Is Cattaraugus County Leading The Way To Greater Western New York Independence?

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Just because you may not have seen this in the news doesn’t mean it isn’t news. In fact, it could be big news.

Actually, it could be very big news, and it occurred just a month ago in the halls of the Cattaraugus County legislative chamber. What’s more amazing, and not really being reported, was how fast it all happened and the fact the origin didn’t start with an elected official, but with a group of concerned everyday citizens like you.

Cattaraugus County is located along the Southern Tier of the Greater Western New York region. It’s mostly rural with the largest city being Olean (the other “big” city is Salamanca, the birthplace of NFL legend Marv Hubbard, who played fullback for the Oakland Raiders). Cattaraugus County is also the home of St. Bonaventure University.

Known for its promotional nickname “Enchanted Mountains,” traveling through its picturesque hills full of never-ending green trees gives you a sense of what our region looked like to the pioneers who first settled Western New York shortly after the Revolutionary War. Seeing this unadorned beauty throughout our region, you can’t help but think “rugged individual.”

Likewise, when you read what they did, you’ll immediately see why Cattaraugus County might be considered the role model for Greater Western New York independence. And, to think, it all started at the confluence of Second Amendment concerns and Covid church restrictions. What it led to, however, might just be a date to remember when they write the history of Greater Western New York.

August 25, 2021. It was the last Wednesday evening of the month, but it might be the first day of our independence.

Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe not.

It was in a Legislative Board Meeting of Cattaraugus County that lawmakers passed Act No. 329-2021 “Opposing Infringements on the Inalienable Rights of the People and Declaring Cattaraugus County a Constitutional County and Amending the Mission Statement of the County to Confirm Therewith.”

Every legislator, including the Board’s only Democrat, voted for this “Constitutional County” Act. – and this is particularly instructive to those who think this effort might have been a strictly partisan undertaking. Of the four resolutions in this Act, one is more compelling:

“Resolved: that the Cattaraugus County Legislature recognizes that Government must be limited and that the people must be free from unnecessary and arbitrary Governmental overreach and intrusions.”

This means, as further delineated by the Act, “that public funds, resources, employees, buildings or offices not be used to restrict such rights or to aid or assist in the enforcement of any unconstitutional restriction of the rights granted under the Constitution or its Bill of Rights (such constitutionality to be determined by the Courts).”

Operationally, the Act is spelled out in the mission statement of Cattaraugus County: “The goal of the Cattaraugus County Government is to support and respect the Constitution of the United States of America and its amendments, and to provide essential services financed most economically to its citizens. Also, it is to establish an environment in which the citizens of Cattaraugus County can pursue life, liberty, and happiness unencumbered by excessive and oppressive governmental mandates and intrusions into their day-to-day lives. The goal of the government of this County is to uphold the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The County Legislature recognizes that governments in the United States of America – at all levels – are to be restrained and limited and that the power of government resides in the people. The Legislators of this County, accept with humility and gratitude the reality that they serve at the consent of the governed and at the will of the people. The Legislators believe in the rule of law, equality before the law, due process, private property protections, and the rights of citizens to pursue their livelihoods without excessive governmental oversight.   Wherever possible, the Legislature will encourage local solutions, local funding, and creative approaches to the problems our community encounters. The Legislature stands as a protector between the citizens of this County and the tendency of governments at state and federal levels to advance into territory not their own and consume, rather than secure, the liberties endowed to the people by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The County’s guide and standard will be the Constitution of the United States and the Founding Documents upon which our Nation, our State, and the local communities of Cattaraugus County are built”

Naturally, I had to find out more about how this came to pass. I spoke with Ginger Schroder, (click here to see the interview) who represents Cattaraugus County’s Legislative District 3 and Brenda Hanson, a regular everyday school teacher in real life. The story of how they put this together in two months was inspiring.

Schroder had been working with a couple of other legislators on the concept of making Cattaraugus County a Second Amendment Sanctuary County. The primary issue here is the size of the County, where neighbors are often separated by acres, not apartment walls. It’s the classic case where you can’t rely on police responding in minutes if you need help in seconds. It also demonstrates why what makes sense in New York City and Albany doesn’t necessary work in the Greater Western New York region.

Around June of this year, Hanson approached Schroder. She had been meeting with a group of like-minded citizens. It started at her church, which the Governor had declared could not meet to worship together (“Covid”). Mind you, Cattaraugus County continues to have one of the lowest infection and death numbers in the state, primarily on account of that same “acres” separation. Yes, “social distancing” isn’t just a good idea in Cattaraugus County, it’s a way of life (as it is in many towns and counties across Greater Western New York).

It didn’t take long for Schroder and her legislative committee to infuse the ideas of Hanson and her band of regular folk (which expanded well beyond her fellow churchgoers to include a broadly diverse group). After researching what other counties across the nation had done (or tried to do), they came up with a “Constitutional County” concept tailored to Cattaraugus County.

Democrat legislator David Koch offered the idea to incorporate the sense that we are “a nation of laws” and that much of what will follow will likely end up in court. Schroder feels this was an important addition because when Cattaraugus County ultimately uses this act to challenge State and Federal initiatives on constitutional grounds, “it’s likely to go through a court-like process.”

That this effort, led by citizens and promoted by both Republicans and Democrats shows that what unites us as residents of the Greater Western New York region goes beyond party politics.

Here is an example that should encourage us to make our wider community better.

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