SHIRLEY -- After just over an hour of discussion Saturday morning, Special Town Meeting approved sending a petition to the state Legislature asking it to create an act allowing recall elections in Shirley.
The recall process, an option that more than half the communities in the commonwealth already have, drew 344 voters to the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle.
Some said it was a bad idea for Shirley, as presented. Two selectmen, Kendra Dumont and Chairman Robert Prescott, argued against it, as did several residents. But overall, more voters favored the proposal and the motion passed, 191 to 129.
After holding off for a few minutes so that the "long line" still in the lobby could sign in, Town Moderator Enrico Cappucci convened the meeting shortly after 9 a.m., announcing he would not allow amendments to the article.
Paul Wilson, of Chapel Street, objected on a "point of order" before John Oelfke, of Hazen Road, presented the article.
Wilson said he couldn't remember any time that amendments were ruled out.
Cappucci stood by his decision.
With the motion made and seconded, Oelfke, citing 35 years of participation in town government, said the purpose of the article was to ensure that elected officials be held accountable for their actions during their term of office versus waiting until they are up for re-election.
"I'm not afraid of this recall article," he said. "I support it wholeheartedly."
Oelfke said a recall is a complicated process with multiple steps.
Ayer, Littleton and other area towns with recall acts or bylaws don't have "specific criteria," Oelfke said, as some opponents of the article suggested and further noted that 175 other municipalities have adopted recall processes.
The measure called for 50 registered voters to sign a petition to launch the recall process. Once the signatures and addresses were verified by the town clark, another petition would stand between the original initiative and the recall election, requiring 400 signatures the second time around, or 10 percent of the town's 4,000 registered voters.
The final step would be the recall election, which like any other, gives every registered voter in town a say, yes or no, Oelfke concluded.
Wilson said he was "uncomfortable" with the article and its origins. "I think a committee should be formed" to craft a more reasoned article, he said. "I'm not going to waste my precious vote" on this one.
John Rounds, of Benjamin Road, said, "We have before us a warrant article, we should speak to that."
Half the towns in the commonwealth have already addressed the recall issue, including "special acts" like the one currently proposed, he said.
"Nobody invented this for Shirley, it's boiler plate language," Rounds said. Now, or at some future time, townspeople might want to use the recall "tool," and should have it at hand, he said, adding that anti-recall handouts he'd seen had little or nothing to do with the "piece of equipment" voters were considering.
Calling opponents' concerns "bogus," Rounds said there was no reason to wait and that grounds for a recall didn't need to be established ahead of time. The reasons would be presented if and when a recall election was held, he said.
"Let us not let the quest for the perfect be the enemy of the good enough," Rounds said.
Another resident said that a previous attempt to set up a recall process had failed 34 years ago. "Let's pass it this time," he said.
But Prescott said the current proposal was wrong for the town and asked for more time to get it right. "The point is, we all need to take the time to make a recall bylaw -- or statute -- to be sure it's what we all want" not just a few people, he said. "We need to look at all the other towns (that have recall procedures in place) to be sure."
The Finance Committee backed that position, member Michael Swanton said. In its view, the process should require more signatures on the recall petition and had voted to recommend a no vote on the article. A recall study committee should be seated instead and charged with bringing a different article to Town Meeting in the spring, he said.
"I'm not not in favor" of the recall process, said Dumont. "It's not all wrong, but people need time to discuss this... to vet the issue."
Some residents called the recall initiative a "vendetta," but others dismissed that idea.
"I think we need to trust the voters not to act frivolously," said Karen Luddington. A recall law with too many specifics could spark litigation while the proposal as is offered a more flexible "tool" for the future, she said.
"I favor a recall provision, but not this one," said former ASRSD Superintendent Carl Mock. Like Prescott and others, he said the issue deserved more study.
But others said that a less than perfect tool might be better than no tool at all.
Oelfke said people he's talked to had cited past issues they were upset with elected officials about at the time but had no means to address when they didn't listen, from building the fire station to instituting a pay-per-back trash pickup program to school regionalization.
ASRSD School Committee member James Quinty said voters had two options: "do it today" or study the issue and come back with a new recall process proposal next year. But in his view, now was as good a time as any to get it done.
At some point, Cappucci said the statements were starting to get repetitive and shortly thereafter a Peabody Road resident spoke up. "Could we please move the question?"
As required, two-thirds of the voters approved moving it to the final vote.