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Jul 16, 2019 4:53 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Quogue Exploratory Committee Files Lawsuit Challenging Schneiderman's Determination

The East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee filed its original petition on April 3. VALERIE GORDON
Jul 18, 2019 12:44 PM

The East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee appears to be covering all of its bases in its attempt to give hamlet residents the opportunity to vote on incorporating the hamlet into a village.

The committee recently filed an Article 78 lawsuit against Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, asking a court to overturn his decision to invalidate a petition—signed by more than 20 percent of the hamlet’s registered voters, as required under New York State Village Incorporation Law—calling for the creation of the village.

Mr. Schneiderman rejected the petition in July, pointing to a separate list of regular inhabitants, which included the names of 34 deceased people among 3,428 residents.

The lawsuit comes hard on the heels of the committee submitting a revised version of the petition, which excludes those inhabitants as well as 33 signatures that the supervisor had invalidated for several reasons, including one instance where East Quogue resident Steven Brash said that his name appeared on the petition but he had not, in fact, signed it.

Committee member Greg Celi, who has handled the committee’s public relations, declined to comment further on the litigation, and the committee’s attorney, Peter Bee of Mineola-based Bee, Ready, Fishbein, Hatter & Donovan LLP also declined to comment.

Additionally, an email sent to co-chairs Karen Kooi and David Celi, as well as committee member Jessica Insalaco, was not returned.

Mr. Schneiderman said on Wednesday that he has been advised by Assistant Town Attorney Kathleen Murray that he will be able to proceed with reviewing the revised petition—however, case law dictates that he would not be able to render a decision until the Article 78 lawsuit is resolved.

Under Village Incorporation Law, the supervisor of any municipality is required to render a decision on any incorporation bid 10 days after the close of a public hearing on the validity of the petition.

But, based on an appellate court’s decision in a similar Article 78 filed by the petitioners looking to incorporate the proposed Village of Dune Hampton, Ms. Murray said that it was decided that the Article 78 would need to be resolved prior to rendering a decision.

Ultimately, she said that the court upheld former Southampton Town Supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney’s decision to invalidate the original Dune Hampton petition. However, following that decision, the former supervisor approved a competing petition to incorporate the Village of Sagaponack.

Mr. Murray stressed, however, that the town is still looking into the legality of that analysis.

A copy of the lawsuit, acquired through a Freedom of Information Law request to Southampton Town, revealed that the Article 78 also targets several East Quogue residents, including Mr. Brash, Elizabeth Jackson, Albert Algieri and William Kearns—representing the Long Island Pine Barrens Society—among others, who raised objections to the committee’s petition at two public hearings held on the subject.

The suit claims that Mr. Schneiderman’s objection to the petition was “illegal” and based on 34 “hearsay” obituaries, submitted by Mr. Kearns—and prepared by the society’s attorney, Jennifer Juengst—listing the names of the aforementioned deceased inhabitants.

Additionally, the lawsuit argues that no death records or certificates were submitted.

In a previous interview, Ms. Kooi maintained that the list was derived directly from the Southampton Town tax map, as well as cross-checked with the most recent voter registration data provided by the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

In fact, according to lawsuit documents, the 34 names of those deceased inhabitants are still currently listed on the voter records maintained by the Suffolk County BOE.

Mr. Bee reiterated Ms. Kooi’s argument in a letter, dated May 20, which he submitted to the supervisor at the second public hearing, held at the East Quogue Elementary School.

The Article 78 further reads that “even if the hearsay evidence could be relied upon … the alleged less than 1 percent error in the listing of regular inhabitants is de minimus or ‘nominal’ and is not sufficient to find the incorporation petition insufficient.”

In fact, Mr. Schneiderman explained in his written decision that, “despite his inclinations,” he was “constrained” by the restrictions set forth by the Supreme Court Appellate Division 2nd Department, which require village petitions to “be free from any imperfections.”

However, contrarily, the Appellate Division 3rd Judicial Department has recognized in similar decisions that “a list can never be done with absolute precision, calling such a list impractical to obtain.”

The same was true in a previous decision by Mr. Heaney, who, when determining the sufficiency of the petition to incorporate the former hamlet of Sagaponack, determined the 2nd Department’s requirement to be “inadvertent” and a “practical impossibility.”

In his decision, he referenced a 1964 amendment to village law, which changed the requirement from “the number of regular inhabitants of such territory” to “an allegation that such territory contains a population of at least five hundred regular inhabitants.”

Additionally, the committee’s lawsuit claims that 19 of 34 deceased inhabitants had died between July 2018 and April 2019—after the committee began to circulate the petition in June 2018.

Mr. Schneiderman will hold the first of two public hearing to address the Exploratory Committee’s revised petition at 6 p.m. on August 14 at the East Quogue Fire Department on Montauk Highway.

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I refer everyone back to my comment in a prior article on this matter: "Believe me, the only people that would make out on this would be the attorneys."
By HamptonDad (236), Hampton Bays on Jul 18, 19 1:05 PM
What I'd like to know is, WHO is paying the attorneys??????
By Taz (725), East Quogue on Jul 18, 19 2:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
I like to know who is paying the SHTB???? Other than the taxpayers.
By Hamptonsway (107), Southampton on Jul 21, 19 10:39 AM
Wow - 19 East Quogue residents died within 9 months!?
Remember EQ, if you become a village, never vote any EQVEC members into office
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Jul 18, 19 1:09 PM
1 member liked this comment
I can't opine to the particulars of this, but it has become clear to me over the past 4 years that the Town Supervisor position has way too much power and left in the wrong hands, that person can abuse his/her power. "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely". The Town does not have the policies and procedures in place to protect the residents and property owners from arbitrary decisions. It is time that the residents, taxpayers, voters of the hamlets challenge the abuse of power ...more
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Jul 18, 19 2:03 PM
Now discovery land company has 2 lawsuits against the town.
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Jul 18, 19 3:36 PM
1 member liked this comment
Yes, two lawsuits="good neighbors"! Will those same good neighbors be here when our water is no longer potable?!
By zappy (65), east quogue on Jul 19, 19 6:46 AM
1 member liked this comment
SHT has the signed petition on their website. In my review I found two names with signatures of EQ residents that do not reside in our hamlet at the address submitted by the EQ Exploratory Committee. These individuals in years past resided in EQ but did not at the time the alleged signatures were gotten. How many others are there? This tells me that the proponents of incorporation will do anything to to push their agenda.......even breaking the law to get signatures of people who do not live in ...more
By crusader (391), East Quogue on Jul 19, 19 10:00 AM
1 member liked this comment
My neighbor emailed the Town regarding the signatures/petition to incorporate. Guess what, a 70 something year old lady was served with papers (at least 300 pages worth) from these idiots (Kooi, Celi, et al) merely because she questioned the accuracy of the petition. So if you speak out against this, don't be surprised if the same happens to you! FEAR TACTICS!
By 2329702 (67), East Quogue on Jul 19, 19 11:22 AM