Election may be over, but questions remain in Falmouth

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FALMOUTH — The dust hasn’t settled from last week’s local elections, when a record 42 percent of voters went to the polls.

On Tuesday, town officials conducted a ballot recount at the request of School Board candidate Eydie Pryzant.

The divisive campaign over Question 1 and the closely contested elections for Town Council and School Board have also led to scrutiny of a school principal, the Board of Zoning Appeals, and members of the Falmouth Memorial Library board of trustees.

And Monday evening’s Town Council meeting made it clear that although the vote on Question 1, the “town center” debate, is history, the discussion about what to do with the Plummer-Motz and Lunt schools is far from over.

Pryzant lost by four votes on June 14. Tuesday’s recount, by machine, did not change the outcome, according to Town Clerk Ellen Planer.

Another School Board candidate, Michael Doyle, has requested a ballot inspection, Planer said. Doyle finished last in the six-way race with 909 votes.

Doyle also complained about electioneering by Plummer-Motz Elementary School Principal Karen Boffa, after he obtained an email she sent at the end of May to other school employees advocating for “school-friendly” candidates for School Board and Town Council. Boffa used her School Department email account.

While Boffa’s action was not explicitly a violation of the department’s employee computer policy, which makes no specific reference to political uses, the policy does prohibit “any use for communicating with other school users or outside parties to solicit, proselytize, advocate or communicate the views of an individual or non-school sponsored organization.”

“There was, in my view, an error of judgement, but nothing illegal was done,” Superintendent of Schools Barbara Powers said this week.

Powers said it is “definitely” time to review the policy, which was adopted in 2002.

“I would be tighter if we were very explicit about the things that were not allowed,” she said.

Powers added that she is working with the town attorney to determine how best to do that without infringing on employees’ First Amendment rights to free speech.

Boffa, who is on vacation until Aug. 1, will be the co-principal at the town’s new elementary school with Lunt Principal John Flaherty.

Members of the Board of Zoning Appeals also drew attention when they signed a letter to the editor published by The Forecaster, endorsing BZA alternate member Jonathan Berry for Town Council. Berry was not elected.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said the town has a policy that prohibits employees from using town email to support candidates or issues, but that the town can’t keep people from getting involved in elections on their own time.

“While I can’t develop a policy that doesn’t allow people to take a position on candidates, I do have a position that town employees refrain from local politics,” Poore said.

But members of appointed boards, like the BZA, are not town employees, nor are they elected officials.

The library board is not technically a town board, either, although some trustees are appointed by the Town Council and the library receives town funding. Some trustees campaigned for Question 1, which would have paved the way for a library move and expansion.

Councilor Will Armitage expressed frustration Monday that municipal funds could have been used by the board to try to influence the election.

“If it was muncipal funding, that was completely inappropriate,” he said.

Armitage asked that the council discuss the issue at its next meeting.

Also on Monday, Councilor Fred Chase asked Poore to meet with the owners of OceanView, a retirement community that neighbors the Plummer-Motz and Lunt schools, to discuss the company’s interest in purchasing some of the property.

Chase, a developer, suggested the councilors start thinking like developers. “This was my wish as much as two years ago and I never got my wish,” he said.

But other councilors said they want to wait until a request for proposals can be drawn up, to avoid the appearance the town is favoring OceanView.

“In the business world, typically you would not reach out to anyone in advance when you’re going through the RFP process,” said newly elected Councilor Chris Orestis. “It might stifle the response.”

Orestis cautioned that, by being eager, the council might do the town a disservice if potential bidders are scared off because they believe OceanView is on the inside track to a deal.

Councilor Bonny Rodden agreed.

“I don’t see that we can go to one particular business and not everyone,” Rodden said.

However, Councilors Tony Payne and Faith Varney agreed with Chase and said they want Poore to meet with OceanView.

Chase, who had the issue added to the agenda for the next regularly scheduled council meeting on July 11, was blunt.

“No one has an inside track on the land except OceanView,” he said. “We’ve danced around this with a lame-brained plan that the voters rejected. This is ridiculous. Let’s skip the prom, get in the back seat and get this over with.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.