Chautauqua County residents may vote Tuesday on whether to change the county charter to set the size of our county legislature at "no greater than 19" members.
We should vote "no."
First, "no greater than 19" means anything from 1 to 19.
With a definite number, changing the number would require changing the charter. So two-thirds of legislators would have to agree. It's hard for any political party here to have more than two-thirds of legislators. The major parties would have to work together to change the number.
This - combined with state law allowing the county legislature, as we have established it, to reapportion itself only once per decade - would effectively prevent one party from single-handedly hijacking the number of legislators for partisan advantage.
But saying "no greater than 19" means a simple majority of legislators can change the number without changing the charter.
That's like what we have now, with a charter that doesn't specify a number of legislators. A majority party can change the number all by itself.
Thus, even if cutting the size of our legislature from the current 25 members is a good idea, we need a fixed number, not one allowing such partisan hijacking. This alone suffices to vote "no."
Second, cutting the size of our legislature is not a good idea.
Even a small cut in the number of legislators reduces diversity of perspective in a legislature representing a county where each town, village, and city is strikingly and unusually distinct.
A large cut will increase, not decrease, the cost unless we effectively exclude, from our legislature, many good people whose perspective we need. Here's why.
County legislators who do their job well have told this newspaper that doing their job well - note the key word "well" here - already requires so much time that a large cut in their numbers will lead to full-time legislators.
To put it perhaps more precisely, demands on their time will severely hinder people in many occupations from holding other full-time jobs.
Our 25 part-time legislators each earn $9000 annually, or $225,000 per year, in base salary. Please run the numbers: The base salary for effectively full-time legislators need not be high for the total to exceed $225,000. And that doesn't even count additional costs - such as employee benefits or taxes, or additional staff - of having effectively full-time legislators.
The only way to prevent the total cost from rising is to keep the effectively full-time salary so low that our legislature would have a disproportionate number of (1) people with sufficient other assets or income to support themselves and their families, and (2) people whose experience doesn't yet command even that low salary.
While many such people have been good legislators and can continue to be, we exclude others at our peril.
So why do some want to cut our legislature? Well, one apparent reason is that given reapportionment law and party enrollment numbers, cutting our legislature likely increases one party's chance of winning the legislature majority.
West Ellicott resident Randy Elf, an alumnus of The Post-Journal, has been a teacher, a law clerk to two federal judges, a state Assembly candidate, and a lawyer.