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Downsizing is being fueled by frustration

I guess it now is official. This is not an accident or an aberration. It is a movement.

First, West Seneca and Evans. Now, Orchard Park. Voters there Wednesday, by a nearly 2-1 ratio, approved a measure to downsize the Town Board from five members to three. If folks in an upscale bedroom community are this fed up with government, the minirevolution seems unstoppable.

Kevin Gaughan is not some Tinker Bell sprinkling fairy dust in people's eyes. The civic activist who is driving the downsizing train has clearly tapped into a current of communal frustration. The ire is fed by decades of decline and the failure of elected officials -- many of them molded by political machines -- to do much about it. In town after town, people are grateful for the chance to make even a marginal change.

Do not take my word for the "why" of it. I talked Wednesday night with some pro-downsizing volunteers who for weeks knocked on doors and dropped leaflets.

Jane Shumaker, a risk officer in the securities industry, was "ecstatic" that Gaughan brought the downsizing movement to Orchard Park.

"We are done with too much government. Where has it gotten us?" Shumaker said. "If a company was failing, it would retool. Why doesn't government do that?

"Some things are just common sense, yet there [are] always some [politician] who [say] that we can't do anything without 14 million addendums. People are fed up with it."

The downsizing movement gives folks a rare direct shot at a system that many feel benefits the politicians more than the people they are supposed to serve. Sue Danieu is a nurse who saw what happened in West Seneca and Evans. When the movement came to Orchard Park, she signed on and spent the last month of Saturdays knocking on doors.

"Everyone is cutting costs and doing more with less," Danieu said. "Why shouldn't that carry over to government?"

As noted in Gaughan's study (, we have far more elected officials than other, more prosperous places. People are fed up with multilayers of government and politicians who use every excuse to cement the status quo of a community in chronic decline.

"We have layers and layers of representatives," Shumaker said. "Look at state government -- we are going bankrupt with mismanagement."

Granted, cutting the number of Town Board members does not save taxpayers a ton of money. But money is just part of the point. Downsizing local boards streamlines government and sets the table for bigger things. Changes in state law next year will make it easier to dissolve villages.

"This is a start," Danieu said. "We can keep going in this direction. . . . We don't want to keep the same-old, same-old. We made this happen, and it happened fast."

Despite widespread disgust, the power to force change is largely beyond the reach of voters. County legislators talked for months about downsizing -- and did nothing. Average citizens are the bottom-feeders in an infuriatingly undemocratic state government. State legislators -- by gerrymandering districts and by buying support with handouts -- rig the system to ensure re-election, despite voter anger.

But voters have a target of opportunity in town and village boards. Through petitioning, Gaughan and his volunteers have forced local boards to put the downsizing question to voters. So far, it has been like tossing prime rib into a tiger cage.

Wednesday, it was Orchard Park. Tuesday, it is Alden. Town by town, the movement gains momentum.


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