Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski, Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello, numerous state Assembly members and Senators, Town Supervisors, Village Mayors and other leaders of government and industry from Erie County came together in the Center for Tomorrow for the morning-long meeting unveiling a 321-page report entitled "Governance in Erie County: A Foundation for Understanding and Action," prepared by the UB Governance Project.
The report was the culmination of a two-year study of government, demographics and service delivery in Erie County conducted by five UB architecture and planning professors: Acting Vice President for Public Service and Urban Affairs John Sheffer, David Perry, Alfred Price, Henry Taylor of the Center for Urban Studies and Kathryn Foster, who chaired the group.
President William Greiner, a former law school professor whose area of expertise was local government, initiated the Governance Project in early 1994 and charged the group with producing an inventory of the region's governmental structures and service delivery mechanisms, then analyzing the data with an eye toward efficiency and effectiveness. Careful not to prescribe any specific policy direction, Greiner noted that the report clearly indicates that "to simply hold on to the status quo would probably be a losing strategy."
Greiner explained that New York has particularly "progressive laws" when it comes to solving regional problems cooperatively. Among the possible solutions are shared services, intergovernmental compacts, public-private partnerships, service consolidations, and governmental consolidation, although he discounted talk of a "metropolitan" or joint city-county form of government as unlikely for Erie County in the near term.
The Governance Project will remain an ongoing public service of the university. The report explains that UB "has a genuine obligation to be an active partner in the development of the community" and it recommends three specific actions: that an accessible, regional on-line information network be established; that a significant survey be taken of area residents to prioritize issues; and that a series of targeted, follow-up forums be held on an ongoing basis. In addition, both Masiello and Gorski agreed, following Friday's meeting, to appoint representatives to a university-sponsored 20-member panel to continue to study regionalism and consolidation issues.
The report assessed current services delivery for the degree to which they are regionalized, comparing Erie County with comparable municipalities nationwide. While some services face obstacles such as "racial biases" or "fiscal distress" along the road to regionalism, others might more readily be regionalized, explained project chair Foster.
Price emphasized that the report was designed to be "not a prescription for change, but a valuable sourcebook," stressing that project members sought to analyze without "justifying any particular set of governmental relationships." Price observed that the average citizen in Erie County lives under a number of superficial jurisdictions simultaneously; a "layering" of governments which the Buffalo News has described as "political lasagna."
Price also debunked the adage that "everyone lives in the suburbs and works in the city." The project discovered that, on average, one third of Erie County suburbanites work in the suburb in which they reside, another third work in yet another suburb and another third commutes to work in Buffalo. And, in the city, nearly equal numbers of residents work in the city as commute to the suburbs to work. "In short, we are living 21st century lives under 20th century boundaries," Price said.
Sheffer reported that the next step in this process will come in about six weeks when the university will host a similar forum to explore on-line information services for government.