2 legislators file lawsuit over court referendum
KINGSTON >> Two Ulster County legislators are asking a court to force a change in the wording of a voter referendum about whether the county’s Family Court should be moved from Lucas Avenue in Kingston to the county’s Business Resource Center in the town of Ulster.
Democrats David Donaldson and John Parete have filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court against County Executive Michael Hein, Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk, Legislature Clerk Victoria Fabella and the county’s two elections commissioners. The suit follows the defeat earlier this month of a legislative resolution that would have changed the referendum’s language.
In the lawsuit, the two lawmakers, who oppose moving the court out of Kingston, call the referendum “misleading, ambiguous, illegal and not a clear and coherent representation of what the voters should consider.”
In June, lawmakers approved a ballot proposition that states: “In order to improve services to the children and families of Ulster County, reduce the need to raise property taxes and satisfy state mandates, the County of Ulster proposes to relocate the current leased site of the Ulster County Family Court, located at 16 Lucas Avenue in the City of Kingston, County of Ulster, State of New York, to a more suitable county-owned property situated less than 800 feet from the City of Kingston line, located at 1 Development Court, Ulster Avenue in the Town of Ulster, County of Ulster, State of New York. Shall this proposition be approved?”
Donaldson, a Kingston resident, wants that language changed to something more “neutral,” arguing there is no proof that the move will do any of the things claimed in the ballot language.
Rather, he and other opponents say, moving Family Court out of the city of Kingston could hurt the Uptown Kingston business district and inconvenience those using Family Court, and that converting vacant space at the Business Resource Center could cost as much as $3 million more than the $10 million price tag estimated by the executive.
The suit asks the court to order that the ballot read instead: “Shall the county of Ulster be permitted to relocate the current leased site of the Ulster County Family Court, located at 16 Lucas Avenue in the City of Kingston, County of Ulster to an existing county-owned property, approved by the New York State Office of Court Administration, located at 1 Development Court, Ulster Aveune in the Town of Ulster, County of Ulster, State of New York?”
Former Kingston Alderman Brad Will said at a Common Council meeting last week that he supported Donaldson’s efforts to change the ballot language, calling it an example of how county leaders have manipulated information in favor of the Business Resource Center. Will urged council members to campaign against the referendum.
“They looked at the BRC (Business Resource Center) and they looked at several other sites, and these other sites were location-challenged, certainly not convenient, and when they looked at them, they were grossly overestimated in cost,” Will said.
Ulster County has come under pressure from the state Office of Court Administration to upgrade its Family Court facilities, which the state has called “wholly inadequate.” Under state law, moving the court to the county-owned Business Resource Center requires voter approval because it is outside the county seat, which is the city of Kingston.