Submitted by Jacquelyn Gavron
Following is testimony presented to the Legislature during its public hearing on an Independent Office of Inspector General for Suffolk County, proposed in response to pervasive corruption and conviction of County officials and to the tragic death of 8-year old Thomas Valva, whose death raises questions of possible misconduct and mismanagement by County departments. (Statement Delivered to Suffolk County Legislature, April 28, 2020)
“Good afternoon. My name is Jacquelyn Gavron and I’m here to support the new Office of Inspector General, whose intent is to “identify and eradicate fraud, waste, abuse and corruption…to protect public integrity of government… and to safeguard the use of taxpayer dollars.” It is critical that election integrity be part of this effort. That’s why I’m informing you of a potential violation of NYS Election Law that requires your immediate attention.
“Nicholas Lalota, who was nominated and confirmed as Suffolk County Board of Elections Commissioner in January 2015 (and again in 2019), is running as Republican candidate for NYS Senate District 8 (Babylon Beacon). (Also see 2/20/20 announcement of candidacy.)
“On February 24, 2020 Commissioner Lalota announced he would take a leave of absence as of March 30, 2020. (Newsday, 2/23/20).
“However, under NYS Election Law section 3-200 (6), Commissioner Lalota was required to resign his office. That section provides:
6. An election commissioner shall not be a candidate for any elective office which he would not be entitled to hold under the provisions of this article, unless he has ceased by resignation or otherwise, to be commissioner prior to his nomination or designation therefor. Otherwise such nomination or designation shall be null and void.
“As the Board of Elections has ruled in Formal Opinion 1983, Opinion #4, 6/7/83 , a commissioner “must resign prior to the filing of his nominating or designating petitions.” A leave of absence does not satisfy the statute’s requirement that a commissioner has “ceased . . . to be commissioner . . .” While on a leave of absence, Commissioner Lalota still remains in office and retains control. In fact, he is still listed on the BOE website as the Republican Commissioner.
“In Lalota’s case, the apparent violation of sec. 3-200(6) is particularly disturbing because he is running for office in the same county over whose elections he has control.
“It would be egregious for any commissioner, Democrat or Republican, to stay in office in violation of the law, but it’s particularly outrageous for Lalota, around whom questions have swirled.
In 2018, Commissioner Lalota suspended walk-in absentee ballots, prompting County Executive Steve Bellone to write “a letter to the state Board of Elections. . .asking it to investigate the Suffolk BOE because the new policy was “disenfranchising voters.” (Newsday)
“And since 2017 Commissioner Lalota has been a part-time student at the [Maurice A. Deane] School of Law at Hofstra while earning a $144,000 salary for his full-time job as commissioner. According to Hofstra’s website, “. . . part-time classes . . . meet five days a week so that law school can be completed in four years.” Yet an 18-month audit by the Suffolk County Comptroller was unable to verify Commissioner Lalota’s time and attendance records.
The public is depending on your leadership [SC Legislature] and that of Suffolk County Executive Bellone, to ensure fair and safe elections, to protect public integrity of government, and to safeguard the use of taxpayer dollars.
“Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.”
NOTE: Many thanks to Amy Turner for her invaluable assistance.