The time for change is now. We can take a step toward better government by voting "yes" for the Niagara County Charter in the general election on Nov. 6. Taking advantage of this tremendous opportunity will help to fix some of our current problems and also lay the foundation for economic development and the creation of jobs. Serving as the chairman for the Niagara County Charter Commission, I can share with you that the process of writing the charter that began over a year ago has been both difficult and rewarding.
Now the time has come for the people of Niagara County to make a crucial decision about the kind of government we want. Some may choose to keep the status quo, with its antiquated and parochial committee system that constantly stumbles over itself. Niagara County has not prospered over the last several decades, and at the root of our problems there is this outdated style of government. The protectors of the status quo are the defenders of decline. We should choose to move forward by supporting the charter and reforming the way we conduct the business of government.
The campaign for votes on the county charter, both "for" and "against," is under way. Far too often the real issues in political contests are lost amidst slogans, half-truths and propaganda. There will be many things said and written concerning the charter, some more accurate than others. The good citizens of Niagara County will have to make their informed choice. The most reliable source of information is, without doubt, directly from the charter itself. Judge for yourself as you read the following Introduction to Proposed Charter:
"The objective of the proposed charter is to establish an executive branch headed by an independently elected county executive, to keep other elective positions unchanged, to avoid any impairment of the rights and powers of the city, town and village governments, and to simplify somewhat the administrative structure of county government so as to facilitate more efficient use of resources, coordination of programs and accountability of program managers.
"As the head of the executive branch, directly responsible to the voters for the administration of county government, the county executive is empowered to appoint and supervise the heads of all departments not headed by independently elected or selected officers (e.g., district attorney, sheriff, county clerk, treasurer, coroners, auditor, Board of Elections) to prepare the county budget for consideration and action by the County Legislature, and to lead the county's economic development planning. The County Legislature continues to be the chief policy-making agency of county government. Like the president of the United States and the governor of the State of New York, the county executive is empowered to veto local laws and changes in appropriations for the expenditure of county funds passed by the County Legislature, but the Legislature can override by a two-thirds vote. The office of the county executive includes a Division of Management and Budget and a Division of Planning to assist the executive in critical policy-shaping functions. A strategic planning, review and evaluation process is established to strengthen the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch. To facilitate coordination of related programs and to reduce the number of managers reporting directly to the county executive, several groups of functions are consolidated into the departments of Human Services, Central Services and Parks and Public Works.
"The proposed charter expressly provides that it shall not impair the powers of the city, town and village governments and that it shall not affect the status of the county water and sewer districts.
"The county treasurer is retained as the elected chief fiscal officer of the county. As an independent fiscal watchdog, the auditor continues to be appointed by the Legislature. To provide for the independent and unbiased performance audits of the efficiency and effectiveness of county services, the auditor is empowered to engage management consulting firms within the limits of budgetary appropriations.
"The proposed charter consolidates the departments of Parks and Public Works so as to facilitate the efficient use of heavy equipment, personnel and supervisors to meet varying seasonal needs without restriction by departmental lines.
"The proposed charter consolidates into a single Department of Human Services the county's social services, youth services, senior citizens' services, veterans' services and rural transportation program. This will facilitate coordination of human service programs and help to avoid an excessive number of managers reporting directly to the county executive."
The charter, if approved by the voters, would also reduce the number of county legislators from 19 to 15. Passage of the charter would also lengthen the term of office for the legislator's from two years to four.
Now is the time to reform Niagara County government. Together we can make a difference. Vote "yes" for the charter on Nov. 6.
SAMUEL P. GRANIERI