot at stake. I want to see the city move forward."
Finally, as he left, Galie offered any help he could give the commission.
"If you need me, you know where to find me. I'll be walking Pine Avenue," he said in reference to his former beat where he was a familiar site on his daily walks in full dress uniform.
My way or the highway
The County's Legislature's Human Resources Committee has decided that when it comes to evaluating the performance of department head Bruce R. Fenwick, committee Chairman Malcolm A. Needler, R-North Tonawanda, should do it with its input instead of having every member fill out his own evaluation.
Needler said he thought it would be better if each legislator gave his own opinion in full.
"We're outvoting you, Mal," announced Legislator Robert L. Seger, D-North Tonawanda.
"Outvote me or not, we're still doing it my way," retorted Needler, asserting a chairman's prerogative.
But Needler said he wanted to set up a process that would stand the test of time. "I'm only going to be here for a finite period of time," he said.
"Are you leaving in December?" volleyed Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls.
"We'll ask the voters about that," replied Needler. "Or I might win the lottery."
Tuning out terrorism
The annual Kidz 'n' Kites family kite-flying event in Niagara Reservoir Park proved to be a successful diversion from tragic events last weekend, with more than 500 children and their families participating.
Sharon M. Sloma, deputy commissioner of the Niagara County Department of Social Services, thanked families for leaving their television sets for a few hours to bring their children to the event. Free kites were given out, as were T-shirts and a free lunch.
Niagara County Legislator Dennis Virtuouso was in attendance, and on the campaign trail. He was out on the field, dressed in a suit and tie, working hard with a young boy to get their kite up into the air. It gives a new meaning to telling your elected officials to "go fly a kite."
Meanwhile, the sky overhead, while full of paper kites, was overshadowed by patrolling aircraft from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base. The planes circled continuously throughout the day.
Cut back by hook or crook
The budget proposed for the Niagara County public defender's office is higher this year, which is precisely what legislators scrambling to avoid a big property tax increase did not want to hear.
Legislator John W. Cole III, D-Lockport, came up with an idea to solve the problem through some interdepartmental cooperation.
At a meeting of the Legislature's Public Safety Committee, Cole turned to District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III and asked, "Is it reasonable to ask you to indict fewer indigent people to help the public defender's budget?"
Murphy would not commit to that plan.
Landlord bares his clause
David L. Ulrich, the county's new landlord, was wrapping up negotiations with the County Legislature Finance Committee on a lease of the Golden Triangle Building to house seven county departments.
Ulrich said he had made many concessions. He had agreed, for example, to drop an "acceleration clause" he had wanted.
Under its terms, if the county missed a lease payment, Ulrich could have demanded the immediate payment of all remaining charges for the life of the lease on pain of evicting the county offices.
"Oh, ye of little faith," scolded Budget Director Sharon Sacco.
"Dave, get that back in there," advised Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston.
Bitter pill for taxpayers
Another county budget blow:
The county is required to provide prescription drugs to jail inmates. The price of doing that is estimated to rise $60,000 next year above this year's budgeted cost of $180,000.
"We use the cheapest you can get," Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein assured the County Legislature's Public Safety Committee.
The good news is that the drugs can be covered by the private insurance of the inmates. The bad news is that criminals do not tend to have health insurance.
Average daily County Jail population: 376.
Number of current inmates with their own health insurance, according to Margo S. Hall, the Sheriff's Department's administrative assistant: 1.