IRVING — Less than 10 years ago, the Chautauqua County Legislature seemed a lot more like Dysfunction Junction than a group of local elected officials working to better a region where we live. It was a contentious gathering of 25 members, many who consistently voted party lines and would have rather muddy an issue than make sense of it.
Those creating the gridlock in Mayville almost took joy in it. Being a county legislator also was a lucrative hobby. Work 24 to 30 five-hour days a year and rake in $10,000 plus benefits and a nice pension once your time of service had ended.
Ironically, many of those with that philosophy were Republicans from the rural outskirts of Clymer, Sherman and Westfield. It was never about solutions, just the political favors and stall tactics.
That unfortunate era, however, seemed to end when current Legislator and County Executive candidate George Borrello took office. Borrello, from Sunset Bay, represented a major change from the stodgy, do-nothing Republicans to someone who saw the potential and the true gem chautauqua County can become.
It had to start with the private sector. “In my opinion, the best thing government can do is get out of the way,” he said in announcing his 2009 campaign. “What I mean by that is, elected officials should encourage growth by removing the barriers that government tends to put in the way.”
Borrello would ultimately win election that year with some others who brought a new vision, greater efficiency and a huge change to a failing and bickering group of 25 lawmakers. Some of those who also came on board at that time were current Legislator Bob Scudder, who continues to represent portions of Fredonia and Pomfret today, as well as John Runkle and John Gullo. Gullo served one term and led the charge for the Legislature downsizing. Runkle, during his terms, was more of a financial watchdog.
But that November 2009 election was the impetus that changed the dynamic and direction of an embarrassing governing body. Since then, it’s much more business than politics — and it began with a downsizing of 25 legislators to 19.
“When we came into office, Bob and I came in together, it was a very divisive group. We had a razor-thin majority on the Republican side and we spent way too much time worrying about what the other side was doing,” Borrello recalled.
Both newcomers, he and Scudder had no time for continued stalemates with Borrello stating their goal at the time was supporting good ideas, and opposing the bad ones no matter what party was leading the charge. “Eventually others joined in that effort,” he said, “and now I am proud to say that not only are we downsized … we have a group completely void of politics. … We all work together.”
With his announcement Wednesday in front of more than 100 in attendance, Borrello attempts to take the next step in service. Already, he is one of the more active legislators. He attends just about every Hanover meeting and was involved in the Forestville dissolution. He also is a huge reason Chautauqua County is one of six governments in the running for a $20 million grant from New York state geared toward government efficiencies.
Some of Borrello’s initiatives have meshed well with current County Executive Vince Horrigan, who is leaving after only one term. Horrigan has been successful in making a number of regional efforts take place and working with an overabundance of local elected leadership — some of it qualified, while others just downright stubborn.
Borrello is not a politician at heart. He comes from the private sector and moved back to Chautauqua County because he loved the area where he grew up. His announcement, near the park that bears his grandfather’s name, was special and brought out a number of dignitaries, friends and family.
It kicks off a campaign that has yet to have a challenger, though the Democrats have likely narrowed their choice from a field of at least four to one.
But despite the county’s unbelievable even split between registered Democrats and Republicans at 26,057 each, the Republicans own the county while their counterparts dominate the two cities in terms of representation.
In the last four years, it has been a formula for progress in the county and Western New York in terms of government downsizing, efficiency and working together.