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Ward System Proposal Scrutinized At North Castle Forum

Panelists at a ward system forum in Armonk, which was backed by Concerned Citizens of North Castle.
Panelists at a ward system forum in Armonk, which was backed by Concerned Citizens of North Castle. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

ARMONK, N.Y. -- The pros and cons of two referendums that would change the composition and size of the North Castle Town Board were discussed at a forum on Monday night at American Legion Hall.

The proposals, if approved in November, call for electing the board’s council members by wards instead of at-large, along with adding two council seats.

Panelists included Tony Futia, a North White Plains resident and former town employee who pushed for the referendums;  former North Castle Supervisor Howard Arden; former Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla; and former New Castle resident Manny Areces, a supporter of a unsuccessful 2011 vote for a ward system in that town.

Pilla, who was mayor when the election method for Port Chester’s Village Board of Trustees was changed due to a voting rights lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice, explained that a ward system was considered but not adopted. Port Chester’s system allows for a person to have six votes but that they can use more than one of those allotted votes for the same candidate.

Based on research, Pilla was skeptical of adopting a ward system in North Castle, citing the size of a candidate pool in a smaller area, not being able to un-elect somebody who lives in another side of town and in drawing boundaries.

Arden expressed interest in the proposal, saying it has “some merit.”

The ex-supervisor also alluded to the difficultly in representing other areas of town, saying: “If you don’t live there, if you don’t have representation from that district, you can’t do justice to those areas.”

Arden also argued that it could potentially lead to a large pool of candidates and make running less expensive.

“You could actually go around and shake everybody’s hand in your ward,” he said.

Areces said, “I believe that the closer you get to be able to influence the outcomes of any vote that you make, the better you are.”

Daily Voice Director of Media Initiatives and Managing Editor Joe Lombardi moderated the forum. He asked Futia whether the matter was mainly a North White Plains issue or for all of North Castle. Futia said that a lot of neighborhoods are overlooked and argued the ward system would be favorably in multiple places. He also said it is important to get people closer to their government.

Lombardi also asked about the cost of expanding the town board from five to seven. Arden outlined scenarios that included cutting council compensation or keeping the overall board cost from going up. Futia proposed capping the overall cost as a third ballot question but the Town Board did not make a referral of the option after Town Attorney Roland Baroni gave a legal opinion against it.

Futia also announced his intention to further a referendum to remove salaried compensation for board members, creating a system like that of a school board. While Futia does not support giving salaries, he is in favor of expense reimbursements so that board members would not have out-of-pocket costs.

During public comment, several residents expressed skepticism, including concern about cost or losing the ability to elect all board members.

Mario Ruggiero of Armonk, was a supporter. He said that he wanted representation from his side of town.

Four board members were present  but did not speak. Supervisor Michael Schiliro, who was not seen at the meeting, released an answers list for the proposals, which is on the town's website.

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