The top vote-getter in last month’s disputed Poquott village election said he had himself sworn into office last week as village officials postponed meetings while awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the vote.
John Richardson, who won one of two open trustee seats on June 20, said he went to Village Hall last Tuesday and demanded that Village Clerk Joseph Newfield administer the oath of office to him so that he could begin his two-year term. He said Newfield then swore him into office.
Richardson, a New York City firefighter, said Newfield and Mayor Dolores Parrish previously had refused to hold a swearing-in ceremony, and he feared he would not be allowed to take office if he did not take an oath of office within 30 days after the election.
He said Parrish refused to let him take a seat as a voting trustee during a meeting last Tuesday, hours after he was sworn in by Newfield. Parrish postponed that meeting.
“I’m really confused and frustrated,” Richardson said in an interview. “There’s a lot going on and I’m not getting any answers.”
Parrish declined to comment and referred questions to Village Attorney Joseph Prokop. Newfield did not return phone calls.
Prokop said mayors and trustees are required to be sworn in within 30 days of their election. He declined to comment on whether it was legal for Richardson to be sworn in under the circumstances he described to Newsday.
Richardson and incumbent Jeff Koppelson last month defeated three other trustee candidates. Debbie Stevens, who finished third, two votes behind Koppelson, filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Riverhead challenging the results.
In the lawsuit, Stevens, a spa owner, asked state Supreme Court Judge W. Gerard Asher to review each of the 379 ballots cast in the election. A hearing in that case is scheduled for Wednesday in Riverhead.
Stevens’ attorney, George Vlachos of Central Islip, has said village officials ignored requirements that voters register at least 10 days before an election. Village officials have denied that and said the vote was certified by the Suffolk Board of Elections.
Prokop said the village board would not meet until the legal challenge was resolved. In addition to the Tuesday meeting, a meeting scheduled for last Thursday also was postponed indefinitely.
“We felt that it would be appropriate that everything was on hold while the litigation was pending,” Prokop said.
Koppelson said he had not taken an oath of office and did not plan to ask village officials to swear him in. He said lawyers for the village had recommended that he and Richardson not be sworn in until the election dispute was decided.
“I don’t want to do anything to counter the attorneys who are representing the village,” he said. “I’m very confident that this thing is going to be resolved in 30 days.”