Kevin P. Gaughan and his volunteers who are hoping to dissolve village governments across Erie County began circulating petitions in Farnham, Sloan and Williamsville under sunny skies Wednesday.
They need to gather the signatures of at least 10 percent of registered voters in each community to trigger a ballot measure that would let residents decide whether to dissolve their village government.
Gaughan hopes to eventually put a dissolution measure on the ballot in each of the county's 16 villages but chose to start with Williamsville, Sloan and Farnham.
"We chose one of our most affluent villages, one of our most impoverished and our smallest," he said.
Gaughan believes that dissolving village governments will save taxpayers money and improve the level of citizen participation in government. His critics say he has yet to provide any answers to specific questions about how much money would be saved, what would happen to village services or many other consequences of such a change.
He says those answers will be provided before voters would decide on dissolutions. The votes likely would be scheduled for early fall.
Gaughan had planned to include Lancaster among this first group of villages but recently decided to replace it with Farnham.
At an initial meeting intended to organize volunteers in Lancaster two weeks ago, Gaughan encountered a roomful of skeptics that he believes were sent there by local politicians to discourage him. The owner of the restaurant where the meeting was held chastised Gaughan for holding the meeting there and said a number of people had threatened to boycott the place because of it.
"In the aftermath of the experience at the Lancaster restaurant, I thought about my obligation to these volunteers," Gaughan said. "With great sadness, I concluded it just wasn't right to send them out into that atmosphere of rancor."
The decision to replace Lancaster with Farnham caught officials in both villages by surprise Wednesday.
Farnham Mayor Terry L. Caber Sr. said his village's approximately 300 residents receive services that the Town of Brant does not provide. There are many questions about what would happen to those services if the village were dissolved, he said.
Caber questioned Gaughan's motives.
"I don't think this is anything other than Kevin Gaughan promoting . . . his own self-serving interest. I don't think he has the interest of the people at heart," Caber said.
"I believe he is setting himself up for a bigger position at a higher level: 'I'll show you how to do this in Erie County. Put me in a state position, and I'll show you how to do it throughout New York State.' "
Gaughan needs to collect about 23 signatures in Farnham to get the measure on the ballot. In the Village of Lancaster, he would have needed more than 600.
Lancaster Mayor William G. Cansdale Jr. said that it makes little difference to him when the dissolution movement reaches his village. "It's going to come a head eventually," he said.
In the meantime, Cansdale said, Lancaster officials will continue to look for ways to cut the cost of village government through consolidating departments and other measures.