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Date for downsizing vote disputed

Downsizers are protesting in Hamburg, where no vote will be held during the Nov. 3 general election on reducing the Town Board.

"For the Hamburg board not to let voters make this decision on Election Day is deeply wrong," said Kevin Gaughan, who filed petitions forcing the vote. "I'm endlessly surprised and disappointed by the extent to which politicians will go to deny people a voice."

The Town Board, which has not set a date for the referendum, missed Monday's deadline at the Erie County Board of Elections to get the referendum on the November ballot.

Gaughan filed petitions Sept. 3 asking for a special election to reduce the size of the Hamburg Town Board to three from five members. State law requires the Town Board to schedule the election.

But Town Attorney Kenneth J. Farrell said the petitions asked for a "special town election," which he said is different from the Nov. 3 general election.

"The statute has specific requirements. Because of the way Mr. Gaughan worded his petition, it falls under a special election," Farrell said.

Erie County Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr said he believes the town interpreted the law correctly.

"There is a distinction between a special election and a general election," he said.

Patricia Michalek, the Democratic candidate for supervisor and a supporter of downsizing, criticized the leadership of Supervisor Steven J. Walters, a Republican who is seeking re-election.

"Mr. Walters is dragging his feet on this," Michalek said. "Now we're going to have to spend more money. Why can't we just have the vote, and let the people speak for what they want?"

Walters maintained the town is bound to follow election law and said if Michalek would ignore state law, it "speaks volumes of her as a leader."

Walters said Gaughan has not responded to a letter asking him to contact the town to set up an informational meeting on downsizing.

"Our hope was to be able to confer with Mr. Gaughan prior to setting any dates, and that's why we reached out to Kevin," Walters said.

Gaughan said he looks forward to a public forum but has not called the supervisor because he has been busy this month with downsizing votes in Orchard Park and Alden.

"The Hamburg Town Board doesn't need me to comply with the law and set a date," he said. "We can't decide when to have the public forum until we know when the vote is."

The town attorney also said his reading of state law does not require the special election to be conducted during a 15-day window, but anytime at least 60 days after petitions are filed. Gaughan disagreed, saying the law is clear, and the election must be conducted in November, 60 to 75 days after the petitions were filed.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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