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Downsized town boards encounter problems, challenges

Orchard Park's Town Board had a meeting with just two members Wednesday night, and Hamburg's Town Board has decided that in certain instances, one member can sign contracts, pay bills and terminate employees.

These are some of the pains experienced by newly-downsized Town Boards as they learn to operate with three members.

"We are in uncharted territory," Hamburg Town Attorney Kenneth Farrell said.

Orchard Park Supervisor Janis Colarusso was sick and did not attend Wednesday night's board meeting, leaving Councilmen David Kaczor and Eugene Majchrzak to run the meeting, sponsor, co-sponsor and vote "yes" on every resolution.

"It just seems strange," Kaczor said. "It's just Gene and I."

There was little discussion, and every item was approved. But Kaczor said there could be possible problems ahead if there are not enough members present to pass the warrant, which pays the town's bills.

"We try to be very timely with our warrants. It's very, very important we pay our bills on time," he said.

If someone has a question about paying a bill or disagrees with it, it would have to be taken out and voted on separately, he said. If one member is missing, both members would have to vote "yes" for it to be approved.

"What if he didn't have a chance to review the warrants today? He would have to say 'I can't pass it, I didn't have a chance to review it.' One person can't pass it, so you would have to wait until your next scheduled meeting," Kaczor said.

The Town of Hamburg is trying to prevent a similar scenario.

At its reorganization meeting, the Hamburg board passed a resolution stating that, in the event two of its three members recuse themselves from voting on a measure, the remaining board member is authorized to approve any personnel action with the exception of hiring employees, approve and sign a contract for goods and services, and approve the release of payments for goods or services rendered.

A member might recuse himself and not vote on an item to avoid a conflict of interest.

Town officials said there is not a lot of guidance on how to operate a three-member board.

"Hopefully we never have to use this," Hamburg's town attorney said.

"There's a reason why it doesn't go any fewer than five except for a few towns," Orchard Park's Majchrzak said.

Potential problems aside, town officials said they prefer to hear the varied opinions that come from more board members.

"What I miss is the lack of input from other individuals," Kaczor said. "When you say something, there's usually someone who [would] chime in with either a comment or tell you're wrong, you're right, or they agree with you or whatever."

"We'll see how it works," Majchrzak said. "Nothing is forever."

Just as the public voted to downsize the boards, a public vote could add two councilmen and return the boards to five members. But if the vote occurred this year, the change would not take place until the terms of the current councilman end Dec. 31, 2013, Orchard Park Deputy Town Attorney Leonard Berkowitz said.