Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

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October 15th, 2009

Hassidic related issues about to boil over

Two potentially explosive issues dealing directly or indirectly with the Hassidic community is about to boil over in Sullivan County. One involves the Hassidic Bungalow Colony voter registration drive in Bethel, while the other draws in a massive development in Rock Hill.

First and foremost, a big thank you to legislator David Sager for having the guts and fortitude in organizing a challenge to the voter registration drive of an eight week summer community.

By now everyone knows around 200 Hassidic people registered to vote in Bethel due to a dispute over the construction of a synagogue.

Angry over the actions of the town board, the Hassidim decided they want to influence our elections. There would be nothing wrong with that if they actually do live here. However, people like Sager and his group Voters for Election Integrity (VEI) feel they do not, and therefore should not be eligible to vote in Sullivan County.

It is clear that the Election Law does not preclude a person from having two residences and choosing one for election purposes provided he or she has “legitimate, significant and continuing attachments’ to that residence.” But, Sager might be correct in his argument.

The court has ruled it is not about dual residences but whether the residence is a legitimate one. How can anyone rule an eight week occupant of a bungalow colony is a legitimate voting residence?

An interesting element here is that both candidates running for Bethel Town Supervisor, Democrat Dan Sturm and Republican Harold Russell support VEI and the town’s original actions, leading one to wonder what the real motive behind this registration drive was.

This issue has incensed so many people because of the desire to sway an election by people who do not pay property taxes and live here only several weeks out of the year.

Democratic County Chairman Steve Wilkinson told me, “I support the efforts of VEI to ensure the integrity of elections. Our election law allows for individuals to raise these challenges when they have concerns about the validity of voter registrations no matter where they arise.  This helps guarantee that elections remain fair and honest.  If the integrity of elections is doubted, we risk disenfranchising and discouraging all voters.”

VEI has a remarkable team of lawyers ready to challenge the legitimacy and eligibility of those registered to vote. The outcome will be intriguing to say the least, as it will in the Town of Thompson, where the issue involves a change in zoning that would prevent a massive housing and retail development proposed by Robert Berman that might now include Hassidim.

Several years ago Berman and his partners won approval from the township despite an outcry from residents to stop it due to over population and that it would take away from the region’s rustic look.

Berman wanted to tap into the New York City commuters market providing them with affordable housing, but the economy turned sour. Several weeks ago Supervisor Tony Cellini found out that Berman’s group might instead be marketing the property to a potentially Hassidic audience.

Town Councilman Bill Rieber, concerned with zoning issues coming up before the municipality, coincidently now wants the zoning changed. Berman is threatening to sue the township for millions of dollars if they make changes in part due to federal civil rights statues.

Rieber told me, “I brought this up now because after three years of talking, the developers have not even filed a site plan.  I don’t think my constituents and our zoning should be held hostage to an indecisive developer.  This project has changed from a nice mixed use development proposal to a crowded housing complex twice as dense as it should be.  This is about the fact that we live in a rural community and it should stay that way. High density housing is a model that has been proven to only result in steep tax increases, particularly school taxes. Simply put, we just cannot afford the costs financially or in our quality of life.”

Indeed, these two issues will be sparking a great deal of conversation and headlines during the next few weeks, stay tuned.

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