Rockland Town in Court over Term Limits – Mirroring Yonkers

The Supervisor of Clarkstown, a town council-member, and a resident have sued the town and its board over a term limits law that was enacted in 2014. Their position is that this law should be void as it was not passed by voter referendum.

George Hoehmann, the supervisor, is blocked by this law to run for re-election again in 2023. Officers are currently limited to eight years – two terms of four years or four terms of two years. The five member town council originally passed this legislation with bi-partisan support. This included Hoehmann himself as he served on the council at the time. He remarked on the necessity of term limits by saying, “Term limits are a way of insuring that periodically, the people have the playing field leveled with a guarantee of turnover.”

But now, Hoehmann, council member Donald Franchino, and eligible voter and resident Thomas Foley contest in a court action filed on Dec. 22 that the law is “illegal,” “unconstitutional,” and should therefore be revoked. This lawsuit was brought after a failed attempt in November by Hoehmann and Franchino to have the board amend the law to allow for 12 years to be served. Shamelessly, this proposed legislation would have ignored previous years served and therefore allowed the current officers to serve an additional 12 years from the time of enactment.

Clarkstown and Yonkers

The parallels and intersections between the term limits fight in Clarkstown and the City of Yonkers are obvious. Both evidently exist to perpetuate a current administrator’s tenure past their current term limit. Both lawsuits argue to the New York State Supreme court that a structural change in government of this manner must be approved by voters at the ballot box. In Clarkstown, however, it does not appear that Hoehmann enjoys the same compliant council as Mike Spano does in Yonkers. Therefore, while both lawsuits seek the same end – a voter referendum on term limits – Hoehmann believes his constituents may welcome his extended service while Spano, by relying solely on legislative action, reveals that he isn’t as confident.

The chaos and drama of the Yonkers term limits debate appears absent from the matter in Clarkstown. However, the stakes in both communities are the same. The manner by which these related matters are to be decided is also the same. As attorney for the Yonkers’ plaintiffs, Michael Sussman, put it in a recent press conference, “we are using the courts to get resolution to those issues [and] we need a proper, reasoned resolution.” When that resolution from the courts may come, and which side it will favor, is still likely a toss-up.

But for now, with two cases in two separate counties on the very same issue, we can be sure that the public interest and eventual legal importance of this matter is sure to rise.

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