Controversy over last May's Massapequa School District's Board of Education race, one that saw one seat decided by a single vote, continues into 2009.
In February of this year, the New York State Commissioner of Education, Richard P. Mills, released his ruling regarding Gary T. Bennett's appeal concerning certain actions of the Massapequa BOE in the conduct of the Massapequa School District's annual election held on May 20, 2008.
"In sum, petitioner has failed to meet his burden of proof to establish that there were voting irregularities that affected the outcome of the election," Commissioner Mills stated in his ruling. "Therefore, there is no factual basis upon which to order a recount or a new election. I have reviewed petitioner's remaining contentions and find them without merit. The appeal is dismissed."
When contacted by The Massapequan Observer, Bennett expressed his disappointment with the decision.
"It's a very biased decision," he said. "I am appealing. He [Richard P. Mills] cited the same cases that I did [when making the appeal], particularly with the use of district resources such as a telephone list."
On the May 20, 2008 election, six candidates ran for two Massapequa Board of Election seats. The election had a large turnout and the winners were incumbent BOE member Christine Lupetin Perrino, who received 1,765 votes and Jane Ryan, whose vote tally was 1,691. Bennett came in third with 1,690 votes.
On Feb. 19, 2009, Commissioner Mills issued an 11-page decision, one that, as noted, rejected the numerous arguments made by Bennett. When filing the appeal, Bennett hoped to have the results of the election invalidated, the absentee ballots rejected, and a new election called.
The decision rejected claims made by Bennett concerning the malfunctioning of voting machines, alleged tampering with the vote tabulation, and that an attorney for Ms. Ryan voted twice in the election, once on an absentee ballot and the other time, on the day of the election.
More specifically, claims were made by Bennett that a voting machine was unlocked, that his poll watchers were denied the opportunity to challenge the absentee ballots, and that on the night of the vote a tie was announced between Ms. Ryan and himself, were all rejected in Commissioner Mills's ruling.
The biggest claim made by Bennett was that a private district phone list was used to solicit votes for Ms. Perrino and also a yes vote on the proposed school budget. Bennett also claimed that a confidential district committee email was used by Ms. Ryan's attorney to solicit votes for her.
Commissioner Mills acknowledged that it is "improper for a board of education...to be involved in partisan activity in the conduct of a school district election." He also noted that, "even indirect support, such as a school board giving a PTA access to its established channels of communication to parents to espouse a partisan position that the board itself was prohibited from doing directly, has been deemed improper."
Still, Commissioner Mills ruled that "there is no evidence that district funds or resources were used to support any candidates." He cited denials from the appeal's respondents that "district telephone lists, telephones, equipment, facilities, resources or personnel were used to exhort votes for any candidate or the budget." Commissioner Mills further wrote that Ms. Ryan "avers that she never requested nor received any phone or email list from the district...and did not used any phone banks during her campaign."