TREMONT — A version of a proposed ordinance for the recall of elected officials will appear on the town meeting warrant, selectmen decided on Monday. That action runs counter to the advice of attorneys.
Selectmen voted 3-2 to put a version on the warrant that requires that a specific reason for recalling an official be stated in a notice of intention to file a recall with the town clerk. Both a Maine Municipal Association (MMA) attorney and town attorney James Collier recommended against the requirement, advice that apparently led Chairman Kathi Thurston and Chris Eaton to cast the opposing votes.
“If MMA and our lawyer say don’t do it, why would we want to do it?” Eaton said during discussion preceding the vote. “I think we’re opening ourselves up to trouble.”
Eaton and Thurston agreed with Collier that the town could be setting itself up for a lawsuit by including the requirement in the ordinance. The person subject to a recall could claim their due process rights had been violated, their name defamed or other legal action, Collier wrote in an email to the town.
Selectman Dean Wass said he preferred there be a reason for the recall because, otherwise, “someone could run around behind the scenes and smear someone.”
“There could be absolutely no reason put out there [for a recall],” he said.
Members of the recall ordinance committee, which began working on the proposed ordinance in August, pointed out that the ordinance requires a public hearing in advance of a secret ballot vote on a recall. Any allegations or “reasons” for a recall would be discussed in that forum, they argued.
If voters approve the ordinance at the polls on May 9, it would apply only to elected municipal officials. Selectmen currently are the only elected town officials; school committee members are elected but not considered municipal officials under state law. Committee members have said they used the general term municipal officials so the ordinance would apply if the town were to create new elected positions, such as treasurer.
To initiate a recall election, a petition calling for the recall and signed by a number of voters equal to or greater than 25 percent of those cast in the most recent gubernatorial election would be needed for a secret ballot vote on the matter. Committee members have said they used 25 percent rather that the 10 percent threshold required by state law to eliminate recall elections for frivolous reasons.
A public hearing on the proposed ordinance is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at the town office.