Scarborough resident seeks provision to recall elected officials
SCARBOROUGH — A resident has asked the Town Council to put a citizens initiative on the November ballot that would give residents the ability to recall elected officials.
There is no provision in the Town Charter for such a recall.
In a letter to the Town Council dated Aug. 29, George Pulkkinen, of Ocean View Road, urged councilors not to wait for the Charter Committee to address a possible change, but to introduce the order at their next meeting on Sept. 16.
If adopted, Pulkkinen's proposal would require signatures from at least 25 voters to initiate a petition drive and subsequent collection of signatures representing at least 10 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election to start a recall.
In a phone interview Wednesday, he said his request was precipitated by councilors' decision last month to uphold a July vote for a land swap between the town and owners of the Lighthouse Motel on Depot Street at Pine Point. It is Pulkkinen's contention that councilors refused to consider new information offered by "all kinds of people" at the August meeting – information many who opposed the swap believed should have convinced the councilors to change their minds.
Five of seven councilors – Chairman Mike Wood, Ron Ahlquist, Shawn Babine, Judy Roy and Richard Sullivan – voted to uphold the swap, while Karen D'Andrea and Carol Rancourt continued to oppose it. Pulkkinen charged the five with "malfeasance" and "arrogance."
"They're not fit to sit on the council," he said. "These people are totally insulated; they can do anything they want to do."
Sullivan, reacting to Pulkkinen's letter, said "How many councilors does he want to recall? You can't recall five councilors. I think it's ridiculous."
Asked if he would try to have all five of the councilors recalled if his amendment passed, Pulkkinen, who registered to vote in Scarborough on Tuesday, said they couldn't be "recalled en masse," but rather "each would have to be subject to a recall election."
Each of those special elections could cost the town $4,000 to $5,000 and possibly more, Town Clerk Tody Justice said.
Councilors are under no obligation to put Pulkkinen's request on the agenda and none of the seven sitting councilors said they plan to sponsor Pulkkinen's order for the Sept. 16 meeting. But there is agreement among some of them that a provision to remove an elected official should be included as an amendment to the charter, which is being reviewed and updated.
Wood on Wednesday said he is "not philosophically opposed" to having a recall provision in the charter, but added the thresholds should be higher than those specified by Pulkkinen. Wood recommended more than 25 signatures be required to circulate petitions and support from voters representing 25 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.
In addition, Wood said every election is an opportunity to recall one or more councilors by choosing not to re-elect them.
Rancourt, who found favor from land swap opponents because of her opposition to the trade, said she would not sponsor Pulkkinen's request as an agenda item because the process needs more time.
"Two weeks is too soon; it needs serious thought," she said.
But Rancourt said she does support its eventual addition to the charter, along with a provision for a citizens initiative to reverse an ordinance vote.
D'Andrea, who voted with Rancourt to oppose the swap, could not be reached for comment.
When asked why he is not willing to wait for recommendations from the Charter Review Committee, Pulkkinen said any changes it decides to make would not go into effect until November 2010. "That's a long ways away," he said.
Asked if he would consider running for Town Council, Pulkkinen said he's been involved in various local government positions in other towns.
"It's certainly nothing I'm looking to do again," he said.
Though it's likely Pulkkinen won't see councilors approve the recall for the ballot, he could go directly to the public with a petition to try to gather the signatures needed to have the recall amendment put on November's ballot, Town Manager Tom Hall said.
If he chooses that route, Pulkkinen would need signatures from at least 2,014 residents registered to vote in Scarborough, which is 25 percent of the number of votes cast in Scarborough in the last gubernatorial election.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.