Amherst Democrats are trying to get the Republican candidate for town supervisor thrown off the ballot, arguing in a court filing that the town's term limits law bar her from running.
In a petition filed July 20 in State Supreme Court, the Democrats allege that Marjory H. Jaeger is "ineligible" to run for supervisor because she is midway through her second consecutive term as town clerk.
"The term limits law was set up to cause a break in public terms of an elected official at the two consecutive term mark," said Jerome D. Schad, the chairman of the Amherst Democrats and attorney for the petitioner, town resident Patricia A. LaVell.
Meanwhile, town Republicans in a statement Wednesday called the lawsuit "ridiculous and frivolous" and "yet another pathetic attempt to deny voters a choice in the upcoming elections."
The term limit law allows elected officials to serve two consecutive terms of four years each in the same public office. "Same public office" is defined as "any and all public offices that are the same as the office that the elective public officer last held." Officials are not prohibited "from seeking, being elected to, or holding another and different elective public office in the Town of Amherst at the conclusion of a term of public office."
To Democratic leaders, that means Jaeger can only seek another elected office if she resigns from her current office, or once her current term as clerk ends in 2019. Jaeger began her first term as clerk on Jan. 1, 2012. She was re-elected in November 2015 and began her second four-year term on Jan. 1, 2016. If she were to win the supervisor's race, Jaeger will have been in office for 10 years at the end of that term.
"If she were to do what she's doing, she's going to get more than two terms," Schad said. "That, I don't think is what was contemplated."
But former Council Member Daniel J. Ward, who co-authored the law, said he doesn't agree with the Democrats' interpretation. There's no reason an elected official such as a sitting town clerk or highway superintendent shouldn't be able to seek election as a council member or supervisor, he said.
"The term limits were to apply to people on the Town Board chiefly and not just longevity in general," Ward said. "I don't see that it applies in this situation."
The Democrats are asking that Jaeger's petitions be ruled invalid and her name be stricken from the ballot. Judge Diane Y. Devlin last week ordered a response from Jaeger, with both sides due back in court on Tuesday.
Joseph P. Heins, campaign manager for the Amherst Republican Committee, accused Schad of "dirty tricks to help his candidates win instead of allowing a fair process and honest hard work to carry the day."
"We will not allow the Amherst Democrats to use courtroom tricks to silence the over 1,500 people who signed petitions supporting Marjory's candidacy, nor will we let them steal the people's right to vote for their representatives," Heins said.
Amherst adopted term limits in 2006 "to expand participation in the electoral process and to bring new ideas to governance of the Town of Amherst."
Ward, a Democrat, said he was not aware of any previous case where the town's term limits law was the subject of litigation.