BRASHER FALLS - The second time was the charm for volunteers working to get a proposition on the November ballot for a branch library in Brasher Falls.
But it was by a hair.
They had turned in petitions with 85 signatures to Brasher Town Clerk Ellen Fukes this week, but some of those were signatures werent valid, Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said during Wednesdays monthly meeting of the Brasher Town Board.
Its the town clerks responsibility to go over and check them. Six names were not registered (voters), Mr. Dawson said.
Supporters needed 80 signatures - 10 percent of the registered Brasher voters who had cast their ballots in the last gubernatorial election - to move the petitions forward to the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections for inclusion on Novembers ballot.
With the six names rejected, that left supporters with 79 signatures, one short of the required number.
I recommend the board tonight not take any action to allow them time to get the required signatures. If we can do this tonight, I would be happy to do it, Mr. Dawson said.
He later recommended that the board accept the petitions after volunteers were able to provide Mrs. Fukes with two more signatures, which she verified and notarized as being eligible voters during a 10-minute break in the meeting.
I suggest the board move to accept these petitions and have the referendum on the fall ballot on November 5 in the town of Brasher, Mr. Dawson said, receiving the approval of Councilmen William D. Demo, John M. Keenan and Mark Peets. Margaret Burns was not present at Wednesdays meeting.
It was the second go-around for the signature-gathering process after Roger A. Linden, attorney for the town of Brasher questioned the validity of some of the original 11 pages with 130 signatures that had been turned in. Among his contentions was that, although volunteer Michele Ellis-Porcaro had her signature notarized on all 11 pages, she had not witnessed every signatures.
After that, volunteers went back out into the community to start the signature-gathering process from scratch and obtained 85 signatures. A resolution was passed by the Massena Public Librarys Board of Trustees Monday night to forward the petitions to Mrs. Fukes for her review and authentication. The towns resolution accepting the signatures must be received by the Board of Elections by Sept. 20 to be included on the November ballot.
Mr. Dawson told audience members - which included library Director Elaine Dunne-Thayer, library board members Linda MacDonald and Robert Manning, marketing consultant Leslie Gardner, North Country Library System consultant Emily Owen and Ms. Ellis-Porcaro - that he and the board members had remained neutral on the issue, despite questions they had about the plan.
This board is not taking a stand. I just want folks to have all the facts. Ive been asked questions. I ask these questions as town supervisor. I have a responsibility (to get answers), he said.
Ms. Ellis-Porcaro charged that, although Mr. Dawson had said the town board would remain neutral on the issue, there had been one unnamed board member who she suggested was telling residents not to sign the petition.
I cannot control people individually, Mr. Dawson said.
He said his only concern was that the petitions be properly submitted before the board gave their approval for the proposition to be on the ballot.
I was concerned about the initial submission when I saw it and looked at it. Ms. Porcarco said she was advised it was ok to sign all of the petitions, Mr. Dawson said.
That was an error on my part, Ms. Owen said.
Ms. Ellis-Porcaro said that, although she had not witnessed all of the signatures, there were some that she had seen, which she said should have remained legal.
I had 30 more signatures to hand in and nobody wanted to acknowledge that, she told Mr. Dawson.
Resident Patricia McKeown suggested there had been some discouragement from the town board in the petition process, with questions about some signatures.
It seems to me, unless Im dead wrong, youre interested in blocking efforts to have a library. Im not sure where it started, the Massena library or grassroots, but theyre following the procedures to get a library initiative on the ballot and trying to follow the letter of the law. People are submitting petitions with bona fide signatures. Let the democracy play out. I dont think itll pass, frankly, but let it play out, she said.
We have to deal with the law. We all swear to uphold the law when we take our oath of office. Some of these things are not simple; theyre complicated. If youre getting the attitude that were trying to block this based on not accepting the first petitions, its not an opinion poll, its a legal document, Mr. Dawson replied.
And, he added, Its becoming a very emotionally charged issue.
Thats why, although he had been asked to hold a public hearing about the proposal, he was declining to do so.
I do not want the community to become polarized over this issue, he said.
Among the town supervisors questions Wednesday was the potential impact on the proposed $56,000 annual budget if expenses increased beyond that level in future years.
Ms. Dunne-Thayer responded they were required to stay at $56,000 unless they went through the entire petition process again to increase that amount.
We cant go above that. We are capped. We would have to live on that amount, she said, noting if the budget did change - either through an increase - it would be the process were doing now.
Among the concerns from audience members was that the library was planning to sign a five-year lease for Crapser Hall, located in the former Boothe Building in downtown Brasher Falls for the proposed branch. Library officials were asked what would happen with that agreement if the library closed a year after openings its doors.
We dont have a signed lease. We have an agreement, Ms. Dunne-Thayer said. We would add some stipulation that the lease would be void.
At this point, their focus is getting voter approval in November, something Mr. Dawson said he hoped would be by a large margin either way.
Id hate to have a 51 to 49 split, he said.
If it were to fail, Mr. Dawson said he could work on recruiting volunteers to staff a room that they could set up with books and a computer.
I had suggested at the last meeting that we get a volunteer group together and get started on a smaller scale. One lady said she had a whole bunch if childrens books, he said.
If it fails, Ill be your volunteer help, Ms. McKeown pledged.