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Common Council weighs plans for filling vacancies

It doesn't look like Buffalo's mayor will be given the power to fill Common Council vacancies in cases where lawmakers delay making appointments.

A plan that would have had voters decide whether the mayor should be given more power fizzled Tuesday afternoon.

Most lawmakers have made it clear they oppose a resolution sponsored by Ellicott representative Darius G. Pridgen. Critics claim the new process would disrupt the system of checks and balances in City Hall by potentially giving the mayor more influence over the Council.

Pridgen conceded that he probably doesn't have enough Council support to place the issue before voters. So, he agreed to consider a compromise that would guard against the possibility of seeing a vacant Council seat remain empty for a prolonged period of time.

One concept advanced during a Legislation Committee meeting would call for the staging of a special election shortly after a Council vacancy occurs. Other lawmakers favor a plan that would give lawmakers a certain period of time -- perhaps up to 60 days -- before a special election is held where voters in the affected district would choose someone to fill an empty seat.

Pridgen has argued that if the Council were unable or unwilling to fill a vacancy for more than two months, it would disenfranchise voters in the district that has no representative.

In no recent instance has it taken the Council more than a couple of months to fill vacancies. Still, Pridgen said he believes there should be safeguards to ensure it never happens. As he stumped for his plan to give the mayor the power to fill vacancies in the event of Council foot-dragging, Pridgen urged lawmakers not to personalize the issue.

"Although this calls for the mayor to appoint if we don't act, I hope this is not looked at by anyone as 'we don't want Byron Brown to have this much power,' " Pridgen said.

Delaware Councilman Michael J. LoCurto assured Pridgen that his opposition to the plan has nothing to do with the current mayor.

"My concern is not Byron Brown. My concern is the mayor appointing a Council member [and] the separation of the branches of government," LoCurto said.

LoCurto said he supports an idea floated earlier by Joseph Golombek Jr. of North. LoCurto said the Council should remove itself from appointing someone to a vacant seat, sending the issue directly to voters in a special election.

Golombek, chairman of the Legislation Committee, said he supports LoCurto's compromise, even though there would be a cost in staging a special election.

"What price is democracy?" Golombek asked.

He added that he would like to see state legislation that would allow the city to hold nonpartisan elections in instances where vacancies occur. In such elections, candidates do not run as affiliates of any political party.

"Instead of the party bosses deciding who's going to represent each political party anyone would be able to run," Golombek said.

While Pridgen's original bill remains tabled in committee, lawmakers said they do not expect it to be approved. Pridgen said he would "fully -- 100 percent -- support" a compromise.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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