MAYVILLE – The minority leader for the Chautauqua County Legislature tells WRFA that he plans to fight a proposed local law that would change the way county-owned property is approved for sale. Legislator Bob Whitney (D-Jamestown) said during an interview with WRFA on Thursday that if approved by county lawmakers, he would seek out signatures to force the local law to go to a public vote in November.
The proposed local law, which is being sponsored by majority leader Larry Barmore (R-Gerry) and at least 12 other county lawmakers, would change county law so that only a simple majority would be needed to approve the sale of any piece of county property. Currently a two-thirds majority is needed.
The Chautauqua County Home is the primary reason for the local law. Last month, lawmakers voted 16 to 9 in favor of selling the home to Altitude Health Services, Inc. of Chicago. That was one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed.
In response to the vote, Barmore announced earlier this week that he will introduce a local law this month that would change the requirement to only a simple majority. Just 13 votes would be needed to make the change.
- AUDIO: BARMORE – WRFA LOCAL LAW INTERVIEW
However, even if the legislature votes in favor of the local law, it would not go into effect until 60 days after being signed by the county executive. During that time, a petition can be circulated calling for the local law to be put up for a public vote.
Whitney tells WRFA just 1,989 signatures are needed for that petition (five percent of the number of voters in the county who came out for the last gubernatorial election), and he’s confident he would be able to find enough voters throughout the county who are against changing the property sale law to accommodate the sale of the county home.
“I think getting under 2,000 signatures will be really simple,” Whitney said. “All it’s doing is prolonging the real problem until November and the real problem is we need to find a different buyer. We’ve been telling [County Executive] Greg Edwards that since October but he doesn’t want to listen.”
Whitney added that if the change to the property sale law isn’t acted on until November, it will give Edwards the opportunity to find a new buyer. Earlier this week, Whitney went on record saying he is not opposed to selling the county home, he is only opposed to selling it to Altitude Health Services.
Besides the local law making it easier to sell the county home, Whitney says he’s also opposed to it because it would also make it easier to sell any asset owned by the county.
“This law will put all the power into whichever party is in charge, and that’s just not to sell the home. It’s to sell any asset the county has – from the parks to the courthouse to the jail – everything could be sold by the majority party,” Whitney explained. “When [the rule for a two-thirds majority vote] went into effect in 1975, it was unanimous. There was 23 yes votes and two absences that day, it was unanimous to put that into effect and there was a reason they put that in.
“I think there’s a lot more behind this than just selling the county home. I think that’s a smokescreen – the idea they are going to be able to sell the county home. I think they are planning on using that for a lot more,” he concluded.
The proposed local law will go to committee next week for further discussion. It will then move on to the full legislature for a vote on February 27.