Saturday, July 26, 2014

Judge: Ramapo should put ward system on the ballot 

Siding with local activists, a state Supreme Court judge Friday ordered the town clerk to hold referendums on whether Ramapo should elect its Town Board members by ward and to increase the size of the board from four members to six.

The battle started in 2012 when activists Michael Parietti and Robert Romanowski filed petitions seeking the two referendums with Town Clerk Chris Sampson.

Based on objections filed by some residents, Sampson threw out the petitions, saying they didn't meet state requirements. The activists sued the town, starting a two-year court battle over the legitimacy and timeliness of the petitions. 

The suit later reached the appellate court, which sent the case back to state Supreme Court to be decided.

One issue before Supreme Court Justice Margaret Garvey was whether Parietti and Romanowski met residency requirements to conduct the petition drive. Another involved the number of signatures needed for each petition.

After reviewing the materials presented before her, Garvey confirmed that the 1,367 valid signatures needed to force each referendum were present on both petitions.

Of the 2,025 signatures on the petition to seek a town ward system, Garvey invalidated 327, leaving 1,698 valid signatures on the referendum petition. Of the 1,975 signatures on the petition to seek an increase of the Town Board from four members to six, Garvey invalidated 263 signatures, leaving a total of 1,712 valid signatures.

Parietti and Romanowski, who represented themselves without lawyers, said they felt vindicated.
"I'm very happy," Romanowski said Friday. "The court has confirmed what I knew all along that those petitions were valid."

Ramapo Town Attorney Michael Klein said the Town Board will discuss whether to appeal the decision at its next scheduled meeting or at a special meeting. If the town and objectors decide not to appeal, the town would have to schedule a special election within 75 days of Friday, Klein said.

Though it's uncommon in the Lower Hudson Valley, the ward system is seen by some activists as a way to counter the political influence of the growing Orthodox community. Parietti and Romanowski maintain a six-member ward system would better represent parts of town that could otherwise be easily outvoted.

This is the fourth attempt to organize petitions seeking a town ward system. Prior attempts, supported by the grassroots group Preserve Ramapo, were made in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Each was rejected by the town.

The outcome in Ramapo may have an impact beyond the town's borders. Anthony Futia, a longtime activist and former North Castle town employee, has been closely watching the ward system movement in Ramapo and said that he may take similar steps in North Castle.


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