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Smaller board debated in Alden

The arguments over downsizing were familiar Monday night in Alden -- either a first step to stemming the decline of Western New York, or a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn't fit in Alden.

Kevin Gaughan, the downsizing guru who got the measure on the ballot in Alden and four other towns, joined Eric Chaffee and Marti Wohlgemuth, two supporters from Alden, in debating the issue for about two hours with Town Assessor William P. Sivecz, former Supervisor Richard A. Savage and Michael Cole, a former supervisor and assemblyman.

Residents will vote next Tuesday on reducing the Town Board to three from five members. Balloting will be conducted from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Alden Town Hall, 3311 Wende Road. If approved, the Town Board seats held by Arlene Cooke and Ronald Snyder would be eliminated Jan. 1, 2012.

"We, the people, have rallied to force this," Chaffee said, referring to the collection of signatures on petitions forcing the referendum. "We are considering the future location of our families."

"We have an opportunity to decide for ourselves how large our Town Board can be," Wohlgemuth added.

She said the money saved by eliminating two board seats would be welcome in the pockets of many town residents.

Cole agreed that people have lost faith in government, with the state and federal levels getting more inept and less civil all the time.

"This proposal does nothing to solve those problems," he said. "This proposal does nothing to eliminate government. If it did, I might be sitting on the other side."

It would, he said, greatly limit the diversity of opinions on the Town Board.

"Downsizers take an approach that one size fits all," Sivecz said. "Lop off two elected officials and all problems in the world will be solved."

Gaughan said town boards are the public sector equivalent of a corporate board of directors and should set policy, not do work that can be done by employees. By changing local government first, officials will be vested with the moral authority to demand change by the state, he said.

Those arguing against the measure noted that with only 11 full-time employees, Alden Town Board members do get in the trenches -- literally -- to do the work that in some larger towns is done by department heads.

With Supervisor Ronald Smith moderating, the panel exchanged ideas and responded to comments and some questions from audience members.

"This isn't about what I think. You should decide," Gaughan said. "Can we do this more efficiently, more effectively and with more citizen voice?"

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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