Wild Election Antics: Battle for records in a local school board race

Update: Josh Lafazan wins! Syosset high school student is youngest elected official in NY State!
Story at NBC: here.
Trees grace an elementary schoolA public relations battle about voter records rages in Syosset, Long Island, today.

If you reside in the Syosset School District, you may want to figure out today who was wrong and who was right: The local school board, or the father of a young candidate.

For people not in the Syosset School District, the most important part will be figuring out the truth after the election. And, making sure that justice is served, and the system fixed, so that something like this does not happen in your school board or other local elections.

The school district is accusing the father of wrongly taking the only copy of some election records.The main point this story underscores is: Elections matter! Anytime there is an election, there is power and/or money at stake. For a school board election, you can add into the mix that community pride is at stake, the well-being of children is at stake, and the direction of local taxes is at stake. So, it matters a lot. And, when at lot is at stake, people will fight hard, and possibly cheat.

This election matters enough that either the Syosset School District played games with records and/or the father of a candidate played games with records. (My guess is, it was both of them. But, depending on how wrong the school district was, the father’s defensive maneuvering may be somewhat justified, if technically wrong.)

Josh Lafazan, a student, is running for school board for Syosset Public Schools.

His father, Jeffrey Lafazan has been involved in a controversy with the school district.

Below are some highlights of what probably happened, according to Newsday and other media outlets:

– Mr. Jeffrey Lafazan asked the School Board for access to absentee voting records in the morning.

– It appears that the school board denied him any access to the records.

– The father complained to a higher authority, the State Board of Elections.

– Sometime later in the day, the school district called the father back, and told him he could inspect the records. (So, if he had the right to them all along, then imagine how frustrating it must have been to him to hear “no” earlier in the day?)

– The father was in a room viewing the records, and allegedly took the records out of the office with him.

– The school claims that this was the only copy.

-The school district created a post on their website and a whole robocall accusing the father, and creating a big stink, while this election is going on.

I have run for local office before. I have dealt with boards of elections and election lawsuits before (as a candidate). And, a few things jump out at me:

-It seems fishy that the school board would not share the information with the father the first time he asked. Having a list of absentee voters seems like an important piece of information for any citizen to have access to, but especially, for candidates or their supporters. So, I am guessing that the school district wrongly denied access in the morning. They are probably in violation of Freedom of Information Laws.

-It seems silly for the school board to claim that it was “the only copy”. As most of us can guess, in this computer age, that information was probably part of a file or database that could be called up and printed out again. So, it was not as dire as the school district tried to claim — as if the Holy Grail had disappeared.

-The way the whole election system is set up is pretty unjust to begin with. In New York, a school board basically runs its own election. Often, the School Clerk is the Election Clerk. Clearly, the district would have a bias towards protecting the incumbents. With that in mind, the school clerk, district staff, and school board members should have been extra careful and open about sharing records. And, the school district should have been extra cautious not to use public resources in their control to attack a family member of the candidate to the community and in the press.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of the election. Who will win “in the press” today?

But, I am more interested in knowing, when all the facts come out, who was wrong and who was right. Will someone at the state level criticize the school district for their handling of records? Did the school wrongly deny the father in the morning? Will there be any paper trails showing all the people who chimed in on the decision to deny access to the records? Will the community be angry about the biased use of resources, ie: creating a robocall attack ad during the election? Will the father issue an apology if he was wrong? Will the candidate explain later which actions he specifically advised his father on, if any?

We will follow the story here at onthewilderside.


The story at the Syosset Patch:

The story at Newsday:

Website of “challenger” candidate Josh Lafazan:

An April 28, 2012 story at Newsday said this:

[Josh] Lafazan has made Superintendent Carole Hankin’s pay part of his platform. Her compensation package — $541,454 in salary and benefits — has been criticized by the state comptroller and governor, among others…

Should you vote for Josh Lafazan?

Kimberly Wilder writes: I do not live or work in the Syosset School District, and have done only cursory research. But, before I heard about this controversy, I had skimmed Josh’s site and looked at an article or two about him. I think that some of his budget cutting ideas were naive, in a way that could come out as too conservative in practice. Though, I think it is very cool to have a student’s perspective on a school board. And, young people are open to quick learning when immersed in a subject. I also believe that in the past there were serious concerns about an administrator’s salary, so new blood would be helpful.

I don’t think the current story about records should sway people too much. We just won’t know who is wrong or right today. Even if Josh’s dad is wrong. That is only the candidate’s dad, not the candidate. And, the way the school district handled the situation, and is throwing their weight around, makes me even more suspicious that they are sincere.

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