BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Orangetown is now apparently following the lead of neighboring Ramapo and Clarkstown in considering a change in the way town elections are held.
A discussion is tentatively scheduled for the Town Board’s workshop meeting of July 7 to consider term limits on all elected officials. If the five-member council approves the concept, such a new law could take affect this fall, and potentially change the composition of the board, which is currently controlled by the Republicans with a 4-1 majority.
The term limit proposal was introduced at the board’s last meeting, June 16, by GOP Councilman Thomas Diviny, an attorney in private practice. There was little discussion of the proposal at the time, which seemed to catch some elected officials off-guard because Diviny had not indicated his interest in the concept publicly any time previously.
Diviny even went to the length of preparing a draft local law he would like the council to adopt, creating term limits as a part of the Town Code.
Diviny’s proposal also differs markedly from legislation being considered in Ramapo and Clarkstown, however, in that it does not seek to create legislative “districts” in which council candidates would run, rather than the “at large” system currently in effect in all Rockland municipalities.
Currently, candidates run for office whenever they want, for as many times as they want, on a town-wide basis. Elective offices include both full-time officials such as supervisor, town clerk and highway superintendent, and part-time officials such as council members and town justice.
Council members serve four-year terms in office, while other elected officials serve two-year terms. There is currently no restriction on how many times a candidate can seek office, nor on how many successive terms a person may serve in a particular position.
Diviny explained his rationale for proposing the new term-limits legislation in the preamble to his legislative proposal.
“It is the intent of the Town Board of the Town of Orangetown to expand participation in the electoral process and bring new ideas to governance of the Town…” the draft begins. “To these ends, the Town Board…adopts this chapter to limit terms of office for Supervisor and Councilmember in the Town of Orangetown.
A supervisor would be limited to three two-year terms of office, for a total of six years, while council members would be limited to two four-year terms of office apiece, for a total of eight years.
There would be no term limits imposed on any other elected official in town, including highway superintendent, town clerk or town justice.
Under Diviny’s proposal, the Town Board could adopt this legislation at any time it wants, but he is suggesting it be done this fall. It would require a public hearing followed by a council vote, which would require a simple majority of 3-2 or better to adopt.
Interestingly, he also suggests, as his proposed Article 5 of Section 4, that “this chapter of the Orangetown Town Code shall only be repealed by a majority plus one vote of the Town Board, meaning it would take an affirmative vote of 4-1 or better to repeal the law, once it is adopted. He did not explain that discrepancy at the meeting.
He also notes in Section 5 that “This local law shall become effective upon filing with the Secretary of State on January 1, 2016,” which would appear to mean it would not take effect in time for this November’s election, but would pertain to the next town election in the fall of 2017. He also did not discuss this anomaly, but said all details of the legislation would be thoroughly debated at the July 7 workshop.
The two candidates who would appear to be the most threatened by the proposed legislation, in its current form, would be Democratic Supervisor Andrew Stewart and Republican Councilman Denis Troy.
Stewart is currently in his second two-year term of office as supervisor, meaning he is effectively the head of government in Orangetown. Troy has served continuously as the board’s senior council member since 2000, after serving as a Rockland County legislator. He is currently mid-way through his fourth consecutive four-year term.
Councilman Thomas Morr is serving his second non-consecutive term on the council, Diviny is mid-way through his second consecutive four-term council term and Paul Valentine is currently in his first term in office.
Depending on whether the law is interpreted to begin this fall, or next fall, it could determine whether Stewart and Troy and would be eligible to run for re-election or not. Stewart already leads the Democratic ticket for this fall’s election.
Running with Stewart on the Democratic slate are Charlotte Madigan for re-election as Town Clerk, and town Board candidates Gerald “Gerry” Bottari of Blauvelt and Chris Smith of Pearl River.
Stewart, 50, was executive director of Keep Rockland Beautiful before being elected supervisor in 2011 and re-elected in 2013.Bottari, 63, is a retired youth officer and detective with the Orangetown Police Department, while Smith, 35, is a small business owner active with the Pearl River Rotary, Chamber of Commerce and AOH. He previously ran for Receiver of Taxes against GOP incumbent Robert Simon.
On the Republican ticket, Michael Moroney is currently the candidate for supervisor against Stewart. Moroney is also a retired Orangetown police officer (lieutenant), and the son of long-time county legislator Patrick Moroney. A lifetime Orangetown resident, Moroney threw his hat into the ring late in the selection process, replacing presumed GOP candidate Walter Wetje. Wetje lost in a bid to unseat Stewart two years ago by only two votes, and announced his candidacy in the spring to try again this fall. He suddenly dropped out of the race last month, and was quickly replaced by Moroney.
Districts Not Considered
So far, changes in the electoral process in Orangetown have only centered on the length of the terms of office for supervisor and councilman.
In Ramapo and Clarkstown, the Town Boards are also considering creating districts, or “wards,” in which those towns would be divided into six districts of approximately equal populations.
Districts are already in use in Rockland for the 17-member County Legislature, and are commonly used in cities such as New York, where they are often called “wards.”
Candidates would run only in those districts, in which they would have to reside. Thus council candidates would no longer run town-wide, as they do now, but only within their individual district. The town supervisor would continue to run town-wide, as would all other elected town officials.
If Orangetown were to also adopt a district system for electing council members based on population there would probably be two seats in Pearl River and one each in Blauvelt, Orangeburg, the Nyacks and Palisades and Tappan. Because the populations would not be identical enough to meet Supreme Court challenges, there would also be overlaps where small areas of one hamlet or village may spill over into an adjacent district.
So far, Diviny has not indicated any interest in a district system for Town Board elections, saying he wants to limit the discussion to just term limits at this time.