Officials in Russell Gardens are proposing longer terms in office...

Officials in Russell Gardens are proposing longer terms in office for the village mayor and board of trustees, who all serve voluntarily and currently serve for two years. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Officials in Russell Gardens are proposing longer terms in office for the village mayor and board of trustees to help maintain continuity and stability for day-to-day operation.

Under the proposed law, the terms of the mayor and four trustees, who all serve voluntarily, would double from two years to four years.

“We are not extending anybody’s term who is in office,” Mayor David Miller said in a phone interview. If passed, “they are new terms to take place in future elections.”

Village officials previously said the law would not become effective until voters approve it in a referendum at the next village election in March, when two trustee seats are up for grabs.

But Deputy Mayor Lawrence Chaleff said Thursday that the village will notify residents of the proposal by mail and email to solicit input before the Nov. 7 meeting, where constituents can ask questions.

“What we are thinking is to get input from the constituents of the village to determine if we should move forward [to pass the law] or put up a referendum,” he said.

Under the "permissive referendum" to which the term change is subject, Chaleff said the village could pass the proposal into law if no petition is filed within 30 days.

A valid petition, however, would force a referendum in the March election, officials said. The village could also put the referendum question on the ballot by passing a resolution.

“We want to see what the mindset of the residents is,” the deputy mayor said. “If the overwhelming majority of residents are in favor of it, there may be no need for a referendum. If the residents are indifferent, then there’s probably a need for referendum. If people are against it, we may not even pass the law.”

If the measure were to be approved, 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 also meant to help prevent considerable turnover on the board in one election.

Because the village is small, 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.

“We don’t object to any change to the board if the voters decide they want to change the board,” Chaleff said. “We want to keep some continuity so that the day-to-day operations stay reasonably in line, and there’s no chaos and no vacuum in terms of the knowledge base.”

Russell Gardens, which has a population of 950, is not the first municipality to propose increasing the terms of its elected officials. 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.

The next village meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. Nov. 7 at Village Hall.

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