The recent passing of longtime Mamakating Supervisor Dennis Greenwald brought forth an outpouring of condolences from county residents who remember him, as well as myriad musings about his contributions to good governance over the years as one of the most influential and impactful Sullivan County officials of his era.
One of the memories of Greenwald’s impact that was not mentioned, however, was the role he played in a lawsuit brought in 1983 against the Sullivan County Board of Supervisors, of which he was a sitting member.
Greenwald was the lead plaintiff in the action, with many others, including Thompson Supervisor David Kaufman, members of the Mamakating and Thompson Town Boards also signing on. The defendants were the Board of Supervisors of the County of Sullivan and the County itself.
The Greenwald lawsuit was one of two actions brought against the Board of Supervisors at virtually the same time, both challenging — on different grounds — the weighted voting system of the Board as adopted in 1967 and adjusted following the 1980 census via Local Law Number 6 of 1982.
The Greenwald action did not question the legality of weighted voting per se, but objected to the way the concept was applied by the Board of Supervisors on two separate grounds: “(1) that the population figures upon which the plan is based includes a substantial number of nonresidents, and (2) that it does not permit representatives of one-third of the population plus one to prevent adoption of a resolution requiring a two-thirds vote of the Board of Supervisors.”
Opinions on both the Greenwald action and a separate suit, filed by the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce and its officers and directors, were handed down together on June 27th, 1983 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by Judge Edward Weinfeld.
The Chamber of Commerce’s suit, which sought to have the system of weighted voting in general declared unconstitutional, was dismissed in its entirety by the court, as was the second part of the Greenwald action, but not so the other contention in that suit.
On that point, Judge Weinfeld wrote that “Local Law No. 6 was based upon the raw data population as shown in the 1980 federal census. These figures included within the County population three specific groups who plaintiffs claim are nonresidents and should not have been included for apportionment purposes: (1) students at community colleges; (2) residents at group quarters, such as drug rehabilitation clinics or federally financed job corps installations; and (3) nonrelatives living in households.”
These nonresidents, according to the Greenwald filing, totaled “almost 4,000 persons” or about 7 per cent of the county’s population.
The plaintiffs further claimed that “because the members of these groups are not evenly distributed among the fifteen towns, their inclusion for apportionment purposes has a substantial impact on the allocation of voting power among the members of the Board.”
In particular, the suit specified the town of Liberty, where 908 persons – or about 10 per cent of the town’s population – were incorrectly counted as residents, and the town of Delaware, where 434 — or 18 per cent of the town’s population, were actually non-residents.
Sullivan County Attorney William Rosen, representing the defendants, countered that “the inclusion of such groups in the County population was proper because they were included in the census count” and contended that “the Bureau of the Census records contain no breakdown of group quarters” and that “ascertaining the correct information is difficult if not impossible and that the cost of a detailed analysis of the population as requested by the plaintiffs does not justify further analysis or investigation.”
In issuing his opinion, Judge Weinfeld wrote in part that “residence for local apportionment purposes, as with voting rights, requires both presence and an intent to remain. Consistent with the definition of residence for voting rights purposes, mere presence in Sullivan County does not imply an intent to remain as to those groups described in Article II, section 4, of the New York Constitution. Thus, absent a showing of intent to make Sullivan County their place of residence, the inclusion of all students and individuals living in group quarters, such as in drug rehabilitation clinics and job corps centers, is error.
“The County contends that rectifying the population statistics requires making calculations that are both difficult and expensive. Mathematical precision, however, is not required. The alleged difficulty is more apparent than real… The County is required to engage in a reasonable effort to identify and determine whether members of the groups identified above have manifested an intent to remain in the County such that they are residents for purposes of apportionment. Absent such evidence, they must be excluded.”
The Judge also ordered that “as per the request of the Greenwald plaintiffs, the current apportionment scheme shall remain in effect until the County completes the re-evaluation of population data, which it shall endeavor to do with deliberate speed.”
The Court’s orders were dutifully carried out, but the remedy addressed just a fraction of the problems inherent in the Board of Supervisors form of government, most of which problems remained until the revision of the County charter and the changeover to a county legislature in 1996.
Photo: Dennis Greenwald.