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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Smithtown town board should put things right

Smithtown Town Supervisor Patrick R. Vecchio talks to

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

The idea that Smithtown residents, for even an instant, could have doubts about who is running their town is outrageous. But three town board members have a chance to put things right during a meeting scheduled for Thursday evening.

The three -- Ed Wehrheim, Robert Creighton and Thomas McCarthy, all Republicans -- are supposed to decide whether to appoint Patrick Vecchio as town supervisor and Lynne C. Nowick as a council member.

The scheduled vote became necessary because Vecchio, in office since 1978, and Nowick, a former Suffolk County legislator, did not sign their oaths of office within the 30-day limit required by state law.

Who is to blame?

Vecchio and Nowick, to start. State law makes elected officials -- and Republicans Vecchio and Nowick were elected to their posts by residents in November -- responsible for signing and delivering their written oaths of office to the clerk.

But Smithtown's clerk, Vincent Puleo, a Conservative aligned with Vecchio's political opponents, bears blame, too.

Vecchio and Nowick were sworn in Jan. 1, but Puleo waited until Feb. 5 to send a letter to town attorney Matthew Jakubowski, pointing out that Vecchio, Nowick and three other appointed town officials had not completed their forms.

"I declare these offices vacant," Puleo wrote.

The last known local instances in which officials forgot to sign their forms involved a Southold parks commissioner, who as a result was forced to step down in 2012, and four Nassau County lawmakers, all Democrats, whose late forms were accepted, without challenge, by the Republican county clerk.

That probably makes the mess in Smithtown a Long Island first, since it involves the municipality's top elected official.

But the squabble, while assuredly political, has serious implications for how the town operates.

Wednesday, for example, Vecchio helped prep Smithtown for Thursday's snowstorm. Were his actions legal? Illegal? Residents shouldn't have to ask.

Logic suggests that a clerk so devoted to the purity of process might have sounded an alarm about the potential for problems earlier.

Yes, Puleo said he didn't get an invite to the town's official swearing-in ceremony.

But what kept him from blowing the whistle on Jan. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31 -- or Feb. 1, 2, 3 and 4, for that matter?

Town residents deserved better from Puleo -- and Vecchio and Nowick.

Now comes Thursday night's meeting, which is scheduled as potentially snowy, sleety, icy, rainy weather is projected to storm through.

On Tuesday, two board members said they did not know how they would vote -- although failing to appoint Vecchio back into office would amount to negating the will of residents who voted him in.

Wednesday, officials said they would take a vote, even in a storm. If they meet, the three board members should appoint Vecchio and Nowick without blinking.

Politics is politics, and no doubt the infighting will continue as the sides debate whether Vecchio and Nowick still will have to run again in a special election at year's end, even if they're appointed Thursday night.

But for now, enough of the gaming.

Smithtown residents deserve to know for certain who is in charge of their government.


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