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Tennis club members fight over elections

Quite a racket is being raised at the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club, where some tennis members are so upset with last fall's board elections they've filed a grievance with the club claiming they were improperly held.

To settle the dispute, village trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to hire a mediator -- attorney Harvey Besunder, former president of the Suffolk County Bar Association -- at $250 an hour, charged to the club's account.

"I don't think there's a win-win here," said Village Mayor Margot Garant at Tuesday's trustee meeting in Village Hall.

Opponents of the seven-person board elected in October say the vote was improper because absentee ballots were used.

"I am very much against absentee ballots, the reason being they just lend themselves to inequities in the system," said member Dr. Joseph Salerno of East Setauket. "It's very easy to cheat with absentee ballots, and this is what I think happened with this election."

Salerno and other members said they believe duplicate absentee ballots were filed.

He signed the grievance filed by Lorraine Berardi, a member who ran for a board seat and lost. Berardi could not be reached for comment.

But board supporters say no less than democracy is at stake: "In the U.S., we abide by the election results," said board secretary Mary Lou Abata of Shoreham, who was elected last fall and defended the absentee ballot system.

The tennis club, with its eight courts, has about 260 members from Port Jefferson and elsewhere. In the yearly board elections last October, 160 members cast votes, according to Abata.

The club's existing bylaws at the time made no mention of absentee voting. But the club, following precedent set by the 2009 elections, said 100 votes were absentee ballots.

Last month, the country club's management committee voted to overturn the election results and to schedule a new election, with the use of absentee ballots.

"They did this without allowing the people elected any opportunity to provide evidence that we were elected in a valid election," Abata said. "We wrote a letter stating our due process had been denied."

Meanwhile, the tennis club board is "in limbo," Abata said. "We're still the existing board, but you can imagine it's very difficult for us to proceed."

One member said the conflict has roiled the tennis club.

"It is serving to divide the club, which is very sad," said former board secretary Jerry Rapp of Mount Sinai.

Salerno agreed. "I want to get this over with and go back to the way the club used to be," he said.

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