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ACCOUNTABILITY KEY IN COUNCIL-MANAGER IDEA

Increased accountability would be one of the advantages of adopting a council-manager form of government in the City of Buffalo, advocates say.

A professional administrator would take over responsibilities held by the mayor and would answer to the Common Council like a chief executive officer answers to stockholders.

Accountability is key, residents agreed Monday during a public hearing of the Council's Legislation Committee. But they want it from those already in office.

About two dozen people attended the hearing, which was called in response to a resolution by South Council Member James D. Griffin that the council-manager concept be researched for the city.

Griffin, the city's only four-term mayor, drew Monday on the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But by all means, try something."

Council-manager governments are in use by 58 percent of U.S. cities with populations of more than 100,000. Its benefits have been lauded by North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. and City Human Resources Commissioner Leonard A. Matarese.

The city managers of Canandaigua and Elmira -- the latter, Samuel A. Iraci Jr., who was deputy mayor for seven years when Griffin was mayor -- also spoke positively about the concept Monday.

Why does Stephen Cole, Canandaigua's city manager, think that it is the best form of government?

"In a word, the answer is 'performance,' " he said. "It's just like the private sector. You have to perform; results matter."

But several residents and other Council members remain unconvinced. Even more, some members of the African-American community regard it as an effort to further reduce minority representation in city government.

"I really don't understand what's being proposed," said resident Bryon McIntyre. "A lot of people in my community feel as though . . . there's a possibility of us having an African (-American) mayor in Buffalo and now the mayor's job is going to be eliminated."

"People in the city are not as stupid as you think we are," said resident Willie Stewart, echoing McIntyre's concerns about eliminating the mayor's job when an African-American candidate might get elected.

Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson talked about his concerns.

"I think that what we're looking at is adding another level of bureaucracy," he said -- with a management job that could cost up to $250,000 a year.

"I just believe right now we have people in place. . . . Why not have those people be accountable?" Thompson said.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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