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October 7, 2008 - 12:59pm

Batavia Daily News for Tuesday: Charter Review Commission learns as it goes

From the sound of the article in today's Daily News about last night's meeting of the Charter Review Commission, that group doesn't know a whole lot about its government. Here we have a group of city residents come together to review the document that forms the backbone of city goverment, and Joanne Beck writes that "no one" even knows the responsibilities of the city clerk/treasurer. One member, John Deleo, wanted to scrap the position of assistant city manager before he even knew what it entailed. That same member admits flat out: "We're shifting a lot of responsibilties with the stroke of a pen without understanding what everyone does."

Wait a second... What!? Why would anyone who doesn't know what government staffers do be charged with the responsibility of deciding whether or not they should contintue to do it?

At the very least, shouldn't members of such a commission be trained and educated before they begin their deliberations rather than trying to get them up to speed during the proceedings? John Roach heads up the commission, and I know he's a frequent contributor to the site, so I'm hoping he'll come on here and clarify a few of these points for us.

Another question for John: Beck writes that Councilmen Sam Barone and Bob Bialkowski have asked the commission to "consider how much responsibility council has over department heads ... and giving council the power versus city manager." Have those issues come up yet? What does the commission think?

While we're at it: What about going back to a strong mayoral form of city government?


County Manager Jay Gsell told the Daily News that "it will be an "extremely difficult" task to keep the tax rate at or below" its current level. That's a fine assertion, but it makes for a whole lot of confusion sandwiched by statements to the contrary. Gsell also says: "I wouldn't bring anything to" the legislators that would exceed the current tax rate. For their part, the legislators say that they hope to "decrease taxes."

So which is it?

Reporter Paul Mrozek writes in the article summary line: "Gsell's goal: Cut the tax rate." That's a fine goal, but if Gsell himself doesn't believe it's possible, what's the point of calling it a goal?


A meeting of the town of Batavia Planning Board scheduled for tonight has been cancelled. The board had only one item on its agenda—the "draft generic environmental impact statement" for the agri-business park—and it was not ready. It should be ready for review for the next meeting on October 21.


Another decision was postponed, this time in Albion. There, the Town Board put off voting on its local wind law Monday in order to make the revisions—"very minor word changes"—recommended by the Orleans County Planning Board. The proposed law will limit "wind energy conversion systems" to not exceed 120 feet. They will take up the vote at the next session on October 20.

We encourage you to pick up a copy of the Daily News at your local newsstand. Or, better yet, subscribe at BataviaNews.com.

Charlie Mallow
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That’s a pretty unfair characterization of people who donated their time to help our city. Ask yourself who does know all the details of our city government? Who would give this lesson about city government that you’re looking for? Is it beneficial to the taxpayers of this city to have people who benefit from the way things have always been done, teach those who are attempting to change our form of government? The idea is to have this group of people question everything that has been done and come up with a new way of doing things. I have a strong belief in intelligence of normal everyday people who live in this city and pay taxes to come up with the right answer. Government is broke; it’s too large and does too much. Batavia isn’t any different than any other government entity. The only difference is that “We the People” can still fix it, if we work hard. Who cares what people DID do for the city? There is only one question that needs to be answered. What do we need city government to do for us? The word is NEED, not want or like, it’s NEED. Then throw everything else in the trash can…
Howard B. Owens
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Charlie, the way I read this wasn't that Philip was characterizing anything about the charter commission members themselves, but questioning more why hasn't the city administration done more to ensure they have the information they need to make informed decisions. This is a pretty damning quote: "We're shifting a lot of responsibilities with the stroke of a pen without understanding what everyone does." You and I both agree that government at all levels needs some fixing. Nobody is questioning that. But shouldn't the people doing the fixing be given the tools to make good decisions? You ask: "Who would give this lesson about city government that you’re looking for?" Easy answer: Jason Molino. Why hasn't he?
Charlie Mallow
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I wasn’t responding to Philip, I understand that he was passing on a news story. My questions where rhetorical. Jason attends and answers questions when he is asked. The board has a city staff member and the city attorney at their disposal. I wouldn’t confuse people asking questions on a board with their ability to have the information they need. You also have to understand the frustration inherent with what that group is trying to do. I hear that quote from John with a different ear than the average person. I fully understand the frustration of having an idea for a reform only to hit a wall head on. People don’t understand the amount of laws that are in the way of streamlining government. There are a lot of things out of your control but, asking the question is a good thing, not a bad thing.
Howard B. Owens
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Charlie, thanks for the clarification. And if I hear it right, what you're saying is that quote refers a lot to trying to untangle arcane state laws?
Charlie Mallow
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I know John and that’s how I hear it. I’m going to talk to John Deleo, he was my selection for the board. He is far from lost with this stuff. I know how he thinks when it comes to these issues.
John Roach
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Phillip could get off his butt and attend a meeting, as I suggested in the past. The City, small as it is, is complex. It has a 25 million dollar budget and tens of millions worth of property. Add the personnel cutbacks already in place such as the Director of Economic Development and City Engineer and all the job duties that have been shifted around. Now you have to ask, do we keep things the way they are now, the way they were, or is there a better way? Mr. Deleo meant that we will not just rush into anything. We look at something, and then look again and maybe again. If you rush, you could make it harder for the city to operate for years. When you go over the Charter, which was last reviewed 8 years ago, you have to ask. “Does each section still work”? Have the State of federal government changed a law, rule or regulation that make something in the Charter out of date? In the past 8 years what job changes took place due to budget cuts? How will changes or no changes affect future consolidation of services with the County or towns and villages? Do we rush and created “speed bumps”? The city manager attends meetings both as a citizen and at our request and he provides a lot of information. We also had the County Manager talk with us to get more insight. However, some of our decisions might affect the city manager’s job, so we can not rely on him only. There is a vast amount of talent on the committee and in the City government. We even have a past council president on the committee that helps us understand the relationship between the administration and the elected council. Philip missed the boat on what john Deleo said. John meant that if we do not look at everything over and over, and carefully, we can mess things up. We look at an item, see that maybe a change might work then review it a few times to make sure we get it right. As for his questions on council powers vs. department heads, it was addressed. Too bad Phillip couldn’t make any meetings. I’d be glad to talk with him some time.
Philip Anselmo
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John: I really don't understand why you're gunning for me here, and I don't appreciate it. Joanne Beck is the one who wrote that "no one" on the commission knows what the clerk does. John Deleo is the one who said the commission is acting without understanding what the staff does. I summarized the article and used it as an opportunity to ask a few questions based on those statements, which are anything but ambiguous. How can you seriously accuse me of "missing the boat" by interpreting John's quote exactly as it was presented in the text of the article and to the letter of the language. Really, I'm flummoxed here. "We're shifting a lot of responsibilities with the stroke of a pen without understanding what everyone does," says John Deleo. How can this be read in any other way than to mean: "We're making a lot of changes even though we don't fully understand the situation." If John Deleo meant something else by this, he should have said something else. How can any reader be expected to see this differently? As for my getting off my butt. There's no need and no reason to accuse me of laziness. I'm one guy covering a county. I'm off my butt quite a lot. And when I'm on it, I'm hardly relaxing with a beer and a magazine.
John Roach
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How about coming to a meeting?
Charlie Mallow
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John Deleo is not used to his words being fit into a sound bite. People normally do not speak in short burts. He is being taken out of context because of Philip's perception, not evil intent. I read the article in todays paper, taken as a whole John's meaning is clear.
John Roach
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Will you come to the next meeting? How about talking to me?
John Roach
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Philip, This has been the second time you questioned what the Charter Committee does. This is the second time I have asked if you will attend a meeting, or at least contact me, and the second time you have not answered. Philip, will you or will you not attend a meeting? Easy question I think. If you can not attend will you do your own research and contact me?
Philip Anselmo
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John: You are confounding me on this one. I asked a few simple questions, without malice, with the sole intent of getting some conversation going here on the site about what's going on with the commission and how things get done. That was my sole purpose. If we have the commission chair on the site able to tell us what is going on, why should the two of us step into the background for "research" purposes, then come back so I can share what you told me, when we can bypass the whole process and you can just tell us what's going on? We have you! Why add a filter? As for the meetings, it has just worked out that I haven't been able to attend the past two. I will do my utmost to attend one in the future. In the meantime, that shouldn't prevent us from having the conversation here, in public, on the site.
Howard B. Owens
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John, just to put a finer point on it. There are three ways The Batavian acts as a news distribution channel: -- We pick up on the reportage of other media outlets. Either we simply pass it on, or we react through offering another point of view or asking questions. -- We do original reporting. We operate with a purposefully small staff based on what we know as the economic realities of web publishing. We try to fill in the gaps that the other media outlets, through their own resource restraints, don't seem to get to. -- We look to people like you, and Charlie, and even Jason Molino, if he wanted, to both tell The Batavian community what's going on, and to use the comments on posts as a forum for answering questions or clarifying issues. Anybody in the community who knows something that might be of interest to other people in the community are encouraged to submit a blog post about that topic. In other words, John, if you wanted, you could write as much as you wanted about what the Commission is up to, why it operates as it does, what challenges you face, what you're trying to accomplish, etc. Or you could simply answer Philip's questions. We run into this often with officials and the like around town -- people who have any level of experience with the media are so used to the old analog model of "we print and you read" that they don't immediately appreciate how a web site is different -- this is a two way street. Sure, we report, but you can, too. And you can comment, and we can comment. Through conversation, we all, hopefully, become smarter and help build a stronger community.
John Roach
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We have been meeting since april. The Daily News has been there twice. If you really want to know what is going on, show up or contact me. It really is that easy. The review of the Charter takes time. You have to look at each section and decide if it needs changing. Then you have to look to see if it will impact on another section. If need to ask "is change" necessary? Is there really anything wrong with the way it is. This Commission was started by Council originally to address the position of the Asst. City Manager. Since that issue first came up, many changes have taken place due to the budget and the drive to better serve the City and save money by consolidation of services with others. In some cases the Charter, first written decades ago, might prevent change. We spend hours at offical meetings and then at home reading and studying material. For Philip to spin it that nobody knows what's going on, is wrong. He can pick up the phone, or Howard can, and ask what is going on, or come to a meeting. I think the Daily got it right and Philip spun it his way. I know you don't agree with my view on that, but then we meet the first Monday of every month at 6:30 pm. It might be boring, but he should be able to make one meeting if he tries real hard.
Daniel Jones
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I haven't said much on this, so can I throw in my two cents? I haven't been to Charter Commission meetings in a few months, however, when I was attending them I saw the people on them in action and have the pleasure of knowing some of them. Greg McCallister, John Roach, John Deleo, Sean Evans and Madeline Bialkowski, agree with them all the time or not, are very smart people. Sometimes comments can be taken out of context during meetings and political events because of sheer frustration with the situation, in this case, its shame that some individuals discourage straight talk. If you say what you think about one thing, it gets blown up and redefined as your position on an entire group or purpose. At the same time, Charter Commission members should remember that they are in the Public Eye and as a wise old political sage told me once "Don't say anything you wouldn't want on the cover of the Daily News,". In this case, it happened. I would say this to everyone, members of the media, email, call or do whatever to ask for a follow-up on what was actually said or meant. Charter Commission members, remember that your in the public eye and therefore your comments will be scrutinized.
John Roach
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I can not speak for anyone but me, and i don't worry about what I say. This commission has a job to do and as far as i know, they all speak their mind. Philip saw an opening to get the blog going and took it. He just doesn't really want to know what is going on because this is rather dull stuff. But now lets see if he can go the next step, like the Daily News does, and check for himself, all on his own. He still has not attempted to contact me.
Howard B. Owens
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John, why can't you go to the next step and do a post about what's really going on? Sure, Philip can go to a meeting, but he -- like any other reporter -- is going to see things through his own eyes. But what about what's going on through your eyes? You seem to keep ignoring that point. Rather than keep posting comments complaining about Philip, why don't you post some real information about what's going on? You know, some real news and information. Can you do that?
John Roach
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Dan, We miss seeing you at the meetings, but college first has to be the rule. Peter says hi.
John Roach
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If you don't want to come, that's ok. Meetings can be dull compared to other events you guys can attend. But when you spin another persons, like you did with Joanne Beck's Daily news article, to get things going on the blog, and don't check it on your own, you can not be upset if I think your lazy. I am not 'ignoring that point", I just want him to do his own work. This is the second time he made comments about the Commission and after a half year has not done his own work. That's my point. The changes being recommended will make the City function better and we are taking great care to get it right. I am not a reporter, I don't want to be one, and my job on the Commission is not to be one. You guys want to be a news source and I want to help you, but not do your work for you. I'll answer, for me only and not the others, some questions that can be done in this setting. When the Commission is done, we make a report to City Council and the public at an open meeting. Then a public hearing be held and then it goes to the voters. Our meetings open an you know where we are.
Howard B. Owens
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John, Philip did his work. He didn't spin anything. He called it as he saw it. You're welcome to disagree with his perception, which is why we have comments. It's really not fair to attack him, or anybody else, for his perception. Disagree -- disagree vehemently if you like -- with his perception, but to accuse him of not doing his job really doesn't help enlighten anybody. He can attend a meeting. That's fine. But his attendance would not be to "cover the meeting" the way a typical newspaper reporter would. We don't roll like that. We're hear to get beyond mere regurgitation of the process of city government. We want to encourage openness, transparency and bring to the fore all of the points of view that go into building a community. Nobody is asking you to do our work. First off, it's not our work to attend every meeting the city might have. It's also not our work to try and get inside your head and see things as you see them. If you want to ensure your point of view is heard, then you can post your own thoughts about the Commission. If that isn't important to you, that's your choice. I'm just saying the option is open to you or anybody else to communicate what you think is important, what you think people should know, in the words that you find most conducive to getting your point across. No editorial filter. No sound bites. We're very open like that.

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