Jeffrey Sherwin and Jon Lewis stood in the Greenburgh Town Hall parking lot May 28. In his left hand, Sherwin firmly grasped a nearly 4-inch thick folder, filled with more than 600 pages of signatures, exhibits, affidavits and a $6,000 check made out to the Town of Greenburgh.
Things came together quickly, with a looming bill in Albany introduced only one week before which — if passed — would complicate the entire process. Thus, the duo spent much of the Memorial Day holiday weekend finalizing the documents and preparing for the filing. This was not the first time Sherwin and Lewis had walked into the town clerk’s office to submit their assortment of papers — but they hoped it would be their last.
The Edgemont Incorporation Committee officially submitted to the Greenburgh town clerk its second attempt at a petition for a referendum to make Edgemont a bona fide village.
Town Clerk Judith Beville accepted the petition and provided Sherwin and Lewis with a time stamped copy of the $6,000 check — the amount required for submitting an incorporation petition.
Supervisor Paul Feiner told the Inquirer he was “very surprised” by the filing, as the town clerk did not inform him of it. Feiner, who is up for re-election this November, found out about the filing from the social media site Next Door. About 10 minutes after receiving the petition, Beville brought the check to the comptroller’s office. She did not receive any advanced notice that the petition was being filed that day, according to Beville. Beville further confirmed that she accepted the check and “was doing my due diligence.”
Feiner would not comment on his current position on incorporation but said his role is to make sure the petition is sufficient.
In February 2017 when the EIC members attempted to submit their first petition for incorporation, Town Clerk Judith Beville told them they would need to return the next day to speak with Town Attorney Timothy Lewis. Timothy Lewis informed them that Supervisor Feiner would need to accept the petition and provide them with a receipt, delaying their filing by a week as the supervisor was on vacation.
“We strongly believe the petition reflects the strong will of the community to hold a vote on incorporation,” Jon Lewis told the Inquirer, referring to the newly submitted petition.
After a petition rejection from Feiner in May 2017, a lawsuit from the EIC, a slew of private investigators, an Appellate Court decision and an appeal refusal from the New York Court of Appeals, Edgemont’s previous bid for a referendum to become Greenburgh’s seventh village was denied in February.
At that time, Feiner argued that the incorporation petition did not clearly specify the boundaries of the potential village of Edgemont, as there was reference to both the Greenville Fire District and the Edgemont School District. He also argued that the state’s requirement that incorporation petitions include the names of all inhabitants of the potential village had not been followed as children’s names were not included, thus making the EIC’s first petition void.
“We have made every effort to satisfy those objections within the best of our abilities,” said Sherwin on how the new petition compares to the old one. “We made requests to the parents and the school district and we made an attempt to contact every household within the Greenville Fire District.”
In December 2018, Sherwin submitted a Freedom of Information Law request with the Edgemont Union Free School District to provide a list of names of all the children who reside in the district. The school district rejected its request citing the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The language regarding a reference to the Edgemont School District was also removed from the petition.
The petition filing happened on the heels of a bill to be considered in the New York State Senate.
On May 15, New York State Sen. James Skoufis introduced Bill S05793A, “An act to amend the village law, in relation to the requirements for village incorporation.” The bill, which was heard in the Senate Standing Committee on Local Government on May 29, would change village incorporation law to allow for a town supervisor to have more jurisdiction in approving or denying a petition beyond the current constraints. Under current law, a supervisor can only reject an incorporation petition if it does not meet the standards of law. A petition requires the residents to obtain signatures from at least 20% of the eligible voters within the community looking to incorporate or acquire signatures from landowners who possess at least 50% of the assessed land value. A map of the area to become a village and a list of all the regular inhabitants must also be provided.
“It’s my feeling that the current law that governs how villages are incorporated is extremely weak,” said Skoufis during the committee meeting. “The town board has no say whatsoever on the substance of creating a new village. All the town supervisor can do under current law is approve or reject the petition based on the technical aspects of the petition.”
If passed, the bill would also expand the reach of the referendum, allowing all residents within the town to vote on the unincorporated area’s move to incorporate. Currently only people within the area that would incorporate are eligible to vote in an incorporation referendum.
“The suggestion by opponents that our legislation makes it impossible to incorporate new villages is patently false given [that] the overall public interest threshold is the same measure used during annexation proceedings,” Skoufis said in a statement to the Inquirer. “Such logic would presume annexations never take place in New York State when, in fact, they are commonplace.”
On Tuesday, Sherwin was handed a receipt of his check from the town clerk, officially acknowledging that the office had received the petition. The meeting took roughly five minutes — a breeze compared to 2017 when it took a week for the EIC to file.
“We’ll review the petition and if it turns out that it’s in compliance with the law there will be a referendum probably in the summer,” said Feiner. “If I reject it then … it’ll probably end up in court.”