By definition an inauguration is “the formal admission of someone to office.” It’s an event, a thing.
Every two years, on Jan. 1, our town swears in those individuals elected to town office.
Residents gather at a designated site to watch these individuals take their official oaths of office. Dignitaries from many levels often attend, as do family members, and the public at large. It’s a grand party, but also a formal, structured event that welcomes them into office and marks the beginning of a new period in our lives — and we get to participate. Town residents attend, watch it on Channel 22, or read about it in the local media. It’s a party for us as much as it is for those elected.
This public inaugural event is not without cost to the town taxpayer. Although there is no entry fee, there is a price to pay: the cameraman, security and traffic control. But we may feel it is worth the money, because we get to see the historic moment live and in person.
This year, however, not much of that happened. Instead, we watched a spectacle heavy on pomp and circumstance, but low on substance. That was due to the fact that up on the stage, unknown to the public, half of the newly elected officials on the stage raising their right hands and reciting those revered words were just putting on a show.
State law spells out who can legally administer an oath of office: a judge, a municipal clerk, notary public, or the presiding officer of the body to which a person is being admitted to office.
So how was it allowed that, at this year’s ceremony, people without legal authority swore in some of our officials? It was because they weren’t actually being sworn in. According to copies of the oaths they signed, as the law requires, which I obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, the new Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, new Councilmember Frank Beyrodt and Justice Lori Hulse had all been sworn in the day before, Dec. 31.
So, what happened on Jan. 1, you ask? It was nothing more than a political celebration — a hollow victory party. It was a show, a day filled with empty and barren gestures. Let us hope it is not a sign of things to come. Riverhead deserves better.
Ellen Hoil is an attorney and a member of the Riverhead Town Democratic Committee. She lives in Riverhead.
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