AG Won't Take On Contested Herrings Mayoral Race

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By Jude Seymour

The state Attorney General's Office confirmed Thursday it will not investigate an alleged case of voter disenfranchisement in a hotly contested Herrings village mayor's race.

Chris Tehonica, a village resident, requested - but did not receive - an absentee ballot for this week's board elections.

His sister, Shirley Fitzgerald, claimed Chris would have altered the result of the mayor's race because he intended to vote for Jeremy Barlow. Barlow, a write-in candidate, lost the race to acting Mayor Rick Bierman by one vote, according to unofficial results Tuesday.

Bierman says the AG's office declined to get involved after the mayor sent them Tehonica's first absentee application.

"On the application, it stated we were to give it to Shirley Fitzgerald, his sister. Nowhere on that application did it say mail it to Florida," said Bierman, a former trustee who took over as mayor in January.

Fitzgerald disputes this, producing return receipts from Village Clerk Mona Thomas that Fitzgerald says were attached to a certified letter requesting the ballot be mailed.

"They (village officials) do not have the knowledge of what their job is in the village," she said. "The job of the village clerk is to provide the village people with an absentee ballot if they're not going to be able to vote on Election Day."

Barlow said Thursday he is preparing a lawsuit on behalf of himself, Tehonica and Fitzgerald against Thomas, who is also the village's primary election officer.

The Jefferson County Board of Elections, which does not control Herrings' elections, has agreed to do a recanvass of the 39 votes cast for mayor.

Fitzgerald's ill will for Bierman did not start with this disputed absentee request. The village resident said she disapproves of the mayor's plan to build records storage when there is space available in the village barn. Fitzgerald said the building would cost $30,000, with some covered by grants.

She voted for Barlow because "he would restore the faith of all the people in the village that we're not going to just jump in and raise your taxes for no reason."

Bierman acknowledges that relations between the board and some villagers have been contentious since former Mayor Dave Arnold suddenly resigned last December.

"Hopefully we're going to build it (Herrings) back up with community parties," he said. "People are more than welcome to come to the meetings to see what's going on with the village. A few have in the past and it wasn't the greatest meeting. But, hopefully, we're going to result that."

Bierman says Tehonica's absentee ballot request suffered a significant lack of communication, but adds there was no ill intent. The mayor said he would have happily sent the villager a ballot in Florida if he had known Tehonica wanted it sent instead of left for Fitzgerald.

For the sake of brevity and clarity, there are some other disputes I've left out.

  • It appears there were two absentee ballot requests made on Tehonica's behalf. The first, which I was told was signed by the villager himself, requested the ballot be left for Fitzgerald. The second, which I was told is the one Fitzgerald claims had the return receipt attached, was not signed by Tehonica but asked the ballot be mailed to him.
  • Lynn Dobransky, a former village mayor, said she was concerned her vote did not count after being asked to cast her vote on a provisional ballot. (Her name did not appear in the inspector's register.) Bierman said Dobransky's vote, for Barlow, was counted after it was determined she was legally registered.
  • Dobransky says she was the 40th person to sign in at the ballot box. The final tally of the mayor's race was 20-19. I asked Bierman if any votes were tossed for any reason. He said no.
  • Bierman claims Thomas called Fitzgerald to tell her that the ballot was available at the office. I didn't have an opportunity to ask Fitzgerald if she ever received that phone call.
  • The mayor also said some blame him for forcing out Arnold, whose reasons for resigning weren't exactly clear to me. Bierman denies any attempt to push his predecessor out of office.

One note on the video: Fitzgerald says she's upset at Bierman's decision to use taxpayer funds to build storage for village records. In a second interview with Bierman on March 23, the mayor said that project is completely covered by a grant. He denies any taxpayer money will be used.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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