Petition seeks to recall two Denmark selectmen

LACK OF RESPONSE to concerns about the “fit” of Denmark Town Manager Dan Merhalski with Denmark residents have led to a petition of recall against two of the three selectmen.

LACK OF RESPONSE to concerns about the “fit” of Denmark Town Manager Dan Merhalski with Denmark residents have led to a petition of recall against two of the three selectmen.

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

A petition for recall was submitted Tuesday to the Denmark Town Office as the first step by some residents to force the ouster of Denmark Town Manager Dan Merhalski.

The petitioners are upset that Selectmen Richard Mason, Beverly Caparco and Ed Enos did not respond to a earlier petition, submitted to the board at their Dec. 3, 2014 meeting, that requested Merhalski be fired while he was still in his six-month probationary period. That earlier petition charged that Merhalski’s “approach to his responsibilities” was “unsuitable for the town of Denmark.”

Only Mason and Caparco are listed on separate recall petitions, since Enos is leaving the board in June. If the required total of 186 residents sign both petitions at the town office during business hours by the May 6 deadline, a recall vote must be held under the rules of Denmark’s Town Charter.

The recall petitions list four separate reasons as justification: 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.

In addition to the recall petitions, residents unhappy with Merhalski and the Board of Selectmen have mailed an open letter to all Denmark residents in which the reasons for their concerns are described in more detail. The letter states that the former “good working, respectful relationship between Denmark citizens, our Board of Selectmen and the two previous town managers…appears to have broken down.”

The letter cites a memo by Merhalski that referred to residents who have called his behavior into question as a “lynch mob.” It also alleges that Merhalski threatened and harassed Code Enforcement Officer Michael Lee with a series of memos requiring him to keep office hours, and that when he was questioned about this at a meeting, Merhalski “addressed some citizens in a disrespectful and arrogant manner.” At the same time, selectmen remained silent, the letter states.

Summarizing the concerns, the letter to Denmark citizens states that “the situation has come close to a hostile reaction from the board, with little if any consideration for the views and opinions of the citizens trying to resolve these issues.” The letter states that while residents were reluctant to go to the lengths of petitions for firing and recall, “An overly aggressive and extremely controlling town manager has come together with a Select Board that simply are not willing or possibly capable of meeting their responsibilities as the elected representatives of this town.”

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Merhalski said it is up to the board whether or not they will hold the recall election at the Town Meeting election date of June 5. He said he wasn’t comfortable commenting on the substance of the recall petition, but did say that if Mason and Caparco are removed from office, it’s possible that the town would not be able to conduct any business, unless a court order was obtained, until an election was held to fill the two positions.

“We’re a little nervous about that,” said Merhalski, 38, who began work last October in his first town manager job. “I will say I don’t know what’s prompting the decision.” When the December petition calling for his ouster was submitted, he said he asked at that time what he had done to prompt the outcry, “and nothing was said.” He said he assumes that the concerns are about personality differences, but added, “I’m not planning on going anywhere.”

 

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