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Villagers push to trim voter roll — both parties contesting ballot

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Dering Harbor Village Hall.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Dering Harbor Village Hall.

Tensions are mounting over the upcoming election in the Village of Dering Harbor where frustrated homeowners have set in motion official challenges against six voters, and opposing parties are contesting ballot petitions for incumbent trustees and would-be challengers.

Patrick Parcells and Robert Ferris have — as is their right — sworn affidavits questioning whether six of the village’s 72 registered voters should be removed from the roll before the June 20 election. The action prompted an official inquiry by the Suffolk County Board of Elections (SCBOE).

Meantime, Mayor Tim Hogue, of the Dering Harbor Party, has asked the SCBOE to declare invalid a petition submitted by Mr. Parcells on behalf of three would-be challengers of the Shore Party. And Mr. Ferris, on behalf of the challengers, is contesting the incumbents’ petition.

SCBOE Republican Commissioner Nicholas J. LaLota said the board would rule on these matters as soon as possible.

Incumbent trustees Heather E.G. Brownlie and Rick Smith are seeking re-election to two year terms. Kirk Ressler, who was appointed last year after Brandon Rose stepped down , is running to fill the remaining year of that term. Ari J. Benacerraf, Elizabeth G. Morgan and Karen Kelsey got the requisite signatures for a place on the ballot, but the mayor says their petition incorrectly lists all as running for two-year terms.

Mr. Ferris, husband of Ms. Kelsey, says a key issue in challenging the incumbents’ petition is whether Ms. Brownlie, a transportation official in Florida, can be registered to vote in New York and serve as an elected official here.

“I am saddened and disheartened by the attempt of the opposing party to discredit me,” Ms. Brownlie said, in a written statement. “I have lived in the Village of Dering Harbor for my entire life and served the residents … faithfully since 1999 as trustee and look forward to the opportunity to continue to do so in the future.”

Like the majority of voters in the state’s smallest municipality, Ms. Brownlie, also deputy mayor and a member of the Architectural Review Board, is not a full-time resident. She works in Orange County, Florida, but regularly attends village meetings and is a frequent visitor in her mother’s home.

The other voters being challenged are Mr. Ressler’s son and daughter-in-law, Christopher and Trang Ressler, and his nephew David Ressler; and Bridgford and P.A.T. Hunt.

Mr. Ressler told those in attendance at last Saturday’s Board of Trustees meeting that the young adults consider the family’s Shore Road house their home and have never voted anywhere else.

“I think we’ve reached a low point in the Village,” Mr. Ressler said about actions that he described as being “done behind peoples’ backs.”

That said, Mr. Ressler, a retired diplomat, invited all village residents to a cookout at his home over Memorial Day weekend to work to resolve these and other contentious issues.

Mr. Hunt, a member of the ARB, also spoke at the meeting. Instead of their primary residence being far away like other village second-homeowners, he said he and his wife have their primary residence in the Heights.

Mr. Hunt, general manger of the North Ferry, whose family has been part of the community since before the village was incorporated 100 years ago, said he owns with his mother and siblings the Hunt family’s Shore Road home where he and his wife have lived in the past and their children were born.

“I am addressing this meeting out of a profound sadness at the loss of civility in the village and the hypocrisy of these two individuals,” Mr. Hunt said of Mr. Parcells and Mr. Ferris, who were seated nearby.

The two, who were unsuccessful in recent bids for mayor and trustee, respectively, joined other homeowners in hiring an attorney to look into voter registrations after the roll grew substantially following contentious elections.

Mr. Parcells told the Reporter that his group wasn’t out to “get anybody,” but sought to determine “who really and truly is entitled to vote here and who isn’t.”

“It’s vitally important that everybody be playing by the same rules,” Mr. Ferris said.

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