By NICOLE GUGINO
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Reducing the size of a "bloated" Chautauqua County Legislature was the main topic of discussion at a meeting held at the Clarion by the Independence Party.
The Independence Party hosted a discussion on the size of the Chautauqua County Legislature Saturday at the Clarion. Pictured is the Independence Party Chair Thom Shagla.
Downsizing the legislature dominated conversation during the meeting but topics such as voter participation and leadership arose as well.
The open forum was to "gain feedback" according to Independence Party Chair Thom Shagla.
"We are striving to get the feeling of the people in the community in regards to issues that are facing us now-a-days. We have some big decisions that are coming up that are going to made by legislators. .... We are not here to chop anybody up. We are looking for feedback and ideas," Shagla said.
The audience of about 20 people seemed to be in favor of cutting the county legislature down to size.
"I think this issue is really about leadership and what we are asking the legislature to do is show leadership on the issue of consolidation ... In doing both the reduction in layers of governments and consolidating the school systems we can get our tax level down to a level that is more competitive with other regions of the U.S. so our businesses can flourish and our citizens can reinvest in their homes. ... It starts at the top," Todd Tranum, of the President Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce said.
Shagla agreed that the legislature needs to "right-size itself" as Tranum said.
"On average these legislators represent 5,200 residents, then you've got the mayor in the village of Fredonia that represents twice as many as any one legislator. You've got town supervisors that represent more than a lot of the legislators. So, the argument that is being put forth is 'I won't be able to make contact with my legislator because I'll have such a big district.' Well geographical some might have a big district but in each one of those areas there are other representations," he said.
Legislators Thomas DeJoe and John Gullo were both in attendance.
"Legislators need to be willing to do things that will sacrifice their ability to run. ... We all have no idea of the financial storm on the way," Gullo said.
Gullo advertised for his own "17-for-17" campaign to reduce the size of the legislature. He handed out yard signs and let the audience know about its Facebook page.
Gullo explained that 17 legislators, or two-thirds of the body, need to approve the reduction from 25 to 17. He said the final decision will be made in the legislature.
He also said that he had written up a simple pledge for supportive legislators to sign.
Shagla and Independence Party member Pam Frank engaged the audience with questions about engaging voters and leadership.
"How do we motivate people?," Frank asked.
"We make them angry," Gullo said. He suggested taking away programs for veterans, farmers, children and the elderly to make people mad enough to pull together and be active on issues.
Sarah Tranum cited the last presidential election and said that there needs to be more outreach to the youth in the county.
Matt Stuczynski, a SUNY Fredonia student and the youngest participant in the group, said that college students aren't aware how easy it is to get involved.
Shagla also tossed out the idea of longer terms and staggered for legislators, four years instead of two, in order to allow legislators to learn the job and give them time before thinking about the next election.
There will be another discussion forum held by the Independence Party on the size of the legislature April 9 at 10 a.m. at Friendly's in Jamestown.