It is now known whose names will appear on the ballot for Village of Poquott residents when they head to the polls to elect a mayor and two board trustees on June 21.
State Supreme Court Justice W. Gerard Asher ruled Wednesday on the challenge filed by mayoral candidate Barbara Donovan and her running mates Michael Schaefer and Joan Hubbard of the validity of petitions submitted by incumbent mayor Dee Parrish and trustee hopefuls Gary Garofano, Sandy Nicoletti and John Mastauskas.
Justice Asher found in favor of Donovan and her party, according to the state Supreme Court office. Parrish, Garofano, Nicoletti and Mastauskas will not appear on the ballot.
Donovan, Schaefer and Hubbard, known as the party of “Unity and Respect,” filed the challenge to the petitions because they believed the petitions contained errors, and names and signatures submitted may have been photocopied, Donovan told Newsday in May.
Since the challenges were filed, tension has spread within the tiny community that falls within the Town of Brookhaven. On June 1, Parrish and the rest of the current board, which includes Nicoletti, called an emergency meeting to discuss what action they would take in response to the challenge filed by Donovan and her party. Donovan served as the village’s mayor for years until Parrish defeated her in the 2014 election.
At the beginning of the meeting, the board immediately moved into executive session behind closed doors, leaving community members frustrated and searching for clarity.
When they returned, the board briefly discussed their options regarding the challenge, before voting to allow for additional expenses incurred as a result of the suit against the village and Village Clerk Joe Newfield regarding the petitions to be covered. The meeting was adjourned and no public comment was allowed. Parrish and Village Attorney Joe Prokop declined to comment about the situation after the meeting.
Parrish commented on the legal battle on June 2 via email.
“It is unfortunate that a group that has based their platform on respect and unity has managed to disrespect the residents in the Village of Poquott through the filing of this suit,” she said.
Parrish sited a possible chilling effect that the suit could have on potential candidates in the future as a harmful precedent for the village to set.
Village resident John Hahm, unsatisfied with the outcome of the June 1 meeting submitted a letter to the Village Times Herald on June 2.
“Challenging petitions is not a political strategy, it is a demand for accountability when a person deliberately disregards the law,” Hahm said. “Two of the petitioners happen to be current board members who promised open and transparent government. Surely they could have produced their petitions before acknowledging that the challenges were detrimental to the spirit of an election.”
Robert Lifson, attorney for Parrish and her running mates said Wednesday in a phone interview he was “disappointed” by the ruling. He wouldn’t specify his clients’ plan of action going forward, but suggested an appeal was possible. Lifson also said it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities to win a village election without being on the ballot. He said he advised his clients to drop their defense prior to the ruling because the costs to fight the suit would be too great.