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Warren County board won't consider government switch

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QUEENSBURY  It appears Warren County supervisors have had enough of the discussions about whether the county’s form of government needs to be changed.

The Board of Supervisors on Friday voted down a resolution to establish a subcommittee “to explore alternate forms of county government,” to look in particular at whether a legislature would more fairly represent residents.

Fifteen of 20 supervisors voted against the measure, which came after many saw dueling presentations on the issue at a committee meeting late last month.

The board had been asked late last year to review whether the Board of Supervisors system was unconstitutional by then-Queensbury Supervisor at-Large Mark Westcott, who along with three other supervisors presented the board with a “petition for redress of grievances.”

In particular, the four Queensbury and Glens Falls supervisors argued that smaller upcounty towns had more voting power than they should based on population. They also argued that the board’s committee voting system, which does not use weighted votes, is unfair.

A legislature, where members represent equally broken up districts regardless of municipal boundaries, was viewed by some as a more equitable system.

Friday’s vote came after a long and wide-ranging discussion about a variety of related topics, from whether a legislature would more fairly represent residents to the lack of presence of Glens Falls’ mayor on the board and whether Queensbury supervisors should serve specific wards instead of serve as “at-large” legislators representing the whole town. The director of the New York State Association of Counties had also made a presentation last month, and told supervisors he didn’t see any issues with the county’s governmental structure.

Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Rachel Seeber, who was one of the supervisors who presented the petition in December, has been pushing for a switch from at-large to ward supervisors in Queensbury, while Glens Falls 5th Ward Supervisor Matt MacDonald has been advocating for the Glens Falls mayor to have a spot on the board.

Those issues could be addressed without a move from a Board of Supervisors, however.

Many on the board questioned whether district legislators would result in town representatives losing touch with county goings-on.

“I’ve come across legislature forms of government that aren’t so pretty,” Queensbury Supervisor John Strough said. “I’m not seeing how a legislative form of government would be beneficial to the county of Warren.”

While Friday’s vote ended the discussion for the time being, it does not preclude members of the board from resurrecting the issue in the future.

Proponents of a possible switch have also hinted at legal action to get a judge’s opinion on the legality of the board setup if the Board of Supervisors didn’t act.

“I don’t think it’s going to be ended today in any event,” Queensbury resident Travis Whitehead told the board.

Later Friday, Westcott said he was “disappointed” at the board’s action, but heartened by the fact that as many supervisors voted to go forward with additional analysis as did. The reluctance of many to look at the issue stems from concerns about losing the “power, salary and benefits” of being a supervisor, he added.

“There remain some fundamental problems with this board moving forward,” he said.

Litigation remains a distinct possibility, he added.

Seeber said after the meeting that some good changes have been happening at board meetings, including more success in bringing resolutions for a vote from the floor during full board meetings instead of insisting they first come through a committee.

Don Lehman covers crime and Warren County government for The Post-Star. His work can be found on Twitter @PS_CrimeCourts and on poststar.com/app/blogs.

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