The Village of Russell Gardens has approved longer terms in office for its mayor and board of trustees to help maintain continuity and stability for the village’s day-to-day operation, officials said.
The board voted 5-0 on Thursday to pass a local law that doubles the terms of the mayor and four trustees from two years to four years.
The new measure, which is subject to a "permissive referendum," would be on the ballot at the next village election in March if a valid petition — which requires 180 signatures from constituents — is filed within 30 days, according to Deputy Mayor Lawrence Chaleff.
Village officials previously said the law would not become effective until voters approve it in a referendum at the March election when two trustee seats are up for grabs. The village could put the question on the ballot by passing a resolution.
“Initially, I think, there was miscommunication, and they may have thought it was a mandatory referendum,” Village Attorney Andrea Tsoukalas Curto said Thursday to answer a resident’s question on whether the village had changed its position. “The village will not be doing it. But any resident who wishes to file a petition may. . . And if they don’t, then it [the referendum] takes place by operation of law.”
Under the new law, the new term wouldn’t take effect until 2021. Candidates for the two trustee positions would be able to run for a four-year term in 2021, but the mayoral candidates couldn't do so until 2023, thus creating a staggered structure that leaves no more than two board seats up for election in one year.
Village officials said extending the terms is meant to help prevent high turnover on the board in one election.
“These are volunteers. They have other jobs within the village,” Mayor David Miller said Thursday of the elected positions. “We see this as an opportunity to at least spread out the knowledge … and train people for a little bit longer period of time.”
Chaleff said the mayor and the trustees are hands-on in managing village affairs. A lot of the institutional knowledge of running the village, he said, would be lost if three of the five board seats, including the mayoral position, were replaced in one election.
Russell Gardens, which has a population of 950, is not the first municipality to increase the terms of its elected officials, or attempt to.
Brookhaven Town voters approved a proposed measure last year to double the term lengths for elected officials to four years and limit them to 12 years in office. Manorhaven residents, however, voted against extending the mayor’s term from two to four years in a 2017 referendum.