Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chamber should mind their business

The news that County Manager Greg Lewis is packing his bags and leaving when his contract runs up in December is not particularly surprising. Nor is it particularly upsetting, to be honest.

I've dealt with Lewis dozens of times during his tenure as county manager, and while I think he's a decent guy personally and has had some great ideas, he basically became a puppet for the supermajority Republican caucus of the legislature, which rendered him impotent.

Strangely, when I first met Lewis, I asked him if he was afraid such a thing would happen. I'm not sure if I've got ESP or if I just know how things work around here.

New blood is needed and I think Lewis stepping aside will be good for him … as well as for Niagara County taxpayers.

It seems the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce is pushing for the county legislature to start the search process for Lewis' replacement now. Ten months might seem like a long time, but in politics, it's no time at all. After all, the political arena makes molasses look like lightning.

So for the record, I agree with the chamber. Mark that on your calendars. It doesn't happen often.

What I don't agree with is that the chamber should have anything to do with the selection process. See, chamber president and CEO Deanna Alterio-Brennen says the chamber is ready and willing to assist with the process of finding a new person to sit at the helm of county government.

The concept frightens me.

I've never been happy with the way the chamber of commerce here in Niagara County dabbles in politics. They always seem to have an opinion on everything … and usually I find that opinion to be wrong.

For example, three years ago, the chamber supported the tax breaks for AES, despite the fact that it would raise taxes for county residents – including the small businesses they claim to hold so near and dear.

They referred to this as “advocacy,” saying in the long run it may help businesses cause all businesses deserve a tax break … and why not start with the one paying the most taxes.

But when the smoking ban was being bandied about in Albany, the chamber was mum. Restaurateurs far and wide were saying that the ban would hurt business. Where was the advocacy then? My guess would be that restaurant owners didn't have the cash to pony up to get their opinion front and center – unlike the coal plant in Barker.

Basically, I'm saying that the chamber of commerce is much more interested in the chamber part of their name than the commerce part.

Now this isn't some east end versus west end turf war for me. I know a lot of business owners in eastern Niagara County felt put out when the two chambers merged and Dave Kinyon ended up tossed on his ear.

I should mention here that the official story is the Kinyon left of his own accord for greener pastures.

Anyway, point being, I had no love for the Eastern Niagara Chamber or Dave Kinyon. I attempted to use them as a resource on several occasions when writing for Greater Niagara Newspapers and found them to be – frankly – inept. Aside from the Apple Festival, I never really got what they did.

No, for me the issue isn't provincialism, it's politics. I just don't think the chamber should be involved. When they figure out how to grow business in Niagara County – which should be their primary role – I'll consider listening to their opinion on politics.

Of course, they'll say the politics is one of the biggest hindrances to business in the county and in order to bring business here, they have to change the political landscape. Well, they wouldn't actually say that out loud. They're too busy sucking up to the problem; the politicians themselves.

I'd say leave the political decision making to the legislature, but I don't really like that option either.

And it was tasty ...

So the new Jim's SteakOut opened yesterday in Lockport and - of course - I had to be one fo the first to try it.

It was very good. Better than expected to be honest. But there were a few mishaps. They screwed up part of our order and forgot the poutine, which would have been fine by me. I think that stuff looks nasty. But it was on the list, so we had to get it.

Rumor has it, they're going to try to stay open until 5 a.m. everyday. So that'll be nice for people like me who oftentimes forget to go to bed.

I'll be back. I assure you.
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