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Dan Hust | Democrat

Liberty Trustee Corinne McGuire (center) makes a point about the village’s budget during last Wednesday’s meeting. Listening are fellow trustees Shirley Lindsley (left) and Joan Stoddard.

Court’s fate up to voters

By Dan Hust
LIBERTY — January 14, 2011 — Liberty’s village board voted Monday night to ensure voters have a say in the proposed dissolution of the village court.
Mayor Richard Winters and trustees Shirley Lindsley and Joan Stoddard (trustees Luis Alvarez and Corinne McGuire were absent) all agreed to add a proposition to the March 15 general election ballots:
“Shall the Village of Liberty Justice position be abolished effective at the end of the current term?”
It’s similar to the question Village Justice Harold Bauman and supporters were planning to have on the ballot themselves – one they hope voters reject.
Last week, the village board voted 3-2 (Alvarez and Stoddard dissenting) to dissolve the court, which has been estimated by village officials to be running an annual deficit between $28,000 and $48,000.
But that vote was misunderstood by some on the board, who thought it would lead to a public vote in March.
In fact, the board’s vote had ensured the abolition of the court should residents not mount a successful petition drive.
Judge Bauman initiated a drive that very night, and dozens of signatures were affixed to a petition demanding a public vote on the matter. The petition required the signatures of at least 20 percent of qualified electors in the village, delivered to the board within 30 days.
If the petition failed to gain enough signatures or was rejected on legal or technical grounds, the court would disappear automatically come April.
Belatedly realizing this, the board on Monday took another vote, this one to officially set a public vote on March 15 as part of the regular village elections.
While that would seem to negate the need for the petition, various residents and officials confirmed that signatures continue to be acquired – just in case.
Judge Bauman, who is against the court’s dissolution, is coordinating the petition drive and can be reached at 292-6571.
Mayor Winters assured, however, that voters will be able to weigh in.
“We’re going to have a vote in March,” he promised.
Committee may make report on situation
First, though, Winters wants the board and public to hear from a committee now being formed to study the potential merging of the village and town court systems (which would be the end result of the village court’s dissolution).
“That committee hasn’t been formed yet,” Winters said. “From what I gathered, the town doesn’t even want to be part of it.”
Longtime Justice Richard Hering is setting up the committee, said Winters, and Winters has already recruited village consultant Ed Lagarde to sit on it.
Hering confirmed this week that he’s talked with a variety of local and state officials and gathered documents and other information in preparation for meeting.
When such a meeting will take place, however, is uncertain.
“If they want the facts and figures and everything to be presented prior to a public referendum so the residents can make an intellectual vote based on information,” Hering remarked, “they have to do something, and they haven’t done it – neither board has.”
He explained the village board has to create the committee but has not yet done so.
Hering said he’s not interested in having the committee make a recommendation – just a report that will detail the information needed to make an informed decision.
He added that neither the village nor the town has indicated whether they want just a report or a recommendation, too.
“I’m not doing anymore work on this right now,” Hering said – not until he gets some direction from the involved parties. “It can’t be a one-man show.”
Town Supervisor John Schmidt said this week that while he doesn’t see a need to meet before voters have had their say, the town has already decided he and town board members Lynn Killian and Chris Austin will serve on the committee.
“Let’s wait and see if the dissolution is going to be voted upon,” Schmidt explained, referring to the March 15 vote.
He said town reps will attend any committee meetings prior to that vote, but such discussions, he believes, will involve “a lot of guessing.”
Meanwhile, Schmidt said the Town of Liberty is exploring funds to aid it in absorbing the village’s court. He indicated up to $100,000 may be available, and the court could be relocated out of the town and village halls and into a separate building somewhere else in the village.
The town has already rejected the village’s offer to rent village hall space to the court for $24,000 a year.

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