A group of East Hampton Town residents outlined a number of points backing up their case in a lawsuit they filed against town officials after Town Clerk Fred Overton rejected their petition to force a referendum on a sale of a town alleyway to the owners of the Ronjo Motel last month.
The Article 78 was filed in New York State Supreme Court last week. The petitioners listed on the lawsuit are Mary I. Miller, Fred Nagel, East Hampton Town Democratic Committee Chairwoman Jeanne Frankl, Vice Chairwoman Betty Mazur, East Hampton Independence Party chairwoman Elaine Jones and former candidate for supervisor Zachary Cohen. The lawsuit is filed against the Town of East Hampton, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, Town Board members Theresa Quigley, Sylvia Overby, Dominick Stanzione, Peter Van Scoyoc, Mr. Overton, and Ronjo owners Chris Jones and Larry Siedlick.
According to a copy of the lawsuit, the petitioners claim that Mr. Overton’s determination to reject the signature petition— a ruling issued last month after he claimed the 644 signatures failed to contain specific language required by form and statute from the New York State Board of Elections—should be annulled. It states Mr. Overton, “acted in excess of his jurisdiction” in making the determination, claiming he had no authority to do anything but receive the petition and any objections to the petition.
It also claims that the petition is indeed valid, and that Mr. Overton’s determination is “affected by an error of law,” and is “arbitrary and capricious, or is an abuse of the clerk’s discretion.” It further states that a date for a permissive referendum “must go forward,” and that the town’s authorization of a $35,000 sale of the land, despite a Town Democratic Committee-commissioned appraisal that says it could be valued at $184,000, “amounts to an illegal gift of public property” to Mr. Jones and Mr. Siedlick.
The Town Board’s Republican majority—Mr. Wilkinson, Ms. Quigley and Mr. Stanzione—voted on March 6 to approve a resolution authorizing the sale of a 20-foot alleyway that bisects the Ronjo Motel property in Montauk. Democrats opposed the vote because there was no appraisal of the land. Because it’s a sale of town property, the resolution is subject to a permissive referendum. Town Democratic Committee members spearheaded a signature petition to force a referendum on the sale of the alleyway. At the same time, they supplied an appraisal of the land that claims it’s worth $184,000. The owners of the property supplied their own independent appraisal, claiming its worth $22,500. On April 17, the Town Board reversed course and unanimously approved appraising the land before it is sold.
Ms. Quigley said she could not comment on litigation and had not read the lawsuit, but pointed out that by her estimate, the amount of time and money that town staff spent on the Ronjo alleyway issue is enormous. She said many departments have gotten involved in the issue, including the Town Clerk’s office, the Town Attorney’s office, five Town Board members and various clerical staff.
“I think that if people were really desirous in ensuring their taxpayer dollars make sure their government is running efficiently, those people wouldn’t have taken the time for this lawsuit, that’s my opinion,” she said.