Divided Yarmouth council advances recall provision

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council narrowly finalized language for a proposed recall provision after more than an hour of debate last week.

As drafted, the recall provision – which would be part of the Town Charter and would allow voters to remove an elected official from office before the official’s term has ended – was approved 4-3. It still has to be moved to the ballot by the council later this month and and ratified by voters.

The vote to advance had been expected to take place April 12, during the council’s regular meeting. But it was expedited so there would be time to prepare “dumb” ballots by May 12 for absentee voting at least 30 days before the June 12 referendum.

“Had (Chairwoman Pat Thompson) waited for it to be on the workshop agenda, it would have been subject to an argument that under the council rules it could not be voted until the May meeting, and that would be only to schedule a public hearing,” Town Manager Nat Tupper said.

Some councilors took issue with the accelerated vote. Originally, the council planned to discuss the language during a workshop April 5, which followed the special meeting.

Councilors David Craig, April Humphrey and Tim Shannon have expressed concerns about a recall provision and cast the three votes against the charter amendment.

Craig said the vote was rushed and should be held after more public input. He pointed out that Thursday’s meeting was the first time the public heard the proposed language.

“What we vote on tonight is the final language, which we cannot change and will go onto the ballot. Yes, we can hold a public hearing, but it doesn’t matter what anybody says,” Craig said, adding there were still portions of the proposal the council couldn’t agree on.

Shannon concurred, and moved to postpone discussion, but that failed 4-3.

“This is an amendment to the constitution of the town,” Shannon said. “… If the council chooses to undertake this, it should be with a considerable amount of input and the greatest number of voters able to participate.”

He noted that delaying discussion would push the referendum vote back to the November general election.

“I think that’s a good idea both because it gives us time to wrangle with the language and because it draws in a greater number of people,” Shannon said. “Voter turnout in November is … higher most years than in June.”

Still, Councilors Richard Plourde, Jim MacLeod, Rob Waeldner and Thompson felt the public had ample time to weigh in on the language.

“The changes we’ve made were a result of public comment and they’ve been incorporated in this,” Plourde said. “I’d like to move this forward.”

MacLeod agreed the amendment had been adequately vetted and the process was in adherence with council rules.

“I’m very comfortable with putting this to the voters,” MacLeod said.

Speakers were also divided during public comment.

Rick Martin, of Bayview Street, and Ted Westerfield, of Bowdoin Street, said they were in favor of the provision and urged the council to move it along.

Others said the recall provision, which was taken up by the council after a petition circulated last fall, is a “witch hunt” and an attempt to remove specific councilors after a contentious debate around a resolution drafted by Humphrey, Shannon and Craig in reaction to racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Deborah Delp, who wrote the petition signed by 500 people, said the allegations were false and that the petition was a nonpartisan effort.

“We’re not angry, but care very much for this town,” Delp said. “… There is no witch hunt, as you’ll see if you pass it.”

Following the special meeting, tensions remained high throughout the regularly scheduled workshop, which concluded around 12:30 a.m. Friday, April 6.

After Thompson said she felt she needed more time to consider pay-as-you-throw trash disposal, Craig said he heard her say, “Payback is a bitch.” She later admitted she made the comment, and Craig called for an executive session following the workshop pursuant of the council’s rules to discuss the proper conduct of meetings and councilors.

Cushman Anthony, of Blueberry Cove Road, said this was the first meeting of the council he has attended and, although he has no preference on whether a recall provision is passed, he was “distressed” to see how “torn apart” the town was over the issue.

The language, which mirrors a Falmouth provision, originally included the protocol for recalling town councilors, School Committee members and any other elected town officials.

However, because the School Committee hadn’t had a chance to review the language and discuss the provision, which they had planned to do on Monday, April 9, the council voted to strike “School Committee members and other elected officials” from the language. The School Committee later canceled its Monday meeting.

School Committee Chairwoman Jeanne Rapone told the council Thursday night that this was the first time she was hearing the proposed language and would like to have a chance to discuss it with the committee.

Speaking for herself, Rapone said she wouldn’t have had a problem being included, but didn’t want to speak on behalf of the committee.

The final language says five qualified voters may begin the recall process at any time and will be referred to as a Recall Committee. The drafted provision originally required the committee to gather petition signatures from 10 percent of the town’s registered voters, but it was upped to 20 percent at a recent Operations Committee meeting.

Also specific to Yarmouth, a recalled councilor may run as a candidate in a special or regular election to fill the balance of their unexpired term.

The council will hold a public hearing and vote on April 26 about whether to include the provision as drafted on the June ballot.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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