Town clerk throws out petitions for referendums in Lockport - The Buffalo News
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Town clerk throws out petitions for referendums in Lockport

LOCKPORT – Town residents will not be allowed to vote Nov. 5 on a package of Town Board reforms, after all.

Town Clerk Nancy A. Brooks ruled Wednesday that the petitions submitted to force the votes were invalid.

Paul R. Black, the resident who collected the signatures while also running for the board, said he thinks Brooks got it wrong, and he asserted the objections themselves were invalid.

However, the only way to reverse the decision is to file a lawsuit. “I am contemplating going to court,” said Black, who was defeated last week in the Republican primary for town councilman.

Town Attorney Michael J. Norris said Black has a short deadline to file suit: either three days, according to the Election Law, or five days, according to the Municipal Home Rule Law. Norris said he isn’t sure which of those state laws applies to this situation.

Brooks adopted the reasoning in the objections, signed by Planning Board member Thomas F. Grzebinski II but drawn up by John R. Drexelius, a Kenmore attorney who specializes in Election Law litigation on behalf of Republicans.

He objected because the petitions’ header didn’t say that each signer’s “present place of residence is truly stated opposite my signature,” and because each signer didn’t write “Lockport” as part of his or her address. Black sought only the house numbers and street names.

Drexelius presented appellate court precedents from two different New York courts to back up his claim that such omissions are enough to invalidate a petition, and Brooks, a veteran GOP officeholder, agreed.

Black, who said he had no legal help in drawing up his petition forms, said he thought about inserting a column for the city and state, but decided it was “redundant” to do so.

“I thought about that and basically dismissed it. When they check those addresses, every one of them will be in the Town of Lockport,” Black said.

He said the petitions as presented “fall under substantial compliance” and should have counted. Black also complained that he should have been served personally with a copy of the objections, and he wasn’t. In his opinion, that made the objections illegal.

Black collected 456 signatures on petitions to force a vote on electing councilmen by wards instead of at large, and 466 signatures on a second petition instituting a package of by-laws for the board.

They included a ban on daytime board meetings, a requirement that no action be taken at a work session and a provision requiring any agenda item that drew an objection from anyone in the audience to be tabled.

Brooks agreed with Norris that the latter package was not authorized by state law as a proper topic for a referendum.


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