The Rushville Village Board Monday rejected a petition calling for a vote on whether to dissolve the village.
At a board meeting attended by about 40 people, Mayor John Sawers said the petition “was not done right. We have disallowed it,” he said.
The petition, forwarded by former Mayor Jon Bagley, contained 128 signatures, well above the 20 percent (or just under 82 signatures) needed of village voters to force a referendum. But, Village Clerk Joanne Burley said, the petition lacked a lead paragraph required on all its pages. Burley said she consulted with the New York Conference of Mayors and Finger Lakes law firm Cheney & Blair and then, using her authority, rejected the petition.
“As village clerk I am the one to do that,” she said.
No one spoke during the meeting when Sawers offered a chance to comment, but a number of people hung around town hall afterwards and talked about recent controversies. Bagley was not at the meeting.
Contacted later at his home, Bagley said Burley is wrong. He said “the petition format is exactly what the state calls for” and he has confirmed this with state attorneys. “The state will be contacting them and advising them of the same,” Burley said.
The former mayor added he hopes the village complies and lets the process move forward, to give all village voters a chance to decide. He didn’t rule out pursuing an Article 78 lawsuit if needed, he said.
Sawers indicated after the meeting that he was not going to bend to any moves to dissolve the village. “We’re not going to let the village down that easy,” he said.
Sawers was elected mayor in March, beating Bagley by a vote of 81 to 58. The two are embroiled in a heated controversy involving the Martin Tire building, formerly home of Imperial Wrestling Club headed by Marcus Whitman wrestling coach Terry Lucero. The village-owned building is now locked up with a condemned sign posted, with its fate being weighed behind closed doors by attorneys representing the village and Imperial Wrestling Club. The building was vacant and decaying until Kevin Smith of Stanley struck a deal in 2014 to renovate it, at no cost to the village, with then-mayor Bagley and Rushville trustees. That deal, never formalized on paper, fizzled with the change in village leadership.
Many village residents are also divided over the way Bagley and Sawers dealt with other issues such as appointment of village clerk. After Sawers took office, he appointed Burley to replace the clerk who had worked under Bagley.
Jonnette Keneston said after the meeting she was “appalled” by Bagley’s handling of village operations, including the Martin Tire building and petition to dissolve the village. Doug Rigby said he thinks Bagley is pursuing dissolving the village over “sour grapes” because he lost the election.
On the issue of the village, a few residents said they had signed the petition because they think it’s wise to explore the idea. Bagley provided lots of information, said resident Karen Gorton, who thinks there is the potential for benefits such as lower taxes.