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Q&A: KEVIN GAUGHAN ON REGIONALISM

Regionalism advocate Kevin Gaughan founded the Buffalo Conversation series aimed at connecting citizens with decision-makers. The discussions have revolved around models of regionalism. An attorney, Gaughan has been at the forefront of the debate here about regionalism, and has formulated a plan to merge city and county governments.

Q: You have stated that the plan being developed by the 11-member commission examining a city-county merger, called "Create a Government for the 21st Century," is "a strong start that needs more oomph." What do you mean by that?

A: The commission's draft plan is burdened by two millstones: a legislature that includes more politicians than we have today; and an urban-suburban ratio of legislators that slights Buffalo. That would affirm the government-heavy, suburban age that's ending, rather than anticipate a nimble, urban era rapidly approaching. If we're going to merge governments, and we must, let's invent the most innovative, forward-looking and fair system ever.

Q: What's the best way to merge the city and county governments?

A: Giving Western New Yorkers an entity that serves their desire to embrace the future and all its potential. There's no place like us, and no sense of place to match us. We deserve a government equal to that stature. My idea is to replace the Common Council and County Legislature with a 10-member body: five representing Buffalo and portions of its inner-ring suburbs; and five from the built-up and rural suburbs. That would be small enough to ensure efficiency and large enough to sustain citizen voice.

Q: You have criticized what some call the county executive's top-down approach to regionalism. What is your specific objection?

A: We live in an age of inclusive governance, in which the path to wise policy is through wide consensus. That's achieved only by a decision-making process that's transparent, one that every citizen feels they can see, touch and affect. Any lesser process gives rise to litigation, delay and no change. Q: What is your take on the regionalism movement here and how far it has progressed?

A: Regionalism is just a fancy word for aspiring to something larger than yourself. It addresses governance, economic and spiritual aspects of humanity. Its government aim is to reduce overlapping functions; its economic intent, to nurture investment. And its spiritual end is to remind us that we are all bound by a common fate and purpose. Regionalism's progress has been steady. Next year's merger referendum will be a tipping point, followed by rapid change.

Q: Is regionalization possible in one giant step, or is it best accomplished through smaller and gradual consolidations?

A: We can do it either way. And if we're brave and innovative enough, both. Consolidating government is only the first step toward creating a sustainable, prosperous future. Endless bridge debates, a static waterfront and shameful inner-city conditions are all yesterday. Effective government is tomorrow. And armed with one, we can attack the real challenges with which we are faced.

Q: You have been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate in 2005. Do you plan to run?

A: Citizens, as Benjamin Franklin said, hold our nation's highest office. And civic service is an essential component of healthy communities. I've tried to contribute to that very American tradition. And I hope perhaps to have the opportunity to serve in government.