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Shirley board sets Special Town Meeting Sept. 12 for recall proposal


SHIRLEY — Selectmen on Monday night weighed in on the single warrant article slated for the upcoming Special Town Meeting.

Set for Saturday, Sept. 12 at 9 a.m. in the Ayer Shirley Middle School Auditorium, the meeting was scheduled as a result of a citizen’s petition turned in a few weeks ago.

The article asks voters to send a home-rule petition to the state Legislature that, if approved, would create a state statute for recall elections. If it passes muster locally and at the state level, Shirley citizens would have the right to recall elected officials and a means by which to do it. The town has no such mechanism now.

“As of now, I have no problem with recall elections,” Selectman David Swain said. But he objects to the way the article is worded. In his view, there should be specific recall criteria, he said, but the article’s intent seems “too restrictive.”

Rather than leave it open-ended, he’d prefer a narrower focus that spells out causes and conditions for recalling elected officials, he said, such as doing something illegal.

“I don’t think I should be recalled for making a decision … just because someone doesn’t like it,” Swain said, adding that a recalled official would be barred from running for office for another two years.

Swain said he believes that the selectmen — and all of Shirley’s elected officials — do their best to serve the town and should not be judged by an arbitrary set of standards that a certain group of people came up with in a relatively short time, without open discussion and public input.

Selectman Kendra Dumont agreed the article is too vague in terms of what kinds of offense or action could trigger a recall, such as an official doing something illegal versus anything at all. “I have legal questions” about the wording, she said.

Dumont said the board made some “tough budget decisions” over the past few months and they didn’t sit well with some people. “I guess this is our punishment,” she said.

“I guess I’d echo what you guys just said,” Chairman Robert Prescott said, noting that the proponents who circulated the petition and wrote up the article were asking for a state statute rather than a town bylaw to make their case. And he thinks it goes too far.

It’s a relatively simple scenario, as he sees it. “We believe we’ve acted in the town’s best interests, but this group does not,” he said.

A better way to raise the recall issue would have been to make it a townwide discussion, not just signatures. As it is, the bar was set too low, he said.

“I’d like to see a committee formed to vet the issues, maybe bring the question to Town Meeting this spring, Prescott said.

Presented with the petition, with over 200 signatures of registered voters verified, the board had no choice but to call the Special Town Meeting and to present the warrant article.