Feb 01, 2008 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
At a Jan. 22 public hearing at the Village Hall, nearly a dozen people questioned Liverpool’s proposed Local Law No. 1 of 2008, which would rescind the residency requirement for the village justice.
State law allows small villages to have non-residents as justices, said Mayor Marlene Ward, who favors the new ordinance.
More than 60 residents turned out for the hearing.
No vote was taken. Instead, the board of trustees will reconsider the issue at its Feb. 19 meeting.
“Will people from outside the village have our same values?” asked Fourth Street resident Dave Lyons. While he now enjoys carefree late-night walks the village, Lyons wonders if he would lose that sense of security if Liverpool had a non-resident judge.
“It’s opening up a Pandora’s Box,” he said.
Alessio waits in wings
Two people spoke in favor of opening the office to qualified candidates who live outside the village.
“It’s difficult to get candidates to run for these positions,” said Joe Ostuni Jr., chairman of the village Republican Committee. Village elections are set for June 17 this year, when voters will elect two trustees and a village justice.
The other resident who spoke in favor of eliminating the residency requirement was Richard “Ace” Ward, chairman of the village Zoning Board of Appeals and husband of Mayor Marlene Ward.
The mayor wants to drop the residency requirement so she can appoint acting Village Justice George Alessio to the judgeship. A resident of the town of Salina, Alessio has served for nine years as the acting village justice.
The top job opened up when longtime Judge Herman Harding resigned last month after 36 years of service. At the Jan. 22 meeting, Mayor Ward presented Harding with a plaque recognizing his 36 years on the bench here.
LaValle presents petition
Alessio is also vying for a job as Salina Town Judge. His razor-thin victory in the November election over Salina Councilman Paul Carey has yet to be certified as the ballots are being evaluated in state appellate court.
Both Carey and Alessio attended the Jan. 22 public hearing, but neither spoke publicly.
Another attorney, Anthony LaValle, who lives in the village at 101 Tulip St., had mounted a campaign opposing the elimination of the residency requirement. At last week’s hearing, he presented a petition to the board signed by 55 residents opposing Local Law No. 1.
“If it ain’t broke, why are we trying to fix it?” LaValle asked. “I believe this change is politically motivated. The mayor has a personal agenda to appoint a non-village resident.”
The mayor should have made her appointment immediately after the vacancy occurred, LaValle said, citing an opinion rendered by the state Comptroller’s Office. She should not have waited, he said, for the residency requirement to be debated.
“We are not children,” LaValle said. “We can govern ourselves. We don’t need to be governed by outsiders.”
Former Mayor Jon Zoppola noted “hostility in the room,” and suggested that the issue “could have been handled better.”
State allows non-residents
Mayor Ward pointed out that state legislation passed in 1979, however, made it legal for villages with populations of less than 3,000 to look outside their borders for village justice candidates. Liverpool’s population is 2,505, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Village voters have “total control” in choosing the village justice, Mayor Ward said, no matter where the judge resides.
The village justice earns about $7,000 annually, the acting judge $900.
The mayor said Alessio has been acting justice here for nearly a decade and has been presiding in Village Court on Tuesdays since Harding resigned Dec. 31.
Richard Ward, who served as Alessio’s campaign manager in the 2007 Salina judicial race, accused LaValle of spreading “half-truths” and making “misleading statements.” He urged to board to rescind the residency requirement to allow the mayor to appoint a judge with “knowledge and ability.”
Following the hearing, Trustee Nick Kochan moved to table the local law until the board’s next meeting Feb. 19.
Last fall, the village board officially rescinded a residency requirement for police officers.