All About Armonk

North Castle Daily News

North White Plains Unease Post Election

November 20, 2014
Supervisor Schiliro’s biweekly “Celebration of the Good” at the November 19 Town Board meeting was directed toward community members who took the time to vote in the special election for the ward propositions on November 13. The community came together with a voter turnout of slightly over 30%. Schiliro said that this showed that people care and took the issue seriously. The results also showed we are one community, continued Schiliro, but there are problems.

The majority voted by a 85% margin to retain the current at large government that governs North Castle today.   

The petitioner of the special election, Tony Futia, said North White Plains has a history of struggling with the diversity between the income levels between North Castle’s southern and northern part of town. He said, “The problems have been flamed in the past few weeks.”

North White Plains residents have been encouraged to attend meetings to discuss the problems of the hamlet and to be part of the solution. But Futia said there are too many problems that people are uncomfortable talking about at the monthly Saturday meetings, held in North White Plains by Town Board member Barbara DiGiacinto. “They are intimidated and are not speaking up.”

There are some serious problems that you are not aware of, said Futia. Many people say they are wasting their time, and they are looking for a better situation in North White Plains. “There’s a committee formed to see what we can do,” he said.

Futia’s ward proposition petitions had almost 400 signatures, but just over 50% of those North White Plains residents voted in the special election. It is uncertain how many people are involved in the committee that Futia refers to.

He said there are North White Plains residents who want to separate from the Town of North Castle and this is not a new concept. Back in the 1950’s, a group of North White Plains residents tried to form a municipality of Castle Heights, according to Futia.

Futia said, “The plan is that we think we can [govern] a lot cheaper with nonpaying [town board positions] to operate the municipality, like Scarsdale.” He said they operate with paying less taxes by contracting out for services such as road maintenance repair or using the Westchester County Police force.  

Supervisor Schiliro said there’s a lot of work to do. He doesn’t want to see the town divided, but rather, he said, let’s continue to work together. We know we have to do a better job, but we can’t stop them if they want to try to secede, Schiliro added.

“It’s not going to change how I do my job,” said Schiliro. “We’re a small town of 12,000. I’m looking to see how we can better serve the town, and I’m not going to stop doing my job to the best of my ability including serving those in North White Plains.”  

Schiliro said a special thanks to the Town Clerk’s office for running a smooth election. There were many details and people involved to assure a proper legal election. Town Clerk Anne Curran, her staff, many town employees and former town employees, special counsel, volunteers, and election officials spent hours to assure that the election was executed properly in accordance with all the legal requirements. All this was done in a relatively short period of time, with just over 30 days notice from the Westchester County Board of Elections. Curran acknowledged many participants who put in an extraordinary effort to insure the integrity of the election.

So far the expenses of the special election are $43,145, according to Town Clerk Anne Curran.


Comment


North Castle Votes No on Wards, North White Plains Votes Yes
Editorial by Michelle Boyle

Updated November 19, 2014
North Castle has bent over backwards to meet the perceived needs of the injustices served on North White Plains. The misguided attempt to petition a ward system in order to hold a special election for the entire town was bent to the will of the petitioner, and lifelong North White Plains resident Tony Futia. North Castle overwhelming voted against the ward propositions, while the hamlet of North White Plains voted in favor to accept them.

“A cause was presented and people spoke out on that cause. The election is democracy at its best,” said North Castle Supervisor Michael Schiliro.

The November 13 Special Election had a 32.5% voter turnout.

“The turnout was great, almost as high as the governor’s race,” says Schiliro. “People care and it shows that we live in a great community.”

Town Board member Barbara DiGiacinto said, “The Town Board is going to continue to serve the residents of North White Plains, as well as the residents of Armonk, Banksville, and Bedford. The people spoke. There was an incredible unity of everyone saying we do not want to see our form of government change."

Barry Malvin, co-chairman of North Castle Democratic Committee, sees the ward system referendum as two power plays. “Tony Futia said he wanted representation for North White Plains,” said Malvin. “Futia’s silent partners saw it as an opportunity to grab control of three additional newly constituted wards in order to regain their majority on the town board. This would have been a disastrous outcome for the residents of North Castle,” continued Malvin.

Futia said that the elections under the ward system should not rely as heavily upon the two major political parties’ choice of candidates.

The objective underlying the proposed ward system may have been to disband the current district leader system that operates within North Castle’s political parties. A ward system would give those who wanted an opportunity to put up their candidates as district leaders to gain control of every district. Under the ward system, the ward district leaders would vote independently for their ward who would run as a candidate to serve on the town board.

North Castle’s party district leaders currently vote for representatives who will run for a seat on the town board. The North Castle Democratic and Republican Parties have two leaders per district, totaling 22 North Castle district leaders each, who vote in the majority.

Legally, North Castle had no choice but to hold a special election after Futia filed the petitions for the ward propositions. However, the election results speak for themselves:

The results from 8,725 registered North Castle voters:
Proposition No. 1: 2,694 total votes: Yes: 400 or 15%; No: 2,294 or 85%
Proposition No. 2: 2,696 total votes: Yes: 457 or 17%; No: 2,239 or 83%

"One important message is that the town overwhelmingly voted that addressing North White Plains’ problems will not be accomplished by using a ward system. The fact that North White Plains’ numbers were what they were, suggests that we need to ask more questions to see how better we can serve that community. We are not serving them as best as we can now,” added Schiliro.

The results from 1,352 registered North White Plains voters:
Proposition No. 1: 384 total votes: Yes: 258 or 67%: No: 126 or 33%
Proposition No. 2: 382 total votes: Yes: 262 or 69%; No: 120 or 31%

More than 50% of the North White Plains signatories on the ward propositions petitions did not vote in the special election.

Gail Lombardi Norris, a lifelong resident of North White Plains, said that before the special election she spoke about different issues that concerned many North White Plains residents. Residents of the Washington Avenue area, for example, told her that there is insufficient parking for the two-family homes on that block. They have asked for North Castle’s building inspector to investigate that the living situations adhere to the town code.

Norris also said that people who were in favor of the ward system told her to look up and down North Broadway. “It looks like the ghetto of North Castle.”

Route 22 is a state-owned road. For national security reasons, the traffic across the Kensico Dam was shut down years ago. This action has caused the North White Plains corridor from Sir Johns Plaza to Stop & Shop to become the main access road between Interstate 287 and the Taconic Parkway. Route 22 is congested with non-local traffic that is not beneficial to local businesses. North Castle should contact the New York State Department of Transportation to discuss the issues and the possible actions to address this problem of North White Plains.

With the holidays approaching, North White Plains residents especially feel slighted by their holiday decorations compared to Armonk where private business owners have paid for many of the decorations. North White Plains must attract more businesses to provide private investments to improve the hamlet.

Anita Cozza, chairwoman of the North Castle Town Republican Committee said, “We are grateful to everybody who came out to vote. We realize there are problems in North White Plains and hope that we can continue to address them. But we need more of North White Plains' residents to come out to the monthly meetings [every first Saturday of the month at the North White Plains Community Center at 10:00 a.m.] so everybody is aware of what’s going on.”

Steve D’Angelo, Town Board member, said, “The people have voted and they want to keep the town government together and I agree with them. As town board members, we can represent everybody in North Castle to the best of our ability and we will do that until the day we are out of office.”

Futia petitioned a third ward proposition that was to freeze the salary of the current town board. His proposition was to expand the 2014 salary of four Town Board members to six board members. But that proposition was deemed illegal and not recommended by Town Attorney Roland Baroni to the Westchester County Board of Elections.

Baroni said that he is certain that the third proposition is invalid because there is no authorization in the law that permits a freeze of town employees’ annual compensation. Therefore, Baroni concluded Proposition No. 3 “should not be submitted to the Board of Elections nor the electorate.”

Futia says he doesn’t want to see taxes increase with more town board members and therefore, he will consider arguing the case of Proposition No. 3 for the November 2015 general election.

If petitions are circulated again for the ward system, people should attempt to fully understand any petition before they consider signing it. One can always put off signing a petition until the full implications are understood, especially for the purpose of changing the way the town is governed and its town board members are compensated.

The final cost of the special election that was forced on North Castle’s electorate has a preliminary estimated cost of more than $50,000, said Town Clerk Anne Curran prior to the November 13 vote.

These tax dollars could certainly have been used better elsewhere.

Comment 


Proposition 1: Shall the ward system be established for the election of Councilmen or Councilwomen in the Town of North Castle?

Proposition 2: Shall the number of Councilmen or Councilwomen of the Town of North Castle be increased from four to six?



November 13, 2014
North Castle 

Special Election

Unofficial

Results

*


Proposition
No. 1
Armonk
Firehouse
Banksville
Firehouse 
     Community
     Center North
     White Plains 
Yes No  Yes No      Yes  No 
91 1806 50 354      258 126

Proposition

No. 1
Totals:
Yes: 399 No: 2286

Proposition

No. 2

Armonk
Firehouse

Banksville 
Firehouse 
     Community
     Center North
     White Plains 
Yes  No  Yes  No      Yes  No
121 1771 59 337      262 120

Proposition 

No. 2
Totals:
Yes: 442 No: 2228


* Results from   


North Castle Town


Clerk's Office

What’s at Stake with the Special Election?
Editorial by Michelle Boyle

November 10, 2013
Why are residents being inundated with lawn signs, door knob flyers, e-mails and phone calls about the Ward System propositions in North Castle? Why is everyone so desperate to get the vote out?

Underneath the bipartisan issue is the possibility that, over the next few years, certain residents will have a better chance to be elected to their ward, having failed in their attempts to be elected at-large in the general elections for the town board.

Who is working with Tony Futia, Mario Ruggiero and Rich Panetta, who have spoken publicly in favor of the ward system during the town board meetings and online blogs?

The Ward Propositions that will appear on the November 13 special election ballots are as follows:

Proposition 1: Shall the ward system be established for the election of Councilmen or Councilwomen in the Town of North Castle?

Proposition 2: Shall the number of Councilmen or Councilwomen of the Town of North Castle be increased from four to six?

If Ward Proposition 1 were passed, North Castle would have elections for Town Board members every two years, rather than the current terms of four years. If Proposition 2 were passed, North Castle would have six wards to elect from six districts. The district boundaries would be determined at a later date by the Westchester County Board of Elections.

Who is behind the groups that are sending out the correspondence?

Informed Citizens and Concerned Citizens of North Castle sent out several e-mails in support of the two ward propositions. Informed Citizens began its e-mail campaign on September 25 with an e-mail that announced the “petitions for neighborhood representation on the North Castle Town Board were submitted” to North Castle’s Town Clerk.

Tony Futia, a lifelong North White Plains resident, initiated and witnessed a majority of the almost 400 signatures that were listed on the petitions for the ward proposals. The majority of signers have addresses in North White Plains, with a few exceptions. John Junker also witnessed North White Plains petitions, as did Sue Coppola and Kim Longo. Rosemary Bellantoni and William Potvin carried two petitions, each signed by a total of 12 Armonk and Bedford residents, including Armonk resident Frank Benish and former Town Board member John Cronin.

John Junker is a North White Plains resident, as is Sue Coppola. She served as the former secretary to former North Castle supervisor Howard Arden. Kim Longo is Tony Futia’s daughter. Armonk resident Bill Potvin moderated recent Concerned Citizen’s forums on the subject of the two ward propositions. In a newspaper article he claimed that he held no opinion on the issue and was educating the electorate on the subject. Yet, in the Comment Section #49 Potvin clearly states his support of the Ward System. Bellantoni briefly served as chairwoman of the North Castle Republican Committee and lives in Armonk.

Roland Baroni, North Castle’s town attorney, recommended to the town board that they accept the petitions for the two ward propositions. The Westchester County Board of Elections deemed that a special election must be held to vote on the ward positions in 2014. Many requests were made to Futia to delay the vote until 2015 when a special election would not be necessary because the proposition votes could be folded into the general election. But Futia would not agree to allow the election of the ward propositions to be delayed. Such a delay in the election would have saved the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

The November 6th e-mail from the Informed Citizens asked recipients to “join us to fight for neighborhood representation.” The return e-mail address on the Informed Citizens’ e-mails are from Tony@armonk.email. The legally required domain identification of armonk.email is registered to the same William Potvin of Armonk as of March 29, 2014. Armonk.email was directed to www.cconc.org, but the Armonk.email no longer has any information about the ward system; however, Potvin’s photo appears on the new redirected website. North Castle’s ward system information does appear on the website of Concerned Citizens of North Castle.

On October 5, the group calling themselves the Concerned Citizens of North Castle invited the public to an open discussion of the Ward System Referendum in North Castle on October 6. The e-mail says, "the Concerned Citizens of North Castle, Inc. was established in 2004 as a non-partisan, not for profit community organization. Its mission is to help North Castle residents learn about, and objectively discuss, all sides of critical issues impacting the Town.”

The panel of “experts” at the October 6 open discussion included North Castle residents Howard Arden and Tony Futia. At that meeting, Arden said he was the least knowledgeable on the panel about the ward system. “I didn’t know much about the ward system,” said Arden, “dismissing it initially. Yet after speaking with Tony and studying the issue, it gained more and more sense.” Arden said he was in favor of the ward system because “the more local you get, the better representation you get.”

On October 16, the Informed Citizens sent an e-mail about “How the local representation, a.k.a. the Ward System, benefits you.”

On November 6, the Informed Citizens sent another e-mail subtitled: “Understanding the Ward System - Frequently Asked Questions.” The e-mail outlines the ward system as changing the way the citizens of North Castle elect town board members to provide elected neighborhood representation.

More recently, an e-mail was sent from a group referring to themselves as United for North Castle, made up of North Castle Town Conservative Party, North Castle Town Democratic Committee and North Castle Town Republican Committee. On November 6, this group sent out its first e-mail urging North Castle voters to vote NO on both ward propositions.

Democratic Committee Co-Chairman John Diaconis said, “We have the right to express an opinion on this matter, which is of utmost importance to our community.” Furthermore, Diaconis stated, “It’s our responsibility to speak out.”

Anita Cozza, the Chairwoman of the North Castle Republican Town Committee said the committee is concerned if Ward Representatives will replace Town Board members. "Instead of being one for all, all for one as it is now, it will become one for one -- and none for all. There is a procedure in place for everyone in North Castle to get involved with the community. The ward system is a way to circumvent that for an individual person's political gain."

Billy McClure has been involved in North Castle politics for a number of years. As Chairman of the North Castle Conservative Party, McClure polled his group of members and voters that are from all over town: “No one wanted the ward system at this time,” he said. "There isn’t enough time to explore the unintended consequences" of voting in a new system.” Also, McClure says he knows from experience that there is the problem of getting good people to run for the Town Board. An expanded town board would exacerbate the problem.

On November 8, the United for North Castle group sent out another e-mail asking who is behind the pro-ward effort with “Professionally produced emails, high-cost door knobs and lawn signs. Who is providing the funds, and why are they hiding?”

The New York State Election Law mandates that financial activity, including all independent expenditures, be disclosed through the filing of campaign financial disclosure reports. This law holds true for “expenditures made by a person conveyed to 500 or more members of the General Public in the form of written communications via flyers, or other published statements of a ballot proposal by a political committee formed to promote the success or defeat of a ballot proposal.”

On November 9, the United for North Castle’s e-mail reiterated the position to vote NO on North Castle wards and said that the split of North Castle’s six wards, if the propositions were to pass, would not be known until long after the election, despite Tony Futia’s proposed map of the suggested population distribution of the six wards.

The ward districts, if passed, will be determined by the Westchester County Board of Elections and that is if, and only if, the majority of voters cast a YES vote for Ward Proposition 1.

We predict that the North White Plains voting district will have the strongest turnout in favor of the ward system. According to Futia, there are 1,352 North White Plains voters.

On the other hand, many voters in Armonk have said they intend to vote NO for the ward propositions. There are a total of 8,725 active registered voters in North Castle, according to Westchester Board of Elections.

E-mails sent out by Residents of Windmill, Inc., and other individuals have urged voters to vote NO to both propositions. The overriding opposition to the ward system is that it will lead to self-serving politicians that will divide the North Castle community.

We therefore predict an overwhelming NO vote for the Ward Propositions 1 and 2.

However, the election results may not prevent at least two lawsuits to be filed against the town for the following reasons:

• Futia has falsely claimed that the lawyer who was hired to consult for the special election is a family friend of Supervisor Mike Schiliro.

• The Town Attorney’s recommendation against Futia’s Proposition 3, which proposed to freeze the salary compensation of all six ward representatives to be equal to the compensation of the 2014 Town Board.


Schiliro and Lawyer Hired for Special Election Acquainted Through Common Friend

October 27, 2014
Tony Futia, who has petitioned for the Ward System, said in an email dated October 26, “The search for a Special Election Attorney by our Town Attorney turned out to be a long time personal family friend of the Supervisor.” Futia says Gerard Terry, who was hired by the Town of North Castle to assist Town Attorney Roland Baroni and Town Clerk Anne Curran in the special election, made this statement to him after the Town Board meeting on October 22.

Terry says that after the October 22 Town Board meeting, Mr. Futia inquired about Terry’s familiarity with North Castle and Supervisor Michael Schiliro. “I told Mr. Futia, and Mr. Ruggerio who was there, that my name was recommended by an old friend of Supervisor Schiliro’s, Jon Kaimen. At no time did I indicate a close friendship with Supervisor Schiliro as I had only been acquainted with him years ago when he was a Nassau County resident.”

At the October 15 North Castle Special Town Board meeting, Town Attorney Roland Baroni was asked by the Town Board to find a special counsel to assist him and Town Clerk Anne Curran with the special election on November 13. Baroni says, “I was not having much success locating anyone in Westchester.”

Supervisor Mike Schiliro called the former Supervisor of North Hempstead, Jon Kaimen, to ask if he would recommend a lawyer to provide advisement to North Castle on the special election. Kaimen recommended Gerard Terry who was the former special counsel to the North Hempstead’s town attorney. Terry was also the former counsel to North Hempstead’s Zoning Board of Appeals. He also served as the assistant counsel to Nassau County’s Board of Elections. Terry’s concentration is in municipal law with an emphasis on zoning, land use and corporate conveyance.

Baroni says, “Schiliro recalled Terry from Nassau County and contact was made.”

Schiliro says there is no personal connection, nor has there ever been a family connection with Terry who is not a personal family friend. Schiliro says the two briefly met about 20 years ago.

Mr. Terry came to North Castle and was interviewed by Town Attorney Roland Baroni, Town Clerk Anne Curran, and Town Board member Stephen D'Angelo. Baroni says, “We recommended him to the full Town Board.”


Lawyer for the Special Election Will Be Re-Qualified Soon

October 27, 2014
Mr. Gerard Terry, who was hired by North Castle to advise the Town Attorney and Town Clerk on North Castle’s Special Election for the ward proposals on November 13, 2014, must re-register as a practicing attorney.

According to New York State’s Appellate Second Division, Terry’s current registration is in inactive standing for the two-year reporting cycles of 2010 to 2011, 2012 to 2013, and from 2014 to 2015.

Until Terry’s registration status is resolved by New York State’s Appellate Division, his status will remain inactive. To address this process, an attorney is required to complete the mandated continuing legal education (CLE), and to pay a registration fee of $375 for every two-year period.

Supervisor Michael Schiliro’s office says they have been assured that Terry’s requirements are to be rectified shortly.

Terry was admitted to practice law in New York State in 1986. His license to practice has never been interrupted or suspended. There has never been any disciplinary history nor has he ever been disbarred.


How Can the Ward System be Justified?
Editorial by Michelle Boyle

October 19, 2014
The purpose to implement a ward system should be to better represent specific, local neighborhoods of the entire town of North Castle. Voters should ask themselves: are the neighborhood concerns of the three hamlets of Armonk, North White Plains and Banksville being ignored?

There are many public policy situations where local voices have been strongly expressed. Looking back to just the past five years, I can’t think of any zoning application which was presented to the Town Board that was not fully reviewed by the nearby neighborhood. I refer to rezoning applications that were under consideration by the Town Board because these applications seem to bring the most public opposition of NIMBY (Not In My Backyard).

Looking back chronologically, under the Weaver Administration, there was an application for rezoning in the Hobby Farm neighborhood of Banksville. Under consideration by the Town Board, hours were spent on public discussions between residents and the applicant presenting an application to develop an empty lot into a storage facility for a landscaping business. Both sides of the issue were well represented at the many public meetings. The neighborhood residents ended the dispute by buying the property in question from the applicant. Would one ward from the Banksville area on the Town Board have changed the process or results of this application? Would the ward system have changed the outcome of the Banksville rezoning of Banksville Avenue, North Street, or the Scenic Road dedication in Bedford’s Peacable Kingdom area? Or what about the home abandonment law now being considered by the Town Board? Would that be better determined by more town board members provided courtesy of the ward system?

The same question holds true for the public meetings held for properties in Armonk: Armonk Square, proposed supermarket on Old Route 22, Brynwood Country Club rezoning, Byram Lake vintage car garage, affordable housing on Old Route 22, Windmill Water District's replacement of pipes, senior housing on Old Route 22, to name a few. All of these applications had been discussed for hours in public. I don’t believe there would be any difference in handling any of these applications if there were a ward system.

To my recollection, over the past five years, there has been only two pubic issues of major concern in North White Plains. One was the relocation of the historic Washington's Headquarters, the Elijah Miller House, from Virginia Road to Fountain Park. The Arden Administration did not work this situation out publicly. But I don’t recall any neighborhood residents publicly opposing this move; however, I do understand that many neighbors have spoken out privately against the Fountain Park location due to a history of vandalism on prior buildings on the site. A more recent North White Plains application involved a church moving into a former business location. Neighbors spoke out against this application and the applicantion has not been mentioned by the Town Board since the board meeting which was held in North White Plains. Would the ward system have made a difference for these North White Plains’ situations?

The point to all of these examples is that the neighborhoods of our town of approximately 12,000 residents have been well represented. Residents will continue to speak out against projects that they believe will change the character of their neighborhoods. There is no reason to have a ward system for the reason of being underrepresented. This is not an issue in North Castle; however, it can be in typically larger communities such as the city Yonkers or Mt. Vernon, cities with more than 100,000 residents, where the ward system has been instituted, to varying results.

But if you want certain people to be elected to the town board who otherwise cannot get the majority vote, you should vote yes to the ward system proposals.

Some question if Anthony Futia, who petitioned to bring the ward system to vote, is using the ward system as a way to get elected into office as a Town Board member. Futia has run multiple times for Supervisor or has sought the opportunity since the early 1990s. Although he says he is not going to run for Town Board under the ward system. Christopher Carthy and Frank Benish also have run for Supervisor. None of them have come close to being elected. Both Futia and Carthy said they have no chance of winning without the support of the major political parties in a general election; both are registered Democrats. According to Futia, elections under the ward system should not rely as heavily upon the two major political partys' choice of candidates.

Former Supervisor Howard Arden recently said North Castle would have a larger pool of candidates under the ward system because there are significantly less campaign expenses to gather petitions and to appeal to a smaller pool of possible voters. 

While less campaign costs may be true, the most important reason to vote against the ward system is to maintain a better representation of not just one segment of the electorate, but for all town residents.

As far as predicting the costs of the special election on Thursday, November 13, the North Castle Town Clerk’s office, which will oversee the election, cannot predict the costs. The election will be held that date from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Typically election costs run from $10,000 to $20,000. But at the special Town Board meeting of October 15, it was decided by the Town Board that the town attorney will consult with an election attorney on matters of the special election. These legal costs could at least, double any special election costs.

In addition, it was also decided by Supervisor Michael Schiliro that no voter will be disenfranchised. Therefore, extra clerical help will be hired for hours of work to be make sure the best effort will be taken to insure that every potential voter is informed of the special election. On top of that, there will be postage and other needed services, such as the hiring of election monitors to oversee the election, as well as poll watchers and workers. There will be three voting locations in North Castle; Armonk Fire House, Banksville Fire House, and the North White Plains Community Center. The election inspectors will be charged to hand-count the paper ballots after the election.

Even after the election when the results are known, there is the possibility, as in the recent ward system election in Ramapo, that the losers would sue the town. With that possibility, North Castle residents need to keep in mind that the costs to defend the Town against any legal actions, including recounts and questions about the legal procedure, will add additional legal and judicial expenses. When approached at the special meeting by Supervisor Schiliro, Futia refused to agree not to sue the Town over the results of the ward system election.

Further, North Castle residents need to keep in mind the $50,000 cost to draw up the ward system map that was brought up by the panel at the special meeting held by Futia on October 6.

Futia has presented a ward system map that duplicates the map drawn almost 200 years ago when there were seven school districts in North Castle. If the ward system were passed, a demographer has to be hired to study the 2010 consensus (done every 10 years) to evenly separate the Town’s 8,600 registered voters by wards. In addition, the development of the ward system has to follow a legal procedure, all of which begs another question: how many ten of thousands of dollars are the taxpayers willing to spend on the legalities of the ward system before it's even voted on, if its results are challenged, or if the system is implemented?

At its next Town Board meeting on October 22, the Town Board will select a special day to allow unregistered residents to register to vote for the special election and for voters to pick up absentee ballots. 

The North Castle absentee general election ballots already received by the voters will be disregarded for the section involving the two proposals for the ward system.


Ward System Propositions Will Not Appear on November’s Ballot

Updated October 24, 2014 

First Edition appeared September 24, 2014
On Election Day, November 4, North Castle voters will not have the opportunity to vote for or against two propositions of a ward system. The ward system permits voters to elect only one Town Board member who will represent their neighborhood or ward. If the ward system were to pass, sections of North Castle would be equally divided among North Castle voters.

The Board of Elections recorded 8,641 registered voters in North Castle in June 2013. If a proposition passes, the boundaries of the wards will be established after the election by the Westchester Board of Elections. If Proposition No. 1 passes, there will be four wards of an equal number of voters. If Propositions No. 1 and No. 2 pass, there will be six wards of an equal number of voters.

In a ward system, a candidate is required to live in the neighborhood of that ward where he/she is running for office. The residents of each ward will vote for only one Town Board member, as opposed to voting for North Castle’s at large election of four board members and a Supervisor. If the propositions are passed, voters will not vote for Town Board members in neighborhoods or wards outside their own area. Under the ward system, all registered North Castle voters will have the option to vote for the supervisor.

At the September 23 Town Board meeting, the Town Board received a letter from Town Attorney Roland Baroni of his opinions of the three propositions of a ward system that were petitioned to appear on the North Castle’s election ballot.
Life-long North White Plains resident Anthony Futia presented petitions to the Town on September 2, 2014. More than 80 percent of the 400 petition signatories live in North White Plains. These signatories were in favor of seeing the propositions of the ward system appear on the ballot.

The town is required to refer the letter with Roland Baroni’s opinions to the Westchester Board of Elections. That action is an administrative action, and does not render support of the action to establish a ward system or to increase the number of councilmen from four to six, says Supervisor Michael Schiliro.

Proposition No. 1 reads:
“Shall the ward system be established for the election of councilmen or councilwomen in the Town of North Castle?”

Proposition No. 2 reads:
“Shall the number of councilmen or councilwomen of the Town of North Castle be increased from four to six?”

Proposition No. 3 reads:
“Shall the Town of North Castle voters limit the total amount of annual compensation to be paid to the six town councilmen, to the total amount of annual compensation paid to the Town’s four councilmen in fiscal year 2014?”

Baroni recommended wording of Propositions No. 1 and No. 2 for submission to the Board of Elections. But he says he is certain that the third proposition is invalid because there is no authorization in the law that permits a freeze of town employees’ annual compensation. Therefore, Baroni’s letter says Proposition No. 3 “should not be submitted to the Board of Elections nor the electorate.”

Tony Futia says he will not file legal action against the Town to argue against Baroni’s opinion of the Proposition No. 3 because this is a first impression case with no precedent and would most likely be too timely a case to be settled by the deadline of September 27, the required date that must be met in order to have the proposition on the ballot by the November 2014 election. “In spite of what people say, I don’t want to go to court. I would rather sit down to discuss the issues,” says Futia. 

Futia says he doesn’t want to see taxes increase with more Town Board members and therefore, he will consider arguing the case of Proposition No. 3 for the November 2015 election.

Guy Mezzancello, who is running for a Town Board seat this November, says the ward system is not for North Castle. "My opinion is founded by my understanding of the facts; 97 percent of towns in New York State are governed by the 'at large' form of representation, implying that it is the choice of the people. The ward system form of town representation is selective and specific. If you look at where it is implemented, it is a select number of larger populated cities; Yonkers with a population of 195,000, and New Rochelle with a population of 78,000. In a township such as North Castle, with a smaller population of approximately 12,000, it does not seem to merit the need for additional board members, and in fact, could pose issues caused by excessive 'bigger government.' Out of the 932 towns in New York, only 11 have the ward system with the majority of those in larger cities. Chappaqua declined the ward system in past elections, and Ramapo voted the ward system down several times and is voting again on the propositions in a special election at the end of September." Mezzancello concluded that voters should be sure to understand how the ward system works before endorsing it.

Armonk resident Neil Baumann says with the ward system of six councilmen, voters will have control of only one of them. “You may have members of the town board who may not care about the entire community as a whole,” says Baumann. “They may only be concerned about their own ward. If so, they will probably be voted in again, and again, and the town board will rarely turn over, inviting stagnation.”

Town Board member Barbara DiGiacinto says when she canvassed during her campaign last year, the people of North White Plains said they wanted representation. They said,‘“We’ll never see you again. You are only here when you want to get elected.’”

DiGiacinto said she finally responded, “If you vote for me, you will hear from me again. I will work with you.” And that’s why after DiGiacinto was elected, she began the monthly meetings at the community center in North White Plains where every member of the Town Board has joined her on separate occasions. “When you elected us, you elected us to serve North Castle. It doesn’t matter that all of us live in Armonk, that’s inconsequential. Our commitment is to every single resident in North Castle. That is the way it has always been, the way it is, and I hope it is the way it shall be,” added DiGiacinto.

The League of Women Voters studied the issue of the ward system, noted Armonk resident John Diaconis. They concluded that there will be an additional cost with more board members. Diaconis also says he agrees with Banksville resident Sharon Tomback who said the talent pool will be less, because it will be harder to find talented candidates in the smaller geographic districts. Diaconis says other towns have formed hamlet task committees to meet with Town Board members.

North Castle resident Ed Loberman says there are pros and cons to the propositions of the ward system. He says he has seen lots of politicians, and what’s most important is carrying through on an issue. “I have never seen anybody in North Castle who has represented North White Plains as Barbara DiGiacinto has. She is interested, holds meetings and follows through in getting things done. That is important.”

After the Town Board meeting, Tony Futia said he is not planning on running for the Town Board. “I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I would like to see younger people involved.” Futia says he is planning to hold a public meeting to discuss neighborhood representation of the ward system on the evening of October 6 at the American Legion in Armonk. Further details will follow.


Taxpayers to Foot the Bill of Second November Election

October 16, 2014
Following a legal determination by the Westchester Board of Elections, North Castle’s Town Board scheduled a special election to vote for the ward system proposals on Thursday November 13, 2014, nine days following the general election.

This special election could cost the taxpayers up to $100,000. This sum is nearly equal to the pension paid yearly to Tony Futia, the former North Castle Supervisor of the Water and Sewer Department. Futia is the main proponent of the ward proposals. He has refused to rescind the petitions to restructure the Town’s wards, or voting districts, which he filed in September. If Futia agreed to delay the petitions to vote for the ward propositions until the November 2015 general election, there would be no additional costs the taxpayers.


Ward Props Nixed on Ballot

Updated October 15, 2014
In a letter dated October 9, 2014, The Westchester County Board of Elections says the two Ward System proposals submitted by the Town Clerk Anne Curran for the inclusion of the November 4, 2014 election cannot be included on the general election ballot.

Tony Futia filed the propositions of the Ward System petitions with the North Castle Town Clerk on September 2, 2014. This move was more than 75 days prior to a biennial town election in 2015, necessitating a special election. A biennial town election is the Election Day during an odd numbered year.

According to Town Law, Section 81, “If such a petition be filed in the office of the town clerk not less than sixty days, nor more than seventy-five days, prior to a biennial town election, the proposition shall be submitted at such biennial election. If a petition be presented at any other time, a special election shall be called to be held not less than sixty days, nor more than seventy-five days after the filing of such petition.”

Furthermore, an informal opinion by the New York Attorney General in 1954 says an unregistered voter, who is a resident, may vote on the propositions at a special election.

According to Town Law, Section 84, the town board may adopt a resolution at a regular meeting, to determine that voter registration be required for special town elections.

In the meantime, the Ward System proposals already appear on the absentee ballots that have been received by North Castle voters.

The Town Board has called for a Special Meeting at Town Hall on Wednesday October 15 at 8:30 p.m. (new time) to consider the procedure concerning a special election for the Ward System.


Ward System for North Castle Discussed by Panel

October 8, 2014
The Concerned Citizens of North Castle hosted a panel discussion about the ward system of North Castle's town government. Voters will determine if they want to change North Castle’s electoral system for Town Board members from at-large to members who would represent individual districts of the town. The two propositions for the ward system were petitioned by North White Plains resident Tony Futia.

“The Town Board must receive an opinion letter from the Town Attorney regarding the legality of the petitions filed,” says Supervisor Michael Schiliro in a email message to the community dated September 30, 2014. Voters will vote for a ward system with four wards and, the second proposition is to change the ward system from four districts to six districts.

The panel of speakers opened with Tony Futia, who is a life-long North White Plains resident. If there were six districts, the districts would be divided equally among the Town's almost 9,000 voters, or 1,500 voters in each of the districts. If both propositions were to pass, there would be six districts spread out among the Town’s 26 miles. Futia proposes four ward districts in Armonk - east and west - the Windmill Farm area and the Whippoorwill area. In addition, he says there would be one district in North White Plains and another in Banksville. “Each district would have someone sitting at the table representing the different issues of that district.” However, Futia proposed boundaries would not necessarily be valid if the propositions were passed because the ward boundaries are formed by the Board of Elections.

Dennis Pilla, former Mayor of Port Chester, served three terms as the mayor of the city with 30,000 voters. Pilla served from 2006 to 2013. During his administration, a proportional voting system was adopted rather than the ward system. When he became mayor, the Department of Justice, who represented a minority ethnic group, sued the town. Port Chester was ordered by a federal judge to change their electoral system. The Trustees adopted a cumulative voting system. This allows voters to cast six votes for any Board of Trustee, even multiple votes for the same candidate. This ruling allowed the Hispanic population of Port Chester, which is almost 60%, a better representation. They elected their first Hispanic member to the Board of Trustees in 2010.  

Pilla said one of the benefits of the ward system, or single member districts, is to “insure accountability at the local levels.” But Pilla outlined several concerns about a ward system where voters can vote for only one district representative and the supervisor at-large. “Giving up the ability to unelect all members of the town board is something that should be looked at long and hard.” Also he mentioned multiply incumbents can be voted out of office by the majority of votes with the at-large voting system. This happened in the town’s last election in November 2013.

Howard Arden, former Supervisor of North Castle, said he doesn’t know much about the ward system. In fact, Arden said at first he dismissed the idea of a ward system. But after listening to Futia, he says it made more sense to him because “the more local you get, the better you represent the people.” He says the districting of the town has merits because there “would less party influence.” The Town’s political parties don’t represent the ideology they claim to because of cross endorsements, added Arden. “A ward system might be a more pure way to represent the interest of the electoral. With a Town Administrator, voters should look for candidates with a vision and knowledge of their neighborhood.”

Manny Areces headed a committee in New Castle to introduce the ward system. He was a spokesperson for the Citizens Committee for the Representation Referendum when a ward system was voted down in New Castle in 2011. He said, the issue is anything that involves change has certain pitfalls and also has some benefits. “Just because you are comfortable with the system doesn’t mean a new system is wrong. The ward system is about representation.” There are four cities in Westchester County that have the ward system. The systems were devised for those cities to have representation for racial minorities who felt they were underrepresented in the at-large system. The ward system allows the minority to elect a representative that gives them a stronger say in municipality matters, added Areces.

About 50 people attended the discussion at the American Legion on Monday night. “We want all sides of this issue out. We want to see what the benefits are and what the problems are. And we also want to see what might be in the best interest of the community,” added Futia. Of the 50, many in attendance were against the ward system's propositions.

There is no racial underrepresentation in North Castle whose population is 11,371. The town is mostly a homogeneous racial and ethnic group. The 2010 consensus shows the North Castle population race is 90% white, 10% non-white, and there is a minority ethnicity of 5% Hispanic.

The three hamlets of North Castle are governed currently by five town board members who all live in Armonk. Futia says the citizens of North White Plains are under-represented. But 50-year North White Plains resident Ed Lobermann, says he is in a quandary because the current town board holds monthly meetings that he attends in North White Plains. He is pleased with the hamlet’s representation.

“This issue is not about North White Plains,” says Arden. “There are many neighborhoods that are small and are underrepresented such as in Banksville.” Without representation from those districts, you just can’t do justice for these areas, he added.

Pilla sees the most important thing to consider is not just a change in the system, but it might be a challenge to find eight or twelve people who are willing to run as representatives. He asked, “Will there be enough candidates in the smaller districts?”

Arden differed with Pilla and said the smaller districts would open the elections to a greater pool of people because less work would be involved in signing the nominating petitions. In addition, he says the campaigns would be less expensive with lesser advertising.

But, if candidates ran unopposed and there wasn’t any competitive elections, there can be a dysfunctional Town Board where nothing may get done, unless you have “I’ll support your idea, if you vote for my idea,” added Pilla.

North Castle’s Town Board members are paid $18,300 each. Arden says there is no other town in Westchester that has a Town Administrator who pays their Town Board members more than $12,000. The ward system could be a revenue neutral program, says Arden, if $73,200 which is paid to the current four town board members were to be paid to six town board members of the ward system.  

Another expense that was mentioned by Pilla is the cost to draw the ward boundaries every 10 years. These boundaries are based upon the United States census data. Off camera, Pilla talked about additional town expenses of up to $50,000 every 10 years. There’s the cost of hiring a lawyer, a demographer and a statistician to read the demographics, and to draw the lists of voters. Also boundary lines may lead to litigation and there would be an additional cost for legal matters.

“Beware of gerrymandering,” warns Pilla. Redistricting is possible when there is a candidate who potentially would present competition to an incumbent.  

The floor was turned over to questions by the moderator, Joe Lombardi of the Daily Voice.

A question was raised about the additional expenses of the ward system with two more Town Board members. Futia petitioned a third proposition that was to freeze the salary of the current town board. His proposition was to expand the same salary of four Town Board members to six board members. But that proposition was deemed illegal and not recommended by the Town Attorney to the Board of Elections.

“The Town Board representatives should not be paid,” says Futia. The Town would be better off financially. The trustees of the Town of Scarsdale aren’t paid, and neither are the Trustees of the School Board who manage a bigger budget, adds Futia, referring to the Byram Hills School District.

Armonk resident Sam Morell, said North Castle has a diverse Town Board consisting of two Republican registered voters, two Democratic registered voters, and one non-affiliated registered voter. “Economically, aesthetically, professionally and civility-wise, our town has progressed tremendously over the past three or four years. Something is going right with who is managing the town.” Morell directed his comment and question to Futia: “I have never heard you speak once about the ward system in the previous administration or the administrations prior to that. “Why now?" asked Morrell. “There are no other towns our size that have a ward system.”

Futia responded that it took years to get the information together on what should be done. “The number one priority for many North White Plains residents was to join the City of White Plains because representation for North White Plains has been terrible.”

In the 17 years that Jill Greto lived in North White Plains, she says she has “never seen a Town Board who has been more committed to the interest of North White Plains, despite that none of them live in the hamlet.”  

Ed Lobermann agreed. “In 50 years, I have never seen representation as we have had recently. It’s outstanding what the Town Board is doing at the open monthly meetings in North White Plains. I’m reluctant to change a good thing. I’ve never seen things work in our favor so well as it is presently.”

The most overriding concern Lobermann has with the ward system is he could no longer vote for the rest of the council people. “That is intolerable because the last election this community overwhelming decided we had enough. People didn’t vote by party, they voted by performance. The incumbents all got thrown out of office.” That could not have been easily done with a ward system.  

Armonk resident Mario Rugiero says his neighborhood in Armonk has not received sufficient attention. The highway department is seen only on his block once a month. The grass on the town’s property is not cut. And therefore, he is in favor of the ward system to address his district’s needs.  

“Can a town be “too small” for redistricting?” asks Pilla. His consultants say yes. But he says they really don’t know what “too small” is because it hasn’t been studied.

One ward, one vote, said Morell. Not being able to unelect people, you’ll be stuck, he added. In the at-large system, if you cannot find a representative you like, you can go elsewhere. In the ward system you will be stuck with your representative because you cannot vote anywhere else.

Armonk resident Norma Hill said, "Listening to what everyone is saying, it seems rather than a ward system here, we should consider making this a nonpartisan system." Hill wants to be sure that the propositions are prominently positioned on the ballot. The voters should also be directed by poll workers as to where to vote for the propositions on the ballot.

“Who is saying there is an injustice? asked Armonk resident Barry Malvin. "There is a presumption of injustice that someone or a part of town is being discriminated against.” But Malvin thinks of "the whole town as his neighborhood because it’s not that big. In each of the four cities of Westchester where a ward system was initiated, a minority sector of the population wasn’t represented." Malvin added that the other alternatives besides the ward system need to be investigated. “Why not form a task force to find out if there is a better way?”

The Ward System: A Solution in Search of a Problem

November 11, 2014
I am the North Castle Supervisor, but I write to you as a resident who will live in this Town for many more years than I will serve on our Town Board. I am opposed to the Ward System and I urge you to vote “No” on both Ward propositions, as it will invite divisiveness between neighborhoods, fiscal irresponsibility, horse trading, and larger government.

Our Town Board has always worked collaboratively based on the needs of both the entire town and specific areas, despite differences of opinion or where they lived, Recent decisions - the Banksville Avenue zoning solution (Banksville), sewers in Quarry Heights (North White Plains), the DeCicco’s shopping center (Armonk) – were all possible because of Town Boards that were elected by, and responsible to, the entire town and not just to a specific neighborhood. In a Ward system, solutions like these may not be possible because Councilmen may simply take the “what’s in it for my ward” approach. The Ward system is likely to create more problems, not solve them.

There are many best practices utilized in running any organization, and government is no different. Picture an organization that encompasses a 6 floor building. The goal is to assemble the best leaders to run this organization. Would you choose the 6 best people to lead the company, or would choose the best person on each floor to help lead the company, regardless of their skills? The Ward system (ie: Government) may prevent the ability to elect the best people to run your Town.

Democracy’s foundation is built upon your right to vote. In an at-large system, like North Castle has utilized for over 200 years, you have the right to vote for all Councilman. If you have issues with any or all Councilmen, you have the right to vote them out. In a Ward system, that right to vote for all disappears. If the Ward propositions pass, you would be restricted to vote for only one of six Councilmen and your right to vote will be diluted.

The Congress analogy cannot be overstated. I am a believer in good government, but most people feel that Washington is fraught with horse trading, pork, and political agendas. We do not need Washington-style gridlock in our Town.

Local government is the best and purest form of government as it provides residents the access and accountability of all of their elected officials. Although I respect the legal right of North White Plains resident Tony Futia to bring this issue to a vote, I urge you to VOTE NO for both Ward proposals on Thursday November 13, as they propose to fix a problem that does not exist.

This is your Town and your opportunity to protect its future.

Michael Schiliro
Supervisor and Resident
Town of North Castle


North Castle Ward System
NORTH CASTLE WARD SYSTEM INFORMATION
North Castle Special Election
NORTH CASTLE SPECIAL ELECTION 11-13-14 WARD SYSTEM PROPOSITIONS

To the Editor:

November 8, 2014
For twenty-eight years, I served North Castle as Town Justice. I always thought of us as one community, a community that would work together for the common good. That has been our form of government. Elected officials are each responsible to the entire community.  

If we adopt the ward system, we will have four or 6 members each responsible to and working only for his or her constituency. The divisiveness resulting from that approach is evident. And, as I think about such a Board, I realize that I have seen it elsewhere - in our U.S. Congress. While it is clear that ours is a vast country and our forefathers were correct that we should not elect our Congress at large, North Castle’s forefathers were equally correct that in a small town like ours, we should not elect our representatives by ward.  

Under our present federal system, each legislator is beholden only to his or her constituents, and almost invariably focuses on them in deciding issues. Gridlock often results. Unfortunately, too many elected officials do not consider the common good. We can avoid such provinciality in North Castle and have done so throughout our history. I shudder to think that what we see in Congress might be the future of our town and urge you to vote NO on both propositions on the ballot on November 13. 

Sincerely, 
 

Susan R. Shimer


To the Editor:

November 6, 2014 
I'd like to comment on Tony Futia's proposal to divide the Town of North Castle into six wards for the purpose of representation on the Town Board.

Mr. Futia is an intelligent and persuasive thinker and can mount a well-reasoned argument. However, in this case, I think he is dead wrong.

At present, candidates for the Town Board run at large, appealing to the voters--and representing them--on a Town-wide basis, and we voters can choose among them all. Under the ward system, each ward would have one single representative, chosen from a much smaller talent pool, and responsible primarily to that ward's residents rather than to the Town as a whole. I foresee ward representatives pushing narrow interests and, if the past is any guide, wielding excessive power within their wards.

Where Mr. Futia envisages a democratically engaged citizenry with their local interests strongly represented, I see six local strongmen (or strongwomen) ruling their little fiefs with a rod of iron. It is not by accident that the term "ward boss" has acquired an unsavory connotation.

In addition, Mr. Futia's insistence on holding the vote on the ward system this year instead of waiting until 2015 has necessitated a special election whose cost has been conservatively estimated at $50,000 or possibly more. This cost will be borne by the Town's taxpayers.

To sum it up, I think that the ward proposal is an extraordinarily bad idea, and I urge the voters to reject it.

Sincerely,
Peter R. Limburg
Town Resident, Eastern District