Regionalism advocate Kevin P. Gaughan on Monday called for replacing the Buffalo Common Council and the Erie County Legislature with a 10-member legislature.
Gaughan will present his proposal for merging Buffalo and Erie County governments Thursday to Create a Government for the 21st Century, an 11-member commission established by city and county leaders to recommend a new form of city-county government.
Under Gaughan's proposal, five of the legislature's members would represent districts in Buffalo plus portions of inner-ring suburbs bordering the city, and the five others would represent the outer-ring suburbs and rural areas.
Gaughan suggested creating a new elected position, called urban advocate, to serve as president of the legislature and cast tie-breaking votes. The post would be filled in a countywide election, but the person occupying the office would have to live within traditional city boundaries.
"City folks are concerned about losing their voice," Gaughan said during a meeting with The Buffalo News Editorial Board. "This office would ensure that everything that came before this legislature, if it was something of controversy, would be decided from the perspective of the urban core."
The combined government's top post of mayor or executive would be elected countywide.
University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell said she is puzzled by Gaughan's notion of an urban advocate. Voters in suburban towns and in farming areas would influence who is selected to look out for urban concerns, she said.
"You have to be in the middle of the violence, in the middle of the drugs, in order to really know what these people are experiencing," Russell said. "You can't read a book. You can't just get a little group together. You have to know hands-on."
People who have been reared in tough city neighborhoods -- whether predominantly black, Hispanic or white -- understand the problems of poverty and crime, she said.
"If you're not from there, you can't feel it," Russell said. "How can you represent the urban community?"
Gaughan said his proposal should appeal to residents regardless of where they live.
"It's not perfect. I think it's better than what we have," Gaughan said.
The proposal does not diminish city representation or voice, he said, and suburban residents would benefit from a streamlined government that would be less costly and more effective.
The consolidation would help everybody by creating a government more conducive to attracting private-sector jobs, he said.
"Do I expect the commission to fully embrace it? No," he said. "However, I do know, as a political matter, they're considering coming out with a proposal with 28 or 29 legislative districts in the new government."
Gaughan said he hopes to influence the commission, even if his proposal is not selected.
"What I'm going to emphasize with them," he said, "is that at the end of the day, it runs counter to the doctrine and spirt of regionalism to create something that's larger than what we have."