MAYVILLE - County lawmakers came close to agreeing on the issue of downsizing recently, but couldn't reach consensus on how exactly to agree.
The tenuous compromise which the reapportionment commission had reached earlier in the month failed to pass the full legislature Wednesday.
On the agenda for vote was a proposal by John Runkle, R-Stockton, to set the size of the legislature at no greater than 19 members. His proposal also would have put the number 19 to the public for vote.
The reason for proposing such a local law, he explained, stemmed from the recent defeat of the reapportionment commission's downsizing plan.
Their plan, which was defeated April 20, was not voted down solely because of the number 19. Instead, most legislators spoke out against the plan for the ways in which it had been created, not the number 19 itself.
So, while that plan saw defeat, some legislators had hoped to at least salvage the number 19 this past week.
The local law ultimately came only two votes shy of passing the legislature Wednesday, failing in a 15 to 7 vote.
Unlike the reapportionment vote of April 20, which needed only 13 votes to pass, Runkle's proposal needed 17 because it would have changed the County Charter.
Debate on the issue started when Doug Richmond, R-Westfield, offered an amendment to the local law.
Richmond and other Republicans wanted to eliminate the wording "no greater than" because they favor a firm 19 - no more, no less.
The problem with leaving the wording in, as Republicans put it, was that it would leave the door open to continued future debate about further downsizing the legislature.
As proposed, Runkle's local law capped the number at 19 - which was supported by Democrats as well as several Republicans. The Republican caucus was splintered on the issue though. Some wanted to change the County Charter to set the body at a firm 19 members while others voted against Richmond's amendment because they don't want any downsizing at all.
Discussion then turned toward the two parties' respective reasons for reaching compromise in the first place.
"We have offered 19 as a compromise between those people that do not want to see any type of downsizing and those that want to see moderate downsizing and those that want to see drastic downsizing," said Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry. "If the (local law) says 'no more than 19,' we can be back here three months from now discussing whether or not it ought to be another number other than 19. If we change it and amend it to say 19, we put the issue to bed and we can get on to more important items."
Several Democrats then spoke of needing to pass the resolution as is to continue the cooperation which sparked during the reapportionment commission's redistricting process.
"I agree with Mr. Runkle's assessment that it appears, right now, finally, after more than a decade of debate, that we have reached consensus in the legislature," said Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown. "Offering any amendments at this point, because it is a local law, we would be further delaying that reduction tonight until next month. I think we all need to consider the potential detriment of further delaying this vote."
Republican legislators George Borrello, R-Irving, and Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, also spoke against amending the local law and in favor of passing it Wednesday evening.
"As much as I see the pitfalls in this the way it's written," Borrello said, "I'm going to say what I said last week, it's time to move on. So let's pass this as it is and if we have to go back into the octagon to fight this out again about the numbers, then I'm willing to do that. But let's hope that we don't have to do that anymore and we can move on to the serious business of what's going to be happening with our budget and everything else the county is facing this year. So I say pass it as is and let the chips fall where they may."
DEMOCRATS ON DOWNSIZING
While members of both parties called 19 a compromise, Democrats consistently said Wednesday that, while the number is a compromise, they would like to see a lower number.
Richmond later pointed to those statements as being precisely the reason why the "no greater than" wording should be removed from the local law.
Barmore similarly said that, with the "no greater than" left in, the local law is not really a compromise - as it leaves open the door for Democrats to further downsize the legislature.
"Mrs. Cornell continues to use the word 'compromise,' which is what we are attempting to do," Barmore said. "But then in the same breath (she) makes it clear that compromise only means getting what we'll give her today and then continue on trying to 'compromise' further in her direction later. My idea of a compromise is to come to a compromised number, which we already have. That number is 19. Therefore I support the amendment because it will put this to rest."
Richmond's proposal to amend the local law failed in a 14 to 8 vote. The amendment was supported by Dick Babbage, R-Bemus Point; Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry; Tami Downey, R-Kiantone; Assistant Majority Leader David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; Jerry Park, R-Forestville; Doug Richmond, R-Westfield; Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott, and Legislature Chairman Fred Croscut, R-Sherman.
The amendment was opposed by Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk; George Borrello, R-Irving; Assistant Minority Leader Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown; Tom DeJoe, D-Brocton; Paula DeJoy, D-Jamestown; Jay Gould, R-Ashville; John Gullo, D-Fredonia; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; Maria Kindberg, D-Jamestown; Minority Leader Rudy Mueller, D-Lakewood; Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown; John Runkle, R-Stockton; Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, and Bob Stewart, R-Ellington.
Following the amendment's failure to be passed, the local law, as originally proposed by Runkle, was put to vote - failing 15 to 7.
All the Democrats present voted for Runkle's proposal. In addition to Runkle, the local law was also supported by Babbage, Borrello, Downey, Scudder and Croscut. It was opposed by Barmore, Gould, Himelein, Park, Richmond, Stewart and Tarbrake.