Democrats on the Chautauqua County Legislature are speaking out about what they say are mistrust and questionable activities by Norm Green, Chautauqua County Democratic Party chairman and Chautauqua County Democratic election commissioner.
Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown and legislature Democratic minority leader, said in a letter sent to The Post-Journal and other media outlets late Tuesday night. It reads:
“Until now it may have been noticed that the Democratic Legislative Caucus has been silent on the issues surrounding the retirement of Norm Green, Democratic Election Commissioner, and the appointment of his replacement. The Caucus was going to wait until a decision was rendered by the Honorable Lynn W. Keane, Justice of the NYS Supreme Court, on the article 78 lawsuit filed by Norm Green and Luz Torres, but due to recent events and public comments made by Mr. Green and others, the Caucus has decided to issue a public statement at this time.
“Early in 2019, Mr. Green approached the caucus asking for a break in service as Election Commissioner in order to collect his pension benefits and then be reappointed to the same position. The Caucus was not in full support of this. Mr. Green agreed to discontinue his participation in the county’s health insurance plan and at the end of his term he would retire. The thinking was to save the county a little money while providing consistency at the Board of Elections. This allowed him to continue to receive a salary and pension benefits. It was the consistency for the staff at the Board of Elections with the onset of Early Voting and the promise to retire that brought the caucus to support this with hesitation. At the April 24, 2019 legislature meeting the reappointment of Norm Green was approved 15 to 1 (3 absent) for the reminder of the current term that expired December 31, 2020. In an email dated January 29, 2020 sent by Mr. Green to the Democratic Caucus he said “I accept your decision and Dec. 31st will be my last day on the job”.
“Within a short time, Loren Kent announced his interest in becoming Election Commissioner at the end of Mr. Green’s term. He had garnered supporters across the county and gained the support of the caucus.
“At the February 22, 2020 Chautauqua Democratic Committee, it was expected that Loren Kent would be formally supported and put forth for legislative approval upon the end of Mr. Green’s term. The meeting quickly fell into turmoil as Mr. Green pushed forward another candidate, Luz Torres, without notice. A motion was made and seconded to nominate Loren Kent as the Election Commissioner candidate but the meeting was abruptly adjourned by Norm Green with no action being taken.
“March 2020 brought COVID restrictions to meetings and the county wide committee was not able to meet in a timely manner to further discuss both candidates. Meanwhile members of the committee continued to become divided.
“After several months with little to no communication from the Executive Committee or the County Democratic Committee Chair (also held by Norm Green), a paper ballot vote commenced. Members of the County Democratic Committee were mailed paper ballots for the Executive Committee officers and Election Commissioner. The completed ballots were mailed to the legal offices of Lewis & Lewis for safekeeping and counting. The counting was done publicly on October 5, 2020, via Facebook Live. What the average person did not know or see as they watched the votes being tallied is that during this timeframe, with little or no communication, Democratic County Committee members were being removed and new members added by the Executive Committee. County committee members hold weighted votes based on the population of their district. Because of the limited communication, those that were removed did not know they were removed and did not receive the ballot they would have. Also, some county committee members that were added were placed in districts in which they did not reside. If you were to look closely at the changes to the membership roster during this time you would see how the division of the committee and the placement of weighted votes was targeted by Democratic Committee Chairman Norm Green.
“Because of all the uncommunicated changes and the close counting of the weighted votes for election commissioner, the Democratic Caucus looked more deeply into the activities of the executive committee and Chairman Green. Other examples of mistrust and questionable activities were found. There have been attempts to discuss and clarify these issues, but this has not been productive.
“The five democratic legislators have taken pride in their ability to work together and collaborate in order to make decisions that are for the betterment of all residents of Chautauqua County, not a select few. Conversations always focus on integrity, honesty and our drive to do what’s right. Just because something is legal, it does not mean it is right. It’s our firm belief in our own ethics that bring us to support our decisions outside of the thinking of our County’s Democratic Executive Committee and Election Commissioner. We think deeply about the impact of our decisions and the decisions surrounding the appointment of an Election Commissioner have been difficult. Both Mr. Kent and Ms. Torres are quality candidates. It would have been easy to appoint Ms. Torres this past October, a rubber stamp to the wishes of a few, not the whole. We want the citizens of the county to know that we think carefully and deeply about each vote, none are taken lightly.
“Please know that even in the minority of the full legislative body, we have a unified caucus and productive and collaborative conversations with each of the Chautauqua County legislators. We are proud of what we do and look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve our community with honesty and integrity. We don’t always agree, but we always have respectful conversations to arrive at the best solutions possible.”
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