EDGEMONT INCORPORATION PETITION SUFFICIENCY DECISION
Earlier this year some residents of Edgemont filed a petition requesting that a referendum be held to consider the incorporation of the hamlet of Edgemont as a village within the Town. New York State law requires that an incorporation petition comply with specific standards before a referendum can be scheduled. The statute assigns the responsibility to determine whether or not these standards are met to the Town Supervisor. The statute prohibits the Supervisor from basing the decision on his or her personal opinions, politics or any factors other than the law. The Supervisor must consider only one thing - whether the petition for incorporation is legally sufficient or whether it is not?
The Town Board authorized me to hire a former Appellate Division Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Robert Spolzino, to give me the help that I needed to fully understand and follow the letter of the law. Judge Spolzino is a highly experienced and respected counsel who has a solid understanding of municipal law. I asked Judge Spolzino to assist me in reviewing the petition, statute and case law regarding incorporation and to provide me with an analysis of the statute and recommendations. I reiterated to the Judge on many occasions that he should not base his analysis on what he thought I wanted to hear but on the law. (To a Justice of Mr. Spolzino’s caliber, my urgings were, of course, redundant.) I did not discuss my thoughts on the merits of any specific resident objection with Judge Spolzino prior to making my decision.
I held a hearing to hear objections to the petition - on April 5th and April 24th. New York State law requires that a hearing be held only on objections to the petition. However, I decided to also allow those who supported the petition to testify and to object to petition objections. In addition, I accepted written testimony until April 25th. Dozens of residents testified. There were a total of 14 objections.
After considering Judge Spolzino’s analysis, I rejected 11 of the 14 objections. I also decided not to consider any of the comments or affidavits arising from an investigator he hired. I accepted three of the objections, which are the basis of my findings and decision. I found that the petition failed to meet three of the New York State Incorporation statute’s legal requirements.
The first problem with the petition is that it was unclear about which properties would be part of incorporated Edgemont. Without clarity, some residents would not know their voting rights or to whom they should pay taxes. You can’t have an election to consider
incorporation without knowing who can vote, which you can’t know if the description of the area within the proposed new village is not certain. The statute requires that the petition describe the proposed new territory with “common certainty”. The petition contained two maps and inconsistent verbiage as determined by two real estate title experts. There was also evidence that the boundaries of the Greenville and Hartsdale fire districts overlapped.
Second, the petition did not contain the requisite number of valid signatures. Among the issues: Twenty-seven people signed the petition twice, others signed the petition for friends or family members and still others signed the petition with names and signatures different from those on file with the Board of Elections. Under New York State law, forged signatures falsely sworn to by a witness in front of a notary is a legal violation that invalidates all the signatures collected by that witness. Based upon the number of qualified voters residing in the area of the proposed new village the petition required 1,198 valid signatures. The petition contained only 1,021 valid signatures. Thus, the petition is 177 signatures short of satisfying the statutory requirement.
Third, the petition included a list of 4,826 names referred to as all of Edgemont’s regular inhabitants. However, the number of regular inhabitants in the petition did not include children as required by the statute. Since the number of registered voters provided by the Board of Elections was 5,993 as of the date that the petition was filed, there had to be 5,993 regular inhabitants at a minimum even before including children.
As a result, I am denying the petition because it does not comply with the aforementioned requirements of the statute dealing with incorporation. Those who disagree with my written decision, which can be found on the Town’s website, are permitted by New York State law to appeal my decision to the New York State Supreme Court. If you believe as I do - that the denial has a sound, verifiable legal basis, you have the right to prepare another petition. When the petition satisfies all statutory requirements, a referendum will be scheduled.
I hope you and your friends will go to the Town website to read the opinion in its entirety. I also trust that you will recognize the lengths to which we went to ensure that the decision was based solely on the law.
As always, I encourage you to feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or comments about this or any other Town matter.
Paul J. Feiner