Judge up­holds bal­lot word­ing

2 leg­is­la­tors chal­lenged lan­guage of propo­si­tion on court re­lo­ca­tion

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­tri­cia Doxsey pdoxsey@free­manon­line.com pat­ti­at­free­man on Twit­ter

A judge has re­jected an ef­fort by two Ul­ster County leg­is­la­tors to change the lan­guage of a bal­lot propo­si­tion seek­ing voter ap­proval to move the Ul­ster County Fam­ily Court out of the city of Kingston.

The judge, though, said the lan­guage that will go be­fore the vot­ers on Nov. 8 does seem to have the county’s “prover­bial thumb on the scale.”

In her rul­ing Fri­day, act­ing state Supreme Court Jus­tice Denise Hartman found that while

the bal­lot lan­guage at is­sue “is lead­ing,” she said there was no ev­i­dence pre­sented to prove that it was “mis­lead­ing.”

“(W)hile there is a plethora of author­ity that the text of a propo­si­tion can­not be mis­lead­ing, no author­ity has been pro­vided that the text of the propo­si­tion can­not be lead­ing,” she wrote in an 11-page de­ci­sion.

Ab­sent such proof, Hartman wrote, not­ing the county Leg­is­la­ture de­feated a res­o­lu­tion that would have changed the bal­lot lan­guage, the court is in “no po­si­tion to re­solve leg­isla­tive dis­agree­ments.”

I’m thrilled and re­lieved that the court ruled this way,” said Leg­is­la­ture Chair­man Ken Ronk. “I’m thrilled that the Leg­is­la­ture and the courts both be­lieve this was the right bal­lot propo­si­tion for the peo­ple of Ul­ster County.

The Nov. 8 bal­lot propo­si­tion up­held by Hartman reads: “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?”

Leg­is­la­tors David Don­ald­son, D-Kingston, and John Parete, D-Boiceville, filed a law­suit against County Ex­ec­u­tive Michael Hein, Ronk, R-Wal­lkill, Leg­is­la­ture Clerk Vic­to­ria Fa­bella and the county’s elec­tions com­mis­sion­ers, seek­ing to change that lan­guage to some­thing they said was “more neu­tral.” They said the lan­guage was mis­lead­ing, am­bigu­ous, il­le­gal and not a clear and co­her­ent rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what the vot­ers should con­sider.

Don­ald­son and Parete wanted the bal­lot to read: “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?”

In her de­ci­sion, Hartman ac­knowl­edged the text pro­posed by Don­ald­son and Parete “is more neu­tral” and said she was “par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about the use of the phrase ‘more suit­able’ ... whereby the Ul­ster County Leg­is­la­ture put its prover­bial thumb on the scale.”

But, she said, there was no ev­i­dence pre­sented dur­ing a hear­ing held Wed­nes­day to sug­gest a propo­si­tion couldn’t be framed that way.

Don­ald­son and Parete said they were dis­ap­pointed by the court rul­ing.

“I think com­mon sense didn’t pre­vail,” said Par­erte, a for­mer Demo­cratic elec­tions com­mis­sioner and for­mer Leg­is­la­ture chair­man.

“I’m dis­ap­pointed by not sur­prised,” said Don­ald­son, also a for­mer Leg­is­la­ture chair­man.

Hein late Fri­day called the law­suit a “colos­sal waste of tax­payer money by Leg­is­la­tors Don­ald­son and Parete” and “dis­re­spect­ful of the leg­isla­tive process.”

Don­ald­son said the pair wouldn’t ap­peal the court’s rul­ing, but said he may call for a leg­isla­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion into why law­mak­ers weren’t given a copy of a 2014 es­ti­mate by an ar­chi­tect hired by GD Realty, the owner of the cur­rent Fam­ily Court build­ing, that pegged the cost of ren­o­va­tions of that build­ing at about $3 mil­lion.

On the wit­ness stand Wed­nes­day, Deputy County Ex­ec­u­tive Robert Sud­low said the cost to ren­o­vate and pur­chase the Lu­cas Av­enue build­ing would be about $8 mil­lion, in ad­di­tion to the cost of re­lo­cat­ing the court while ren­o­va­tions were un­der­way.

The county has come un­der in­tense pres­sure by the New York Of­fice of Court Ad­min­is­tra­tion to up­grade its Fam­ily Court fa­cil­i­ties, which the state has called “wholly in­ad­e­quate.”

County lead­ers have said it would be more cost-ef­fec­tive to move the court op­er­a­tions to the county-owned Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter in the town of Ul­ster than to buy and ren­o­vate the Lu­cas Av­enue build­ing.

Mov­ing the court out of the city of Kingston, which is the county seat, can only be done with voter ap­proval.

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