Judge stops Suffolk merger plan
A state State Supreme Court judge ruled Monday that Suffolk County cannot move forward with a November referendum to merge the comptroller and treasurer's offices.
Justice Carol MacKenzie said substantial changes to the proposal were made without proper public notice and that the measure passed faster than the law allows.
MacKenzie, in a six-page ruling, found the law "was not legally adopted," declared it "null and void" and barred the county from scheduling a referendum on the merger.
County Treasurer Angie Carpenter, who brought the lawsuit, called the ruling "a victory for the taxpayers and the process." She expressed the hope that the administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone "would abide by the court decision."
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Suffolk will file an appeal Tuesday or Wednesday. Schneider said the county would seek an immediate stay so that military ballots with the referendum included can be printed by Oct. 7 and go out on time.
"We're obviously going to appeal the ruling and feel very confident on the merits," Schneider said. "We are fighting to ensure voters have a choice and Angie Carpenter is fighting against that choice."
MacKenzie said Bellone's original proposal, advertised in public notices, touted the merger "as saving more than $1 million annually." But by the time of a July 22 budget hearing, the wording had been changed to "streamlining and improving government efficiency."
"In effect, the legislation morphed from specific defined effect to undefined, generalized and amorphous language, which many would view with a jaundiced eye," MacKenzie wrote.
While the Bellone administration says it complied with rules requiring that bills be allowed to age for seven days before a vote, the judge found that "final passage of the proposed legislation occurred only six days after it was in final form."
"The court has held the county to the standard of New York State law and Suffolk's own local charter," said Peter Bee, Carpenter's attorney. "We expect the county to comply with the court directive."
Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) praised the ruling.
"Not only did I vote 'no,' I protested the validity of the vote and how it was brought about," Kennedy said. "The whole process was trampled upon."
Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), deputy presiding officer, said the decision was based "on purely technical grounds." What we were trying to do is protect taxpayer dollars and run government efficiently."Carpenter, who is running unopposed for re-election for another four-year term, offered to work with Bellone on steps that would bring savings to the county.