Despite the adoption of new four-year terms by the Mineola Board of Trustees, not all village residents are happy about the change nor the way in which they found out about the switch and some believe that there was an attempt to not give out all information.
Following Elizabeth Henley’s objections over the notice given to the public concerning the hearing on the four-year terms, resident Jean Falabella stepped in front of the village board on Oct. 2, citing article three of the New York State law pertaining to villages and quoting that the measure would be “subject to permissive referendum,” or a public vote if enough signatures were obtained.
“When this was being presented to us... we were all told, well, we don’t need a referendum, and that’s not the truth,” she said, taking aim at village attorney John Spellman, whom in her estimation had not provided the entire amount of information to the board members.
“That was never brought out,” Falabella said. “You were not given all of the information. The law states: the board by resolution or local law, subject to permissive referendum. So you can pass a law, but if we want to hold a referendum, we’re allowed to; this was never made clear to people. This isn’t about opposition, this is about letting people know... and making it crystal clear to people other than just posting a notice.”
Spellman explained that there was a difference between a mandatory and a permissive referendum, saying that “the board may not perform a certain act unless it puts it out direct” for a vote on the former, while “the board may take action, but the action it takes will not become effective for 30 days and will not become effective if within 30 days a petition for referendum is filed.”
Falabella also asked if the full notice of the vote was published on the village’s website, to which trustee Dennis Walsh replied that “this referendum doesn’t need to be voted on, it just needs to be posted and it needs to tell the people what’s being replaced and what’s being presented to and we did that,”
Deputy mayor Paul Pereira disputed Falabella’s arguments, saying that the board members were well informed of all aspects of the measure and law and had been for quite some time prior to the hearing date.
“We knew the law, we were told the law, we knew exactly what we were doing,” Pereira said. “That discussion did happen, that question did come up months ago, years ago. I knew exactly what ‘subject to a permissive referendum’ meant. What I’m taking offense to is the fat that somehow you’re saying that we had the the wool pulled over our eyes; that is absolutely not true.”
Added mayor Scott Strauss: “I’m getting the inference that you think we jammed this down your throat and that can’t be further from the truth. I want as many people as I can possibly get down here. It doesn’t matter to us one way or the other, we’re not in here for four years, eight years, six year-terms, we’re in here for the right reasons and we want to do the right thing by the village.”
Holding a public vote on the measure would require a resident to obtain 20 percent of the total number of registered voters in the village – approximately 2,400 signatures – before 30 days has passed since the board adopted the measure, putting the deadline at Oct. 19. Legislative bodies such as village boards are specifically prohibited under state law from using referendum in lieu of voting for specific measures.
“You were well aware of it but did you make it well aware to everybody else? And just because you don’t have to do something, does that mean you shouldn’t take it upon yourself to just say, look, we don’t have to have a referendum, we don’t have to have a vote, but why don’t we in the interest of being open?’,” Falabella said, insisting for a public vote.
“Apparently, whatever amount of notice we gave wasn’t enough and is never going to be enough for some people,” Pereira said. “If we were not clear – crystal clear and specific – in leading people through the steps of state law of governing villages, it was not on purpose.”