After the Thursday, February 13, 2014 special board meeting there is a feeling that our Board needs to reconcile and to have everyone feel good and understand each other. However, moving on too quickly past the disturbing events of the last week would be a mistake. It would avoid our taking a serious look at what just happened. We should not ignore what was a serious interference with the voting process and a unilateral nullification of a free and open election.
All indications are that the Town Clerk, Vincent Puleo, was motivated politically and acted out of partisanship for his political faction, rather than in the interests of Smithtown. Instead of doing his job which was to protect the voting process by collecting and filing oaths of office, he undermined our election. He did not raise the issue of signatures for thirty (30) days and then on the thirty-sixth (36) day, which was 6 days after the form oath deadline, he threw our Town into legal and political turmoil by declaring two (2) seats on the Board “vacant”. The Town has voted for four ( 4) year terms for Vecchio/Nowick; instead we are barely receiving one (1) year terms and it has come as a political “favor” from the political faction to which Puleo belongs. We will need shortly to have another election which is an expense and distraction for our Town officials who should be focusing on their jobs rather than on campaigning again. The actions of last week harm our faith in democracy, in Smithtown’s Board and our belief in an honest government that serves its people.
The evidence that the Clerk may have engaged in a knowing and/or purposeful dereliction of his duties are as follows:
1. Suspicious Timing - On February 6th the Clerk suddenly remembered that oaths were not signed after being passive for over 30 days.
2. Admission of Motive in Perceived Hostility - in a SmithtownMatters.com<http://SmithtownMatters.com> interview with Maureen Rossi 2/13/14, Mr. Puleo attributes the failure to have the forms signed to a “bad political climate at Town Hall” and what he perceived as hostility from Mr. Vecchio. However, the alleged hostility of others is not an excuse for the Clerk to fail to perform his job. 3. Alleged Negligence of Others Does Not Condone Dereliction of Duty By the Clerk - The Clerk had a duties under NYS Town Law Sections 25 and 30, which state: that it was the Clerk’s duty to give notice, file oaths, certify appointments of Town officers, and that the Clerk shall have additional powers as are conferred and determined.
4. Many Opportunities to Have Form Signed - The Clerk explained that he didn’t have the forms signed on New Year’s Day because he thought he needed to get an invitation from Mr. Vecchio to the inauguration ceremony. (This was a misperception because as Mr. Puleo should have known this ceremony was a public Town event which was not subject to invitations). But despite the failure to administer to this task on January 1st, there were many other opportunities during the 30 day period. The Clerk’s office is close to the offices of Board and supervisor. Our elected officials pass each other in the hall, attend meetings, receive each other’s correspondence. Certainly a one line email with an attachment couldn’t be so difficult for the Clerk.
5. No Hesitation to Declare Seats Vacant - Mr Puleo did not seem to hesitate to boldly and decisively declare the seats vacant. There seemed to be little deliberation, prior discussion or anguish over this turn of events. Rather, there seemed to be a great deal of zeal over achieving a result which nullified the vote. This contrasts to the initial 30 days where Mr. Puleo was quiet and did not act on this issue.
This matter is of critical importance. It isn’t about our politicians making nice. It’s not about personalities in Town Hall, but about all of us and our Town. It is about obtaining the truth over a serious matter. It is about justice for the Smithtown voter. It is about honesty in government and our democratic system.
An impartial and thorough investigation of the facts is needed. Our Town may not be able to do this in a neutral manner given our politics and the past politicization of our Town Attorney’s office. We cannot let this assault on the integrity of our vote simply go away with some nice words. Fundamental laws and values are at stake. Our Town needs to call the County and/or State for an investigation.
Ronald D. Weiss