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Niagara Falls School Board criticized for delaying vote on adding polling sites

NIAGARA FALLS - Community and church leaders are objecting to a decision by the city School Board to put off a vote on increasing the number of polling sites for the school board election and budget vote in May.

The School Board on Thursday night tabled a measure to establish 23 polling places, up from the eight sites used last May and in a December referendum.

Opponents of the move, who say they’re out to protect the rights of minorities, the poor and disenfranchised, held a noontime news conference on Friday outside the district’s administration building on 66th Street.

Timothy J. Brown Sr., senior pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and head of the Niagara Ministerial Council, called the board’s previous move to decrease the number of polling sites a “conspiracy” which was “done specifically and explicitly to change” who came out to vote.

“This is an atrocity against the civil rights of humanity in the United States of America,” Brown said.

About 15 people attended the news conference, including City Council Chairman Charles A. Walker, Niagara County Legislator Owen T. Steed, Niagara Falls Housing Authority Executive Director Stephanie W. Cowart.

In a 5-4 vote Thursday night, the board voted to table the measure.

The board members who voted to put off a decision on the measure were Carmelette D. Rotella, Anthony F. Paretto, Arthur Jocoy Jr., Johnny G. Destino and Ronald J. Barstys.

Board President Russell J. Petrozzi, who arrived at the administration building during the news conference and spent time answering questions from those gathered, said the matter was tabled because some board members wanted more information.

Petrozzi said he did not foresee the issue being tabled, but said that he is looking to schedule a special board meeting so a vote can be held.

The board can make a decision before the end of March and take the required actions in time for the May budget vote and board election, Petrozzi said.

School district officials last spring said the move to reduce polling places was done for two reasons: to save money and because they said they were told by the Niagara County Board of Elections that there wouldn’t be enough voting machines available to open the usual number of sites.

Petrozzi said the difference in cost is about $10,000, and, in his opinion, is worth spending.

Two long-time board members were ousted in last May’s election – Kevin Dobbs and Don J. King – who between them had spent more than 50 years on the board. Newcomers Barstys and Paretto took their spots on the board.