NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - Close to 20 people showed up at North Salem’s organizational meeting last week, apparently not because they were fascinated with the minutiae of town government, but to get some clarification on what looks, to them, like a bureaucratic bottleneck.
While only four members of the audience were actual members of the town’s Democratic Committee, all of them were there, they said, to support Katherine Daniels and to ask Supervisor Warren J. Lucas and the other three elected officials why they hadn’t yet made a decision to appoint, or not appoint, her to the Town Board.
Daniels, a Democrat who was seeking a councilperson spot, lost by 12 votes to Republican Thomas J. Moreo, last November.
Moreo, after throwing his hat in the ring, had subsequently put his house up for sale and, reportedly, moved his family to Florida.
He and the GOP Committee tried to get off the ballot, but couldn’t for technical reasons. Moreo’s name never appeared on any campaign materials and he never made campaign appearances.
Questions arose about his ability to take his seat if he won.
After keeping everyone in suspense for nearly a month, Moreo informed Lucas that not only would he not be taking the oath of office, he was resigning as chair of the town’s Board of Assessment Review.
This put the board in the unusual position of having to decide either to choose someone to fill the spot, or leave it open until next fall’s elections.
Daniels, a former member of the North Salem Board of Education, has argued that as the second highest vote-getter, that appointee should be her.
And her backers are openly wondering if politics might be in play.
Lucas, Deputy Supervisor Peter Kamenstein and Councilman Brent Golisano are all Republicans. Councilman Martin Aronchick is the sole Democrat.
Accepting Moreo’s resignation from the Board of Assessment Review was last on the long list of resolutions passed by the board Tuesday, Jan. 7.
Lucas then opened the floor up to anyone who wanted to address the board.
First up at bat was Daniels, who said she recognized that the “subject is not on the agenda, but in the spirit of openness, I think we’re all here to ask the same question: What is going to happen with the empty seat on the Town Board?”
Daniels acknowledged that appointing her would upset some Republican voters, but, at the same time, tapping a Republican would be “controversial” to the folks who pulled the lever for her.
“So it does seem like the most logical and fairest option would be to leave the seat vacant until the election in November,” she said, adding: “We just want to know what the plans are.”
Lucas told her that the board had not yet formally met on the matter, but he would let everyone know when that discussion is scheduled.
Patricia Hartwell asked if it would help the board make a decision if there was a list of who voted on Nov. 5 and their political affiliations or a petition from folks who want to see Daniels appointed.
“It breaks down fairly evenly across all the parties, so it wouldn’t help us,” Lucas replied.
He also told Hartwell that party affiliation isn’t always an accurate way to predict the way individuals vote.
“So I’m sure you could come up with a thousand names of persons who would vote for Katherine now, but now it doesn’t make any difference, I don’t think,” Lucas said.
Addressing other board members, he told them: “It’s up to you guys. It’s something you can do if you’d like to.”
Aronchick said he thought the things that were being brought up were “reasonable.”
However, they don’t define the “entire dialogue” about the appointment issue.
“I don’t think we can accomplish much if we aren’t civil to each other and put partisanship aside,” Aronchick said.
Jinx Remson reminded Lucas that at the North Salem Senior Citizens Forum for candidates in October he was asked what would happen if Moreo was elected.
“And the answer was that past practices would dictate that the next highest vote-getter would be seated,” Remson said.
Lucas corrected her: “I didn’t say ‘dictate,’ I said in the past we appointed, just as was when Bruce (Councilman Bruce Buchholtz) died.”
According to Daniels, the person they appointed in 2013 was William J. Monti, now chairman of the Republican Committee.
Hartwell told the board she wasn’t being critical of any individuals in this situation.
“You’ve led a wonderful group of people and I think that it’s a great community,” she said, referring to Lucas.
There are many “wonderful” residents such as Daniels who have taken active roles in the community. “What they’re doing is very time consuming, trying and challenging,” Hartwell said.
“I think that everyone in North Salem is really blessed and I just wanted to say ‘thank you,’” she added.
“It’s a special town. Thank you. Thank you very much,” Lucas replied.
Resident Andrew Sternlieb, noting that he was “one of the people that was harping on Warren to look into what the requirements are for residency,” thanked Lucas for following through and taking his concerns “seriously.”
“As I said in the North Salem News, Tom Moreo did the right thing. And I want to thank you for helping him to reach that conclusion.”
“It was multiple phone calls while I was waiting for him (Moreo) to send me a note saying he was no longer a viable person, you know, to be sworn in. That didn’t quite happen. But it worked out OK. At least from that point of view,” Lucas said.
Nancy Aronchick, wife of Councilman Martin Aronchick, asked if the town could formulate some sort of policy in case “this kind of thing occurs again, so we’re a little bit more locked down?”
The town can’t have different election laws than the state, he said. However, it could put it’s two cents in on the way ballots are set up.
“It confused the hell out of people and that causes some of the issues and stuff that we’re talking about,” Lucas said.
Nancy Aronchick also asked if there was a way to get the county and state to “reconsider” regulations on “how far ahead of time you’d have to take somebody’s name off a ballot?”
Lucas, noting that both parties had been “pretty frustrated” by Moreo’s thwarted attempt to get off the ballot, said he’d look into it.
Nancy Stamm, a member of the town’s Democratic Committee, and Lucas sparred a bit over whose responsibility it was to tell the public about Moreo’s status.
Stamm: “Just educate me here. You tried to get Mr. Moreo off the ballot. You did everything you thought you should do?
Lucas: “The committee did.”
Stamm: “The committee, well whomever. Except you didn’t notify the public.”
Lucas: “It was in the newspaper.”
Stamm: “Well, the public didn’t know. He was leaving.”
Lucas: “It’s not my job to notify …. “
Stamm: “Well, whose job is it?
Lucas: “Well, I think it’s Katherine’s, if she wants to win.”
Stamm: “It’s her job to say, ‘Mr. Moreo’s leaving town so vote for me?’”
Lucas: “I would think so, yes. If she wants to win.”
Stamm: “Oh, OK. Thank you for that … education.”
Andy Pelosi, while acknowledging that the board was “in a tight spot,” said it should look at it as “an opportunity, a profile in courage, if you will.”
“So what I would say to you, when you’re deliberating this difficult decision, think about what’s best for the town.”
It’s certainly possible to have a four-person board, but with a fifth member, especially one with experience and proven dedication, there would be “more fair representation for all,” said Pelosi, a school board trustee, who had served with Daniels on the School Board.
Pam Pooley told the board that, while everyone there were rooting for Daniels, they supported the board’s decisions and “we’ll back you up in any way.”
However, Pooley urged it to “pick leadership over partisanship.”
Marvin Stamm, Nancy Stamm’s husband, said while he had no bones to pick with Moreo personally, he should have told people the second he knew he was going to move. “That would have been the honorable thing to do, to step out of the way,” he said.
This newspaper has reached out to Moreo but has been unable to establish an exact timeline of the events.
In the four decades he’s lived in town, Stamm has noticed “some periods of tremendous partisanship.”
“One of the things I thank you guys for is that you have really kept that at a minimum. I think everybody recognizes the job that you guys have done,” he said.
“I realize you’re in a tough spot. But you’re in a tough spot because of political reasons. Because this group of people’s going to be angry if you appoint Katherine; this group is going to be angry if you don’t,” he continued.
Letting politics be the controlling factor “takes away from the fact that we’re a small town and we’re neighbors. It doesn’t make any difference what party I’m registered with, it’s the respect for the thing that’s right.”
Stamm said that as long as board members can pick someone—Democrat or Republican—they know in their hearts is right for the town, then he’s OK with it.
“The thing to do is to say to people, ‘Look we have to make the best decision and the best decision is not based on politics.’”
Daniels would be “a doggone good fit” for the board, he said.
Lucas said he’s been getting input from “both sides” and now the board has to figure out what to do.
Lucas wasn’t certain if the board had a deadline for making its next move.
“No matter what decision we make, we’re going to get beat up; that’s the fun part,” he concluded.