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Miller-Williams heads panel after Democrats refuse

The Erie County Legislature chairwoman, Barbara Miller-Williams, wanted the chairwoman she deposed to head one of the Legislature's most important committees this year.

Lynn M. Marinelli refused, and the Finance and Management Committee went dormant for 10 weeks.

By this week, Miller-Williams, D-Buffalo, couldn't take it anymore. So on Tuesday she gaveled the Finance and Management Committee into session for the first time in 2010.

The Legislature's rules allow Miller-Williams to vote on any committee and to head it.

"I'm going to step in and chair the Finance and Management Committee, so there is no disruption of the people's business," she declared as she began the meeting.

Miller-Williams then asked the committee's vice chairwoman, Maria R. Whyte, if she would "like to pick up and chair the panel today?"

"No," Whyte responded politely.

Both Whyte, D-Buffalo, and Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda, reason that Miller-Williams should turn to the coalition that selected her as chairwoman when she names the leaders of the legislative committees.

Whyte and Marinelli say they do not necessarily share the values of the so-called "reform coalition" -- six lawmakers from the Republican bloc loyal to County Executive Chris Collins, teaming with three of the Legislature's nine Democrats, Miller-Williams among them.

Miller-Williams lines up with a wing of the county Democratic Party shaped by Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, with help from former county Democratic Party Chairman G. Steven Pigeon.

Immediately after Miller-Williams was confirmed as chairwoman back in January, she fired several legislative aides whom Marinelli had hired in previous years and replaced them with workers acceptable to Brown and Pigeon.

All of the Democrats willing to head a committee already do so, and Miller-Williams will not buck tradition by naming a Republican as a committee chairman. Though the Republicans say they are willing to lead committees, they are the Legislature's minority party.

Whyte and Marinelli agree to serve as ordinary members of any committee, and they took their seats on the Finance and Management Committee on Tuesday. The panel ended up approving a statement, pushed by Marinelli, that the Collins administration should hurry along the process by which Erie County seeks state permission to keep its sales tax rate at 8.75 percent for another two years, starting Dec. 1.

The members approved some technical corrections to the tax rolls and peppered Budget Director Gregory G. Gach with questions about his outlook for this year and years ahead.

"It's entirely appropriate that Chairwoman Miller-Williams chairs the Finance and Management Committee to address the issues that face county government," Marinelli said later. "And I'm pleased to serve as a member of the Finance and Management Committee."

Afterward, Miller-Williams called the Legislature's Government Affairs Committee to order. Miller-Williams had once asked Whyte to lead the Government Affairs Committee, and Whyte refused. So that panel had also remained dormant until Tuesday, when Miller-Williams presided over its first meeting of the year.


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