MAYVILLE - The reapportionment plan before the County Legislature failed in a 16 to 8 vote Wednesday night.
The allegedly flawed and illegal proposal saw bipartisan opposition at the special meeting and public hearing, with five Republicans joining the legislature's 10 Democrats and sole Independence Party member.
As a result of the plan's defeat, downsizing and redistricting will not be able to happen now in time for this November's elections. The County Legislature will instead remain a 25-member body through 2013.
In addition to the 10 Democrats on the County Legislature, the reapportionment plan was opposed by Tami Downey, R-Kiantone; Bob Duff, R-Sheridan; Jay Gould, R-Ashville; Jerry Park, R-Forestville; John Runkle, R-Stockton, and Scot Stutzman, I-Jamestown.
The vote came after a half-hour of public comment and close to an hour-and-a-half of discussion and debate between legislators. The eight legislators who supported the reapportionment proposal were Dick Babbage, R-Bemus Point; Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry; George Borrello, R-Irving; Assistant Majority Leader David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; Doug Richmond, R-Westfield; Bob Stewart, R-Ellington; Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott, and Legislature Chairman Fred Croscut, R-Sherman. Fredonia Republican Bob Scudder was absent from the meeting.
"That settles that," Croscut said immediately after the vote.
Dr. Rudy Mueller, D-Lakewood, discusses the county’s redistricting plan during the Chautauqua County Legislature’s meeting Wednesday as several members of the public look on.
P-J?photo by Nicholas Dean
Later asked what will happen now that the proposal has been defeated, Croscut said that reapportionment work will continue - though there are more pressing matters which legislators should be considering.
"I certainly, as chairman, am going to continue to work on the reapportionment," Croscut said.
"But I think the lesson learned tonight is that we obviously will need to get some kind of bipartisan support,'' Croscut said. "What I'm hearing tonight is that we need to now work on a plan for the 2013 election. We'll continue to work on it and we'll see where it goes. We're not going to give up on this, but now I think we're at ease with trying to do something for this fall. And I would like to take a little breather from this redistricting thing. It's a certain thing that we tried to accomplish and we're not going to get it accomplished, but we have an $18 million budget deficit that we need to address. So, sure we're going to keep working on it. That's what will happen. We will move on."
In the public comment portion of the meeting which preceded the legislature's discussion and vote, two League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County representatives took to the microphone to chide legislators.
"I am so disappointed in the way my representatives have agreed to this closed-door type of politics," Marcia Merrins said. "I am appalled at how this closed process excluded your constituents from your process. I am amused that the only thing missing from your process was the cigar smoke."
Minda Rae Amiran, also of the local League of Women Voters, characterized the legislature's recent reapportionment process as a prize fight.
"It has been reapportionment of the legislature by the legislature and for the legislature," Amiran said. "The public has not been consulted in any significant way. Instead, the process has been conducted along the lines of a prize fight - each contestant trains with his own specialist, or not, as the case may be, and then the sides meet once and once only to determine the outcome. ... We consider our legislature's processes fatally flawed."
The town of Carroll's supervisor, Jack Jones, similarly took to the microphone to ask legislators not to vote in favor of the reapportionment plan.
"My main complaint is you split my town right down the middle," Jones said. "My residents are not happy at all. I hear that full-face. We did have a public meeting that Legislator Downey had for us at the Kiantone Fire Hall. There were 40 to 50 people there and 100 percent were not in favor of this plan right now. We had residents from all of Busti, Carroll and Kiantone there. I think, myself, there's probably a better way to do it than to split our village right down the middle. I know some place has to be split up, but our town is very close-knit. The way these lines are drawn, I don't believe part of the people would have a clue who their legislators were. Having two legislators is not a view that I would love to have."
During discussion of the plan, Democratic legislators reiterated many of the reasons for their opposition which they had stated publicly in recent weeks. Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, spoke at length, quoting Republican legislators' statements opposing downsizing made at previous meetings, then asking what, in their minds, had since changed.
"The members of our caucus voting against this plan tonight are voting against exactly that, this plan," said Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown. "We are not voting against our long-held and consistent record and tireless efforts over the last more than decade to downsize the Chautauqua County Legislature."
MAJORITY LEADER RESPONDS
After the meeting, Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, who also served on the reapportionment commission, reiterated that the legislature's Republican caucus offered compromise.
"The Democrats have criticized us for years that we needed to downsize the legislature," Barmore said. "They criticized us that we were going to do everything possible to derail the plan so that we couldn't downsize this year. Well, we had a compressed timeframe and we're sorry that that's all the time we had to work with, but that's what we were given. We played the cards we were dealt. We got the plan accomplished and it was a pretty darn good plan. It wasn't perfect, but it was a good workable plan and the legislature spoke tonight."
Barmore also said not everyone who voted against the plan voted against it for the same reasons.
"Some people voted (against) it because they didn't like the way it made their districts look," he said. "Some people voted against it because they didn't feel that 19 was a small enough number. Some people voted against it because they didn't want to see legislative downsizing. It wasn't a consensus of voting against it. Everybody just had their own reasons."