New York State Supreme Court Justice Edward McCarty III last week ruled that a Republican petition requesting a special election on council districts in the Town of North Hempstead be upheld. As a result, the town is planning a special election on the referendum for April 29.
The petition, which was submitted to the town in October 2002, was disqualified by Town Clerk Michelle Schimel in December. Schimel stated that a variety of reasons, including duplicate signatures, witness signatures differing from the printed name and signatures of non-registered voters, were the reason the petition was denied.
In his Feb. 3 ruling, however, Justice McCarty stated that the town clerk "exceeded her authority by reviewing the petition for information beyond the requirements found in Town Law Section 81 and the Election Law Section 6-154." Judge McCarty further found that "[by] failing to submit the petition to the North Hempstead Town Board, the town clerk violated the unequivocal legal right of the petitioners for a special election." Schimel has since been ordered to present to the town board the petition in order for the scheduling of a public vote.
According to Town Clerk Schimel, "Thoroughness is the hallmark of my administration. As town clerk, I firmly believe it is my obligation to review all documents filed in my office to ensure the integrity of each document."
Peter I. Cavallaro, chairman of the North Hempstead Republican Committee, stated that the ruling vindicates the 4,000 residents who signed the petition and the hundreds of volunteers who circulated it. "We knew all along that the petition was valid and that a court would find it to be valid," he said. "The unfortunate part of all of this is that the special election, which Judge McCarty has found to be appropriate, was unnecessarily delayed because of the town's spurious and politically-motivated delaying actions. The town's actions have not only ignored the will of the residents of the town, but have ignored and violated the requirements of the law."
Although in disagreement with the court's findings, North Hempstead Town Supervisor May Newburger and the entire town board, have agreed to not appeal the decision. As a result, the board will introduce a resolution at the Feb. 11 town board meeting to schedule a special election on April 29. At this time, the voting public will have the opportunity to vote for or against the establishment of a ward system.
Newburger, however, stated that taxpayer cost of the council district referendum should be a concern of those pushing for a special election. "I find it strange that the Republicans talk about cost related to Schimel's proper discharge of the duties she was elected to carry out," said Newburger. "It is their actions and the court decision that will cost taxpayers $250,000 for this special election when it could have been held, as the board planned, in the November town election at no cost to taxpayers."
Last October, the town board unanimously committed itself to schedule such a proposition concurrent with the town election in November 2003. "This is a serious town issue and properly belongs in the town election," said Newburger.