Bedford's town board may sue the Westchester County Board of Elections in order to elect a candidate for town justice who will serve an unexpired, three-year term instead of a full four-year term.
The seat was vacated in by the . The town appointed , to fulfill the role until the end of the year when a successor is sworn-in.
The town would like the election to be for the unexpired term because it aligns the election for town justice with elections for other local officials—which town board members say saves candidates time and money. And they voted during an excecutive session Tuesday night to pursue legal action that will allow them to do so.
"Having the justice election on a year when no other local elections are taking place leaves that candidate hanging out there alone," said Deputy Supervisor Peter Chryssos, who presided over Tuesday's meeting while Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts was away.
"Instead of running on a slate with other candidates, and sharing campaign costs, a town justice candidate—if starting a four-year term—would have to run on a presidential election cycle. The town board is in bi-partisan agreement that filling the position for an unexpired term would be more efficient and economical for candidates and local residents," Chryssos added.
The problem is, both county elections commissioners have to agree and support the town's position. And while Doug Colety, the county's Republican commissioner of elections, has affirmed his support of the election for the three-year term, Reginald Lafayette, the county Democratic commissioner of elections, disagrees.
"I've seen case law supporting both positions," Colety told Patch. "The town clerk submitted the proper paperwork, and based on the legal precedent, my position is that the justice should fill an un-expired term."
Lisbeth Fumagalli, town clerk, said she submitted documentation to the county elections board on Aug. 3 indicating the election would be held for a three-year term. On Aug. 20, she received an email from Lafayette which asked her to correct the "error" regarding the term—which he said, according to the state constitution, is required to be for four years—and re-submit the paperwork for the justice election.
Two days later she heard from Colety, who advised her that Lafayette's email was "not a determination of the board of elections but was instead one commissioner's view," and the paperwork did not need to be re-submitted.
So who decides?
"Ultimately, a state Supreme Court judge will make the decision," said Colety of the deadlock. Lafayette was unavailable for comment because he is attending the Democratic National Convention, his office told Patch.
Chryssos said the town was going to appeal to Lafayette to change his mind but would pursue a lawsuit if necessary. "We are not in favor of legal action that could cost taxpayers, but there is a principle we believe in," he said.
Local GOP Chairman Don Scott agrees.
"The system evolved that way for a reason—doing elections separately adds expense," he said. "Having the local elections all in the same year makes sense—and historically that's been the law. The town put politics aside in a unanimous vote and I completely support their position."
Chris Burdick, a Democratic town board member, said "regardless of political affiliation," it was in the best interests of the town to preserve the existing term.
"It may be confusing to the electorate—people who participate in the process are accustomed to the cycle. And it is important for the local electorate to have their say every two years," he said. Isolating the office of town justice would place an undue burden on the candidate, he added.
Fumagalli said not having a justice election that was co-terminous with other local offices may discourage candidates from running because the campaign expenses for flyers, mailings and advertisements—which can run into the thousands of dollars and are usually shared by a slate of candidates—would be borne by an individual.
Bedford Democratic Chairman Bruce Yablon said he supported whatever length of term the law dictated.
"It would certainly be more complex to hold the justice elections in off-years, but I am neutral on the issue of whether it is a three-or-four-year-term," he said. "I am, however, concerned about spending money in these tough times on what may be unnecessary litigation."