The East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee’s petition to put incorporation up for vote had been denied for now.
In a nine-page decision issued Monday June 10, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman concluded that the petition to incorporate the village, submitted April 3, does not meet the legal requirements because 34 people on the list of regular inhabitants have been found to be deceased.
“In the case law that I reviewed particularly for the second department, which is the jurisdiction where Southampton is located, it was clear that an inaccurate list does not qualify,” Schneiderman said. “Cases with far fewer deceased individuals were ruled to be inaccurate and ineligible for incorporation vote.”
The supervisor wanted to ensure a decision he made abided by the law, so it would be sustained if it were challenged, although the exploratory committee would have that option should it choose to take Schneiderman’s ruling to court. Petitioners have 30 days to challenge the decision.
“It’s very well researched,” Schneiderman said. “In the second department it’s shown to be a deal-breaker, even though in the third department — upstate New York — it’s OK; they have interpreted the law differently. The presence of deceased individuals here makes it inaccurate.”
The committee also has the option to refile with an accurate list. The same signatures can be resubmitted, but the group would have to ensure a “due diligent, demonstrated good-faith effort that the list is complete and accurate,” according to Schneiderman.
To do this would require the use of available records, like obituaries or governmental databases. It used to be that the Board of Elections requested death certificates from the town clerk, according to Schneiderman, to cull its own records. He said that no longer happens. The issue, is that the clerk cannot release death certificates to anyone without a valid governmental purpose, so the supervisor does not believe the records can be released to a group trying to incorporate.
“That in essence is the problem,” Schneiderman said. “They took the Board of Elections list and said these are the people that live in the area, but the Board of Elections hasn’t been purging the list. In the Town of Southampton there are probably thousands of individuals as registered to vote that are no longer with us, and that’s a problem.”
In an email, Dave Celi, one of the committee’s co-chairs, said, “We are discussing the best course of action with our attorney to move this process forward to allow the people of East Quogue to have a vote about incorporation.”
He said he believed that having a less than 1% error in the number of inhabitants over the two-year process “is not a valid reason to deny our petition.”
The supervisor said he did not support many of the objections brought forth at two separate hearings on the sufficiency of the petition, saying the burden of proof is on the objectors. For instance, he said he received tons of complaints about individuals on the list no longer residing in the area, and received printouts from whitepages.com as proof, showing the name of an individual with a different address. He said he did not find that met the standard for proof.
What was met though, regardless of the list of regular inhabitants being inaccurate, was that the signatures on the petition were not obtained based upon misinformation, and the petition is signed by at least 20 percent of residents in the proposed new village qualified to vote for town officers.
“I felt this was the only decision I could make based on the facts and the law,” Schneiderman said. “It doesn’t matter whether I think incorporation is a good idea or not, whether I think people should be entitled to a vote. I tried to be as impartial a referee as possible. This is the law, the body of law, the framework of laws around me, and it doesn’t meet the criteria. There was no other conclusion I could come to.”