Council sends term change to public vote

OBSERVER Photo by Jimmy McCarthy First Ward Councilman Don Williams Jr. explains his vote to send the question of extending the terms of councilmembers from two to four years to a public vote during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Voters in the city of Dunkirk will have the final say in the November general election on whether they’d like to see councilmembers serve four years as opposed to two years per term.

City councilmembers voted 3-2 during Tuesday’s meeting to send the question of changing term lengths to referendum on Nov. 6. The resolution sending it to public vote was tabled earlier in April for public hearing in May. The proposal stayed on the table during City Council’s May 1 meeting.

Councilmembers unanimously agreed Tuesday to take the resolution on the proposal and referendum off the table. But councilmembers were divided when it came to the actual vote to send the proposed change to referendum.

“I’ve been getting a lot of calls and heard nothing good about the four years from what I’m hearing,” Second Ward Councilman Marty Bamonto said. “So I’m going with the people who called and voted for me in here.”

Bamonto was a sponsor to the proposal along with First Ward Councilman Don Williams Jr., who voted ‘yes’ to send it to referendum. Williams said he’s received calls from people for and against the idea. Williams said he believes in the Democratic process and having voters ultimately deciding.

“This is just council saying that we will entrust the residents of the city to decide the fate whether it goes to two years or four years,” he said. “This isn’t anything that if any (councilmember) votes ‘yes’ or ‘no’ today is putting it into law today.”

Fourth Ward Councilman Michael Civiletto said he’s asked city residents regarding their stance on a term length change. Some told him it’s a good idea while others said keep it at two years. But many, he acknowledged, are unsure. Civiletto voted ‘yes’ to give voters the choice.

“I’m going to let the citizens of Dunkirk decide,” he said.

Third Ward Councilman Shaun Heenan voted against the proposal. He noted that many offices serve two-year terms, including New York State Senate and Assembly, the Chautauqua County Legislature and the House of Representatives to name a few.

“There’s a reason that it is two years, and that’s so people have the choice in two years, and it doesn’t become a job or lifelong occupation,” he said. “It gives people the opportunity to run every two years.”

Councilman-at-large Andy Woloszyn said he personally doesn’t agree with going to four years. However, in the faith of the Democratic process, he said he has no problem leaving the decision up to the public.