Residents: Sherrill-Kenwood Library’s budget vote was victim of electioneering

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VERONA — Local residents addressed the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill School Board with allegations that the Sherrill-Kenwood Library’s budget vote was the victim of electioneering — via stickers.

The Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library’s budget vote, totaling $186,700, took place on June 1 and saw 647 votes. Vernon voted 3 yes and 77 no; Verona voted 19 yes and 202 no; and Sherrill voted 296 yes and 17 no. In total, 351 voted yes and 296 voted no.

Several local residents were in attendance at the meeting on Tuesday, expressing concern over potential electioneering, and asked the board to delay the certification of the library vote.

Further, they requested the board petition the New York Commissioner of Education to annul the vote.

Robin Vanderwall, of Sherrill, spoke for those in attendance against the certification.

“In anticipation of the vote, the Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library created stickers that said ‘Your Vote Counts’ and ‘Love Your Library.’ They gave the stickers to the Sherrill poll workers, and on voting day, the poll workers handed out the stickers the same time they handed out the blank ballots,” Vanderwall said. “Before this vote, I never would have thought that such flagrant and illegal electioneering possible, but I was voter number 56, and it happened to me.”

“The Library made up stickers because they wanted the recipients to put them on and wear them,” she continued. “And they did. I saw folks wearing those stickers out and about in Sherrill that day. I even have a photo of someone wearing one. How many other residents saw someone wearing a sticker and were reminded to vote? We won’t know, but if they did, they most likely voted yes.”

Vanderwall said that while she supported the library, she supported free elections more. Another issue that was put forth by Vanderwall involved an “… unheard of difference in voter preference among the three communities. Sherrill voted 95% in favor, and in stark contrast, Verona voted 91% against it.”

“You can’t be confident that the outcome was affected,” she said.

Vanderwall read another statement, one she said was from her daughter, Laura Iannello of Verona, who was not in attendance.

The statement read:

“Every year, the VVS budget passes by a wide margin with relatively few residents actually voting,” Vanderwall read. “Just this past [budget vote], 445 residents voted and passed the budget with 75% of the vote. This happens because the residents of VVS trust the school board. This is not the case with every school district, and I’m sure the VVS School Board values that trust. The library vote, in contrast, brought 647 voters out, and 46% voted no. ... If you let this vote stand, you’ll have lost the trust of many VVS voters. Every September, year in and year out, they’ll see the library tax levy and be reminded the VVS board did not stand up for them. So every May, those same folks may express that lack of trust at the ballot box. ... Whatever you decided tonight will affect every future VVS budget vote. Do the right thing and ask Albany to annul the vote.”

Dan Strobel, a Sherrill resident who was previously on the Sherrill Library Board for 10 years, urged the board not to accept the vote and assured them that the library would have other options to be funded.

Specifically, Strobel said the library could petition the city of Sherrill to put the budget up for public vote for the November general election. “This establishes a municipal budget appropriation for the library paid for by the city of Sherrill residents,” he said. “With 95% of support from the Sherrill residents, I would see it passing very easily.”

Greg Iannello, of Verona, said he was against the library vote and asked the board not to accept the results. Besides the sticker issue, Iannello raised another issue.

Iannello contested the library didn’t mail an appropriate informational piece in a timely manner.

“They sent it out on Friday before Memorial Day weekend, so half the people were gone,” he said. “And you had to open it up to see what it was. Everyone I talked to thought it was junk mail. If you live in Verona, why would you open something from the Sherrill Library?”

“There’s no way you can sit there and say this was a fair election or good for the people of Verona,” Iannello added.

Board President Thomas Moats said the public session was never intended to be a place for debate about public issues but gave the floor to the school attorney, Joseph Shields of Ferrara Law Firm. “We have the attorney to expedite and answer some of the points that have been brought up,” Moats said.

Shields said the key point, from the school’s perspective, is that the library is a separate legal entity. “The library, its trustees, have the ability to ask for a vote, and under education law section 259, once they do, the school board is obligated to put the proposition up,” Shields said. “The school board did that, and the election was held. The district hadn’t heard about the stickers until after the election was completed, [but] the school appoints the same election inspectors from Oneida County to run other elections in the district.”

“As far as the school board’s options, they were asked to hold a vote, the vote was held, and now the library has presented the election results and has asked the board to certify them, which they have to do, in my opinion,” Shields said. “Someone could bring a challenge to the commissioner of education, but it wouldn’t be the school board — it’d be affected taxpayers.”

Shields said he didn’t “… doubt the veracity of the statements made,” but the school board didn’t have the standing to make the challenge.

“Everyone on the school board knows something illegal happened, don’t you think they’d be obligated to do something about it?” Iannello asked Shields.

“I don’t know that the school board ‘knows that something illegal happened,’ but -” Shields was saying, only to be interrupted when Strobel handed a copy of the stickers in question. Shields said he already had a copy, to which he was asked if it would be a clearer case of electioneering if the stickers read Biden or Trump.

When asked what would happen to the school board if they didn’t accept the budget vote, Superintendent Martha Group said the board could be in violation of its responsibility under education law 259. “It would be similar if the board refused to accommodate the library’s request to hold the election in the first place,” she said.

Shields reiterated that the school district’s job is to “… pass the information as it was done” and couldn’t challenge the results — but assured residents that there was recourse for taxpayers in the library district who wished to bring the challenge forward themselves.

“I don’t believe the school district has the legal district to bring the appeal because they’re not affected — they don’t pay taxes,” Shields said. “I’d just hope that people wouldn’t think that the board’s acceptance of the library vote, which they didn’t control and didn’t have discretion, should be a stain against the school district in future budget votes.”

The public session was closed soon after, and the vote was accepted during the meeting’s regular agenda.

After the meeting, Group said the school district’s responsibility was to handle the vote.

“If there’s a challenge, it can be brought forth by a concerned citizen,” she said.

The Daily Sentinel reached out to the Sherrill-Kenwood Library but the library declined to comment.

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