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Silence isn’t golden

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When elected officials repeatedly decline to comment on actions they have taken that are of vital importance to the public, that’s a good sign that they know they’ve been caught red-handed.

Pamelia Supervisor Lawrence C. Longway twice has had nothing to say about his dilemma of claimed dual residency. He won’t comment on whether he double-dipped on housing tax exemptions in both New York State and Florida. Apparently, words have escaped him now.

On Sept. 6, the Watertown Daily Times reported on a ruling by the Jefferson County Board of Elections that Mr. Longway qualifies as a registered voter in New York. Suzanne Phillips, a Pamelia native who now lives in Rochester, questioned Mr. Longway’s residency status because he listed a commercial property as his home on his election petition. But since Pamelia does not preclude people from living in commercial buildings, the Board of Elections declared his petition was valid.

However, the story also pointed out that Mr. Longway has been claiming a Homestead Exemption in Florida since 2005. This requires him to be a resident of that state. But this time frame coincides with his tenure as the elected supervisor in Pamelia, which requires him to be a resident of New York.

When asked about this discrepancy, Mr. Longway declined to comment.

In a follow-up article Wednesday, the Times reported that Mr. Longway received a STAR tax exemption in New York from 2005 to 2010. Once again, this tax break requires filers to be residents. And, once again, Mr. Longway had nothing to say.

For obvious reasons, people cannot simultaneously claim residency in multiple states. The biggest reason for this prohibition is that residency makes them eligible to vote, and our election system prohibits people from being registered voters in more than one jurisdiction. The mantra of “Vote early and often” doesn’t fly everywhere in this country.

The property appraiser’s office in Hillsborough County, Fla., is investigating whether Mr. Longway’s Homestead Exemption in the Sunshine State should be revoked. He’ll be on the hook for back taxes, penalties and interest if the ruling goes against him.

The New York State Attorney General’s Office also should investigate Mr. Longway’s claims to dual residency. He has held elective office and received homeowner tax breaks here during the time that he said he was a Florida resident. The two claims simply do not jibe, and he has to come clean about which one is fraudulent.

As a public official, Mr. Longway is charged with executing local laws. If he can’t remain within the parameters of the laws by which we all must abide, why should he remain part of the process that creates and then enforces those laws?

Mr. Longway’s constituents deserve an accounting of how he became embroiled in this situation and what he intends to do about it. He must explain why he has repeatedly asked for votes to a local office while claiming residency in Florida. He needs to address why he willfully ignored the laws in both New York and Florida to reduce his tax obligations or how he could have grossly misunderstood them.

Yes, comments from Mr. Longway are long overdue. But so far, all he’s offered is silence.

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