Town of Lockport, NY: A disturbing election year truth

NOTE: What follows exposes behavior that is repugnant to every American’s sense of “fair play”—elected officials (mis)using their notary commissions for the personal gain of re-election.

Essay: New York Law reads: Though a person may be eligible to hold the office of notary the person may be disqualified to act in certain cases by reason of having an interest in the case. To state the rule broadly: if the notary is a party to . . . the transaction, the person is not capable of acting in that case.

Why is this important?—because all persons who currently sit on the Town Board for the Town of Lockport are Notaries (or Commissioner of Deeds); and as such, they can lawfully witness signatures.

Taken on its face, this isn’t a problem—until it’s election season, and a want to maintain the ‘status quo’ grips the incumbents.

Ask yourself, “Why is it that, in the Town of Lockport, Republican candidates (too frequently to be a chance happening) also appear on the Conservative Party and Independence Party ballots?” Are these minor parties endorsing, and working for, these cross-party candidates, or are these cross-party candidates stealing ballot lines, by violating notary law?

A review of the 2013 minor party ‘designating petitions’ reveals a disturbing truth.

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Town of Lockport, NY: Walk and Talk

NOTE: The following article, by Joe Olenick of the Lockport Union Sun and Journal, appeared in the Union Sun and Journal on 8/25/13. The article speaks to my candidacy as Town Councilman, and addresses my election platform of presenting to the voters two referendums (for change) at the November 2013 General Election.

ARTICLE: Paul Black says all he’s been doing is walking around and talking with people.

Black is a candidate for the Lockport Town Board and one of three vying-for the Republican nod in the Sept. 10 primary. He is running against incumbents Mark C. Crocker and Patricia Dufour.

But while collecting signatures for his own candidacy, Black has also been collecting signa­tures for a pair of referendums he hopes will be on the November ballot as well. He is nearing 400 signatures for each refer­endum, more than the required 322 needed, or 5 percent of those who voted in the last gubernato­rial election in 2010.

The first referendum asks residents if the town should be divided into four wards, like many cities including the city of Lockport. Residents in a particular ward would elect a town board member from among those who live within the ward.

Currently, Lockport’s five-person town board consists of four at-large, members and a supervisor.

While collecting those signatures, Black has been speak­ing with a number of residents. Many have shared the same opinion, he said, that change is needed at Town Hall. He’s spent over 70 days speaking with resi­dents.

“I’m striking a cord with a lot of people,” Black said. “I see a board that has become distant and disconnected from the peo­ple. They’ve lost touch with the people.

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Town of Lockport, NY: Lockport Town Board hopeful seeking votes on reforms

NOTE: The following article, by Tom Prohaska of the Buffalo News, appeared in the buffalo news 8/4/13.  The article speaks to my candidacy as Town Councilman, and addresses my election platform of presenting to the voters two referendums (for change) at the November 2013 General Election.

ARTICLE: Paul R. Black, who is running for Lockport councilman, also is gath­ering petition signatures to force public votes on two Town Board reforms.

Black, a Republican facing incumbents Mark C. Crocker and Patricia Dufour in the Sept. 10 GOP primary, said last week he intends to submit petitions that would require referen­dums on dividing the town into four wards for the purpose of electing board members and on a package of rule changes that he says would make the board more open.

Crocker and Dufour said they oppose Black’s sugges­tions.

Black said he already has enough petition signatures to get the propositions on the Nov. 5 general election ballot, but he’s still gathering them “just in case.”

“I don’t know what games might be played. I don’t know if the board’s going to be straight­forward, or if they’re going to run to an attorney or to court,” Black said.

State law says a petition to place propositions on the bal­lot must carry a total number of valid signatures equal to 5 percent of the number of votes cast in the town during the last election for governor. Thus, the magic number is 322, and Black said he has already topped the 350 mark.

The petition must be handed in between 60 and 75 days be­fore the general election. Black says he intends to submit his petitions at the Sept. 4 Town Board meeting. If the signa­tures are valid, the town can’t keep the propositions off the ballot.

The first proposition calls for electing board members by ward. State law assumes that all town board members will be elected at large but has provi­sions for adopting the ward sys­tem by referendum.

If it were approved, the Ni­agara County Board of Elec­tions would draw four wards of roughly equal population, and the wards would go into effect with the 2015 town election. Board members would then have two-year terms instead of the current four-year terms. It would take another referendum to abolish the ward system.

“I think that board has to­tally lost touch with the pub­lic,” Black said. “When there’s a problem, you don’t have a repre­sentative on the board. Who do you go to to fight for you? And when they don’t fight for you, who do you get rid of?”

“I don’t see why we have to change what works so beauti­fully,” said Dufour, who was ap­pointed to the board in January to replace the late Paul H. Pettit. “Our board represents the town as a whole. We’re a team, and we work as a team.”

“We think having four peo­ple elected at large is an invalu­able service to the town,” Crock­er said.

He said if someone calls him and he’s not available, the constituent has other choices. “You have four possibilities to get hold of someone with your problem,” Crocker said.

All towns in Niagara County use the at-large system. In Erie County, Amherst has frequently considered switching to wards. Voters have defeated the pro­posal four times, most recently in 2010. In 2012, a petition for a fifth referendum was rejected by a judge on a technicality.

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Town of Lockport, NY: Announcement of Candidacy for Town Councilman

NOTE: The below press release was sent to numerous newspapers in Western New York; the only paper to print it, as is, was the Metro News Group; Rikki Cason.

PRESS RELEASE: My name is Paul Black of the Town of Lockport, NY. Thanks to the many encouraging signers of my Republican petition for Town Councilman, I am this day [July 10, 2013] announcing my candidacy for Town Councilman in the September 10, 2013 Republican Primary.

In the course of collecting 336 signatures, I found that many of you, on your own, have come to the same conclusion as I—that there needs to be change at Town Hall; that our Town Board seems to have more in common with a privileged clique than a representative body.

Consider: At public meetings, resolutions are moved and passed, with no explanation; documents that might aid public understanding are absent; “public comments” are solicited and then ignored; and, in spite of a well presented (public) objection, the Board will always vote what it intended. Also, and this is of no small import, at its 7:30pm “monthly board meeting” the Town Board never mentions business discussed and/or transacted at its 1pm “work sessions”—while you and I were working. As a result, 7:30pm meetings have become little more than a meaningless (public) performance—we know not, because it is so intended.

This culture of disdain (for the people) is unacceptable; and, it should not be excused and/or justified because something else may be right. I am running for Town Councilman because: 1) I am offended by what I see, and 2) I have an agenda for change—two referendums to be voted by the people, at the November 2013 ballot:

1) Change our “at-large” Town Board to one of four “wards”. The obvious benefit is that your Councilman will be required to live in and be elected from your ward. It’s my hope that this will make our Councilman more representative; and if not, more easily replaced.

2) Establish public meeting bylaws that respect the owners of government—the people. Of the five proposed bylaws—meetings, voting, documents, control of meetings and legislative authority—no bylaw is more important than that which moves all Town Board meetings (however titled) to evening hours. The current practice of holding 1-3 meetings/month at 1pm, while the Town’s largest audience is working, will cease.

In these referendums, I find hope: 1) for a Town Board that is representative of the people and 2) for a Town Board that is respectful of the people; change is long overdo for the people of the Town of Lockport, NY. I will work, tirelessly, to achieve this end.

See you at the polls—September 10, 2013.

Town of Lockport, NY: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 4

NOTE: The below essay was delivered, without being read into the record, to the Town Board of the Town of Lockport, NY. In part 4, I continued my further explanation of 12 bylaws presented on 4/10/13.  Whereas I am presently circulating a petition for referendum on “bylaws”, I thought (at this juncture) any public explanation might look political—this I didn’t want.  To me, these bylaws address, head-on and with remedy, the arrogance so prevalent in our representative bodies.

ESSAY: In my last presentation, I argued that WE THE PEOPLE have a right (of superior position) and a duty to judge our governments—and, so we do. But that’s only the half of it; WE THE PEOPLE also have a responsibility to watch over our governments—as an employer might watch over his employees.

When you, the Town Board of the Town of Lockport, NY, disconnect yourselves from the people and, in turn, we do nothing, we have failed you as much as you have failed us. Government is not something that someone else does; it’s something that we all do. When the people complement or criticize, they are participating.

Previously, I expanded upon bylaws regarding “meetings in general”, “legal notices”, “recording of public meetings”, “meeting agendas” and “meeting documents”, “public commentary” and “public communications”. Tonight, I’ll expand upon “voting”, “dignity”, “enforcement”, “amendability and severability” and “construction”.

8) Voting:

a) All Town Board voting shall occur at “monthly board meetings”.

The intent here is to establish a practice which the public can rely upon for observing the voting of Town Board business. Presently, when voting occurs in a “work session”, it is, for all practical purposes, occurring in secret due to its 1pm schedule.

b) The Town Board shall not vote a matter, where there has been public objection(s) at “monthly board meeting”, for at least one period approximating 30 days—the next “monthly board meeting”. Within these 30 days, and before the people, Town Board shall address public objection(s).

The intent here is to stop “runaway” voting. It is unacceptable for a Town Board to request public input and then, when the last speaker returns to his seat, immediately vote the vote it intended. This is nothing short of shameful; misleading the public into believing their voice can influence a vote—and then it doesn’t again, and again, and again.

Hence, where there is a public objection to a matter up for vote, the vote—out of respect for the people—should be postponed and the objection(s) be fully examined and publicly explained prior to any future vote; the earliest vote being the next “monthly board meeting”. No objection is to be ignored or dismissed.

c) Where there is no public objection(s), the Town Board may immediately vote a matter.

It is expected that in many instances there will be no public objection(s) to a matter to be voted, in this instance the Town Board should, without delay, vote as it sees fit.

9) Dignity:

a) Town Board members, their guests and the people shall treat each other with respect.

b) Should cause be found to silence or remove an individual, including Board member(s) and/or their guest(s)—common sense shall prevail. All individuals may participate in the next public meeting without restriction.

This standard is intended to place the Town Board and the people on equal footing; it may be the board’s meeting, but it’s the people’s board. Whereas it is understood that no board member should ever be permanently silenced or removed so it should also be with the public—what ever the moment requires, it’s for that meeting alone.

10) Enforcement:

a) These rules shall be an enforceable agreement between the people of the Town of Lockport, NY and its Town Board. During a public meeting, enforcement of this agreement shall be the prerogative of the senior security officer—however titled. His judgment shall rule the moment; he is hereby given authority to evict Board members, their guests and the people, for the remainder of the present meeting, only.

b) Where a behavior becomes disruptive to the conduction of a meeting, it is reserved to the senior security officer to provide a remedy. All individuals may participate in the next public meeting without restriction.

11) Amendability and Severability:

a) It is hereby agreed between the people of the Town of Lockport, NY and its Town Board that these bylaws shall only be amended through a public referendum.

This condition is provided to protect the people from an intentional watering-down of these bylaws by future Town Boards.

b) Should one or more of these bylaws violate New York Law, as determined by a court proceeding, this will not affect the validity of the remaining bylaws.

This condition is provided as a means to protect the many bylaws from the possible shortcoming of a few, or even one.

12) Liberal Construction:

a) These bylaws shall be liberally construed, for the benefit of an informed public.

This brings us back to where we started: These bylaws are intended “first and foremost” for public understanding, with each bylaw having its place in the whole.

To view part 1, click here: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 1.

To view part 2, click here: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 2.

To view part 3, click here: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 3.

Town of Lockport, NY: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 3

NOTE: The below essay was delivered, without being read into the record, to the Town Board of the Town of Lockport, NY. In part 3, I continued my further explanation of 12 bylaws presented on 4/10/13.  Whereas I am presently circulating a petition for referendum on “bylaws”, I thought (at this juncture) any public explanation might look political—this I didn’t want.  To me, these bylaws address, head-on and with remedy, the arrogance so prevalent in our representative bodies.

ESSAY: Once a government is created, in too many instances it takes on a life, unintended. To put this observation into perspective, all one need due is look at the foundation of government in New York—the New York State Constitution. It begins: WE THE PEOPLE….do establish this constitution. This is no light statement. WE THE PEOPLE—not the state, not the county, not the municipality—constituted all governments, in New York. For the people of New York, this means we have both a right (of superior position) and a duty to judge all New York governments.

Previously, I expanded upon bylaws regarding “meetings in general”, “legal notices”, “recording of public meetings”, “meeting agendas” and “meeting documents”. Tonight, I’ll expand upon “public commentary” and “public communications”.

6) Public commentary:

a) At “monthly board meetings” the people may speak; at “work session” the people may not speak.

Nothing changes. With regard to “work sessions”, the people willingly yield to the board’s need to discuss Town business without public interruption.

b) Preceding “public comments” and “public hearings” at “monthly board meeting”, Town Supervisor will apprise people of “work session” business since last “monthly board meeting”; as well as providing answers to any unanswered questions from last “monthly board meeting”—see 6d.

Whereas “monthly board meetings” are more attended than “work sessions”, the need arises for the board to conduct “monthly board meetings” as though the public is unaware of the business of “work sessions”. Therefore, apprising the public of “work session” business since the last “monthly board meeting” makes good sense, and it aids public understanding. Also, it may bring to mind a question needing asking or a comment needing saying from the public.

This is also the time to answer questions carried from the preceding “monthly board meeting. It is expected that the Town Supervisor or his designee(s) will answer all (public) questions, to the satisfaction of the questioner. Should a questioner be absent, an answer should still be given.

c) At “monthly board meetings”, the people shall have five minutes each before the Town Board, to voice their questions and/or comments; there shall be no subject matter restrictions.

The much needed change here is “no subject matter restrictions”. “Monthly board meetings” serve a unique “public service”; they afford everyone in the community the opportunity to speak to his or her elected representatives—all at the same time. A subject that might seem otherwise out-of-place is nonetheless important to the one speaking. And, if you will, if a subject can be important to one, can it not also be important to others? For this consideration alone, a board should never use its inherent “police power” to silence a speaker because of subject matter.

d) At “monthly board meetings” the Town Supervisor shall see to it that all questions are promptly answered. If an answer cannot be immediately provided, it may be delayed until the next “MBM”, with a statement to that effect placed in that meeting’s minutes.

No question is to go unanswered. To leave a question unanswered is unacceptable and worse; it’s insulting to the one doing the asking—a thing not to be done.

7) Public communications:

a) Written communications to the Town Board, from a people, are to read before the public at a “monthly board meeting”, as though the individual were present and able to speak for himself.

b) There shall be no subject matter restrictions.

A written communication is no different than a verbal communication; they both express an interest in Town business. A written communication, from a resident, should be heard prior to “public comments” and “public hearings”; as it may bring to mind a question needing asking or a comment needing saying from the public.

To view part 1, click here: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 1

To view part 2, click here: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 2

To view part 4, click here: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 4.

Town of Lockport, NY: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 2

NOTE: The below presentation was given before the Town Board of the Town of Lockport, NY on 5/8/13; my purpose being a “part two” follow up to my 4/10/13 presentation of “12 public meeting bylaws”. Because these bylaws intentionally meddle into Town business, as especially practiced in “public meetings”, I thought it fitting to present follow up argument(s) for their enactment. On 6/5/13, I spoke to “Legal notices”, “Recording of public meetings”, “Meeting agendas” and “Meeting documents.

PRESENTATION: A Town Board is quite naturally closest to Town business. Knowing this, a Town Board must guard itself against the tendency to be blinded, by “custom and practice”, to the fact that the people want Town business to be conducted in a manner easily understood by all. In part this means: No agenda item, no matter how routine, should be moved in the absence of a board effort to promote its understanding.

In the matter of much needed bylaws, I previously expanded upon “meetings in general”. Tonight, I’ll expand upon “legal notices”, “recording of public meetings”, “meeting agendas” and “meeting documents”.

2) Legal notices:

a) The Town Board shall inform all willing Medias—not just the official paper—when it comes to notifying the public of meetings subject to “legal notice”; a record is to be maintained.

Owing to the reality that the “official newspaper” is not everyone’s first choice for news, a board intent on including the public in its proceedings needs to use multiple Medias so as to reach the largest possible public audience about coming public meetings.

3) Recording of public meetings:

a) The Town Board shall video record all public meetings, including “work sessions” for public viewing at the Town web site and/or purchase.

b) The public may video record all public meetings.

The reason for establishing a standard of video recording is that it best preserves, for the people, a real time capture of Town Business. These candid recordings should remain unedited and avail-able to the public.

4) Meeting agendas:

a) Agendas shall be available prior to all public meetings, at Town Hall and Town website.

b) “Work sessions” and “monthly board meetings” agendas shall include proposed topics of discussion.

c) “Monthly board meetings” agendas shall additionally include an explanation of “work session” business occurring since last “monthly board meeting”.

Of the three sub points mentioned, “C” contributes most to public understanding of Town business, as it brings to bear upon “monthly board meetings” what is otherwise inaccessible information—the business of “work sessions”. Consider: Who can attend a 1pm “work session”; and also, who can get to Town Hall before 4:30pm to obtain (draft) meeting minutes, when available? This problem with “time”, and the ill-informed and uninformed public it fosters, needs your willingness to conduct yourselves differently.

5) Meeting documents:

a) Documents pertinent to a public meeting shall be available to the public, without need of FOIL, prior to meetings at Town Hall and Town website.

In general, this expectation for the public viewing of meeting documents prior to public meetings accords with section 103(e) of New York’s Open Meetings Law. For the sake of public under-standing, all documents should be whole; a document that is difficult to read because of redaction or a referencing to unavailable or inaccessible documents ill-serves public understanding of Town business.

To view Part 1, click here: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 1.

To view part 3, click here: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 3.

To view Part 4, click here: Public Meeting Bylaws Explained–part 4.

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