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New advocate for dissolving village steps forward with petition drive

East Aurora Mayor Clark W. Crook's term as mayor ends April 5, and already a grass-roots movement is building to force a public vote on dissolving village government.

A week after Crook -- who first touted dissolution last fall -- lost his re-election bid by a 46-vote margin to Allan Kasprzak, a citizen petition effort is in its infancy in the hope that it leads to a referendum on village dissolution.

In an ironic twist, the petition drive is being initiated by a Town of Aurora resident, and not by Crook or anyone living in the village. In fact, Crook insisted he didn't know of the effort until told about it by a reporter this week.

"This is the first I'm hearing of this," Crook said. "Tom has been a promoter of one government long before I came along. He's much more of a leader than I am on this."

Thomas Kranz, a 65-year-old town resident with longtime family ties to East Aurora, is no longer staying quiet. Kranz says he will formally launch his dissolution campaign next week, also hitting it with ads in local newspapers. He says he purposely held off until the village election was over before initiating anything publicly.

A consolidated village and town government has been Kranz's desire for some time. He first began advocating for it on his own about five years ago during the height of village and town government bickering over what he described as "trivial issues."

On Monday, Kranz turned up the heat. He showed up at the Aurora Town Board meeting, held up an already printed petition in one hand and urged the public -- particularly village residents -- to circulate the petitions. He pledged to do what he could so that the question of dissolution is put directly to the people in a future vote.

Kranz also challenged the Town Board to start thinking about the "what if" of one government. "One reason Clark Crook lost his re-election bid was fear of change and fear of the unknown," Kranz said.

The five-member Town Board comprises three village residents and two town residents.

"We should probably start planning for whatever could happen," said Aurora Councilman James Bach. "As a village resident, I know we need to sit down and start talking."

"I'm not part of the Kevin Gaughan movement, but Gaughan is right, we have too many people representing us," Kranz said. Since 2007, Kranz has been plugging away at consolidation by posting information on his Web site -- www.oneaurora.org.

"I love East Aurora. I don't consider myself a member of just the town. I eat at the Roycroft. I eat at the doughnut shop. I consider East Aurora my community," he said. "I'm not going to be Don Quixote and tilt the windmill myself, if there's not enough support. But I'd die happy if I could see the village and town consolidated."

Kranz, who runs the Long-Acres summer equestrian riding camp for children on Mill Road, said he first had petitions printed last December and has been in touch with the state attorney general's office for months. A new law that took effect Sunday, requires just 10 percent of village residents to sign petitions -- instead of 33 percent -- to call for a referendum on dissolving a village government.

In East Aurora's case, that could mean as few as 430 signatures would be needed to force a public vote on the issue.

Aurora Councilman Jeffrey Harris favors dissolution.

"I publicly support the village choosing to dissolve, if they decide to. We have several village residents on our town board," Harris said. "The fear tactic of lost services isn't true. I would like to reassure village residents that if it took place, the lights would still be on and the sidewalks still plowed."

At the same time, Harris said he doesn't want an unfair burden shifted onto the town taxpayers if there was just one government.

Supervisor Jolene Jeffe said: "I, too, would like to be on the front end of the planning process if that's the village's direction.

"If done properly, it could benefit the community," she said. "I'm sure this is just the beginning of extensive dialogue along those lines."

Crook, who previously said if he lost, he would still work on bringing petitions forward, said Tuesday that it's not an immediate priority for him.

"It's not really on my radar right now," he said. "My focus right now is just making sure the new mayor is up to speed and ready to transition to govern."

Crook also said he believed the election's outcome had more to do with voter turnout than it did the issue of dissolution. "I don't think the election had anything to do with dissolution. Two hundred less voters voted than in the last election," he said.

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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