TREMONT – A proposed recall ordinance for elected officials is to be tweaked again before selectmen consider putting the item before voters at the May 9 town elections.
Selectmen voted 5-0 Monday to amend the proposed ordinance, a move that followed a 45-minute public hearing on the issue and incorporates some of the concerns expressed during that session.
Three selectmen, Chairman Kathi Thurston, Stewart Murphy and Dean Wass, each took issue with the fact that the proposed ordinance does not require the petition calling for a recall election to state a reason for the recall. They also said a public hearing should be held between the time a petition is filed and voters consider recalling that official. This, they said, would allow the issue to be discussed openly by voters and give the elected official a forum in which to respond to allegations.
The unanimous vote to amend the proposed ordinance to include these two conditions was preceded by an unsuccessful motion to put the document, as written, before voters at town meeting. Thurston, Murphy and Wass were in opposition.
This is the second time selectmen have postponed a vote on putting the proposed ordinance on the warrant. They were expected to vote on the matter at their Feb. 16 meeting but decided to hold the public hearing first.
The delays didn’t sit well with some members of the recall ordinance committee that has been working since August with the aim of getting the issue on the May town meeting warrant. Member Heywood Mays said the board had “abrogated” its responsibilities by not participating in numerous opportunities to give their input into the ordinance and “not voicing any of your concerns until tonight.”
“And now at the eleventh hour we have selectmen saying, ‘We don’t like it; we want changes,’” May said. “No one on the board gave us any feedback or showed up.”
Mel Atherton, chairman of the committee, asked selectmen if the ordinance was going to be on the May town meeting warrant. Thurston did not answer directly.
“That’s our intent,” she said.
The proposed ordinance, while worded as applicable to all elected officials, would apply only to selectmen at this time. School Committee members are the only other elected officials in Tremont, but under state law, they are not considered municipal or county officials. Committee members said Monday that they decided to keep the general term “elected officials” in case the town created new elected positions, such as treasurer.
Under the ordinance, a selectman would be subject to a recall election upon presentation of a written petition signed by a number of voters equal to or greater than 25 percent the number of votes cast in Tremont during the most recent gubernatorial election.
Maine law does provide for the recall of elected municipal officials and requires a 10 percent threshold. Committee members said they used 25 percent because it would eliminate recalls for reasons that are “frivolous.”
Mount Desert is the only other town on Mount Desert Island to have a mechanism for recalling elected officials. The recall procedure is part of the town’s charter and includes the two amendments approved by Tremont selectmen. In Mount Desert, the petition “shall set forth with particularity the conduct alleged to be grounds for recall.” There is a provision for a debate on the allegations involving the official, but that is to be held at a special town meeting prior to a vote on the recall, not at a separate hearing as proposed in Tremont.