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The Telegram
  • Opposition files petition to halt school merger vote

  • A petition has been filed with the state Education Department by those who oppose the three district merger to block the vote scheduled for next week and to invalidate the results of the September straw vote.

    “Basically we feel like they weren’t playing by the rules. We believe they violated several state laws,” said Dan Monohan on why he filed the petition.

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  • A petition has been filed with the state Education Department by those who oppose the three district merger to block the vote scheduled for next week and to invalidate the results of the September straw vote.
    “Basically we feel like they weren’t playing by the rules. We believe they violated several state laws,” said Dan Monohan on why he filed the petition.
    Among the objections he has to the merger vote, Monohan said taxpayer money was used to advocate for the merger. “You can’t use taxpayer money and school district officials, especially superintendents, know and understand the law. They have to remain unbiased,” he said.
    Exhibits included with the petition are newsletters from the Mohawk and Ilion school districts, which include notes from the superintendents saying they are “out of options.”
    Besides asking state Education Commissioner John J. King to call off the Oct. 18 merger vote and to invalidate the results of the straw vote, the petition also asks for a nullification of the petitions signed on or about Sept. 24 to go ahead with the binding vote. It also asks if the binding vote goes ahead and it is passed, the commissioner nullifies the results before reorganization on July 1, 2013.
    There is a petitioner from each of the three school districts involved with the merger — Monohan, of Mohawk; Grace Osborne, of Ilion; and Ronald Edwards, of Herkimer.
    Ilion Central School Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. did not return a call seeking comment. Interim Mohawk Central School Superintendent Gene Beirne declined to comment and referred to the school district’s attorney.
    Douglas Gerhardt, of Harris Beach Law Firm in Albany, represents the Mohawk Central School District. He said on Thursday during a telephone interview the petition names six individuals, including Beirne, retired Superintendent Joyce Caputo and school board Vice President Vicki Coffin Judd.
    “It will be defended and, as far as we’re concerned, it has no merit,” said Gerhardt. “We’re not commenting further on pending litigation.”
    Also listed in the complaint are Tangorra, Ilion District Business Manager Kenneth Long and Herkimer school board member Diann Fischer.
    Ben J. Ferrara, of Ferrara and Fiorenza law firm in Syracuse, said the petition, in a legal context, is “a complaint that has been filed with the commissioner of the state Education Department, who as authority over votes and elections.” Ferrara, who represents the Herkimer and Ilion school districts, said the three individuals who are listed as the petitioners are “seeking to stop the election that [the commissioner] has ordered, to stay the proceedings.”
    “We don’t believe the petition has any merit, it’s groundless and it’s defective,” said Ferrara during a telephone interview on Thursday.
    Ferrara, who said his firm also represents Herkimer BOCES and about 150 other school districts across upstate New York, said they are working to get the proper paperwork completed and filed by early next week, before the vote on Oct. 18.
    Page 2 of 2 - “The commissioner should allow the voters to decide on the merger, not three people,” said Ferrara.
    Merger supporters e-mailed their response to news agencies on Thursday, shortly after news about the petitions started to circulate.
    “As a group of private citizens who have worked tireless hours to shed light on the opportunities and the challenges of this merger, the members of the Friends of the Three-District Merge believe this legal action to be a frivolous and desperate last-minute effort to deny a merger the voters of all three districts have already approved twice in the last year,” said Molly Bonnell in an email.
    Bonnell also said, “This goes beyond whether or not someone agrees with the merger. This is an attempt to keep the voters of the valley from having a say concerning their own children’s futures on Oct. 18. We believe the fact that anyone would want to keep people from exercising their right to vote, to be self-determining, is disheartening and deplorable.”

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