NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Emery Schweig, Vice President of the New Rochelle Public Library Board of Trustees will resign, Talk of the Sound has learned. The resignation will become official at the next board meeting, currently scheduled for November 12th.
Schweig came under pressure after a resident observed her appearance before the New Rochelle Zoning Appeals Board on September 1st where she stated, on the record and on video tape, that she lived in Danbury, CT. New Rochelle resident Lorraine Karl confronted Schweig about her residency at the library board meeting on October 8th.
Schweig told Talk of the Sound that her claim to New Rochelle residency was based on her ownership of shares in a co-op apartment on Centre Avenue where she kept clothes and furniture and that she paid taxes in New Rochelle on a piece of vacant land adjacent to her former residence on Stone Cabin Road in New Rochelle.
Schweig’s decision to resign from the board comes after a weekend in which Talk of the Sound informed library board members of a story in the works which would raise questions not only about her residency but whether she may have perjured herself in filing false statements in voter registration documents in April 2015 and September 2015 in order to vote in the May 2015 school and library election and the September 2015 Democratic Party primary election.
Based on records obtained from the Westchester County Board of Elections under a Freedom of Information request and real property records from MLS, Talk of the Sound determined that Schweig sold her home on Stone Cabin Road in January 2015 and moved to Danbury, CT at which point she was no longer a New Rochelle resident and forfeited her seat on the library board.
On April 5, 2015, Schweig filed a New York State Voter Registration Form claiming her address to be an apartment at 208 Centre Avenue. On May 22nd a “voter check” determined that a post card sent to Schweig at 208 Centre Avenue was forwarded to an address at 16 Hayestown Road in Danbury, CT at which point she was “deactivated” as a New Rochelle voter.
On September 10, 2015, Schweig sought to vote in New Rochelle but was not an active New Rochelle voter. She filed a New York State Affidavit Ballot again claiming her address to be an apartment at 208 Centre Avenue. The “voter check” for that affidavit has not been completed. A second “voter check” was filed last week.
In both cases, and according to her statement to the zoning board on September 1st and in an interview with Talk of the Sound, the National Change of Address List of the United States Post Office lists Schweig as residing at 16 Hayestown Road in Danbury, CT not New Rochelle.
In both the Voter Registration Form and the Affidavit Ballot, Schweig signed and attested to the following:
- I am a citizen of the United States.
- I will have lived in the county, city, or village for at least 30 days before the election.
- I meet all the requirements to register to vote in New York State.
- This is my signature or mark on the line below.
- All the information contained on this application is true. I understand that if it is not true I can be convicted and fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to four years.
It would appear from her own statements and a review of records, that the information contained in application was not true and that she did not meet the requirements to vote in New York State and faces potential prosecution as a result. She swore to living in New Rochelle 30 days prior to the September 10, 2015 primary election but told the Zoning Board she lived in Danbury, Connecticut ten days earlier, on September 1, 2015.
The information obtained by Talk of the Sound raised three questions which were addressed over the past three days to board members to Haina Just-Michael, current President of the Library Board and Greg Varian, a past President of the Library Board. Just-Michael is currently a candidate for the Westchester County Board of Legislators. Varian is Schweig’s attorney representing her appeal with the zoning board.
Just-Michael and Varian declined to directly address these questions but referenced a legal opinion sought by the board. Last week, Talk of the Sound was promised a copy of the legal opinion after it was delivered to the board. That report was delivered to the board last week but has not been made available to Talk of the Sound.
1. Is Emery Schweig a New Rochelle resident?
No. By her own videotaped statement the answer is "no", she stated on the record she resides in Danbury, Connecticut. The USPS says her mail is delivered to Danbury. A Westchester County Board of Elections voter check in May 2015 found she was living in Danbury, Connecticut which is, apparently, when she was taken off the voter rolls in New Rochelle in May and thus had to fill out an affidavit again in September.
2. Does Emery Schweig meet the qualifications for holding elected office on the New Rochelle Public Library Board?
No. By a clear reading of the qualifications for holding office in the New York State Public Officer Law, the answer is “no”.
§ 3. Qualifications for holding office. …must be a citizen of the United States, a resident of the state, and if it be a local office, a resident of the political subdivision or municipal corporation of the state for which he shall be chosen, or within which the electors electing him reside, or within which his official functions are required to be exercised…
A library board in New York is under the jurisdiction of the New York State Education Department. The issue of residency was addressed in Decision No. 12,629 of the NYSED Commissioner in 1992.
“A public officer must continue to be domiciled within the jurisdiction in which he was appointed or elected to serve (Newcomb, 192 NY 316, 320). While “residence” means living in a particular locality…Domicile means living in that locality with intent to make it a fixed and permanent home. To establish a residence, bodily presence as an inhabitant [is a prerequisite], while domicile requires bodily presence in that place and also an intention to make it one’s domicile”.
Schweig has established a “fixed and permanent home” in Danbury, CT not a vacant piece of property on Stone Cabin Road or a co-op on Centre Avenue where, she says, she stores furniture and clothing.
“While a public officer can own property in two or more jurisdictions, if he/she takes up residence in another jurisdiction with intent to make it permanent, the office is forfeited.”
This raises the third question.
3. What did the library board members know and when did they know it?
Asked a series of questions about this, Library Board President Haina Just-Michael would only state the obvious that there is “no mechanism in the NRPL bylaws which empowers the Board to remove a trustee for any reason other than failure to attend three consecutive meetings.” Of course not, otherwise majorities on boards would be removing minority members all over the State of New York.
In New York State, a library board trustee can be removed by the New York State Education Commissioner. A library board or a member or any member of the public can make such a request or the Commissioner can act based on news report or otherwise becoming aware of an issue with a board member.
"Education Law §310 provides that persons considering themselves aggrieved by an action taken at a school district meeting or by school authorities may appeal to the Commissioner of Education for a review of such action. In addition, Education Law §306 allows the Commissioner of Education to remove a trustee, member of a board of education and certain other school officers for willful misconduct or neglect of duty."
She continued by adding “We have referred this issue to legal counsel because the question of removing a democratically elected official - essentially overturning an election and nullifying the decision of the voting public - is a serious matter, both legally and ethically.” In a separate email, Greg Varian stated that the request for an opinion was submitted to a lawyer by the Library Director Thomas Geoffino.
Taken together, this makes little sense.
Just-Michael says the reason the matter was referred to legal counsel is because “removing a democratically elected official” is “a serious matter” having previously stated that the by-laws do not permit the library board to remove a board member. Any referral should be made to the NYSED Commissioner not a lawyer working for a board with no power to act in the matter. Further, this is a board matter and the library director is not a member of the board so any questions to a lawyer by the board should come from the board not the director.
According to the Library Trustees Association of New York State, of which the New Rochelle Library Trustees are members, if a library board has “reason to believe that a member has taken up residence in another jurisdiction the board should determine that trustee’s intention regarding whether the new property would become his/her fixed and permanent home, and if so, when”.
If she is not eligible to be on the board because she moved out of New Rochelle to Connecticut then why did she not resign at the time she sold her house and moved away (as was recently the case with Bernardo Nunez who sold his house and move to Virginia)? By law, she “forfeited” her office when she established a new permanent fixed addresses in Connecticut.
Why did she not resign on her own initiative at that time? And if she has been asked to resign since then and refused then why did the board fail to appeal the matter to the NYSED Commissioner for a determination on whether to remove her.
Beyond the obvious public interest here in New Rochelle residents being represented by other New Rochelle residents on a board or commission or council or other public body, there is the RDRXR issue which makes the integrity and transparency of the board a paramount concern for the future of the City.
A board that is often more concerned with what magazines to order or who to hire to shelve books suddenly finds itself in the midst of a proposed multi-billion dollar real estate deal where the library property is the centerpiece of the acquisition strategy for the project.
While it is high time that Emery Schweig resigned from the board — it is about 10 months overdue — the board has yet to provide any information that suggests other than that the board knew all along that Schweig was not a resident and took no action to seek her removal. This raises question of board integrity as well as the validity of the votes she cast both in the May 2015 Library/School election, the New York State Democratic Primary and any votes she cast as a board member. As a member of a special RDRXR committee set up by the Library Board of Trustees she has also been given privledged access to information on the RDRXR deal that has been deemed non-public by the library board.
Finally, there appear to be several potential criminal violations here related to filing one and likely two false affidavits in order to create a pretext for voting in New Rochelle elections while a resident of another state and serving as an elected public officer on the New Rochelle Public Library Board of Trustees. All of this raises questions for the New York State Attorney General, the New York State Board of Elections, and the New York State Bar Association (Schweig is an attorney licensed to practiced in New York).
Requests for a copy of the resignation letter and comments from the library board and library direction have not received a reply. This story will be updated with any response.