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Stirring up a cozy town? Not anymore!

It's a familiar tale.

Person has provocative ideas. Person attains position of authority in the community. More people begin paying attention to person. Person says or does something that makes people turn against person.

Call the roll: Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra (red and green budgeting). Former Amherst Supervisor Satish Mohan (refusing to compromise). Civic activist Kevin Gaughan (eliminating village government).

You can add the name Joseph Weiss to the list of people for whom that scenario rings true. Weiss, a member of the Clarence Town Board for the last eight years and the target of a well-organized anti-Weiss campaign, was thumped in primary voting last week. Three days later, he announced his resignation, effective next week.

Weiss made a lot of enemies this year, but he was undone because he ignored two political maxims:

(1) Don't portray yourself as an agent of change in a thriving, affluent community whose biggest problem seems to be what to do about all the houses being built for the people who want to move there.

(2) Never pick a fight with volunteer fire companies.

He might have been able to overcome the first one. But volunteer fire companies are the local version of Social Security: Everyone thinks the system should be changed, but if you try to do the changing, you understand why firefighters are called emergency responders.

Weiss believes that Clarence has too many fire departments and could save money by consolidating them. He has a point. And we need to stop fearing consolidation, whether it's municipalities or school districts or fire departments. But he had to know that hammering away at the departments rather than quietly exploring the idea would make him a target for a lot of people and a lot of their friends who were happy to post "Weiss Must Go" signs and go to the voting booth and vote for his opponents.

There also was the little matter that Clarence volunteer fire companies were the first on the scene when Flight 3407 fell from the sky in 2009, and this might not have been the best time to suggest getting rid of some of them.

The shame of it is, Weiss is exactly the kind of person we should want as an elected official -- someone who fights for the taxpayers and cares about his community and is not the least bit concerned with being re-elected. He was therefore perfectly happy to say whatever was on his mind, whether it was outlandish or simply honest.

When School Superintendent Thomas Coseo announced he was retiring, Weiss said he would do the job because "All you need is a cup of coffee, a phone and a fax machine when you've got an exhaustive, bloated administration like this to work with."

He liked Gaughan's campaign to downsize town boards, because "80 percent of what we do is theater."

And when Clarence was considering setting up a single, townwide garbage district, Weiss said that it had to happen to reduce the number of garbage trucks on town roads.

"With the cost of blacktop, the wear and tear on the roads, pollution, global warming, rising costs -- the overall good to the community is overwhelming," he said.

Global warming? What other local official around here is talking about global warming?

Clarence voters could have decided to keep him around, if for no other reason than to allow him to play the devil's advocate to keep everyone else honest.

But the people have spoken. Weiss has mostly himself to blame, but Clarence voters still had to decide they didn't want to buy the changes he was selling.

It's a familiar tale indeed.


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