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Touré, Jackson sworn in, take seats on Hempstead school board

Hempstead school board member Maribel Touré, right, with

Hempstead school board member Maribel Touré, right, with her running mate Gwendolyn Jackson at a news conference in Hempstead on April 23, 2015. At far left is Touré's attorney Frederick Brewington. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Hempstead school board incumbent Maribel Touré and newcomer Gwendolyn Jackson were sworn into office for three-year terms Tuesday night during the panel's reorganization meeting, where board members also hired a new law firm.

Trustees also re-elected Lamont Johnson as the board's president and Touré the vice president. They did not select a secretary.

Johnson was elected unanimously; Touré received three votes, with Johnson and JoAnn Simmons voting against her.

Touré and Jackson, who ran as a team in a seven-member race for two open seats, were the top vote-getters in the May 19 election.

Jackson said she was thrilled to take her seat, saying the evening went well. She said, too, that she wanted the district to hire a full-time grant writer. "We need to have that," she said.

The seating of the women comes even as a petition to the state education commissioner, filed in June, seeks to overturn the election.

The district and school board -- not including Touré -- submitted the petition, accusing Touré and Jackson of electioneering, voter intimidation, fraud and misrepresentation.

Touré and Jackson have denied the allegations, saying they ran a clean race.

The district and board, in the petition, also sought to delay the swearing-in.

Elizabeth Berlin, then the state's acting education commissioner, last week refused to do so.

The new commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, who took the leadership position Monday, will decide the issues raised in the full petition, the Education Department has said.

The May vote was the second consecutive annual election in the district to be challenged.

Touré was a newcomer when she ran against longtime board president Betty Cross in May 2014.

Though Touré came out ahead on election night, Cross was found by the school board to be the winner when dozens of contested absentee ballots were counted.

Touré petitioned the education commissioner at the time, John B. King Jr., to investigate, citing allegations of voter fraud surrounding absentee ballots. Cross denied wrongdoing.

Ultimately, King removed Cross from her post and ordered a special election. Touré handily defeated Cross in that October vote.

Also Tuesday night, the board voted to hire Guercio & Guercio LLP of Farmingdale after publicly sparring with its two law firms, the Scher Law Firm LLP of Carle Place and Chandler Law Firm PLLC of Hempstead.

Both firms came under scrutiny for the advice they gave the district during the May 19 election.

"It's a major victory for all of us," Touré said of Guercio & Guercio LLP's selection.

The Scher firm will remain with the district, but the Chandler firm was replaced by Guercio & Guercio.

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