May 8, 2008

Erie & Niagara County Legislatures

My firm does some work with Erie County. As a meeting I was attending was wrapping up, the Erie County Legislature was heading into session, so I thought I'd stick around to see how things work at their Leg meetings.

While watching, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with an individual who regularly attends EC Leg meetings. Here are some interesting pieces of information I learned about the EC Leg and their members: 1) Meetings are held at 2P.M. Amazingly, there is no one whining about that and how difficult it is for the public to make the meetings at such an inconvenient time - for the public, not the Legislature. 2) All committee meetings are during the day. 3) EC Legislators make $42,500. 4) Every single Legislator has a District Office, which is staffed. 5) There are no public speakers. 6) There are no LCTV cameras, or any other local cable access outlet, televising the meetings.

Stunningly, there is no uproar in Erie County about the County Legislature's suppression of free speech. There are no cries of censorship. Amazingly, EC county government continues to operate without the nuggets of wisdom that the Niagara County Leg has the privilege of being party to twice a month via the public comment session.

Okay, so the last paragraph had a slight tinge of sarcasm in it. But in reality, there are some things that EC does better, and some things Niagara County does better. What was most interesting was what a professional and respectful manner in which the meetings are conducted. No bickering, no one-upsmanship and no accusations. Sure, there were plenty of proclamations, nearly 40 I believe, but the EC Leg conducts its business without, for a lack of a better word, the bullshit that so often accompanies the NC Leg.

I recall Greg Lewis stating something to the effect that every time he walks out for a Leg meeting he feels like he's walking into a war zone. It's truly unfortunate that he feels that way. That being said, it's understandable why he does.

34 comments:

Frank DeGeorge said...

Hobbes, I couldn't agree more with you on this. I will say the unpopular thing: I'm against this direct public participation at board meetings. I'm all for people contacting their elected officials, writing letters, attending committee meetings but when a legislative body goes into session it should be about conducting the business at hand. That is the difference between living in a representative democracy and having a directy democracy.

Too many of these meetings have turned into chaotic fiascos for no good reason. The public speaking really is about the same six people. I usually don't look to Erie County as an example of best practices, but on this one they've got it right.

Larry Castellani said...

If representationalism in parliamentary forms could really represent people not taken care of by 'interest groups' and their 'lobbyists,' then we could dispense with such “public comment periods” in the Leg. If representation were not so thoroughly determined by monied interests, then we need not be upset about the censorship of citizens like Christy by autocratic, business oriented boards of directors. If you buy into the post-modern ideology that serious politics is a ‘profession’ for lawyers and businessmen, then we need not be concerned with the degeneration of democratic forms of self-government into managerial, administrative and bureaucratic forms of social control by technocrats. When politics becomes a matter of “social systems control” by the elite as opposed to democratically self-constituting communities, then we don’t have to worry about an informed citizenry participating in government. Then, also, we don’t have to worry about civics education in the schools and “democracy” will become a social artifact to be viewed in museums on pleasant Sunday afternoons. …. “Let’s just all get along”, put on our smile buttons, as Rodney King said after the LAPD beat the crap out of him on an LA freeway. And after the elite class of money managers and dis-information purveyors get done beating the crap out of what’s left of our democracy, someone like Rodney will come along and say, “Can’t we all just stop disagreeing and just get along (with those who dominate power of course)?” …. So this is our next anti-democratic witch hunt in Niagara County: get rid of those embarrassing, uncouth, uneducated gadflies, the 3-minute crowd, the vocal minority…. Umm… the people?

Anonymous said...

You're right about one thing Larry. The three minute crowd are ,for the most part, uneducated in the issues they bring forth. It is apparent that the take (or are fed)a position and don't make the effort to understand it. They certainly are vocal and are a very small minority.

rob clark said...

The Legislators in Erie County are considered full time politicians. (Please correct me if I am wrong) So it makes sense that there meetings are during the day. But lets not forget that they have a larger pop. in Erie County, and they have a smaller membership in there Legislature. (Bigger pop. and less government, huh)

I’m not sure as to why they do not have an open forum for their meetings. To me, that just seems wrong.

Larry S said...

I think the NC legislature public comment session COULD be a good thing, if any of them offered any substantive criticism. Instead, we're subjected to Margie Swan talking about legislator's penis implants. While obviously channeling her own fantasies about Kyle Andrews, penis implants are not really the standard subject matter found at governmental legislative sessions.

Fawn Leibowitz said...

Larry, have you ever read about the boy who cried wolf? If you haven't you should go get yourself a copy. Just because someone was mentioned in a matter that you find less than flattering, it doesn't mean there's a witch hunt in progress.

Take for example.....you. No one says anything good about you, but that hasn't stopped you from making a complete fool of yourself every time you express yourself. And I don't hear anyone stating that there is a witch hunt against you.

So, I know you think you sound so plugged in when you use the words "witch hunt" over and over again, but in reality, it's boring. Like you.

dark knight said...

Rob, Erie County legislators are considered part-time. They are allowed to have outside professions, as many are lawyers and one was recently faculty at ECC until retiring, I believe.

Look, everyone knows that free speech and more speech is better than less. But there does come a point where the people's business needs to get done. I attended a leg meeting once as was aghast at the hooting and hollering in the gallery.

Larry, I do not reflexively disagree with you like some others on this board, but on this one, I don't see how democracy is served when the same six people purport to be representatives of the taxpayers but are actually working with the Democrat Party Boss and are the same people who talk at Leg Meetings, call Christy and call Leffler in the hope of trying to convince gullible people like Tim Marren that they somehow represent popular opinion.

It reminds me of what has become known as the Brooks Brothers riot during the Florida recount of the 2000election. A bunch of GOP operatives stormed the recount to make it look like a spontaneous public uprising against a shadowy recount process when it was all staged.

That is exactly what the three minute crowd tries to do and unfortunately too many of our legislators are actually influenced by these folks.

gop shill said...

LC,

You talk about democracy versurs special interests yet you continue to refuse to answer my questions about the nefarious political influence during the last campaign cycle by your very own NCCC faculty union. Why is that?

Anonymous said...

Oh boo hoo hobbes, move to erie county if you can't handle the heat.

gop shill said...

I owe Larry and apology. Yesterday he responded to my question about the NCCC faculy union on another post (see below) I'm a little surprised that a professor so engaged in the local political scene isn't aware that his union used direct mail to viciously attack only members of the GOP majority.

From LC

Gop shill:

I’ll have to plead ignorance regarding the activities of my union. No excuse; it’s just a fact. I know they do recommend a given candidate during elections but I don’t know in fact that they’ve been involved in virtual “dirty tricks.” If you can tell me what they are supposed to have done, I’ll try to comment. I’ll take responsibility for not being up on what the union is doing. But the sad fact is that I just don’t know. Tell me what you heard/know and I’ll do my best. ….. But you and others have also avoided my suggestion that Western NY secede from NY State and form its own state. Why isn’t that possible? desireable? Feasible?

Anonymous said...

The Niagara County Legislature should be cut in half and let Lewis work for his money. How can this guy operate when he has to answer to 18 bosses.

gop shill said...

One last thing if you read Larry's last sentence in the post above. Larry, I agree that we should secede from NYS but the Legislature would never go with it.

Anonymous said...

I have never been a Greg Lewis fan but I'm starting to swing my opinion his way after watching that jackass in Erie County, Chris Collins, fail to deliver on anythhing he campaigned on. This guy said he wasn't about politics and that's all he's done since he got there.

I'd rather have Lewis than an executive who has the interpersonal skills of Spitzer.

Anonymous said...

Is Greg Lewis and Frank Clark the same people?

Anonymous said...

No Lewis has got 4 more chins than Clark.

Anonymous said...

Anon said, "Oh boo hoo hobbes, move to erie county if you can't handle the heat".

What heat, from the three-minute clown act? No heat, just repeated comic relief. And for the record, because your name appears in the paper doesn't make you important.

But back to the post...$42,500 to be a legislator is good money. Throw in a staff, benefits, etc, not a bad gig. I think most of them have outside jobs too. Too bad there is not public comment session or TV cameras there. I think there is a Friendly's though.

Anonymous said...

I read this as a bunch of Niagara County Legislators pretending to be "real people" by using fake screen names and anonymous log ins, whining about "how good Erie County's got it."

Anonymous said...

Then you have a reading comprehension problem. Go finish high school.

pirate's code said...

Less than a dozen posts before the name-calling starts. Not a record, but close.

Ah, yes, reasoned discourse in Niagara County. Makes me proud...

Larry Castellani said...

My suspicion that this is the beginning of another witch hunt is further confirmed by fawn leibowitz's denials and attacks on me. It's part of the process: make someone who begins to expose the strategy look to be foolish, paranoid, contradictory, boring, etc. It's part of the Karl Rove Republican playbook of character assassination and deflection from real discourse.
... Also, I was once again using irony to indicate that there are some elitists who believe the "3 minute crowd" is uneducated and/or stupid. I don't believe that at all and if the Anon who keeps failing to understand irony would get it I wouldn't have to keep explaining myself. In fact there are a few at the Leg meetings who are quite well informed and intelligent and often make very astute and appropriately critical observations and recommendations. ... Why should the Leg meetings be "business-like?" What's wrong with chaos as opposed to the pre-orchestrated plans of the power blocs? Democracy can be chaotic and harmony doesn't come about without chaos. That principle even holds true in physics. The Leg and several on this blog are afraid of stand-up face to face discourse without a script, game plan or marching orders. In real democratic dialogue and discourse you might actually learn something you didn't expect. It happens to me all the time. It's educational. Democracy is not reducible to the formalities of parliamentary procedure and staged campaigns for office. ... Moreover I find 3 minuites hardly enough time to make a point. It is also sad that the Leg just sits there and usually refuses to answer or respond to comments and suggestions. When I spoke there, the only response I got to substantive objections was being accused of "inflammatory rhetoric" by Mr. Hill. That was insulting and I could only conclude that he wasn't listening but managed to feel intimidated; so he apparently had to attack. The Leg should get out of their law offices more often and talk to the people they are supposed to represent. America's days are numbered when the common sense of ordinary people is demeaned, systematically suppressed and censored. ... If such gadflys are uneducated or ill informed it is a function of the educational system which we refuse to infuse with proper political inquiry and reflection. From what I've seen of our political leaders there are not a lot of geniuses among them either. .... Lastly, the gadflys should be praised for their courage and perserverance in a country that has so obviously lost its way.

Anonymous said...

For someone who uses irony so readily, you aren't very quick to recognize it.

rob clark said...

Dark Knight...thanks; I wasn’t sure if they were part-time or full-time. But at that salary, they might as well be. Plus you have to figure in the medical too. (There’s another 10 to 20 grand right there)

What’s wrong with the 3-minute crowd? I am a one-time member of that group. So I for one am offended by those comments. Perhaps Larry is right. Maybe they are next on the "hit list" if you will. I for one would not be surprised one bit if they were.

Lets face it; this whole thing is about control. Nothing else. And at some point its not going to matter which party is in the Majority/Minority. Lately I’m starting to realize that politics is just a sad state of affairs. (Plain and simple, some times it just sucks) And one more thing, GIVE LARRY A BREAK. It’s nice to have a different point of view on here. (Long winded or not)

pirate's code said...

rob clark -- A few responses to your last post:

-- What's wrong with the 3- minute crowd? Good question. Some might say they are the true voice of the citizen, diligently trotting out in all kinds of weather to represent the common taxpayer. Others might say they are the definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over but expecting a differenct result each time. Maybe they should try a different tactic -- put their name on a ballot, raise a few bucks, and challenge the very people they castigate and correct what they see as the sins of the legislative body they are railing against. Kind of like you did.

-- Perhaps politics is a sad state of affairs these days, perhaps not. But if it sucks, it does so in a bi-partisan way. To blame all our ills on just one source ignores reality and is, in fact, politics at its worst. Just one example -- many are quick to blame the current GOP for what they see as the evil IDA. That would be the same IDA, of course, that was driven to near bankruptcy when the other side was in control.

-- Why should anyone give the good professor a break? If you've followed these boards at all, you know that I frequently will engage him in discussion on all manner of issues. I try to do so politely, even if my sometimes sarcastic humor shows through. But, give him a break? When does he give anyone a break? Someone calls him out on his anti-GOP assumptions, and he immediately invokes the spectre of Karl Rove. Isn't that right out of the Dem's playbook?

I appreciate Larry's point of view. I sometimes agree. Many times I don't, and call him on it. But to give him a pass simply because he is so clearly singing from the Democratic hymn book is just nonsense. I would hope the educator ion him would want to be challenged. (And, by the way, the name calling he seems so sensitive to is not out of his reach from time to time, if you read his posts here and on his own blog. Which is OK, so long as it's done with a smirk and not a snarl.)

Sorry, Larry, for talking about you as if you weren't in the room. Because I know you are...that's in the James Carville playbook ;-)

Anonymous said...

I saw the Niagara Times office yesterday, its located on 19th street next door to crack ally, no wonder hobbes brain is so fried.

Fat Tony said...

Civility is overrated. I like the fact we mix it up and take some shots at each other...it keeps things interesting and I love a good turn of a phrase provided by LC, PC and Fawn.

Maybe if the three minute crowd understood how to turn a phrase as opposed to constantly belittling people would take their arguments seriously.

And Pirate's Code, both Don Hobel and the nutty sister of the Senator both have run for office and both have gotten their butts kicked. I admire them for stepping forward, but it shows how people feel about the quality of their ideas.

pirate's code said...

fat tony -- Thanks. I guess I remember Dickey running for something, but didn't know Hobel ran. For what? Town? County?

One would hope that sooner or later they would recognize that a large part of the reason they are ignored is that they keep plucking the same note over and over and over and over and...well, you get my point.

It's good that they are passionate, but they also seem to be without a real purpose other than making noise.

Hobbes said...

Larry Castellani wrote, "When I spoke there, the only response I got to substantive objections was being accused of "inflammatory rhetoric" by Mr. Hill."

We received an email which stated that it was not in fact Mike Hill, but John Syracuse who responded.

Unfortunately, it's not surprising that you don't bother to take the time to know the legislators you're making accusations about.

fat tony said...

Hobel has been a conservative party candidate for state legislator a bunch of times. I guess his brand of populism ain't selling.

Larry Castellani said...

Hobbes,
Well excuse me! Of course propriety comes first in your world right? How freaking petty can you get? Of all the possible things that need to be discussed you come out of hiding to tell me of got the wrong name. Well, exxxxcccuuuuussse meeeeee! ... Actually, I did try to figure out who was who online by checking out the pictures that were available. But I couldn't tell them apart. Maybe when they all read from the same script they start looking like one another. Ok, Hobbes, so you addressed my ignorance regarding who's who among NC Repub leg's. Happy now? But you don't address anything substantive. ... What's at issue with the Legislators is that they simply don't, for the most part, have open minds nor much of a desire to communicate. (In my limited experience there has been one exception. I won't mention his name. Probably if he got caught talking to me he would be tarred and feathered.) They, Hobbes, like you in this post look for the cheap shot and easy way out and ignore the real points. They use language and power to prevent language from doing its work. They manipulate language and discourse just to keep power and prevent understanding. Language for them isn't really a means of communication but a shield and tool to prevent real communication, inquiry and questing. I may be unschooled as to who's who and the ins and outs of the local political scene but I keep getting the feeling that these politicos are not themselves exactly the brightest stars in the firmament either. And I guess if you have the party machine behind you, you don't really have to be too bright to get elected or to convince an uneducated public that you're actual political leaders. They, like you, want to further pacify the public with this next witch hunt because they don't have the confidence to face the public let alone a really educated public. Thus also the attacks on educational funding. It all adds up to this arrogant pseudo-aristocratic political elitism. If these people were real political leaders they would be interested in engaging the public and educating the public rather than forcing the public to become detectives to find out what's going on. They would be interested in working with the people. I don't even get the sense that they like the people. They have for all practical purposes written the public off as a lost cause. I don't believe they would know what open public discourse looked like if it came up and bit them on the neck. That's probably why you don't see real support for the NCCP, except for Lewis and that's probably only because it's his job. The process of the Plan is too potentially educational and democratic. So it's not surprising that when, for example, you do address educational issues you're only concern is the budget. Why don't you ever say anything about the proper use of money regarding the curriculum that sucks. Why just abstract bitching about too much money being spent on education. At least inquire about the misuse of money that is being spent. ... You are in power; so you stay on the surface of things and pretend that that's being politically practical or prudent or wise or some such nonsense. You may be "plugged in," to steal a phrase form fran leibowicz, but you and the leaders of this county have historically and still presently are leading it down the shitter. So stick to trivia if you like, but you are not really that smart, effective or convincing. If you were you wouldn't be leading a demoralized and virtually hopeless electorate without real concern about their being properly informed and educated. ... This smug, supposedly down to earth pragmatic attitude aobut the "real issues," usually taxes, is deep denial that this crowd is bankrupt of political ideas and is unwilling to "go back to school" and rethink their whole framework, which as I already mentioned, doesn't work very well.

rob clark said...

PC, I take it back. After reading the last post it apprears that the Professor can take care of himself.
Good job Larry. The " you cant tell them apart" line is pretty funny.

Look even I`m getting tired of "witch hunts". So lets not have this turn into one by feeding it. If you think about it we need the "3 minute crowd". Either they make you look good or you prove them wrong. Its a give and take deal. Think about it.

Don Hobel has run for 6th District Legislator. But I do not believe he has run for any state or town seats.

Lancer said...

Ya know, some people are just so goddamn easy to play. Castellani is one of them. One little snippet and this pathetic little fairy takes the bait, hook line & sinker.

Hobbes, of course its your fault Larry is an ignorant asshole. How DARE you point out is mistake??? Don't you know who he is? MY GOD, he is a teacher at a community college!!!

No one gives a shit, Larry. You're a running fucking joke.

And no, ya whiny little bitch, there is no witch hunt.

Larry Castellani said...

Another non-person comes out of the shadowy underworld of blog cowards. One thing I can figure out about the "real" "lancer" is that he/she/it has an adolescent mentality. And it gives us some insight regarding the level of intellect at which this type of hitman/ignoramus would like to keep the people. We witness here in such behavior the enemies of democracy and especially of American. Of course besides being proto-fascist, not necessarily by intent but definitely by effect, such comments give those of us who can still think indirect insight into those like Lancer who prevent political thought from moving forward. ... But, wait, is it now ok to say "running fucking joke?" Or is it just those who belong to the right party/in crowd who get to say "running fucking joke?" ...We also know Lancer is homophobic but of course he/she/it is safe because we don't know who this vile non-entity really is, do we? So, what we also learn is that the tactics we see being used here to apparently discourage me and others like me who choose to use the other 99% of their brain is the tactic of "parties" local to national. It's very vicious, insidious and ill-willed stuff. And they do do it like hitmen. They live anonymous existences except to their bosses or godfathers or fuehrer. So one must theorize about that/those which will not come out of the darkness and operate/live in the light of day. They remain stuck in Plato's cave and continue to believe, like Plato's slaves, that they are seeing reality directly. So the bait I take, once I get over my anger and sadness about people like "Lancer," "Hobbes," etc. is the opportunity to theorize, deduce, infer, determine what it is that moves small fearful people like this who refuse to move the human potentialities of community and democracy past the stone age in which they keep it.

Larry Castellani said...

dark knight,
If in fact Legislators are being influenced by the gadflys who I would prefer to call very couragous citizens, real citizens, then they are doing their job. If the citizens at the meetings are in fact uneducated and misinformed, which I do not believe they are, then the Legislators are as mediocre as I suspect they really are, that is, if influenced by the uneducated and misinformed. ... By the way, Socrates was a gadfly and he changed the course of intellectual history. Socrates also described himself as a midwife, giving birth to new ideas, thought and critical reflection. "Gadfly" especially in its connotation as "midwife." is a very positive term. Democracy happens in funny and often chaotic ways. ... But I noticed that no one has responded to my actual critique here and elsewhere. I suspect once it gets too "heavy," too true and hits too close to home for the "sheep", they back off or are told to back off by their "leaders" in the Party. The problem with party politics is that there is too much group think and reducing real thought to categories that disparage, discredit and reject people and ideas. But possibly we do need more parties to balance out the rhetoric and guide it toward productive discourse. That's why the presidential candidates are afraid to debate Ralph Nader. He would make mincemeat out of them and take them out of their sound-bite scripts. ... One other thought: Hobbes effort to get everybody to just "get along," thus the rationale to get rid of any forums of dissent, is always a strategy invoked by those in power and who are already comfortable with the way things are with respect to the power structure. So they want to portray dissenters as malcontents, nut jobs, and troublemakers who just don't know how to "get along." There is a tyranny in "group think." Obviously the Legislature of NC has degenerated into "group think." It is very dangerous. The younger members don't say much, not just because they are inexperienced, but because they probably couldn't think their way out of a paper bag. They probably couldn't pass my Philosophy 101 class. So all the ranting against me and others is just fear, mean-spiritedness and elitist ill-will toward the people.

Anonymous said...

Larry C. says: "Moreover I find 3 minuites hardly enough time to make a point." No kidding Larry?! You have a lot of free time on your hands, because I don't have enough time to wade through your lengthy comments.

Larry C. says: "They manipulate language and discourse just to keep power and prevent understanding." Wait a minute...who were you referring to here???? Oh! You were talking about yourself?! What do you teach at NCCC? I am seriously curious. I may have some students going there next year and I may have to steer them clear of you.