Jan 15, 2008 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Blue-and-white lawn signs have sprung up along First Street in the village of Liverpool:
“Just say no to Local Law #1-2008. Keep justice ‘in’ the village.”
The signs are part of a campaign being waged by village resident Anthony LaValle, a practicing attorney, who opposes Mayor Marlene Ward’s proposal to eliminate the residency requirement for the now-vacant post of village justice.
At its Dec. 17 meeting, the Liverpool Village Board of Trustees accepted the resignation of longtime Village Justice Herman Harding, who lives on Bass Street. A new judge will soon be appointed by the mayor, and the appointee will likely stand for election in June.
Public hearing Jan. 22
If the trustees discontinue the residency rule following a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday Jan. 22, at the Village Hall, Ward will appoint acting Village Justice George Alessio to the vacant position, she said. Alessio lives outside the village on Donlin Drive in the town of Salina.
“The village law prohibits a ‘non-resident’ judge and for obvious reasons,” LaValle wrote in a recent letter to The Review (see letter, page 5). “People should govern themselves and not be governed by outsiders.”
LaValle presented the mayor with his resum (c) before the village board’s Dec. 17 meeting.
“I offered my services to fill in,” he said. “I asked them to please consider me because I’d like to help the village in any way I can.”
For the past couple weekends, LaValle has been visiting neighborhoods with petitions, brochures and lawn signs. As of Jan. 14, he said he’d collected some 40 signatures on a petition urging the board to retain the residency requirement.
“There are three elected positions in village government, mayor, trustee and judge,” LaValle said in a telephone interview. “If village residency isn’t required for the village justice, what about the mayor and trustees? Would it be OK for them to live outside the village as well?”
Ward responded by saying that LaValle is a lawyer, “so he should know that, by law, you need to be a village resident in order to be elected as mayor or trustee.”
State okays non-residents
State legislation passed 29 years ago, however, made it legal for villages with populations of less than 3,000 to forgo residency requirements for village justice positions, Ward said.
“As an attorney, LaValle should have known that too,” she added.
Liverpool’s population is 2,505, according to the 2000 U.S. Census,
On Oct. 15, after accepting the resignation of Police Chief Donald Morris, the village board officially amended a residency requirement ordinance for police officers. The board had actually dropped those requirements in 1999 when Morris was hired but neglected to remove the ordinance from its code until last fall.
The judge’s job differs from appointed posts such as the police chief, LaValle said. “Village justice is an elected position.”
Alessio likely appointee
Doing away with the residency requirement “makes no sense,” said LaValle, of 101 Tulip St. “There are plenty of village residents qualified to assume this office.”
The mayor disagreed.
“There’s really only a small pool of people here,” she said, “and sometimes you can’t get the best people to serve but the state law provides some flexibility. You want to get the best-qualified candidate.”
Ward appointed Alessio as acting village justice several years ago, so she feels confident that he knows the village court operation.
“Ours is a high-volume court,” she said. “We have a very active police department so we have a very active court.” While traffic offenses make up the bulk of a typical weekly docket, some criminal cases crop up occasionally along with code-enforcement issues.
Weekly court sessions
Village court convenes weekly at 4 p.m. every Tuesday at the Village Hall. Since Harding’s resignation, Acting Village Justice Alessio has been presiding.
“George can’t remain ‘acting’ judge forever,” Ward said.
The village justice earns about $7,000 annually, while the acting judge is paid $900.
The judicial appointment is entirely in Ward’s hands. While the village board can decide to either maintain or abandon the residency requirement, it will not have a say in the appointment itself.
The mayor’s husband, former Salina Town Supervisor Richard “Ace” Ward, served as Alessio’s campaign manager in this year’s Salina justice race.
Election due in June
If anyone is displeased with the appointment she makes, Ward said, they can seek satisfaction at the polls in June.
“The village still has a say in who the village justice will be,” Ward said, “even if he lives in Salina.” Anyone who participates in the party caucus process or the petition process can get on the ballot and run for the judgeship, she added.
LaValle hasn’t decided whether he’ll run in June. First, he wants to see how the residency rule issue is resolved. Along with Ward, Harding, Alessio and the entire village board, LaValle is a Republican.