by Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
Proud colleagues heaped praise on Niagara County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, Tuesday in Lockport as the long-time government head gaveled his 200th meeting as presiding officer of the Legislature to order.
Ross, who has headed up the county's government for nine of the past 10 years, first served as chairman back in 1989, when then-County Clerk Ray Beiter appointed him to the post when the then-majority Democrats were unable to reach agreement on the election of a Legislature chairman. He served one year, and later left county government for much of the 1990s before returning following the departure of then-Legislator Art Kroening, R-Wheatfield.
Ross then returned to the dais at the front of the Legislative chamber in 2004, when a coalition government composed of members of the Republican, Independence and Conservative parties, as well as breakaway Democrats, took charge of the chamber after two years of Democrat control and asked Ross - popularly known as "Coach" to many of this friends and colleagues - to head the county government.
Majority Leader Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport, lauded Ross's leadership style, noting that he had made government more civil and more effective.
"Bill has had to be fair and open to both sides of the political aisle. He has had to give equal time to the Minority Caucus and the Majority. He has had to ensure that the Legislature, above all, is fair to all parties and viewpoints," he said.
"I think Bill Ross has done so with class, with decorum, with restraint at times," Updegrove continued. "It is a difficult position to be in - to have to protect the right of others to express viewpoints you often find yourself disagreeing with on very stark grounds. For 200 meetings, Chairman Bill Ross has done precisely that."
Updegrove also noted Ross has served a role as a peacemaker in county government, often helping bring both sides of the aisle together.
"On those occasions when compromise has proven the best course for this government, Bill has played a key role in fostering a climate that made such bipartisan agreements possible," Updegrove said. "I am proud to call you my friend as well as my colleague - and my chairman."
Two other lawmakers also complimented Ross on his leadership over the past decade during Tuesday's meeting.
Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek noted Ross is often viewed as one of the hardest working people in the entire government - not just the County Legislature.
"Chairman Ross has, more than anything, dedicated himself to being the public face of this county. He is everywhere," Wojtaszek said. "Our chairman runs rings around men half his age. And, while he has a couple years on me, I only hope that, when I am his age, I can keep up."
Legislator John Syracuse concurred, and noted that Ross never rebuffs a colleague who seeks his counsel and years of experience and knowledge.
"I have called Bill Ross late at night, and early on Saturday mornings," Syracuse said. "With other lawmakers, I might hesitate, but with Bill I know there is a reasonable chance he's awake, looking at either the county budget or the budget of one of the entities whose boards he sits on, like NCCC."
Syracuse also pointed to Ross's cheery disposition as a key to his success chairman.
"He's never gruff, he's never unkind - even if he disagrees with you," he said. "He is a gentleman who lives up to that term in every way. I have been able to do my job, and hopefully do it well, this past decade because I have been able to turn to leaders - Chairman Ross, in particular - who consider it their responsibility to help me do my job."
Syracuse closed out his remarks with a sincere wish for Ross' health and longevity.
"As my colleagues have wisely noted, we are privileged to be able to say Bill Ross is our colleague. But we're darn lucky to say that he is our chairman. God willing, I'll be able to say the same on the occasion of your 300th meeting, Bill," Syracuse told Ross.