FREEPORT — At-large Town Councilor Rich DeGrandpre could lose his place on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The Town Council will decide if more than 70 of DeGrandpre’s 112 nominating signatures are invalid, after residents Peter and Sandra Thompson of 7 Byram Ave. challenged the papers on Tuesday, Sept. 20.
The Thompsons claim DeGrandpre neglected to have the papers affirmed by a notary public. They also claim one of his petition circulators submitted unwitnessed signatures.
In a special hearing held Wednesday, Sept. 21, the council voted 4-0 to rectify the clerical error as allowed by state law and the Town Charter.
At-large council candidates must submit 100 signatures to get on the ballot. A circulator must personally witness all of the signatures on his or her petition, and must later obtain notarization that the signatures are valid.
DeGrandpre, who is running for re-election against first-time candidate Marie Gunning of Telos Road, attended Tuesday’s meeting but did not participate in the discussion.
In a statement to Town Clerk Beverly Curry, the Thompsons attested that Curry failed to notarize the nomination papers, making them invalid. They also state that as a circulator for DeGrandpre, Council Chairman Jim Cassida gave the papers to Nancy Clark to circulate at a Sept. 11 gathering, but failed to witness all the signatures.
Councilor Eric Pandora also signed an affadavit stating he witnessed two residents sign DeGrandpre’s nomination papers without Cassida’s knowledge.
According to the affidavit, Clark circulated DeGrandpre’s nomination papers and had two residents sign them. Pandora said in the affidavit that Cassida approached Clark and told her he needed to be present as she collected the signatures.
“I thought it was odd that Nancy Randall Clark would be circulating nomination papers for Rich DeGrandpre … but did not think much beyond that until Jim Cassida appeared and made that remark about him needing to be present if she was going to collect signatures,” Pandora said in the affidavit.
Later that night at a neighborhood potluck, Pandora said, he recounted the story and said how odd he thought it was.
“Discussion turned to the fact that what was being done was wrong and possibly illegal,” he said.
But, according to Councilor Sara Gideon who presided over the meeting on Wednesday, the council voted 4-0 that they believe Cassida did not knowingly provide falsified information to the clerk. They will further discuss the challenge at a continuation of the meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 6:30 p.m.
Resident Kenneth Mann of Mann Road also signed an affidavit stating that on Sept. 15, he noticed DeGrandpre’s nomination petition was signed, but was not notarized.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, councilors not directly involved in the situation – Sara Gideon, Jim Hendricks, Charlotte Bishop and Joe Migliaccio – voted 4-0 to hold a hearing Wednesday, Sept. 21, to determine the validity of the allegations and if the nomination papers were gathered illegally.
Town Attorney Geoff Hole said the hearing on the objections would allow councilors to gather evidence from witnesses and decide if the papers were circulated legally or not.
“This will be a public proceeding, not a public hearing,” he said.
DeGrandpre, Cassida and Pandora said they intend to recuse themselves from the deliberations.
This story was updated Thursday, Sept. 22.