RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Elections and Executive Order 202.13 - 4/22/2020
[Note; the text of this question was edited to remove the precise dates of scheduled election and ...
Posted: Wednesday, April 22, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

[Note; the text of this question was edited to remove the precise dates of scheduled election and notice.]

Executive Order 202.13 states:

"Circulation, filing, and collection of any designating petitions, or independent nominating petitions for any office that would otherwise be circulated or filed pursuant to the Election Law, Education Law or any other consolidated law for any office commencing March 31, 2020 are hereby postponed.

Any school board, library board, or village election scheduled to take place in April or May of 2020 is hereby postponed until at least June 1, 2020, and subject to further directive as to the timing, location or manner of voting for such elections."


My question is: our legal notices had been published indicating an open trustee position and petition deadlines were due March XX (none were filed) and the budget vote is April XX. The question is do we have to do a legal notice that the vote is postponed and do new legal notices once we have a date? At the same time can we reopen the opportunity for people to file a petition to run for the board?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This question is from a school district public library.  Before answering it, I called the library director who sent it in.

Why?  Well, first, I wanted to introduce myself.  When a question has a lot of nuance and potential long-term ramifications, I like the member to know the answer comes from a real human being, not just a faceless attorney in Buffalo, NY.

Second, I wanted to check in on some details.  As other school district public libraries can attest to, the minutia of elections and budget votes can get very technical—as well as personal (and sometimes passionate). Getting those details right is both an art and a science.

And finally...I'm not gonna lie. Sitting alone in my office, with my treasured staff working from home, cut off from our normal busy but generally cheery atmosphere, I might have been a tad lonely.  Although anyone who works with me will tell you that half the time I am working in an introverted and ADD-infused cloud, four weeks of pandemic isolation have taken their toll. It was nice to call the member and connect at a human level.

How did the conversation go? I'll keep that part confidential.

Let’s take a brief aside to review the “Ask the Lawyer” model.

For members who use “Ask the Lawyer,” there are often two concrete results from the submission of the question:

The most common result is a post to the “Recently Asked Questions” (“RAQ”) site, which will contain generic guidance with no identifying details, so a general assessment of the legal issue can be shared with the largest possible impacted library community.

The second result, which doesn't occur for every question (but it's still pretty frequent) is a “confidential memo” just for the member and their council.  This “confidential memo” supplements the general input with confidential legal advice, and lets us address any unique details that pertain to only that member.

This is how the 3R’s maximize the resources (legal fees) used to get the legal guidance and advice, while also enabling timely services to their members.  And as I’ve reviewed, it is also how lonely attorneys can occasionally arrange a phone call to socialize about a legal need during pandemic-imposed isolation.

So, again…how did the conversation with the member go?  As I said, it’s confidential. But let's just say, when I call a librarian, I expect some good conversation, and this member did not disappoint.

And with that, here is my generic “Recently Asked Questions” input on this situation:

The first priority in assessing any matter related to an election or budget vote is to consider any past extraordinary details—such as a previous controversy or contested procedures.  As they say in the “Music Man”: You gotta know the territory.[1]  If there has been any past issue or hostility, planning to navigate a postponed election with those sensitivities in mind is wise.

Next (and this is essential), is setting up to ensure consistent and well-communicated support about the election from leaders and stakeholders: in this case, the board, the staff, the library’s system, the local school district, and (even if the election is not in their purview) the county Board of Elections.  This includes communication about the postponement, and the re-set proceedings.

Why is this a critical step? When you're sailing into uncharted waters, it's good to sail with a fleet, and to cross-check each other’s navigation.

And finally (but critically), before making any announcements or plans, check your charter, bylaws, and date of formation.  Some libraries will have provisions in them relevant to this situation, and per sub-section 8 of Section 260 of the NY Education Law (controlling school district public library elections), a library chartered before April 30, 1971 may have a bit more leeway in these matters, as a matter of law.  Further, your library may have its own notice requirements or procedures, on top of the base-line legal requirements.

Now, as to the present circumstances, let’s parse the relevant content of Executive Order 202.12:

Circulation, filing, and collection of any designating petitions, or independent nominating petitions for any office that would otherwise be circulated or filed pursuant to the Election Law, Education Law or any other consolidated law for any office commencing March 31, 2020 are hereby postponed.

Any school board, library board, or village election scheduled to take place in April or May of 2020 is hereby postponed until at least June 1, 2020, and subject to further directive as to the timing, location or manner of voting for such elections.

As if this whole exercise isn’t going to be complicated enough, the first thing I need to note is that, under Education Law Section 260 (sub-section 7), school district public libraries have between April 1 to the end of June to hold their elections.  So just be aware: EO 202.13 did not delay all scheduled elections (only those set for “April or May).  So, for this answer, we’ll only address elections set for April or May.

Next, we need to check in not only with Education Law Section 260, but its companion Section 2018, which addresses the filing of petitions:

Each petition shall be filed in the office of the clerk of the district between the hours of nine a.m. and five p.m., not later than the thirtieth day preceding the school meeting or election at which the candidates nominated are to be elected. [emphasis added]

And of course, Education law Section 2004, which requires notice be given:

“…at least forty-five days before said meeting, in two newspapers if there shall be two, or in one newspaper if there shall be but one, having general circulation within such district. But if no newspaper shall then have general circulation therein, the said notice shall be posted in at least twenty of the most public places in said district forty-five days before the time of such meeting.”

So, with all that, what are the answers to the member’s questions?

First question: Do we have to do a legal notice that the vote is postponed and do new legal notices once we have a date?

My assessment is that the Executive Order is sufficient notice that the vote is postposed.  However, once the proceedings can be re-scheduled, a library will need to publish new notices. Further, it is important to note that the EO hints there will be “further directive as to the timing, location or manner of voting for such elections” coming from the Governor (or perhaps guidance from NYSED, upon direction of the Governor).

I imagine such “further directive” will take into account that typically, libraries must give at least 45 days’ notice.  But in any event, right now, school district public library elections are in a holding pattern, and the boards and leadership need to stay alert for further directions on next steps.

That said, a discussion with stakeholders, to ensure your library is ready to set its proceeding when the time comes, might be wise.  This could include a notice about the postponed proceedings, and direction as to where to look for next steps.

Here is a template:

Consistent with Executive Order 202.13, the [NAME] Library’s elections and budget vote are postponed, and the library is awaiting further direction from the state regarding rescheduling.  The Library will publish further notice and information to the public regarding the election as soon as we are able.  Questions about elections in [COUNTY] County can be directed to the [COUNTY] County Board of Elections at (###)###-####.

Second question: Can we reopen the opportunity for people to file a petition to run for the board?

This is fascinating.

The way I see it, 202.13’s “postponement” of elections means the thirty-day deadline for filing a designating petition will automatically be re-set to thirty days before whatever the new election will be.  This is because under Education Law Sections 260(8) and 2018, the deadline for filing is not a fixed date, but a deadline calculated based on the date of the election.  So, I think being ready to ask people to step up and get designated so you have sufficient nominees—especially if there were none duly submitted by the last deadline—is a good idea.

Of course, right now all collection and filing of designating petitions are also “postponed” (see the first excerpted paragraph of the Executive Order).   And the deadlines for petitions are going to be tough to hit before the July 1 statutory deadline. And at some point, there may be a decision that previous submissions will not be re-opened.

The next “directive” on this issue will have to tackle the issue of meeting the notification and petition filing deadlines, as well as the implications for those libraries that were in the notice period, and those that were not.

This is where conferring with the local Board of Elections officials, and the school district, even if they do not oversee your library’s elections, will be so critical.  They will have the insight and probably some inside information to share about how this will be configured.  And for those libraries with a lawyer, this is the time to involve them (before final decisions are made).

To put this in context, right now although critical, the election is probably only one of the numerous high priority issues your library board is considering. First and foremost is likely the on-going well-being of the library and its role in the anticipated recovery of your community.

With that in mind, I suggest any board facing this situation also review the guidance on using a crisis management for public libraries, and factor the monitoring and messaging around this issue into their response plan.

If and when we get an update or “further directives,” we’ll post any update to this answer.



[1] Has anyone ever done a poll to see how many librarians have been serenaded with the “Marion,” song?  And taken a further poll to see if it is now regarded as harassment?

 

Tags: COVID-19, Emergency Response, Executive Order, Public Libraries, Elections

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The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.