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Four of the city's former chief operating officers split down the middle Wednesday on what form of government would serve the city best.

Former City Managers Morton H. Abramowitz and Harvey N. Albond told the City Charter Review Commission that they favored returning to the city manager form. Former City Manager Nicholas E. Marchelos and former City Administrator Anthony J. Restaino recommended staying with the current mayor-administrator-Council form.

Restaino and Marchelos, testifying separately, both said the current form of government can work with some modifications and clarifications to the charter. Neither saw the need for wholesale changes. Restaino said the current charter has too many gray areas that need to be better defined.

"Unfortunately the charter is oftentimes used by either branch of government as their own weapon to justify whatever their particular agenda may be," Restaino said.

But, he said, the biggest root problem is the lack of communication between the branches of government.

Restaino, who served under Mayor James C. Galie from 1996 to 1999, said that there is nothing in the charter that mandates communication and that the current charter actually prevents it. He recommended that the City Council should be mandated to have working committees dedicated to the major areas of government, such as budget and finance, public safety, public works and parks, and utilities. He said that the committees should be mandated to meet once a month and that the city administrator and appropriate department heads should be required to attend.

Restaino, who is Niagara County social services commissioner and former budget director, said that the committees should be made up of a majority of the Council and that the meetings should be open to the public.

Restaino believes the routine exchange of information would make the budget process flow more smoothly. If the two branches are communicating all year, the Council should know what the administration is doing and proposing and the administration should know what the Council's direction and concerns are, he said.

He said the budget process could be shortened to one month and agreed after a question from commission member Theodore P. Skotnicki that the budget process should be moved up so it is completed before the November elections.

Abramowitz, who is a former attorney for the county, which uses a committee form of government, said that it can work but that it does not always work very well. While he prefers the city manager form, he said, he is not opposed to a truly strong mayor form as long as the office of the mayor is strengthened.

Abramowitz and Albond said the current form of government really is a hybrid of the city manager form except that the mayor, not a majority of the Council, appoints the manager, who is now called the city administrator. If the commission chooses to return to the city manager form, both said it should require that while a manager could be hired by a simple majority of the Council, a supermajority should be required if the manager is to be fired.

Both also said there is no gridlock in the city manager form of government because if the manager is not in sync with the majority of the Council, he does not have the job.

Abramowitz, who served as manager from 1970 to 1975, also said the charter should require the city manager to have the minimum qualifications of a degree in public administration and prior experience as a city manager. He also said safeguards are needed to make it virtually impossible for the Council to amend the charter.

Albond, who was city manager from 1978 to 1980 and in 1985-86, said he opposes electing Council members by district because he believes that it would lead to vote-trading and other "gamesmanship."

Marchelos said the commission should not be under the illusion that a new charter would lead to a better government.

"You can't change the nature of a community or the outcomes of elections by changing the charter. Elections decide the kind of government we have, not documents," said Marchelos, who served in 1984-85. "You get good government and bad government depending on who is elected."


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