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Angie Carpenter sues to block job merger vote

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed merging

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed merging the elected offices of treasurer and comptroller. Treasurer Angie Carpenter, left, is up for re-election to a four-year term this fall. Joseph Sawicki, right, has been comptroller since 2003, and term limits prohibit him from running again in 2014. Credit: James Escher; Kathy Kmonicek

Suffolk Treasurer Angie Carpenter sued the county in state Supreme Court in Riverhead Wednesday to block a referendum that could eliminate her job and merge the offices of treasurer and comptroller.

Justice Peter Mayer did not grant the temporary restraining order after Suffolk election officials informed him that the board would not be dealing with ballot propositions until Sept. 25, but he set a Sept. 19 hearing date for the suit.

Carpenter said she filed her own lawsuit "to protect the taxpayers" and ensure that they will have checks and balances to protect their tax dollars. The treasurer, who herself is cross-endorsed for re-election, added she believes she will prevail "absolutely on the merits."

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider called the lawsuit "a new low in preventing voters from having a say" on a merger at a time when the county is facing a $180-million shortfall.

"This administration has been trying very hard to try and overcome the enemies of reform to find ways to streamline this government. And each time the enemies of reform have fought us," he said.

In court papers, Carpenter claimed that County Executive Steve Bellone and legislative officials made numerous procedural errors in advertising, amending and acting too fast in adopting the local law that calls for putting the merger referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The local law, according to Carpenter's attorney Peter Bee, is "insufficient, ineffective, false" and fraudulent.

Among the flaws in the procedure, according to Carpenter's suit, was the county legislature not allowing the proposed local law -- as required by state Municipal Home Rule Law -- to age seven days before voting on it. Lawmakers waited six days.

The suit also states the county legislature never properly advertised the proposed local law because Bellone made 15 last-minute changes to his proposal after initial public notices were issued, substantially altering the content of the measure.

Bee said substantial changes require that the county re-advertise before conducting the public hearing. "In fact no public notice has ever been issued," said Bee in court papers, that reflected the final version of the law.

Among the major changes is Bellone's removing the claim that the merger would save $1 million and substituting instead for the purposes of "streamlining and improving government efficiency." The new language, the suit maintained, created "a different and or new local law."


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