Reappoint Vecchio, Nowick, say 2 state legislators

Smithtown civic leaders held a rally at Smithtown Town Hall Tuesday to urge the town board to reinstate Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and Councilwoman Lynne Nowick, who were removed from office after failing to sign an oath. Credit: Ed Betz (Feb. 11, 2014)

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Two state legislators Tuesday urged the Smithtown town board to appoint Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and Councilwoman Lynne C. Nowick to their elected offices.

Republicans Vecchio and Nowick were officially out of office on Monday, according to the town attorney, after a memo late last week by Conservative Town Clerk Vincent Puleo declared the seats vacant because the pair failed to sign a written oath within 30 days of taking office on Jan. 1.

"The time for politics is over," Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement. "This past November, Smithtown voters spoke loud and clear by re-electing Supervisor Pat Vecchio and electing Councilwoman Lynne Nowick to the Town Board. To now prevent them from taking office because of a clerical mistake is to thwart the will of the people."

Flanagan and Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) also said they intended to introduce legislation that would allow Vecchio and Nowick to serve out their full four-year terms.

"There is no justifiable reason to saddle Smithtown taxpayers with the cost of a special election," Fitzpatrick said in the statement.

GOP Councilman Thomas McCarthy, the deputy supervisor who is now acting supervisor, has scheduled a special meeting Thursday night to vote on appointing Vecchio and Nowick effective Feb. 1 through Dec. 31.

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McCarthy said earlier Tuesday that, if appointed, Vecchio and Nowick would have to run for re-election in November unless they took the issue to court. State law requires that "an appointed elected official can only serve until the balance of that year," McCarthy said. "If I had the power to, this would be for the balance of their elected term for both of them."

The appointments require the vote of all three town board members in office. Republican Councilmen Robert Creighton and Edward Wehrheim both declined to reveal how they would vote Thursday.

"I'm going to keep my vote to myself," said Creighton, who ran against Vecchio in a heated battle for supervisor. "I will try to do what is correct."

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Wehrheim, who supported Creighton and is returning to town hall Thursday from a vacation, asked Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski to prepare a memo explaining the law and options for addressing it.

"I want to look at that before making any judgment on how I'm going to vote."

Vecchio and Nowick have said Puleo should have reminded them to sign the necessary paperwork. Vecchio, who has served as town supervisor for 36 years, said he didn't realize the written oath needed to be filed and called Puleo's memo a conspiracy against him.

"The clerk is in charge of all records," he said in an interview Monday. "He knows who's not filing or hasn't filed, and he waited and he waited . . . until the 30th day came, and then he sprang the news."

Puleo, who said he plans to return to town hall Wednesday from vacation, called Vecchio's assertion "absolutely untrue."

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Puleo said a bookkeeper made him aware the same morning he wrote the memo that some officials and town appointees had failed to file written oaths.

Vecchio "has blamed just about everybody except for himself . . . He's been in a dozen elections," said Puleo, who supported Creighton for supervisor. "It's the responsibility of the candidate to sign their oath of office."

Puleo said several other elected officials or appointees including McCarthy, Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen, as well as board of zoning appeals and planning board members signed their oaths.

I assumed that Mr. Vecchio, who did not want to interact with me, got the forms filled out and submitted them to my deputy," said Puleo.

In past elections, Puleo said elected officials would come into his office following a swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 1 at town hall. Neither Puleo, Wehrheim, nor Creighton attended this year's ceremony. They all said they were not invited -- a claim that Vecchio has denied.

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"Every town clerk prior to him, had the documents brought to my office either personally or by a deputy clerk," said Vecchio. "It never entered my mind that 'oh I have to file this certificate' because it had been perfunctory all the other . . . years."

The political upheaval led more than 100 residents to gather yesterday on the steps of town hall to urge the board to appoint Vecchio and Nowick.

Larry Shaw, a member of the civic group Old Northport Road-Lawrence Road Task Force, said residents "pay thousands of dollars in taxes each year to ensure that all that which has caused us to move here in the first place, continues, and is preserved."

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