Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said Friday he believed unnamed town officials were involved in a "conspiracy" to remove him from office, as experts debated whether he is serving legally after failing to file an oath of office by the required deadline.
In a memo Wednesday, Smithtown Clerk Vincent Puleo declared Vecchio's and town board member Lynne Nowick's positions "vacant" because they did not file written oaths of office within 30 days of taking office. Puleo, a registered Conservative who backed Vecchio's opponent in the November election, declared the vacancies even though both Republican officials were sworn in by judges on Jan. 1 on the steps of Town Hall.
Vecchio, who appeared for work Friday as he's done for 35 years, said: "I really believe this in my heart, that this whole thing smacks of conspiracy, criminal or otherwise. I think the town clerk has a moral and legal obligation to notify elected and appointed officials to sign the necessary documents, as has been past procedure. I think there are people who are conspiring to do something that could not be done at the ballot boxes."
Asked who was involved in the alleged conspiracy, Vecchio said, "let the public decide who that is."
The clash is the latest in a series of political battles that have split the overwhelmingly Republican town of 118,000, where GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won by the largest margin in the state in 2012. Vecchio, a 35-year incumbent, last year beat GOP town board member Robert Creighton, a former Suffolk police commissioner, in a heated race for supervisor.
Puleo pressed his effort Friday, sending a letter to town Comptroller Louis Necroto informing him of the vacancies so he could stop their pay and recover their past month's salary, and also sent a notice to the county clerk, as required by state law.
"It's clear to me they should not be doing any more work or passing any laws," said Puleo, a Vecchio opponent. "I've done my part; now it's up to the town attorney to decipher what the law is." Puleo said if Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski fails to act, he will ask the county attorney or state attorney general to intervene. Jakubowski did not return a call for comment.
Puleo said he normally handles oath cards at swearing-in ceremonies, but this year he was not invited.
Puleo noted that GOP town board member Thomas McCarthy, a Vecchio ally, signed the proper paperwork, and said he expected him to tell the supervisor and Nowick of the to need to file the written oath. "It's their responsbility, not my responsibility," Puleo said.
County Court Judge John Toomey, who swore in Vecchio, and Appellate Justice Sandra Sgroi, who gave the oath to Nowick, filed affadavits Friday with Puleo's office, and Vecchio and Nowick filed documents with the clerk.
John Ciampoli, a former Nassau County attorney and a statewide Republican election law expert, said he expects the issue to go to court. "I don't know if the clerk has the power to declare the office vacant," Ciampoli said. "It seems to me that power lies with the town board."
But Steve Schlesinger, a veteran Democratic elections lawyer from Nassau, said, "In my humble expert opinion, Vecchio and his crew are toast."
"It's absurd because the people have spoken," said Thomas Garry, a Nassau lawyer who specializes in election cases for Democrats. "But this puts him [Vecchio] in a bad way . . . even the president has to sign the documents."
Bill Ellis, Smithtown GOP leader, said the swearing-in ceremony occurred long before the deadline and is sufficient.
"It's such foolishness, they were the two highest vote getters," he said of Vecchio and Nowick. "The whole thing is going to backfire on those who perpetrated it."
Ellis said that even if the offices are vacated, no immediate special election is needed. He said the town board could vote to fill both spots temporarily and special elections to fill the remainder of the terms would occur at the November general election. A special election would cost an estimated $200,000, said GOP county elections Commissioner Wayne Rogers.
Vecchio said Friday he was "awaiting legal advice. I don't know what's next. Whoever's behind this is trying to disenfranchise the voters of Smithtown, who spoke very clearly as to who they wanted their representatives to be on the town council, and the supervisor.