Some of us have to be pushed to think outside the box. Others of us are fully occupied just trying to survive in the box as it is.
And then there is Sid Compton. As we learned when he was supervisor of the town of Chautauqua, his mind often is out there in the stratosphere of what sounds to the rest of us like impossible and crazy ideas.
There was, for example, his crazy idea a few years back for the town of Chautauqua to buy the old Mayville Central School building and renovate it for office space. With the townspeople following where Compton was leading them, the building on the hill is now fully occupied. It houses the county’s Family Court, town offices and offices of private firms — all providing income for the town.
At the time, county Executive Greg Edwards said it took vision and guts to see that project through to the end.
Yes it did.
Now Compton’s focus is on our bloated system of local governance and, in particular, the 500 elective offices we have in Chautauqua County.
He says it makes no sense that we have 27 town supervisors, 27 town highway superintendents, 27 town clerks. Most of the 27 towns have two justices.
Compton has laid out his argument to eliminate the top heavy system of management and governance in the county by replacing the existing county and 27 town governments with just seven districts (see Letter to the Editor below). That would include five districts formed from the 27 towns, and two from the cities.
Except for a few countywide agencies, services would be organized by district. Instead of having highway departments in each of 27 towns, two cities and the county, there would be seven. Instead of 27 town boards and two city councils, we would have seven governing boards. Instead of 29 city and town clerks, we would have seven, and so on.
“Notice, by the way, it is the management that is downsized, not the work force,” Compton says.
From the elected leadership of those seven districts would come the limited countywide governance that is needed. There could be, for example, an appointed manager to oversee the day-to-day services that would continue to be handled at the county level — social services, health and elections, for example. Crazy and far out? Or visionary and gutsy?
“This simply makes sense in this time of burdensome levels of government,” he said.
Yes it does.
As Chautauqua supervisor, Compton proposed saving the town’s property taxpayers $500,000 a year by contracting with the county instead of maintaining a town highway department. He was, as the cliche goes, thrown under the bus by county leadership that did not have the guts needed to implement the sensible plan.
This time around, Sid Compton is going to need strong, vigorous and gutsy allies from outside the usual sphere of local leaders.
We hope he finds them.