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Public hearing on Oneida County Legislature reduction draws just two residents

By GARY LIBERATORE

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The determination on whether the size of the Oneida County Legislature will be reduced, is now in the hands of Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente.

A public hearing on the legislature's plan to reduce the body by six members was held Friday morning at the County Office Building and after it wrapped up, the clock began ticking for Picente.

As County Executive, Picente now has 15 days to determine whether he will veto the legislature's plan, or pass it, which would mean a referendum on the issue would be put in front of Oneida County voters in November.

Only two county residents showed up to voice their opinion at Friday morning's public hearing - one of those being Garry Colarusso of Kirkland.

Colarusso, who is retired, says it's sad that a public hearing on such an important issue is held on a weekday morning when most people can't take time off from work to attend.

"The time that it is being held is extremely inconvenient for everyone," Colarusso said. "I think it's even inconvenient for the legislators themselves. There's no evening meetings any longer and for a government which is supposed to be a representative government and there to help the constituents through this process, that's become almost impossible."

The only other resident that showed up to speak at the public hearing was Patricia Powers of South Utica. She told Picente, who was in control of the public hearing, that she favors the reduction of the Legislature.

"At a time when everyone in our county is being asked to make sacrifices, it is only just that government does the same," Powers said.

The Legislature voted on two proposals earlier this month. The first, to reduce the Legislature by 10 seats. That resolution didn't pass, as it was a 14 to 14 tie.

The second proposal to reduce the Legislature by six seats narrowly passed 15 to 13 and that is what Friday's public hearing was about.

Before the public hearing, two newly elected members of the Legislature held a press conference outside the County Executive's office.

Democrats David Gordon of New Hartford and Harmony Speciale, of Utica, both urged Picente, through the media, to veto the measure.

Gordon told reporters he has heard from two legislators who voted against the ten member reduction who say they would indeed vote for it now.

"We do now have the 16 votes to amend this local law to ten, rather than six, so we definitely need him to veto this six," Gordon said.

On that, Picente told WKTV after the public hearing, "my message to them, is bring me the 16 votes, in writing, with a pledge, uncommitted to any other conditions, strictly on the ten and I'll look at it."

One of those legislators who vowed to change his mind is 25th District Democratic Legislator Franklin Davis who represents part of the Cornhill section of Utica.

Davis was at his counterparts' press conference. He says he had a change of heart after thinking about the issue further.

"We may vote one way and then better information is received," Davis said. "I believe we can do better as a body, speaking with one another, communicating through the process behind the decision, instead of saying, 'hey this is what I want to do and I have the numbers to do it.'"

Gordon and Speciale say the other member that vows to switch is newly elected 19th District Legislator Daniel Trevisani. Trevisani was not at Friday's press conference, or at the following public hearing.

Besides the two members of the public to speak at the public hearing, a few members of the Legislature also spoke in front of the County Executive.

One of those, 1st District Republican Legislator Ronald Townsend of Rome.

Townsend says he tried to get to every constituent in his district and added a few thousand would make that unachievable.

"To add another couple thousand people to my district, in a big area, I don't know if I can cover everybody," Townsend said. "I try to get to as many houses as I can."

Townsend says he would actually like to keep the current number of 29 legislators and asked Picente to consider putting multiple resolutions on the ballot.

"Maybe put three resolutions on the ballot, one for none, one for six, one for ten," Townsend suggested. "Let the community around us choose if they want representation or not."

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