Is ‘recall’ a good idea?

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

The Bridgton Board of Selectmen discussed a possible recall ordinance, including the need for standards — or specific reasons for removal, at their meeting last week.

The draft “Ordinance for the Recall of Elected Municipal Officials” the selectmen used as the basis for their discussion would require, according to state law, that it contain signatures of registered voters in Bridgton “equal to 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election but in all cases no less than 10.” (See accompanying story).

In the end, the five selectmen voted unanimously Nov. 16 to start putting together a proposed recall ordinance that could be placed before voters for their approval at a future special or annual town meeting. It would ask the specific question, “Shall an ordinance entitled Ordinance for the Recall of Public Officials be enacted?”

Selectman Paul Hoyt said that, under the town’s Code of Ethics policy, “If something occurs where you wanted myself off the board, right now, there’s no way to go about it.”

However, Hoyt cautioned his fellow board members to consider a recall ordinance that would have standards for removal included in it.

Selectman Hoyt cited the recall ordinance enacted earlier this month by voters in Casco that does not require any specific reason or cause for removal of an elected official, namely a selectman.

“Theirs (Casco’s recall ordinance) is literally if enough people don’t like the tie I’m wearing they can vote me out,” stated Hoyt. “So, I asked to have some kind of standards (and) not because you don’t like how I voted on a couple of things. That’s what this is all about — to set some kind of standards, so people will have a way of recourse.”

“I think what Paul says makes a lot of sense,” Selectman Earl Cash said, at the Nov. 16 selectmen’s meeting. “I think it’s good protection for the public to have this recall (capability), but make sure it’s reasonable and sensible.”

Selectman Robert “Woody” Woodward referred to the criminal indictment a few years ago of a now former selectman Joan Gardner on a felony Class C charge of theft in Cumberland County Superior Court. Gardner, who later pleaded guilty to a reduced, Class D misdemeanor count of theft, resigned from the board of selectmen.

“This (recall) issue came up when a member of the board was indicted for a felony,” Woodward stated. “The issue was, ‘What do you do if somebody does something wrong, such as if they violate their oath of office (or commit other offenses)?’ Those things are against the law, and those kinds of things should allow for the recall process to be initiated. A recall ordinance gives you, the people, a way to discipline us.”

“I agree with some of it, but I don’t support it,” said Chairman Art Triglione.
Voters have the opportunity to vote someone off the board every June…I’ll support what the majority of the board feels, but I wouldn’t advocate it. I think (what voters did) Casco is very dangerous.”

Resident Jeffrey Borneman told Selectman Triglione, “You just contradicted yourself several times. (The need for a) recall ordinance is a direct result of the fact that Dave Lyons resigned or retired (as chief of police). I have a copy of Casco’s recall ordinance, and I think it’s imperative we have one in Bridgton, and we’re going to collect the required signatures on a petition.”

“Yes, we can get you out, if we don’t like the way you part your hair,” Borneman said further. “I do think it’s very important to have one (a recall ordinance).”

“I think it could bring more animosity,” said Triglione.

“This is a referendum vote — this would go to the people,” said Selectman Hoyt. “The most we could do is say, ‘Let the people decide.’”

Vanessa Jones said she would not want the town she lives in to be “run by” people who have the same opinions.

“I think it’s good to have differing opinions, a little animosity, and even a little hostility,” said Jones. “But, there definitely needs to be standards. I think it should be hard to vote someone out of office.”

“One thing you’ll notice,” Selectman Woodward said, “is we do not all agree on this board. We agree to disagree. We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take the town seriously. But, five years down the road, we could elect someone who has an agenda.”

Directly addressing Borneman, Selectman Woodward stated, “Jeff, I understand what you’re saying. We have to make difficult decisions, but if I had to worry, every time I voted…I think we should have something (for recall of elected officials). I’m not scared of any of the people here at this (selectmen’s) table, but you don’t know who will be in here (as selectmen) in five years.”

“I do think it’s a good idea,” Selectman Cash said. I don’t 100 percent agree with it  — if you want vigilante justice, you can do that. If you want something that’s fair, you can do that.”

Cash went on to say that any charges brought against a board member being considered for recall “should be valid.”

“If you want a cookie cutter board (of selectmen),” said Cash, “but this board is not intimidated by anyone — never has been — never will be.”

“It’s up to you, the voters,” Cash said further. “We’re just here to move the process.”

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