LAKE GEORGE — Tossed out is a lower court challenge against the town of Caroga for, in part, declaring three referendum petitions invalid.
Warren County State Supreme Judge Martin Auffredou in an eight-page ruling late last week dismissed allegations from petitioner Anita McMartin Long that officials acted transgressively against efforts to put the fate of three town projects on the ballot.
Caroga Supervisor Scott Horton learned about the decision on Thursday.
“This ruling validates what we said all along that we acted properly,” Horton said. “Now I can move forward with bonding, get this capital plot plan that we have back on track. I look forward to proceeding.”
The case stems from the Town Board voting to bond a $1 million highway department garage, a $450,000 golf course storage center and a $107,000 salt shed in September. Anita McMartin Long, who recently announced her candidacy for Town Board, firmly maintained that the decision should be left up to voters.
“Now voters must wait,” she said in a statement. “Their only choice will be at the 2023 election for town officials. Today is a sad day. The voice of the people has been silenced.”
She at the time gained 62 signatures — 29 more than needed — in October to file for a referendum. Ultimately, the petitions were marked invalid on technical grounds by Town Clerk Linda Gilbert.
The plaintiff previously argued that town officials overextended its authority and improperly published project-related notices before delivering notifying her of petitions’ invalidation.
“To the extent that this raises the specter of inequity, it would seem that the solution, (sic) lies with the legislature, not this court, which is bound by that body’s statutory enactments,” Auffredou wrote. “Constrained by those enactments, the court holds the bond estoppel notices valid.”
Auffredou added that the court found no violation of local finance law or election law, as alleged by the plaintiff.
Furthermore, town clerks, the judge wrote, have the “inherent authority” to decline a referendum petition based on the nature of their role. Gilbert declined the plaintiff’s petitions, in part, because the documents lacked a protest statement.
“The court has also found little guidance on whether the absence of a statement of protest constitutes a substantial defect in a referendum petition but, again guided by reason, not precedent, it would seem that such is substantial—the protestation against a resolution by the requisite number of voters in the town seems to be the only practical reason to put the resolution to a vote,” Auffredou wrote.
Auffredou began reviewing the case in December. The lawsuit was filed in Fulton County Supreme Court late last year and later assigned on to the Warren County Supreme Court in Lake George.
Anita McMartin Long represented herself in the case against town representatives from Albany-based Girvin & Ferlazzo P.C. It’s unclear whether or not she’ll move to appeal the decision.
“I’m not going to deny it can’t be appealed because it can be appealed,” Horton said. “That takes some time.”
Ideally for Horton, an end to the lawsuit would enable the town to begin borrowing money for all three projects and rebuild the golf maintenance facility in order to satisfy time-sensitive payout requirements from New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal. The pro-shop and clubhouse was destroyed in a 2020 fire.
That year also marked the beginning of Horton’s first term. He’s expected to face off against Republican Ralph Palcovic in a primary on June 27.
Anita McMartin Long, also running as a Republican, and her husband James McMartin Long have been long critical of the Horton administration.
Of current officials on the Town Board, Barbara DeLuca is typically the sole no-vote during controversial votes. She voted against all three bonding measures in September.
Anita McMartin Long contended in a statement that elected officials made an about face by having previously advocated for borrowing by referendum.
“People wanted a choice,” she said. “They should have a choice.”
Horton said that he favored town-wide voting for “large” capital projects, like the town hall renovation.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil