Scarborough residents could get mechanism for councilor recall

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SCARBOROUGH — Citizens may be able to recall elected officials if a proposed Town Charter amendment is accepted.

The Town Council is considering a variety of changes to the charter, including wording to define the procedure for recalling a councilor or overruling sale of town property.

The council discussed the proposed changes in a workshop with the Charter Review Committee on Wednesday, July 8.

The most substantive proposal is an addition to Article IX that would create a process for recall or removal of an elected official. Scarborough does not currently have a recall process. 

The process as proposed would require 25 qualified voters to initiate a recall petition by filing an affidavit with the town clerk. The petition would be required to provide the reason for the recall.

Petition circulators would then have 20 days to collect signatures representing at least 25 percent of the number of votes cast at the most recent gubernatorial election, currently approximately 2,500. 

If the signatures are certified by the town clerk, the town would call an election within 60 days where, again, 25 percent of voters must turn out and a majority must vote in favor of recall.

“We looked at the recall provisions from a number of other towns,” said Annalee Rosenblatt, chairwoman of the Charter Review Committee. “We took the best of what other towns had. There’s nothing brand new here, nothing we wrote.”

While Council Chairwoman Carol Rancourt asked that the councilors save their opinions and debates for a future workshop on the matter, several councilors had concerns about the proposed recall process.

Councilor Michael Wood said the process is the same as changing a zone in town.

“It should have a very high threshold,” he said. 

Wood also suggested a public hearing process be included in the recall process so the elected official would have an opportunity to speak on the subject.

“It needs to be a substantive reason (for the recall),” Councilor Shawn Babine said, “not just something that is emotional at the time.”

Babine questioned how democratic the process would be if 5,000 people voted to elect him, and it only took 2,500 to remove him.

Town Manager Tom Hall said neither he, nor his staff, want to be responsible for determining whether a reason for a recall is substantive or not.

The Charter Review Committee also proposed an addition suggested by a resident, asking that the voters have a process for overturning council decisions to sell or trade town-owned property.

The topic was recently discussed when a citizen group opposed a swap with the owners of the Lighthouse Inn at Pine Point.

The proposed change would allow a petition and subsequent referendum in cases where property is assessed at more than $400,000.

“This was a response to a citizen,” Rosenblatt said. “We didn’t get many, so we’re grateful to the ones we got.”

Wood suggested the amount should be lowered to $100,000 to match other purchase amounts currently subject to citizen overrule. Several other councilors agreed, but Babine suggested the amount be increased.

“I think the voters should have been able to turn over that (Pine Point) council ruling,” Babine said. “I just question whether $400,000 is the right amount.”

The change would not affect the town’s ability to purchase property, as it did recently in the Higgins Beach area.

While there was some suggestion that the council move quickly to send changes to the voters in November, it is still unclear whether that deadline can be met.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net.

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