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Lawyer: Petition can’t force vote on Norfolk police coverage

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NORFOLK — According to the town attorney, a petition submitted to force a public vote on whether to abolish the Norfolk Police Department carries no legal weight.

“There are certain types of town action where they can force a referendum, and I don’t believe the abolishment of a police department is one of them,” town Attorney Eric J. Gustafson said. “That would have to be done by the adoption of a local law.”

Town Supervisor Charles A. Pernice said whether to go ahead with a referendum is a decision that will have to be made by the Town Council.

“It’s going to be up to the board. I’m only one member,” he said.

While not definitively saying he would support a referendum, Mr. Pernice did say, “It may be time to put it to bed one way or the other.”

Mr. Pernice said he has heard rumblings from residents of the town, who are considering creating a petition to counter the one that already has been filed.

“Whether or not they’ve done that, I don’t know,” he said.

After being told that Mr. Gustafson said the town board had no legal obligation to act on his petition, Keith T. LaDue said, “I’m going to check into all of this.”

He declined further comment.

Mr. LaDue collected more than 200 signatures on the petition, which he created in response to the death of his brother Shawn. According to the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department, Shawn J. LaDue failed to pull over for a Norfolk police officer who was attempting to stop him for speeding. He died in a resulting crash during which he was ejected from his motorcycle after failing to negotiate a curve on Route 35 in Potsdam.

“To be honest, I think there are a lot of people in town who want to keep the department. Whether or not that’s how a vote would shake out, I don’t know. But it would be premature to even say that there will be a vote,” Mr. Pernice said.

Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Thomas A. Nichols said the town has until 35 days before November’s election to inform the board of whether it wants a referendum on the ballot.

“We don’t do anything until we take the lead from that municipality,” Mr. Nichols said.

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