Press-Republican

September 16, 2013

Jay to vote on justice-seat elimination

By LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — JAY — In what has become a controversial issue, voters in Jay will soon decide whether they want one or two town-justice posts.

After the Jay Town Council voted to dissolve one of the town’s two justice positions, supporters of keeping both presented a valid petition for a public referendum on the change.

Residents will vote from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16. Election District 1 is at the Jay Community Center, 11 School Lane in AuSable Forks, and District 2 is at the Amos and Julia Ward Theatre at 12 Parkside Drive in Jay.

A “yes” vote would eliminate one of two justice positions, while a “no” vote would retain it.

'TO SAVE MONEY'

Jay Town Supervisor Randy Douglas said the special election, which has to be held between 60 and 75 days from the petition validation, will cost the county about $2,800.

He said the decision to reduce the number of justices was based on cost-savings for the town.

“We have consolidated positions, eliminated positions, lessened our Workers Compensation cost, liability-insurance cost and health-insurance costs,” Douglas said in an email.

The petition for a vote on the justice elimination was filed by Green Party member Fred Balzac.

Balzac said he went to the Jay Town Council's August session to learn more about the reduction, which was passed at the July 11 Town Council meeting.

“I learned not only that the question would not be on the General Election ballot, but there was a 30-day deadline for submitting the petition," he said.

“I had done some research on town law. That (law) would have allowed the town to put it on the ballot. I asked them to put it on the ballot. 

"They declined to do that at the August meeting.”

ENOUGH SIGNATURES

Balzac said he then stated his desire to petition for a vote.

Exactly 44 signatures, representing 5 percent of the 900 registered voters in Jay, were required, and Balzac obtained 56. Five were disqualified, leaving 51 valid signatures.

Balzac said he feels voters will not want to abolish the second justice position, currently held by Robert Minogue, who’s running for re-election as an independent, as his term is up at the end of December. 

Challengers are independents Rosemond Lincoln-Day and Rodney Dockum.

Lincoln-Day was also running for justice on the Green Party line, but her petitions were disqualified on a technicality.

If eliminating the seat is approved in the October referendum, it will not appear on the November ballot.

'VERY SIGNIFICANT OFFICE'

Balzac is running for Jay Town Council on the Green Party ticket, and Douglas questioned whether his motives for the referendum petition are political.

“In my opinion, he (Balzac) jumped the gun on this issue for his own possible future gain in his candidacy for Town of Jay councilman,” Douglas said by email.

Balzac said he’s not doing it for political gain, and the town could have managed the process so the question could have been on the November ballot at no extra cost.

“The action the town board took would have eliminated one of our two town-justice offices without any real public input, if it hadn’t been for action by myself and a couple other folks to get it on the ballot," he said. 

"This is a very significant office locally.”

FIXED ANNUAL SALARY

Balzac said that while Lincoln-Day circulated Green Party petitions for the justice position, no town official told her the elimination of the post was being proposed.

Douglas said the other justice, Daniel Deyoe, told them he could handle the caseload if the second position were eliminated.

“The town board had some constituents bring concerns to them regarding the availability of Judge Minogue in some of the winter months and whether he was still on the Town of Jay payroll while court sessions were either canceled or transferred to Judge Deyoe,” Douglas said in the email.

Each justice received a fixed annual salary of $9,499, Douglas said. He said the town was considering setting the annual pay for one justice at $12,000.

“All elected officials are entitled to set their own office hours and do not fall under the supervisor’s direction," the supervisor said. 

"Judge Minogue, from what I witnessed, did a very good job when he was in court proceedings.

“The bottom line is that we, as the elected body, represent the people to make well-thought-out, educated decisions that have a short- and long-term effect on us all.”

Email Lohr McKinstry: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com