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North Suburban News

Stoneham Select Board Propose Recall Bylaw and Term Limits

Apr 09, 2019 07:40AM ● By Lisa Redmond

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STONEHAM – Select Board member Raymie Parker is the driver behind a citizens’ petition to be presented at the May 6 Town Meeting that would, for the first time, allow town voters to recall members of the Select Board under certain circumstances.

After the towns of Rockland, Saugus, Fall River and the State House faced recall petitions, Parker realized Stoneham lacks such a provision in the town bylaws.

“Residents have no way to call us to the mat,’’ Parker explained. “This is a layer (of protection) for residents to fall back on.’’

But Select member Caroline Colarussa asked, “How bad is bad enough to get recalled?’’

At the May 6 Town Meeting, Parker will ask voters to approve the citizens petition. If approved, it will be submitted to the state Legislature to be approved as a Home Rule Petition, which only impacts Stoneham. Parker modeled the wording of the bylaw after recall bylaws in other towns.

The proposed bylaw would only impact the members of the Select Board.

“I’m all for holding the board accountable,’’ said Select Board member George Seibold, who described this petition as “huge.’’ He added, “If our actions cost (the town) money, we should be held accountable.’’

In the article, the initial step for a recall election required an initial 100 signatures of registered town voters. Using a petition issued by the Town Clerk, the proponent needs a percentage of registered voters in town to hold a special Town Election to vote on the measure.

The original percentage was 10 percent or about 1,500 voters. A typical town election has 20 percent or less voter turnout. But Parker noted at a subsequent meeting she may amend the article by requiring 20 percent of the registered voters.

Select Board member Anthony Wilson supported the larger percentage because it would be “really hard to get that many votes and it has to be something really severe.’’ He suggested requiring the language “for just cause’’ and a “statement of facts’’ should be added.

“I don’t want to be in a perpetual cycle of elections and recalls,’’ he said.

Select members are given a honeymoon period of six months after they are elected before they can be subjected to a recall. If a recall election fails, there is a cooling off period of at least three months before the same member can be the subject of another recall.

“That’s scary,’’ Colarusso said. “I worked hard to get elected and (under this proposed bylaw) after six months I could be out? That doesn’t seem fair’’

Parker noted, “If I’m doing something wrong there is nothing in place for residents to turn to.’’ Parker said the reason for the recall would be “anything criminal, ethical or sexual.’ ’Colarusso responded, “Is it convicted or just accused? What happened to innocent until proven guilty?’’

A Select Board member who has been recalled or has resigned in the midst of a recall is banned from being appointed to any town office for two years.

Colarusso criticized the petition because it has no explanation of the criteria to be used to recall a board member.

 “If someone just doesn’t want someone in office they will go to great lengths (to remove him/her),’’ Colarusso said. “You can undo the vote of the people.’’

One audience member agreed with Colarusso that this was “a bad idea…We have a mechanism to get ride of people, it’s called an election.’’

Colarusso noted that a broad recall petition is vulnerable to political payback. Recall bylaws in other communities have “very concrete language’’ concerning the criteria for a recall.

Resident Rich Fortuna, a veteran, said “I think this is wrong. If people commit a crime they go to jail. This is political.’’

Chairman Shelly MacNeill said, “I hope we never have to use it, but it could act as a deterrent.’’

In what she called an alternative to the recall petition, Colarusso is the proponent of a petition for Town Meeting that calls term limits for the Select Board.

Her article, which will be presented to Town Meeting on May 6, reduces the board's term to two years from three years and limits the number of years to a total of six years.

“This is a good solution and an alternative to a recall,’’ she said. ”Six years is a long time (in office). This would give other people a chance.’’

Wilson said, “I’m a fan of term limits, but I’m not a fan of two years.’’ Suggesting the first two years are learning the job then beginning to implement change, “three years is about the right amount of time.’’

Seibold added, “Two years is almost like you are quitting on the residents and voters.’’

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