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Terms Questioned

The Mineola Village Board recently passed a plan to increase trustee terms from two to four years, which won’t take affect until 2018. While not required, the board held a public hearing. Opinions fell on both sides, but one Mineola resident in particular, feels the board left a key element out of the conversation.

Jean Fallabella, citing New York State law at last weeks board meeting, feels the boards decision is subject to “permissive referendum,” meaning the public must garner enough signatures within 30 days from the plans passage—roughly 20 percent of registered voters—to demand a vote to either approve or deny the term change. Nearly 2,400 people would have to sign a petition to force a vote. If no petition is field, the law goes into effect automatically.

Given the fact that contested village elections rarely garner 1,000 voters, a petition could pose quite a challenge should a resident take up the mantle.

Fallabella feels the board was required to notify the public it can submit a petition to challenge the term extension. According to village officials, New York State does not have a mechanism that prohibits referendums from being used as a polling device and published notices about the option in local newspapers. Furthermore, legislative bodies are prohibited under state law from using a referendum in lieu of taking votes.

“The law says ‘the board of trustees, by resolution or local law, subject to permissive referendum, may extend to four year terms,” Fallabella said to Mayor Scott Strauss. “I’m bringing this out because, when this was being presented and I think [Strauss] were working out of not knowing any better and I don’t mean to be insulting...We were all told ‘well, we don’t need a referendum’ and that’s not true.”

According to Village Attorney John Spellman, residents would have until Oct. 18 to garner enough signatures to require a referendum.

“I think the village attorney was asleep at the switch, but that’s all I’m going to say,” said Fallabella. “You have to let people know that if they want to get a petition together and hold an election, they can do that.”

Spellman replied that “he just woke up, I’m sorry.”

Strauss noted community forums and board announcements leading up to the Sept. 18 adoption hearing as examples that residents had lead time to counter the board’s proposed term change Petition talk also sparked during the Sept. 18 hearing by Elizabeth Hennely.

Fallabella claimed she never received an invitation to the forums.

“I’m getting the feeling that you think we jammed this down your throat,” Strauss said to Fallabella. “This conversation started before I was on the board and when I first got on the board. It doesn’t matter to us either way. We’re not in here for four years or eight years. We’re in here for the right reasons.”

Fallabella felt Strauss was not given all of the facts, stating her opposition was not directed at him.

“In the interest of being open, instead of just having people come in and talk [at the hearing], why not have a referendum,” she said. “It wasn’t crystal clear that there could possibly be a referendum.”

Trustee Paul Pereira said the board was well aware of the possible permissive referendum, but that didn’t mean Mineola had to put one out.

“It just means we could be held to one,” Pereira said. “There was no ignorance on our part. We knew the state law. I guess what you’re saying is that we should have had petitions here to give to people to force a referendum. You do see it as an oversight, but what were saying is it was not done on purpose.”