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Collins in charge

Chris Collins has things pretty much under control these days. The Republican county executive is gearing up to run for a second term, has gazillions in donations to fund the campaign and even more gazillions in his bank account should he need it.

In fact, things are going so well for Collins that he's about to morph into the most powerful executive in Erie County history following last fall's vote to downsize the Erie County Legislature.

Stephen Paskey, an attorney and lecturer at the University at Buffalo Law School, has analyzed how downsizing will now fortify the county executive's veto power. He says it all boils down to "simple math."

"Under the County Charter, a vote by two-thirds of the Legislature is required to override a veto," Paskey writes. "Fifteen can be evenly divided by three. With a 15-member Legislature, exactly 10 votes are required.

"By contrast, 11 cannot be evenly divided by three: two-thirds of eleven is 7.33," he continues. "With an 11-member Legislature, a vote by seven members will not be enough to override a veto. Instead, approval by eight of the 11 legislators will be needed. That amounts to 72.73 percent of the Legislature, a number that is nearly equal to three-quarters and substantially higher than two-thirds."

Seven votes, he argues, is still less than two-thirds. Paskey thinks Erie County voters got hoodwinked.

"The downsizing proposal was presented to voters as a law that would reduce the size of the Legislature, and nothing more," he says. "It was not presented as a law that will increase the power of the county executive at the Legislature's expense, but that is precisely what will happen."

Paskey believes the whole concept could be unconstitutional, since it changes the balance of power in a way that contradicts the County Charter.

So we posed this conundrum to Peter Galie, the Canisius College political science professor and resident guru in all things constitutional. What say you, O Champion of the Charter?

Galie does not dispute the math. He does question if a court would address the situation.

"The charter writers may have preferred that to a Legislature that's too large," he said. "These are not sufficient grounds for the courts to step in and say it's a violation of the charter. But the de facto consequences are unquestionable and they are real.

"It's certainly worth writing an article about," he added.

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*Appointments by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are not exactly cascading out of his new administration. But there is a reason for the slow pace as the new governor and his staff evaluate what departments will stay, which will go, and which could be consolidated. But the new governor's staff says it will all sort itself out.

"We are restructuring, redesigning and consolidating various agencies," said Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto, "and that must obviously be done before we fill any positions because you can't fill a position that doesn't exist."

*Depew's Donna Luh, vice chairwoman of the Thruway Authority who is mounting a mini-campaign to become new chairman, may be running into obstacles.

Albany sources close to the situation say the new administration may seek someone with more experience in engineering, operations and capital -- especially with major projects like reconstruction of the Tappan Zee Bridge on the drawing board. Some names mentioned include Nancy Carey, daughter of former Gov. Hugh Carey and a former board member; John Shafer, a former executive director of the Thruway Authority; and Leonard DePrima, former Buffalo division engineer and later deputy executive director of the authority.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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