On Nov. 6, voters in Niagara County will pass judgment on a new county charter that will, among other things, create the position of county executive. Erie County voters will be asked to consider a local law amending the Erie County Charter to create the Erie County Cultural Resources Advisory Board and the Erie County Public Benefits Advisory Board. In addition, voters statewide will be asked to consider an amendment making the Constitution gender-neutral.
Niagara County charter: Yes
In no other county in the State of New York has economic reality fallen so ruinously short of potential. Other counties may have routine financial difficulties, but none has the advantages that should make Niagara County an economic powerhouse. Yet it is anything but.
There's a lot of blame to go around for Niagara's poverty, from the collapse of the county's industrial sector to labor militancy to governmental dysfunction. They are complicated problems that don't always come with easy solutions. But Niagara County voters will have a chance to do something to fix their government next month, when they decide on a new county charter. They should approve it, and emphatically.
The charter plan includes several significant changes, but none more important than creating the position of county executive. Niagara is the largest county in the state without an executive, with the result that it is a $200 million enterprise run by committee -- a squabbling, incoherent, short-sighted phalanx of committees that together comprise the County Legislature.
Establishment of an executive's position will finally vest in one individual the responsibility to view the county as a whole, to take off the blinders that the legislative-committee form of government inevitably puts on. It gives the county the chance for an effective advocate and fiscal watchdog. It creates a single position that can serve as a focal point for the electoral voice of the county's voters.
The charter change has other significant aspects, as well, including a reduction in the size of the Legislature to 15 members from 19 -- two more than Erie County has. Their terms, meanwhile, would be doubled to four years from two. Their salaries would remain unchanged.
Little on Election Day is more important to Niagara County, and indeed, to all of Western New York, than the success of this charter change. Niagara County is the heartbeat of the region's tourist economy and unless it is strong, the whole area suffers.
Municipal dysfunction in both the county and the City of Niagara Falls has been noted from here to Albany, to the point where Gov. George E. Pataki felt the need to create a new agency -- USA Niagara Development Corp. -- to administer the money he wanted to devote to fixing the Falls. Voters can send a message that they understand the problems and are determined to fix them.
Because of a quirk in state law, it will take two majority votes for the new charter to take effect. Voters in the county's towns and cities must approve the change. That means supporters have to turn out in great numbers, and encourage others to vote "yes" as well.
Gender-neutral state Constitution: Yes
The issue of changing language in the state Constitution was the brainchild of Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, a Westchester County Democrat, in 1997. She has been joined in the effort by Sen. Patricia McGee, R-Chautauqua.
The amendment involves changing about 170 masculine references in the 46-page document. It would be feminized or made gender-neutral by changing such words as "firemen" to "firefighters" and putting "her" and "she" alongside "him" and "he." The changes would be made in the 3,000 reprints of the state Constitution in January at a cost of a little more than $1,000.
Such an amendment may seem frivolous or an exercise in political correctness. Nevertheless, there is a symbolic message in the change. Voters should pass it.
Cultural resources and public benefits: Yes
A law worthy of approval by Erie County voters involves amending the Erie County Charter to create the Erie County Cultural Resources Advisory Board and the Erie County Public Benefits Advisory Board.
The law would create these two fiscal oversight boards -- one for cultural resources and one for public benefit groups -- and make them an official part of the County Charter. Under the law, groups seeking part of the $10 million in county money spent on public benefits and cultural attractions each year would be required to submit their proposals to the advisory panels first. This extra level of accountability would help ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. The county executive and the County Legislature still would have final say over appropriations.