In an often testy and partisan debate, an emergency resolution to reappoint Suffolk’s Republican elections commissioner Nichola LaLota to a second term failed in the Democratic-controlled Suffolk Legislature late Tuesday.
And in a disputed ruling, legislative counsel George Nolan said the seven-member minority caucus had to wait until at least Wednesday to vote LaLota into a new four-year term after calling a publicly noticed meeting.
The clash comes after Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle last month wrote the legislative clerk asking that a resolution reappointing LaLota be filed. When none was filed, LaValle asked caucus leader Tom Cilmi to request an emergency resolution before lawmakers’ summer recess.
Under state law, if the legislature fails to approve or act on a party leader’s choice for elections commissioner within 30 days, the party’s legislative caucus can make the selection.
After the appointment failed on a 7-3 vote with eight Democrats abstaining, Cilmi asked the minority caucus to be allowed to hold a immediate vote to appoint LaLota. Nolan rejected the request, noting no minority caucus resolution was on the agenda and the full 30 days had not yet elapsed. Nolan said he would consult with state election officials Wednesday on the legal mechanics for holding a caucus vote. Cilmi countered, “Let the record stand that the Republican caucus already voted unanimously today” on the reappointment.
While the reappointments of election commissioners are usually done jointly with a minimum of fuss, LaLota’s solo resolution became a heated confrontation with Democrats, who sought an audit of his attendance at Hofstra Law School, sometimes during regular daytime hours.
“For eight months, I have been vilified and dragged through the mud,” LaLota said, calling the inquiry absurd and inappropriate. He said he would have answered Democrats' questions about the issue if they ever bothered to consult him.
He said there is staff at the elections board to supervise from 105 to 130 hours every two weeks and he is always present for the 70 hours he is required to work.
The confrontation became more incendiary when Democratic Legis. William Lindsay asked LaLota why an emergency resolution was needed since his current term is not over until year’s end. “It’s irrelevant, quite honestly,” said LaLota, adding that the lawmaker is “not privy to Republican Party business.”
LaLota also said Democrats' time sheets show seven hours of work even when they work far longer hours, for instance, on Election Day and during recounts, and accused fellow Democratic Commissioner Anita Katz of keeping “a secret book” where managers note their real hours worked, which are reconciled later privately.
Katz, reached later, returned fire: "He’s the fourth Republican commissioner I’ve served with and I have never had anyone lie about me the way he just did. I cooperated with Comptroller [John] Kennedy’s office. I do not have a ‘secret book' and I accurately represent my time. And when I went to law school, I went at night and still held a full-time government job.”