The operations of the Legislature are governed by a set of rules that may be changed by a majority vote of all members. The rules provide for parliamentary procedure at meetings.
Regular meetings of the full Legislature are annually scheduled by the Chairman. There are usually two legislative meetings per month, except in August when the legislature recesses.
Special meetings may be called by the Chairman or by way of a petition signed by a majority of the members. All meetings of the legislature are open to the public.
The work of the legislature involves taking action on communications from the County Executive, the various county departments and agencies, other governments, the public, and the legislators themselves. The following paragraphs will trace the steps which are followed from the time an item comes to the Legislature until action is taken.
When the County Executive, or a department head, needs legislative approval for some action which is required for the proper functioning of county government, be it the approval of the annual budget or the change in the title of a county job, a letter is sent to the legislature, often accompanied by additional information which can be used by the legislators in making a decision on the matter. Likewise, private citizens or organizations, other government and business concerns also send communications to the legislature asking that action be taken on some matter. Communications from county officials and others oftentimes do not request any specific action and are sent to the legislature to provide information or opinions on issues of concern to the legislative body.
A legislator may submit items for consideration by his or her colleagues. Usually such items come in the form of a resolution which briefly outlines an issues and suggests action which can be taken. Resolutions cover a wide range of subject areas.
A less frequent means of legislative action is the Local Law, which is required for major policy decisions such as the creation or elimination of a department or other changes in the County Charter and Administrative Code, the basic legal documents of Erie County government.
A communication, resolution or Local Law is officially received by the legislature in the Office of the Clerk. All items which are received are put on the agenda for the next meeting of the Legislature. There is a deadline for submitting items to be included on a meeting agenda, usually 11:00 a.m. three business days preceding a meeting. Items which are received later may be added to the agenda only with the unanimous approval of the legislators.
Preceding full legislative meetings, each party holds a caucus to review agenda items. The caucuses are presided over by the leaders of the respective parties. No official action takes place in a caucus.
Once an item is on the agenda of a legislative meeting, one of the four courses of action can be taken. An item can be approved, defeated, sent to a committee for study and recommendation, or received and filed. Items which are received and filed are usually of an informational nature and do not require action.
Items that are sent to committees are put on an agenda and are then either approved, defeated, received and filed, or left on the agenda of the committee for further consideration. The actions of a committee are contained in reports that recommend the action of the committee to the full legislature. When the committee reports are presented to the legislature, individual items contained in the report may be "separated" for consideration and approval or for the purpose of returning an item to committee for further study. If an item is referred back to committee it will appear in a subsequent committee report.
An item may be discharged from further committee consideration by a majority vote of the legislature. After being discharged, the item is considered for approval.
The legislature may sometimes require a county department or official to study a matter and report back with recommendations for possible action. In such case the whole legislative process may be repeated on an item.
The legislature may also leave an item 'on the table' for consideration at some future time. In the case of local laws which are introduced, each proposal must remain on the table of the legislature for at least eight days, including Sunday, before action may be taken.
Certain actions of the legislature require the approval of the County Executive before they may take effect. Among such actions are all local laws, emergency appropriations and allocations form the county contingency fund. In addition, State law requires that certain types of local laws be put before the voters for final approval.
Following each meeting of the legislature, the Clerk's office prepares the official minutes of the meeting. Legislative action, including votes of the legislators, is recorded. Any one legislator may request a roll call on any vote and all roll call votes are listed in the minutes. After the minutes have been printed, copies are distributed to various officials to inform them of the actions of the Legislature. These minutes are also public record, and as such, are available for inspection at any time in the offices of the Erie County Legislature.