Niagara Gazette

May 9, 2013

Challenges to two school board incumbents' petitions thrown out on technicalities

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — On the advice of school district attorneys Angelo Massaro and James Roscetti, a pair of challenges to the legitimacy of petitions for two Niagara Falls City School Board candidates have been dismissed.

Niagara Falls resident Ken Hamilton submitted a written objection to district clerk Ruthel Dumas, questioning the accuracy and integrity of the nomination actions of both incumbents, the Rev. Kevin Dobbs and Donald King, Tuesday.

However, Massaro said, the deadline for objections to candidates was actually Monday, three business days after petitions were due to the clerk. Though Hamilton previously submitted a general objection to all petitions to all candidates April 28, Massaro added the specific actions taken against Dobbs and King were invalid and should be thrown out.

The objections were also dismissed due to an interpretation of both election and education law, which governs the petitioning process, concerning the information on the petitions, he said.

"It's the opinion of the commissioner that ... petitions be reviewed liberally," Massaro said. "For example, we shouldn't be throwing out petitions because a resident didn't put apartment 1, so long as the person's identity can be verified."

Hamilton's objections, though not limited to, were focused on the petitioning process itself. He said the candidates, who signed at the bottom of the individual pages, weren't present at the time of each signature to legally validate the integrity of each name.

Actions like table petitioning, where the candidate leaves the blank petition in a community location and collects the completed paper when it's filled, is illegal, he said. And he said he believes both Dobbs and King participated in the behavior.

Especially Dobbs, he said, saying several names which appear together on a page all get their haircut at the same local barbershop where a Dobbs family member works. He added other names, consecutively on the page, all belong to Dobbs's church, which could indicate a community approach to signature gathering.

Though he had the opportunity, Hamilton didn't file action against any of the challengers in the race — Anthony Paretto, Michael Gawel, Ronald Burstys and Herbert Lewis — citing a need for higher standards being needed for those already in the position.

"The two incumbents were the ones who needed to be challenged," Hamilton said after filing his objections. "We've got to hold the incumbents to higher standards, because they ought to know better."

According to Massaro, another reason Hamilton's objections were dismissed was because, as the person objecting, Hamilton failed to notify either Dobbs or King about his actions, required by law.

Dobbs said he found out about the objections through Dumas, the district clerk, after they were filed.

With the matter cleared up, he said he's going to continue running his campaign for reelection the way he's served his 16 years as a board member.

"I've served this community with honesty, with integrity and with all due diligence to do the right thing," he said. "I'm going to continue doing the best I can for both students and parents in the district."

King also objected to Hamilton's actions, saying it singled out his campaign and his integrity, which he said are both worthy of his position as a volunteer school board member. 

He questioned Hamilton's approach to changing a system which, King added, likely needs to be changed. Hamilton's approach to fixing a problem like the outdated petition process — one which has not been updated in more than 35 years — is misguided attacking him and his volunteers, he said.

"I did exactly what I've done the past 35 years," King said. "Nobody found fault with it before. Yes (it should change), but there's a better way of doing it.

"I think there's other motives at work here."



Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.