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EARLY EXIT IS URGED FOR 4 OUSTED BY DOWNSIZING

Four Buffalo lawmakers who will lose their jobs Jan. 1 in a Common Council downsizing are facing pressure to resign now and save the cash-starved city about $500,000.

Some East Side activists are challenging the Council's president and three at-large members to step down immediately, close their offices and eliminate 10 staff members.

"If they're as concerned about the city's future as they say they are, let them prove it," said Rosa Gibson, president of the Community Action Information Center. "They should eliminate themselves right now and prove to the city that they truly love Buffalo."

But Council President James W. Pitts dismissed Gibson's comments, contending that she speaks for a tiny constituency.

"It's not going to happen," Pitts said of the request that Council members resign seven months ahead of schedule. "The downside of this would be (diminished) representation."

Last fall, voters overwhelmingly approved a plan to shrink the size of the Council from 13 members to nine. On Jan. 1, the Council will be made up of nine district Council members, and one of them will be appointed to serve as Council president.

Opponents are continuing a court battle to try to block the downsizing. Some of them contend that the action will disenfranchise minorities, because three out of four of the Council members who will lose their seats are African-Americans. Supporters dismiss the argument, noting that all four affected Council members were elected citywide.

Gibson said she has talked with other community activists about the push to speed up the downsizing, and they support the move.

In addition to saving on salaries and fringe benefits, Gibson said, the early departures would reduce committee stipends, office expenses and automobile allowances.

She criticized some city officials for proposing this week that new strategies be explored for trying to get revenue from tax-exempt groups to help balance the budget. Some cities have been pushing hard to get voluntary payments from not-for-profit groups -- so-called payments in lieu of taxes.

Gibson said that before officials target charities and other groups, they should do more internal belt-tightening.

"Let them cut themselves, and let them start by downsizing the Council right now," Gibson said. "People would have a party on the steps of City Hall if they agreed to leave early."

But not all taxpayers concur. John Belcher, a Riley Street resident who has been critical of city spending policies, does not think that it is fair to pressure Pitts, Rosemarie LoTempio, Charley H. Fisher III and Beverly A. Gray to cut their terms short. He said the departures would also mean sudden unemployment for some aides.

"They have families to support, too. We can't just throw them to the wolves," he said.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, who played a key role in lining up Council votes to put the downsizing on the ballot, made it clear Thursday that he will not join the push to speed up the departure schedule.

"They won elections and should finish their terms," he said. "But if any of them want to resign, that's up to them."

Masiello also stressed that the Council should make sure that the new budget that lawmakers plan to adopt on or before June 5 includes funding for the four offices only through Jan. 1, not for the entire fiscal year.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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