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Opposition voiced on charter issues

City voters should be wary of a few of the proposed changes to the City Charter that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, two former members of the committee that drafted the changes say.

Bill L. Paton and Paul B. Wojtaszek said they believe voters should think twice before pulling the lever for altering two city positions.

Even though supporters argue the moves will save taxpayer money and improve efficiency, critics aren't so sure.

"Don't change just for the sake of change," said Wojtaszek.

Paton and Wojtaszek take issue with the proposals to:

* Turn the city attorney, now a elected position, into a mayoral appointee.

* Combine the city treasurer and city clerk into one elected position.

Removing residents' ability to choose the city attorney essentially deprives them of their right to vote, said Paton, a veteran who is also chairman of the city's Republican Committee.

Keeping the city attorney as an elected job also would prevent a concentration of power in the executive branch, which Wojtaszek said would encourage partisan politics.

"It puts somebody in office [who] can stand up to a chief executive," said Wojtaszek, who since his resignation from the commission has become a Republican county legislator.

In early September, Randy C. Fahs, secretary of the Charter Review Committee, told The Buffalo News that the panel recommended changing the city attorney's position because "the exercise of the legal function is essentially an executive function."

Acknowledging the issue can be argued from both sides, Fahs said at the time he believed the change would enhance efficiency in government.

The cities of North Tonawanda and Tonawanda are believed to be the only two in the state to have elected city attorneys, according to the charter committee.

The commission also called for combining the city clerk and city treasurer's offices to save money.

But Paton and Wojtaszek argue that the committee never spoke with those holding the positions about how a combined office would operate.

Because of the nature of the two offices, combining them might actually create inefficiency, Wojtaszek said.

Paton and Wojtaszek said they resigned from the Charter Review Committee in June 2007 because the other members never really listened to their ideas. They said they were part of a Republican minority on a board made up mostly of Democrats, including many members or former members of the city Democratic Committee.

The proposed charter amendments will appear on the ballot as five individual questions that can be independently approved or turned down.

The other three proposals would grant attorney's fees to anyone who sues to enforce the charter, prohibit the city attorney from participating in litigation between elected officers in the city and correct a typo in the charter by allowing the mayor to appoint the city accountant.


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