Tonawanda News

January 4, 2013

Lawmakers honor a 'finest son's' service

By Joyce M. Miles
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — LOCKPORT — A Lewiston native wounded in military combat this past summer was honored Wednesday by the Niagara County Legislature.

Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher T. Bristol, 22, was declared a Niagara County Hero by legislative proclamation. Additional citations by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state Senate and state Assembly were presented by state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston.

Bristol took a bullet wound to an arm during a firefight in Afghanistan over the summer and returned to combat duty less than two weeks later, as soon as his stitches were healed.

Bristol insisted his injury was “minor ... superficial,” especially compared to injuries suffered by other soldiers in the firefight, but his employer thought differently. Bristol was awarded a Purple Heart and a Navy Marine Corps commendation medal with a “V” for valor.

Maziarz introduced Bristol in legislative chambers Wednesday night as “one of Niagara County’s finest sons.” When lawmakers gave him a standing ovation, he thanked them.

The war in Afghanistan is “not the most popular, but it’s still alive and kicking,” he said. “It means the world to me ... that some people know it’s still on.”

Bristol is a member of the 1st Batallion, 1st Marine Division, Combined Anti-Armor Team 1, which left Afghanistan in late November. When his leave ends next week, he’ll return to Camp Pendleton, Calif., and await a new assignment. If needed, he’d volunteer to go back to Afghanistan, he said.

Bristol is the son of Timothy and Jane Bristol and the nephew of retired Marine Col. Dan Bristol. He was home-schooled and is a graduate of Niagara County Community College.

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Four Niagara County legislature and party caucus officials were re-elected without opposition Wednesday during the body’s annual organization meeting.

Returning Legislature Chairman Bill Ross, C-Wheatfield, cited a series of local legislative “victories” and “disappointments” in 2012, and budgetary challenges in 2013, in his annual State of the County address. He pledged the legislature will continue advancing local economic development through brownfield reclamation, moves to make  “shovel ready” commercial/industrial sites and targeted support for Niagara’s main sectors, agriculture and tourism, and will also keep up the “downsizing” of county government by consolidation, privatization and other cost-cutting moves.

Of the biggest disappointments in 2012 — insufficient state mandate relief in the face of the so-called property tax cap — Ross exhorted his fellow lawmakers to keep up pressure on Albany.

“We cannot let that go,” he said. As New York counties deplete their fund balances in order to meet the mandates while staying under tax cap limits, “counties could be moving toward the fiscal cliff too.”

Clyde Burmaster, R-Ransomville, was re-elected as legislature vice chairman without opposition. Richard Updegrove, R-Lockport, remains the Republican-led majority caucus leader; and Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, remains the minority caucus leader.

Legislative standing committee assignments haven’t been announced yet. After a mid-December change in the Rules of Order, the majority and minority leaders are now making the assignments instead of the legislature chairman making them.

Also, membership of the standing committees — administration, public works, economic development, community services and community safety and security — was reduced to 5 legislators a piece from 7. Caucus leaders will make the appointments proportionate to their caucus’ share of legislative seats, meaning Republicans will have 4 seats and Democrats 1 seat on each committee.

In addition, the Rules of Order now bar the legislature chairman, vice chairman and caucus leaders from being committee chairmen. Immediately, the most affected lawmakers are Updegrove, who was chairman of economic development, and Burmaster, who was chairman of public works last year.

Altogether, Ross said, amendments to Rule 37, pushed by the majority caucus, should cut legislators’ committee service obligations while giving more of them turns at leadership.

With reorganization, lawmakers approved an abbreviated 2013 legislature meeting schedule. In years past the body has convened twice a month. Last year Ross compressed the schedule to 19 meetings, and called two “special” meetings to act on business more quickly than the next scheduled meeting.

This year he proposed 15 meetings, one per month except in January, March, May and December. Special meetings can always be called as needed, he said.

“I looked over the agendas from last year and some of them were pretty paltry: Two items of county business and 15 ILs. It gets a bit ridiculous,” Ross said. “Hopefully (the abbreviated schedule) works out better.”

ILs are “individual legislation,” sponsored by one or more legislators, that typically express a sentiment, such as opposition to a particular state or federal law or regulation.