Lack Of Representation

A review of attendance of the Chautauqua County Legislature at meetings in Mayville last year revealed that 57 percent of district representatives who missed one or more meetings have since left the legislature.

Victoria James, D-Jamestown, former legislator for District 14, was absent for four out of 12 regular meetings, followed by Tom DeJoe, D-Brocton, who was absent for 25 percent of them. Incumbent PJ Wendel, R-Lakewood, missed two.

Chairman of the legislature Jay Gould said attendance at regular meetings and committee meetings is very important.

“Otherwise, they (legislators) are cheating their constituents because they are uninformed or misinformed,” he said. “If you run for the office, you should be ready to serve the office.”

Those who only missed one meeting included Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown; Fred Croscut, R-Sherman; Bob Whitney, D-Jamestown; Robert Stewart, R-Ellington; Bob Duff, R-Sheridan; Bill Coughlin, D-Fredonia; Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk; Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown; Mark Tarbrake, R-Jamestown; Paula DeJoy D-Jamestown; and George Borrello, R-Irving.

Committee meetings had the most sporadic attendance rates.

The group with the lowest attendance was the Audit and Control Committee.

Out of 11 meetings, only one was attended by all members, which included incumbents John Runkle, R-Stockton; George Borrello, R-Irving; Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown; David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; Wendel; and DeJoe. November’s meeting was canceled due to lack of a quorum.

Wendel was absent 81 percent of the time, while Nazzaro, Heenan and Borrello missed 27 percent of meetings. Runkle and DeJoe only missed one.

The next least attended committee was Planning and Economic Development.

Heenan missed four out of nine meetings, while outgoing legislator Croscut missed two.

The Administrative Services Committee had the highest attendance at meetings in 2013, with all members present 80 percent of the time. The group was composed of Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia; Larry Barmore, R-Gerry; DeJoy; Cornell; and Tarbrake.

Tarbrake and DeJoy had perfect attendance.

Public Facilities Committee meetings were fully attended 33 percent of the time, while outgoing District 7 legislator Robert Stewart missed six out of 12.

Of all Human Services Committee meetings, 67 percent were attended fully by outgoing legislators Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point; Timothy Hoyer, D-Jamestown; John Hemmer, R-Westfield; James; and incumbent Tarbrake. James and Hoyer each missed two out of 12 meetings.

Lastly, Public Safety Committee members were fully attended 58 percent of the time, and missed most by outgoing legislators Duff, Coughlin and Whitney.

Wendel did not miss any Public Safety meetings, nor did Hemmer.

Horrigan, Hemmer and Himelein attended all committee meetings to which they were assigned.

Horrigan, the new county executive, said attendance at committee meetings is important from the standpoint of participation and helps legislators learn the background of issues within county government.

However, he added that certain legislators have other commitments.

“(Lack of attendance) should not be used as a political attack on someone,” Horrigan said. “It’s not as simple as saying ‘every meeting must be attended at all times or else you’re a bad legislator.’ That’s not the way it should be looked at.”

What’s important, he said, is learning information on issues from meetings in order to make an educated decision when it comes to voting in the legislature.

“The other important thing is that we need representation from all parts of our community- people in business, education, younger people, older people,” Horrigan said. “When representing a diverse community such as that of Chautauqua County, we want to have participants in government that come from all sectors, rather than those who just happened to be retired and can make every meeting.”