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And then there were none? Alden to vote in November on upsizing Town Board

And then there were none? Alden to vote in November on upsizing Town Board

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Since five towns in Erie County voted to downsize their town boards in 2009, four have reversed course and returned to five members.

Alden is the last holdout, but that might change this November.

Residents filed petitions requesting a referendum be held, and the Town Board approved a resolution Tuesday placing the measure on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

The board currently has three members: the supervisor and two Council members.

This will be the third vote on the size of the Alden Town Board. The reduction of five board members to three was narrowly approved in 2009, and an attempt to add back the two council positions was soundly defeated in 2012.

This referendum got its start in May, when resident David Kocher asked the Town Board if it could put the measure on the ballot this year. The board decided in July not to do that. But in the meantime, Citizens for the Future of Alden was formed, and members collected 556 signatures on petitions to have the vote in November. The group needed 188 valid signatures, Kocher said.   

"At this level of government, I really believe your voice can be heard," he said. 

Kocher said two extra heads in the room making decisions is a good thing for the town.

"It really comes down just to more input," he said.

The candidates running for supervisor this November are both in favor of returning the board to five members.

Incumbent Supervisor Dean Adamski said the board needs more people for more ideas.

"It's always good to have more minds at the table, more minds, more ideas," Adamski said. "On a three-man board, two people can do anything they want."

The other towns that downsized from five to three members, then back to five are West Seneca, Evans, Orchard Park and Hamburg. The downsizing wave was ushered in by community activist Kevin Gaughan, who said it would save municipalities money.

Brett Sitzman, who is running against Adamski for supervisor, said he remembers Gaughan's downsizing campaign.

"I don't believe it ever panned out the way it was intended," Sitzman said, adding that the larger board provides more accountability. "I don't ever remember my taxes going down as a result of it." 

Former Supervisor Harry F. "Bud" Milligan served on the three-person board, and never liked it. He also was highway superintendent for 24 years under a five-person board.

"I think the biggest problem I see, being supervisor, the supervisor's office gets all the information, and because you can't talk to councilmen in between meetings, the supervisor becomes the man with all the power," Milligan said. "That's not good."

The issue with communications between board members is due to the Open Meetings Law, which prohibits a board majority from discussing town business in private. The majority on a three-member board is two members, making any meeting between two elected officials on the board a violation of Open Meetings Law.

If voters approve the measure in November, two Council seats will be filled Jan. 1, 2024. The new Council members would be elected in the Nov. 7, 2023, election, one to a four-year term and one to a two-year term. After that, the term for each council member will be four years. 

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