PLATTSBURGH — The controversial Plattsburgh Town Council election saga took another turn Monday night.
The council unanimously appointed former Councilor Gerard Renadette to the seat, passing over Republican candidates Tom Metz and Bill Brudvig, who tied for the post when absentee ballots were counted last week.
The decision came after a lengthy legal challenge that, until then, had prevented the counting of the absentee ballots from last fall’s election.
The tie meant the Clinton County Board of Elections was not able to declare either man the winner and gave the Town Council the right to leave the seat vacant or appoint someone to fill it.
‘BEST INTEREST OF TOWN’
Town Supervisor Bernie Bassett said the council spent a lot of time on the decision.
“We came to the conclusion it was in the best interest of the town to fill the position rather than leave it vacant,” he said.
Bassett said Renadette, an independent, was chosen rather than either of the two candidates who finished second in the election to not create the appearance of giving either the advantage as an incumbent in the special election this fall to fill the final three years of the term.
“It’s important we let the people make their decision in the fall,” he said, adding it was not a partisan decision.
‘DIDN’T MAKE SENSE’
Renadette said the only reason he considered accepting the appointment was because he will not seek re-election next fall.
Clinton County Republican Party Chairman Don Lee said that while he has nothing against Renadette, he believes either Metz or Brudvig should have been appointed to the seat.
“We think the people stated who they wanted in the election,” he said.
Lee said the two candidates could have decided which one would get the seat through a coin flip or some other method.
It didn’t make sense to choose Renadette, Lee said, as he didn’t even run for re-election.
Renadette instead made a bid for a seat on the Clinton County Legislature.
Brudvig said it bothered him that no one from the Town Council attempted to contact either Metz or him about filling the seat.
County Democratic Chairman Martin Mannix has stated that he believed the challenges to the 36 absentee ballots were an attempt to disenfranchise voters. But, Brudvig said it actually was an allowable legal challenge to absentee ballots that they believed were improperly obtained or filled out.
Metz said it is ironic that the Democrats used the term “disenfranchise,” when the Town Council has now basically disenfranchised the nearly 2,500 voters “by ignoring the will of the people in this election.”
24 BALLOTS OPENED
Metz filed a suit in New York State Supreme Court on Nov. 21 that challenged 36 absentee ballots.
That lawsuit later grew to include Metz and Brudvig as plaintiffs. The respondents were Michael Cashman and incumbent Paul Lamoy, both Democratic candidates; the Clinton County Board of Elections; and Election Commissioners Susan Castine and Gregory Campbell.
When all the hearings and the court appearance were finished, Supreme Court Justice John T. Ellis ruled that 24 of the ballots were allowed to be opened and 12 were not.
The final tally on Jan. 27 found Cashman with 1,244 votes, Metz and Brudvig with 1,240 each and Lamoy with 1,153.
‘NO FINDING REQUIRED’
In his ruling, Ellis said there was no evidence of fraud by the respondents or that any of the subpoenaed witnesses who filled out absentee ballots were under the control of the respondents.
He also noted that some of the voters testified that “the petitioner (Metz) went door to door stating he was from the Board of Elections and he wanted to ask questions about the absentee ballots filed by the various voters.
“The information (Metz) gathered then was placed into the affidavit supporting the petition before the court,” Ellis wrote. “The court did not make a finding, and certainly wasn’t required to make a finding, concerning this alleged activity.
“Without deciding whether or not this is true, this court does not want to encourage investigations by candidates claiming to be from the Board of Elections in order to elicit information about the voters’ personal lives to substantiate reasons to invalidate absentee ballots.”
The Town Council is still able to amend the resolution that appointed Renadette and choose someone else, including Metz or Brudvig, to fill the seat, Bassett said.
Regardless of who holds it, the appointment expires on Dec. 31.
Email Dan Heath:firstname.lastname@example.org