Should Port Chester trustees appoint someone to fill the vacant, seventh spot on the village board? Or better yet, shall they?
Trustee Bob Sorensen says the village charter seems to mandate such a thing, and that the key word in the law is “shall.” He read aloud during last night’s meeting:
In case the office of trustee becomes vacant by death or removal, or otherwise, the trustees shall have power to appoint a trustee to fill such vacancy until said vacancy shall be filled at the next annual or special election.
A trustee seat has been vacant for a year, and there have been no elections since 2007 because the village election system was found to violate the Voting Rights Act. A decision on the new system — traditionally, a switch from at-large seats to a ward system — is pending from Judge Stephen C. Robinson.
The board will get a written legal opinion from village attorney Tony Cerreto on whether it’s required to fill the spot. Meanwhile a discussion ensued on whether it would help matters to have a sixth, unelected trustee. (The mayor also serves on the board, for a total of seven seats.) The board already has two members who were appointed by their colleagues.
Daniel Brakewood said a third appointment would only create an “illusion” of democracy. Choosing yet another trustee, he said, would be the “wimpiest thing we can do.”
Sorensen responded: “It shows wimpiness that we’re not doing it.” He said voters deserved that seventh voice on the board, and that if given the chance, “good people will step up to the plate.”
The board is increasingly frustrated by the wait in the legal case, and divided over how to approach the Justice Department about a possible settlement. Mayor Dennis Pilla wants a meeting with DOJ, and said the open seat could serve as a kind of bargaining chip.
Brakewood said the open seat was a reminder of the costs of fighting the voting rights case, a decision he opposed. Now the vacancy could serve as a message to the judge, he said, suggesting that the board put a cardboard cutout of the judge on the empty seat. As the frustration built, Brakewood went on to suggest that the board start planning an election anyway. Someone mentioned the words “contempt of court,” and the discussion moved on.
Cerreto was asked to provide a legal opinion about the vacancy, an update on arrangements for settlement talks, and a briefing on how other municipalities handle vacancies on their boards.
(Entirely irrelevant factoid: The charter takes a rather firm stance in the event that someone proposes holding the next election in a bar. It says trustees must appoint the time and place for an election, and that they “shall not designate any place for holding the said election where spirituous liquors are accustomed to be sold.”)