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It ain’t over till the do-over

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Some in Copake want to vote again on Police Department

COPAKE–It was a yes or no question, but to some the answer remains unclear.

A majority of Copake voters, 516 to 514, voted Yes to a proposition on the November 8 ballot authorizing the town to dissolve the Copake Police Department. Now, some residents say the vote was confusing and they plan to ask the Town Board in January, when new board members take office, for a do-over.

The matter was brought up at the December 8 Town Board meeting by Lindsay LeBrecht, who said that while the “intent was to get a clear picture” instead “the question confused a lot of people.”

Ms. LeBrecht said that a group of residents have contacted an attorney about the matter and a petition asking the board to look at the fate of the Police Department again — this time with a “better a question” — is circulating.

A lot of educated people were confused by the question, said Ms. LeBrecht. The question asked voters, “Shall the Town of Copake be authorized to dissolve the Copake Police Department?” The choices were “Yes, Dissolve the Department” or “No, Retain the Department.”

Ms. LeBrecht said there was a sign posted somewhere in town that erroneously told people to “Vote No to get rid of the department.” And that some people did not realize the question was on the back of the ballot, she said.

People both for and against want the issue presented again in a clear manner, according to Ms. LeBrecht, who said supporters of a new vote have collected over 100 signatures thus far.

But not everyone agrees that the referendum or its outcome was vague. George Filipovits told the board that all people had to do was read the question, although he said that if they just read “Yes” or “No” they may have been confused.

“We’ve already voted. I don’t care if [the margin was] one vote or 100, I don’t think taxpayer dollars should be spent on a revote,” he said.

Harvey Weber said “a failure of communication” caused information about the referendum question to be “not clear” and the people have the right to have it be understandable.

Stosh Gansowski thanked the Town Board for presenting the issue to the voters to make the choice. “The people have spoken,” he said.

A woman in the audience said the many people of all ages and cognitive levels are upset with this decision and the town is still divided. She said the Police Department has a 40-year history, and once the department is gone, it’s gone. “I really believe it warrants further investigation.”

Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia said the problem with the vote outcome was that the margin was so small it was not a clear mandate. She vowed to revisit the issue in January, noting “a referendum is a poor way to determine policy.”

John Belfonte said, “This is America” the vote was legal and people had plenty of time to read the ballot question. Just because one side lost doesn’t mean it should be voted on again.

“When you vote, you have to be responsible. Don’t cry afterwards. When somebody loses an election by 10 votes, they don’t say we want a do-over, it’s done,” said Carol Gansowski.

Deputy Supervisor Joe LaPorta, who ran the meeting in the absence of Supervisor Reggie Crowley, said, “Suffice it to say, the issue has divided the town and the new board has to make the decision” weigh the options and consider whether they want to spend the money.

The cost of a special election varies by town according to the number of election districts and the number of voting inspectors needed. The Town of Stuyvesant conducted a special election last August on a capital project to construct two salt sheds and renovate its highway garage. According to Town Clerk Melissa Naegeli, though all the bills have not yet been received, the cost was right around $2,600: $1,500 to rent one voting machine, $800 to print the ballots, $300 for inspectors and $15 for public notices.

Contacted Wednesday about who is spearheading the petition, Ms. LeBrecht, who also serves as president of the town Republican Club, said it’s a grassroots effort by people of all political parties.

“I speak my mind on the issues, this has nothing to do with politics,” she said.

Ms. LeBrecht said she went to the Board of Elections during a portion of the hand ballot count and found that some voters had crossed out one answer and written in another, while others just missed the question on the back of the ballot entirely.

Petitions are available at the Ameristore, the Copake Sunoco, the Dutch Treat, Dad’s Diner, the Depot Deli and the Copake Pharmacy.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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