Two days before three write-in candidates who beat incumbent trustees were to take office, the lame duck Village Board appointed one of its own as mayor of Dering Harbor.
The move replaced Tim Hogue, who resigned after the defeat of his party in a rancorous election.
To groans and shouts of protest from some of the two dozen residents who packed Village Hall for a special meeting Saturday, the board appointed Kirk Ressler to fill the year remaining in Mr. Hogue’s 13th consecutive two-year term.
Mr. Ressler is one of the three trustees who failed to win renewal of their positions in the June 20 election in which all but four of the village’s 81 registered voters participated.
“You lost the election, Kirk,” Helge M. Skibeli called out loudly over the shouting. “The mayor needs to be elected.”
Mr. Skibeli demanded that a special election take place this summer. As others chanted “special election,” someone yelled “fraud.”
Mr. Ressler asked for calm and offered an opportunity for people to speak, one at a time.
“I think this is against all democratic principles and I would like to see a special election,” Clora Kelly said. “The mayor should be elected.”
Mr. Ressler was appointed last year by Mr. Hogue to fill in for Trustee Brandon Rose, who resigned shortly after being re-elected. Deputy Mayor Heather E.G. Brownlie and Trustee Richard Smith also lost their bids for re-election.
The run up to the vote was especially dramatic, punctuated by official challenges to voters and a lawsuit filed by Mr. Hogue against the three residents running against his Dering Harbor Party incumbents. The fourth board member, John J. Colby Jr., is in the middle of a two-year term.
“We’ve already rejected three of you,” said Rob Ferris, an organizer of the Shore Party. “Your village has voted you out of office.”
Mr. Ferris, who’s wife, Karen Kelsey, defeated Mr. Ressler, described him as “Tim Hogue 2.0”
Mr. Hogue was not present and did not respond to the Reporter’s requests for comment. There was no discussion among the trustees when in quick succession they accepted the resignations of Mr. Hogue and the village clerk, Laura Hildreth, who has served for nine years.
Ms. Hildreth in her letter to the board cited controversial elections over the past three years that have “taken a toll.” Mr. Hogue gave no reason for his sudden departure.
Many in the audience applauded after Mr. Hogue’s letter was read. But the room erupted when Ms. Brownlie asked for a motion to appoint Mr. Hogue as chairman of the village Zoning Board of Appeals. Some residents chanted “No, no, no!” but the motion carried.
When Trustee Smith moved to appoint Mr. Ressler as mayor, seconded by Mr. Colby, the shouting continued.
“This is not a public hearing,” Mr. Ressler told the crowd, indicating that the board was under no obligation to open the floor to residents. “We are happy to listen to your comments but let’s not have a back-and-forth shouting and behavior that is not consistent with public meetings.”
The board had to act, Mr. Ressler said, because the village was “in crisis” without a clear indication of who could sign checks and fulfill other legal obligations.
Trustee-elect Ari Benacerraf asked why the board did not include the incoming members in openly planning for a transition.
“I’m just trying to understand the last-minute maneuvering,” he said. “We’re here. We’re ready to pitch in.”
Trustee-elect Kelsey, who with Mr. Benacerraf and Elizabeth Morgan officially begins to serve on Monday, said, “It’s really troubling when you talk about being collaborative going forward but have started this in the dark.”
At an organizational meeting to take place July 15 the new trustees “will constitute a majority and they should be the people determining what happens,” Mr. Ferris said. ‘This is a sham.”
As Mr. Ressler was being sworn in by the village attorney, Joe Prokop, half those present stormed out, some shouting “this is awful” and “you should be ashamed.”
Mr. Ressler then appointed Mr. Colby as deputy mayor and said Mr. Hogue will be given a plaque honoring his decades of service.
“The village is what it is today in large part because of Tim,” he said.