The Erie County Charter Revision Commission completed its work this week, eliminating some of its most questionable proposals, but still recommending changes that will require careful review.
Among the ideas the commission ultimately rejected was one that would have diluted the county executive’s budgeting authority by abolishing the budget division in favor of a new office that would answer jointly to the County Executive’s Office and the Legislature. It would also have given the county comptroller and Legislature power to impose budget quotas and other cost-control measures on the county executive.
The proposal would have sharply altered the division of power between the executive and legislative branches of county government, and was proposed in too cavalier a fashion to proceed further. It was well abandoned.
Other ideas are worth considering. For example, the panel wants to establish an 18-member Board of Ethics appointed by various county leaders to replace the current six-member board, whose members are appointed exclusively by the county executive. The recommendation would also close the notorious LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited donations by companies that may have business connections to county government.
The commission also proposes abolishing any position that has been vacant for more than a year. In both the public and private sectors, such phantom jobs are used to pad budgets. Any plan to restrict their use is worth looking at.
Less obviously beneficial, but also deserving review, is a proposal to extend the terms of county legislators to four years from two. The recommendation also includes a requirement for a more “independent” redistricting process, something that could be valuable to voters, depending upon on the process to be adopted. Too often in New York, redistricting has been a political manipulation, meant to protect incumbents rather than serve the interests of democracy.
More dubiously, the proposal also make it easier for elected officials to get raises. Workers in the private sector haven’t been showered with raises in recent years. If there is a justification for giving increases more readily to the county’s elected officeholders, then someone needs to make the reason very clear to voters.
That’s because voters will have final say in November’s elections. First, the proposals must be reviewed by the County Legislature. Legislators, and County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, should be very clear to voters about what they support and why.