The Erie County Legislature held a public hearing Thursday evening, but not a single speaker showed up. That was unexpected, because the hearing revolved around the plan for a Corrections Advisory Board, which has been controverial.
Earlier in the day, Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard told the Legislature's Public Safety Committee he would go along with the creation. That was unexpected as well, as he has been unhappy about recreating a board that fell out of existence six years ago.
The sheriff told the committee he wanted "an open-minded, honorable advisory board," not one "to advance a political agenda," and that its work might benefit his department. That was such a breakthrough that hours later, no one showed for the evening hearing.
There will be nine members, but there are some fights about the details of membership. Legislature Chairwoman April Baskin said she wants to pass the local law on Thursday. She said the advisory board is badly needed.
"We're dealing with multiple deaths in the jail. We're dealing with attempted overdoses. We're dealing with jail management being out of compliance with both the Federal Department of Justice and the state COC," Baskin said. "So the circumstances are different than every other advisory board and I do think that everyone will take if very seriously once it's called into law."
Legislator Tim Meyers (D-Cheektowaga) said the public wants the board.
"The last public hearing we had was overwhelming support for the advisory board," Meyers said. "I think the public has spoken and we're going to take their direction and this is what we're going to do."
"My district is disproportionately represented in the prison, when you think about the arrests that happen," said Public Safety Committee Chairman Howard Johnson (D-Buffalo). "The Erie County sheriff said today most of his arrests are city arrests. So, yes, it definitely affects my district the most."
Because this is a local law, the process for creating the board is far more complicated than just passing a resolution.
If it is approved Thursday, as expected, it goes to County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who has to go through the process of holding a public hearing. If he signs off, it then goes to Albany for registration of the law. Supporters say the first meeting might be held by Labor Day.