Port Chester’s village board on Monday will consider opening yet another round in its four-year-old, million-dollar voting rights battle with the U.S. Department of Justice. Trustee Joseph Kenner is seeking a resolution Monday night on whether to hire a lawyer to appeal the U.S. District Court ruling that forced Port Chester to reinvent its trustee election system.
The board has met with attorney Michael Carvin, brother of Rye Town Supervisor Joseph Carvin, about a potential appeal.
Port Chester was forced to change its trustee election system after a federal judge found that Hispanic voters were denied full participation under the old at-large system. To recap, the village succeeded in convincing the judge to allow an unusual remedy: A cumulative voting system, rather than the DOJ’s preferred remedy of six single-member voting districts. In June, that voting method was used in a landmark election for all six trustee seats. Luis Marino became the first Hispanic to serve on the board.
The six trustees, together with Mayor Dennis Pilla, would decide on any appeal. And they could only make an appeal once a final court decision (judgment) is issued in the case; something that has not happened yet, Pilla said today.
Kenner, in an opinion piece submitted to the Journal News, questions aspects of the ruling by Judge Stephen C. Robinson (who has since left the court) and says the new system comes with a cost. Under the ruling, Port Chester trustee elections are subject to court oversight for the next two election cycles (2013 and 2016). He also writes that with an appeal, “We can remove the shameful and unwarranted stigma of the Judge’s ruling which affects how others view us.”
Kenner was appointed to the board in 2007, when elections were suspended and the case was pending. In June, he became the first African-American to win election to the board.
Mayor Pilla is calling the resolution “hasty” and said public education and input is needed before any decision on hiring a lawyer.
And speaking of timing: Pilla is running for re-election March 15 against Trustee Bart Didden, who figured into the voting rights case because of an anti-Hispanic political mailer in 2007. “They’re making it an election issue,” Pilla said.
More to come on this.
Update: Here is the text of the proposed resolution, which details the cost.
RESOLVED, that the Village Manager be and hereby authorized to enter into a retainer agreement with the law firm of Jones Day, 51 Louisiana Avenue, N.W. Washington D.C. in the matter of United States v. Village of Port Chester, compensation to range from $300 to $775/hour with a cap of $225,000, exclusive of disbursements and out of pocket costs; and be it further
RESOLVED, that on notice of entry of the final judgment of the U.S. District Court, the firm is hereby authorized to file an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals on behalf of the Village of Port Chester.