Need to address flaws
The town of Shirley Finance Committee recommends that a more thorough study, and proper vetting, of the options available to the town be undertaken, before Town Meeting votes to approve, and enact, a method for holding recall elections.
While the Finance Committee agrees that the ability to recall elected officials should be an option available to the voters (for the rare instance where such action may be necessary), we believe that the current proposal is being unnecessarily rushed to a vote of Special Town Meeting, without a careful and thoughtful investigation, and public discussion, of how to best implement this process in the town of Shirley.
We believe that the current proposal has several serious flaws that can, and should be, corrected before action is taken by Town Meeting.
The Finance Committee is concerned with the current proposal's allowance for a duly elected official to be subject to recall for any reason. At the extreme, this would allow a recall petition to be started because someone didn't like the way an official dressed. We believe that removing a duly elected official from office is an extremely serious matter, and should be considered only for serious cause. The recall provision for other town's (for example Northfield, filed in 2011) allow that the holder of an elected office may be recalled for reason of "lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties, corruption, malfeasance, or violation of oath.
The current proposal also sets a "rather low bar" for two other areas. It would allow the recall petition to be filed, with the Town Clerk, with just 50 signatures. Other towns have required a minimum of 100 signatures for filing a recall petition. The current proposal would then require the recall petition be forwarded to the Board of Selectmen if just 10 percent of the registered voters sign the petition. Again, other towns have set that requirement at 20 percent. The Finance Committee supports the higher requirements for filing a recall petition with the Town Clerk, and forwarding a recall petition to the Board of Selectmen.
Some may argue that these higher requirements will make a recall petition too difficult to bring forward. The position of the Finance Committee is that it should require the support of a significant, and diverse, portion of the registered voters to move forward. Recalling a duly elected official is a serious matter that ought to be undertaken only when it is the opinion of a significant percentage of the registered voters of the town that this extreme action is necessary. This law should not provide a small group of people, with an agenda, the opportunity to disrupt the governance of the town, with costly and time-consuming elections, simply because they take exception to something that an official proposed, or to a legal action taken by an official that they objected to. That is what the annual election process is meant to address.
The Finance Committee is also concerned with the process being used to initiate this recall election proposal. The current citizens' petition is the result of a small group of people crafting a proposal, without careful, and thorough investigation of all the options, and without the thoughtful consideration of those options by a broader spectrum of the citizens of the town. We find that this is not the optimal method of initiating a law of this importance and significance.
An alternate method to provide for recall elections, and the method preferred by the Finance Committee, would be by the adoption of a town by-law. Adoption of, and any future amendments to, the by-law would be under the purview of Town Meeting. It would provide for the opportunity to appoint a committee of citizens, from all effected constituencies, to properly investigate, rigorously study, and thoughtfully consider the options available and their potential consequences. All this should be done before sending a petition to the state Legislature for enactment.
While the Finance Committee supports the adoption of a recall by-law, we believe that the more reasonable and responsible action to take, would be to take the six to nine months necessary to appoint a Recall Election By-Law Study Committee to research, investigate, and properly vet the options available. And to make an unbiased, and more inclusive, recommendation to Town Meeting in the spring. The Finance Committee recommends that the town NOT approve the current proposal.
The town of Shirley has survived over 260 years without the ability to hold a recall election. It is not unreasonable to take another nine months to craft the best recall law possible.
The Finance Committee strongly urges all registered voters of the town of Shirley to attend the Special Town Meeting on Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Ayer-Shirley Middle School auditorium, at 9 a.m. Your input, and vote, is critical on this important matter.
Dr. Dreama Sloan Kelly