Denmark voters reject recall petitions
By Gail Geraghty
Denmark voters rejected efforts to recall two of its three selectmen in Tuesday’s special referendum. Turnout was very high, with nearly a third of the town’s population turning out to reject the recalls of Bevery Caparco, by a vote of 151 yes, 185 no; and Richard Mason, by a vote of 156 yes, 182 no.
The vote might have gone the other way, had it not been for a late-hour effort by some townspeople to push back against the campaign to remove the selectmen. The recall campaign was spearheaded by some residents who were upset over the board’s handling of concerns raised about the management style of Town Manager Dan Merhalski. Merhalski has announced his resignation, effective July 31.
A letter sent to all registered voters last week cautioned the town not to take such a “drastic step,” saying a recall “should be reserved for cases of criminal activity or gross negligence.”
The letter was signed by Holly Best, Katie Dunn, Chris Gouterman, Mari and Richard Hook, Laurie LaMountain, Dianne Lewis, Harold Smith, Carolyn and Terry Rhoads and Stan Struzynski.
The letter said that if Caparco and Mason were recalled, it would leave only newly-elected Selectman Rich Snow on the board for a state-mandated 70-day period before new selectmen could be sworn in. Since the Town Charter requires two selectmen to hold a quorum, there would not be any way to conduct the town’s business over the busy summer months, the letter said.
“While the sole selectman could pay the town’s recurring bills and payroll, no new committees could be established, no new town construction projects could be initiated, no vacant positions could be filled, no new contracts could be signed,” the letter stated. “The town’s Comprehensive Plan would be seriously impacted,” and the cable franchise would be automatically renewed without the benefit of negotiation.
Worse still, Denmark would have to wait until mid-September, when it once again had a full board, to even begin searching for Merhalski’s replacement, the letter said, “Effectively leaving us without day-to-day management, and with a significant amount of unfinished business.”
The letter attributed events leading up to the recall vote as the result of a “clash of personalities and misunderstanding,” and not justifying a recall.
The recall petition listed four separate reasons as justification for recalling Caparco and Mason (the third selectman, Ed Enos, was stepping down and therefore was not included): an illegal executive session, failure to respond to the earlier petition, a vote to not allow public comment about Merhalski’s actions as town manager, and errors or omissions in minutes of Selectmen’s meetings.
The petitioners had also alleged that Merhalski threatened and harassed Code Enforcement Officer Michael Lee with a series of memos requiring him to keep office hours. Lee has since been placed on paid administrative leave, pending an investigation by an outside consultant.
Snow said now that the recall has been decided, “We’re going to move forward, and hopefully we’ll all get along.” He noted that it was a large group of people who signed the petition for the recall.
“There’s been some issues. And I hope it’s a wakeup call for everyone, and now we can get things done for the town.”