SCARBOROUGH — A provision for removal of elected officials may be added to the Town Charter if a draft discussed during Wednesday evening’s Town Council meeting is accepted by voters.
The Town Council reviewed several amendments to the Town Charter, including one that would give residents the right to demand a recall election if they form a committee of 25 citizens.
The committee would then have to collect verifiable signatures from 25 percent of the number of voters in the most recent gubernatorial election, which is currently approximately 2,500 people.
Then, at least 25 percent of registered voters would have to turn out for the recall vote to be valid. A simple majority would prevail.
While there was general consensus that a recall provision should be added, councilors disagreed on the details.
“We’re looking at the same threshold that we require to turn over an ordinance,” Councilor Michael Wood said. “I think it should be higher.”
Wood argued that the number of voters required to turn out at the polls to recall an elected official should be 40 percent, rather than the proposed 25 percent.
Council Chairwoman Carol Rancourt expressed concern that a recall could be held during an off election year or at a time other than when elections are generally held, making voter turnout more difficult to achieve.
“To get 25 percent out would be a daunting task,” Councilor Karen D’Andrea said. “That’s tough as it is. I almost think we should lower it.”
Wood also called for language that would give the elected official targeted for recall the opportunity to speak during a public hearing on the issue.
“I think it’s important the person has the opportunity to speak at the same proceeding their detractors are speaking at,” Wood said.
He suggested including language in the Charter that would allow the elected official more than the three-minute time limit that citizens speaking at the hearing are generally granted.
He also suggested the elected official be allowed to post a statement at Town Hall and with official election announcements, responding to the accusations made by the recall committee.
Again, D’Andrea disagreed.
“As councilors, we have plenty of moments to be heard,” she said. “This person would have the press’ ear, the press would be beating down this person’s door.”
While much of the language was left as is, Wood will have the opportunity to offer an amendment at the second reading before the Charter amendments go to the voters.
The council will hold a public hearing on the proposed amendments at its Sept. 1 meeting. It will then vote to send the amendments to the voters on the November ballot.
In other business Wednesday, councilors held a first hearing for amendments to the Property Tax Assistance Ordinance.
The amendments would lower the qualifying age from 65 to 62 for those looking to utilize a property tax refund program aimed at seniors.
The program makes available a tax refund of up to $500 per applicant if an applicant qualifies for the Maine Circuit Breaker Program.
Scarborough currently has $140,000 set aside for this program. Should participation in the program increase and the total amount requested add up to more than what the town has set aside, the amount each senior would receive would be decreased.
In addition to lowering the qualifying age, the amendments would extend the application deadline from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to match the state’s deadline and change the tax assessor’s report to the Council on the program from October to December.
Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org