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County supervisors vs legislators: Which makes more sense?

The Essex County Board of Supervisors.

The Essex County Board of Supervisors. Photo by Keith Lobdell.

ELIZABETHTOWN — A little more than two decades ago, there was a groundswell of support in Essex County for switching from an 18-member board of supervisors to a five- or seven-member board of legislators.

Proponents pointed to a substantial cost savings to county taxpayers of as much as $250,000 a year and argued that legislators would be more apt to put county interests over those of a single municipality.

Armed with a petition signed by 1,700 county voters, a small but vocal group made up of Walter “Wally“ Huchro, Spencer “Spence” Egglefield, Ed Hatch and Gordon Davis succeeded in persuading county supervisors to place a question on the ballot in the Nov. 6, 1990 general election.

The question asked: “Should the Essex County Board of Supervisors appoint a Charter Commission for the purposes of replacing the Board of Supervisors with a County Legislature?”

Had the vote passed, the commission would have then made a recommendation to the board of supervisors, who would have had the ultimate decision of placing the change in the hands of the voters through a referendum.

Instead the effort fizzled, when voters, behind lobbying from town supervisors who opposed the change, voted 4,457 in favor to 7,234 against the move.

Faced with some of the most trying financial times in the county’s history, some officials are again saying that a cost analysis study should be done to determine if a legislature would be a more prudent governing body for the taxpayers of the county.

Reached for comment at his winter home in Florida, Huchro made it clear how he still stands on the issue.

“There is no doubt that a county legislature is a more accountable, more efficient system of government,” Huchro said. “Just look how the board is floundering right now, because no one is doing the county business — they all look out for what’s best for their towns, not what’s best for the county.”

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