Two senior Ulster County lawmakers are going to court in an effort to force changes to the wording of a ballot initiative up for voter approval next month.
Legislators Dave Donaldson (D-Kingston) and John Parete (D-Boiceville) filed the lawsuit against the county’s Board of Elections on Wednesday afternoon. The suit seeks to alter the wording on a referendum to move Ulster County Family Court from its current location in a leased building on Lucas Avenue in Uptown Kingston to the county-owned Business Resource Center just outside city limits in the Town of Ulster.
The court must either expand or relocate to a larger facility to comply with a mandate from the state’s Office of Court Administration. County Executive Mike Hein has backed the proposal to relocate the court to the largely vacant BRC as the most cost-effective solution. The proposal needs voter approval because the new court would be located about 800 feet outside of Kingston, the county seat, on Ulster Avenue.
But some lawmakers, including Donaldson have argued that moving the court would hurt the Uptown Kingston economy and inconvenience Family Court clients. “You’re decentralizing government,” said Donaldson. “You should be centralizing so that everybody knows where to go and everything is easy to get to.”
Donaldson and Parete’s lawsuit targets the language of the ballot measure, which they say is misleading and clearly intended to sway voters towards a “yes” vote. The ballot measure reads: “In order to improve services to the children and families in Ulster County, reduce the need to raise property taxes and satisfy state mandates, the County of Ulster proposes to relocate the current leased site of the Ulster County Family Court, located at 16 Lucas Avenue in the City of Kingston, County of Ulster, New York to more suitable county-owned property situated less than 800 feet from the City of Kingston line, located at 1 Development Court, Ulster Avenue in the Town of Ulster, County of Ulster, State of New York.”
Parete and Donaldson’s lawsuit seeks to change the wording to a more neutral statement along the lines of, “Should we move Family Court from the City of Kingston to the Business Resource Center in the Town of Ulster.”
“It’s supposed to be clear, concise everyday language,” said Donaldson. “Instead it’s embellished language, it’s misleading and I believe it’s illegal.”
The language of the ballot measure was approved by the clerk of the Ulster County Legislature after lawmakers moved to put the issue before voters. During debate on the measure, Donaldson and Parete attempted to alter the wording but were voted down by fellow lawmakers. But Donaldson said that he believes the wording is part of a larger effort by county officials to push through the relocation plan. Donaldson described studies that showed the BRC plan, which county officials say will cost about $9.5 million, as more cost-effective than other alternatives as “made to order.” Donaldson added that the county had never even considered buying and expanding the court’s current home on Lucas Avenue.
Contacted Wednesday, Hein declined comment on the suit, citing pending litigation.