Vecchio, Nowick back in Smithtown positions

Patrick Vecchio was sworn in as town supervisor and signed his written oath of office on Feb. 13, 2014, thanking his supporters in the wake of a bureaucratic error. (Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz)

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Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and Councilwoman Lynne C. Nowick were quickly appointed to one-year terms of their elected posts Thursday in a 3-0 vote at a special town meeting after bureaucratic errors forced them from office.

"I thank all of the people who have supported this endeavor . . . to right a wrong as my colleagues did here tonight," Vecchio said after he was sworn in again Thursday by Suffolk County Court Judge John J. Toomey Jr. and signed his oath of office to applause.

Republicans Vecchio and Nowick were officially deemed out of office Monday, after winning four-year terms in the November elections.

Conservative Town Clerk Vincent Puleo declared their seats vacant in a memo late last week, because the pair did not sign a written oath within 30 days of taking office on Jan. 1, as required by state law.

Vecchio, who has served as supervisor for 36 years, and Nowick, a former Suffolk County legislator, were sworn in by judges Jan. 1 on the steps of town hall. But they did not sign their oaths.

GOP councilmen Edward Wehrheim and Robert Creighton said they voted to appoint the pair to terms that run from Feb. 1 through Dec. 31, to honor the electorate's votes. GOP Councilman Thomas McCarthy, the deputy supervisor, also voted to appoint the two officials.

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"I voted for it because that was the will of the people," said Creighton, a former Suffolk police commissioner who ran against Vecchio. "Mr. Vecchio was elected with 45 percent of the vote . . . I have no intention of disenfranchising the public."

Wehrheim said, "The voters elected Supervisor Vecchio and Councilwoman Nowick and I believe it was our obligation to affirm their votes tonight and that's what we did."

Nowick did not attend the meeting and was not immediately available for comment.

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Still at issue is whether Vecchio and Nowick will be able to serve beyond their one-year appointments.

State law requires that "an appointed elected official can only serve until the balance of that year," McCarthy has said.

Vecchio and Nowick would have to run for re-election in November, unless they sued and won a legal ruling in their favor, McCarthy said.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said Tuesday they intended to introduce legislation early next week that would allow Vecchio and Nowick to serve out their full four-year terms.

"I don't believe it's ever been done before," Fitzpatrick said Thursday of the bill.

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Vecchio said Thursday that if the legislators are not successful, he may sue.

"This past November, Smithtown voters spoke loud and clear," Flanagan said in a statement Tuesday.

Vecchio and Nowick have said Puleo should have reminded them to sign the necessary paperwork. Vecchio said he didn't realize the written oath needed to be filed and called Puleo's memo a conspiracy against him.

"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," Vecchio said Monday in his Fort Salonga home.

Puleo, who supported Creighton for supervisor, has called Vecchio's contentions "absolutely untrue."

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Puleo denied a conspiracy and said it is the responsibility of the elected official to file the oath, adding in a statement handed out Thursday at the meeting that it was not “comprehensible to me how these individuals can show indignation and skirt their own failings without as much as an apology to those who elected them.”

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

The political drama brought out more than 100 residents, Suffolk County and state legislators to the special meeting. Johanna Cervellino, 76, of Smithtown, said she agreed with the votes, but that it was "unfortunate we had to have this meeting to reinstate a person who was duly elected." Cervellino, a Vecchio supporter, said Puleo should have told Vecchio to file the oath. "It's a perversion of the electoral system."

But Eric Neitzel, 57, of St. James, who is a notary and supported Creighton for supervisor, said Puleo was just doing his job.

"Supervisor Vecchio forgot to sign . . . he signed it 12 times before . . . he should have just admitted he made a mistake and move on," Neitzel said. "Hopefully, now the board can work together and try to get things done . . . enough of the bickering and let's move forward."

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