Brown: The missing oath of Patrick Vecchio

Smithtown Town Supervisor Patrick R. Vecchio talks to Smithtown Town Supervisor Patrick R. Vecchio talks to Newsday reporters in Melville on April 5, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Could Patrick Vecchio, New York State's longest-serving town supervisor, end up losing his post because he failed to sign a piece of paper on time?

Ask Nicholas Deegan of Mattituck, because something strikingly similar happened to him.

Deegan was elected to the three-member Mattituck park district board in 2010, for a term that began in January 2011.

But in 2012, after it was discovered that he had not taken his oath within 30 days of starting his term, Deegan was dropped as a commissioner. "I went to take the oath with the county clerk; I went to the town clerk," he said Friday. "I tried to cover all of the bases, but they said it was the wrong oath or that it was not on time."

Deegan sued, claiming among other things that he was never informed he had to take the oath, and that the county clerk refused to administer one.

But according to a Newsday report, Southold Town Clerk Elizabeth Neville, who was in charge of administering the oath of office to everyone in the special district, said Deegan never came in to take it.

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Vecchio's position as supervisor has been in doubt since Town Clerk Vincent Puleo last week declared the job vacant because Vecchio failed to file a written oath within 30 days of taking office on Jan. 1. Puleo, a registered Conservative who backed Vecchio's opponent in the November election, declared the vacancies. Vecchio, a Republican, was sworn in by a judge on Jan. 1 at Town Hall.

As of Friday, it was pretty much a stalemate in Smithtown, with Puleo holding to his position and Vecchio appearing at work as usual.

Vecchio labeled the move to oust him a "conspiracy" and said he was awaiting legal advice.

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More than a decade ago, in Nassau County, a legislative employee failed to file signed oath forms for four lawmakers, all Democrats, within the 30-day limit.

The legislators kept their seats, however, after the Republican county clerk decided not to make the late filings an issue because, party officials would say later, a new election would have returned the Democrats right back to their offices.

Deegan served for more than a year before, he said, another commissioner told him that he'd failed to take his oath on time. "Someone had gone to Town Hall and checked," he said.

"I feel like it was a bit of a travesty," he said in an interview Friday. "I feel like it was political opportunism."

Deegan continued to attend trustee meetings as a member of the public before running for the post again in 2012. He scored a narrow win, which allowed him to finish what remained of his original three-year term, but did not run for a second term. Asked about Vecchio, Deegan said he thought that was political, too.

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"I think the opposition is running up a red flag for nothing," he said. "These people were elected by a majority of the people and it is like their opponents are splitting hairs."

Deegan noted that before every public meeting, "we said the Pledge of Allegiance. That's an oath and we say it every time. Shouldn't that be enough?"

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