PEPPERELL — For weeks, Pepperell’s upcoming Aug. 28 Proposition 2 1/2 election has been surrounded by controversy and townwide anticipation. That’s why when the banner announcing the election, which had been suspended over Main Street, was suddenly gone over a week before the election date, it didn’t go without notice.
As soon as Fred Robichaud, 71, of Pepperell, became aware of the banner’s absence, he went to Town Hall to speak with Town Clerk Jeff Sauer. Sauer informed Robichaud that the sign had been torn down by the wind, and the police were currently looking for it.
“I said, ‘How does anybody know it got blown down by wind?’ He (Sauer) said he assumed it did,” said Robichaud. “He intimated to me that there was not much concern about the sign.”
Robichaud, on the other hand, felt some trepidation over it.
“I have concerns that the town is not doing its utmost to make the citizens and the voting public aware of what is being voted on … through sensible notification.”
Sauer told Robichaud that state law mandates that the town post information regarding the election in five places throughout the town.
The postings are in the post office, Town Hall, the police station, Mel’s Barber Shop and the McNabb General Store. The banner was not one of the mandated postings.
Robichaud said he feels the notices are inadequate in informing the public.
“The idea that they (the town) post things in the paper and that they post in five positions in Pepperell that are relatively obscure, that people don’t go to generally, is not helpful to the overall welfare of the citizens,” he said.
Sauer said the locations are “arbitrary.”
“[The choice of locations] precedes me,” he said. “The statute goes back decades. These places have been around for a long time. At some point they were viewed as places for people to get information from. The law hasn’t changed so the places for posting haven’t changed.”
Information regarding the election is also on the town website, according to Sauer.
Robichaud said he felt it was necessary for the town to take greater steps “by not only putting up one banner but putting up several banners.”
“It’s important to the tax payers,” he said. “There’s no reason it should not be out there unless they don’t want us to participate in what we believe in.”
Sauer said the town has done its due diligence in informing the public of the election. In fact, he said, it was initially his idea to hang the banner, an action that he said is unprecedented in elections like this.
“Historically, the town never got banners before because frankly they were too expensive,” he said. “We found that technology has changed and you can get things much less expensively… if I can get a banner at a reasonable expense I will do that.”
Still, he said, it’s a “delicate balance” between announcing the election and proclaiming a position.
“I was explaining to Fred… the law is written (to say) that the town spends no municipal resources on advocating a particular position,” he said. “Should we have seven banners around advertising this? Probably not. Citizens wouldn’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer money.
“Further…I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to go hog-wild in… simply advertising the election,” Sauer said. “Someone would think, ‘He must have a position here.'”
Still, Sauer said he empathizes with the public’s desire for information.
“I understand the frustration. I want to constantly reevaluate what we can and should be doing in these cases, but really there’s only so much the town can do,” he said.
As for the banner, Fire Chief Toby Tyler said there was still no sign it, and it has since been replaced by a banner in support of local businesses. But, he said, it did appear to have been torn away from its post rather than discreetly removed.
“The grommets were still there from the old sign,” he said.
Regardless, Sauer says he doesn’t think the sign’s absence will affect the outcome of the election.
“We had (about) 1,000 people come to vote (at the previous override election in June). For a municipal election, that’s a pretty darn good turnout… I’d be surprised if we didn’t get more than that this time.”