Town Meeting: Recall & Removal bylaw Articles fail

Above: Voters opposing a process to allow recall of elected Town officials (from SAM video)

Two controversial Citizen Petition Articles held over from the March Special were put before Town Meeting voters last night. STM Articles 6 & 7 would have created processes by which to recall elected officials and remove appointed officials. Both were defeated.

Article 6 was defeated based on its debated merits and perceived impact.

Afterwards, article sponsors gave up on efforts for Article 7. That makes it less clear if it was opposed on merits or on assumptions combined with the mood of the room at the end of the long night.

Selectmen told the voters they opposed Article 6 because recalls wouldn’t be limited to cause. That meant that the recall process could be initiated based on unpopular votes by officials. 

Article co-sponsor Freddie Gillespie presented an amended version that required 20% of voters to force a recall. She called that a very high bar, one that would eliminate trivial causes.

But the process could be kicked off by a petition with 500 signatures. Opponents envisioned angry residents threatening recalls and circulating petitions when they disagreed with board members’ actions. Selectmen and other opponents told voters that would have a “chilling effect” on volunteerism.

Sponsors promised that they weren’t targeting officials. They saw a gap in the Town’s bylaws and were seeking to fill it to avoid future potential issues.

Former Advisory Committee member John Butler said that enlisting volunteers to serve on committees is a big challenge for the Town. He opined the bylaw would worsen our government’s big problem in its efforts to solve a miniscule one. 

Several commenters focused on lack of “cause” for recalls as the reason they opposed it. A few argued in support. But in the end, the majority of the room opposed the bylaw change. 

At that point the meeting ran beyond the 11:00 pm. Voters opted to override the automatic adjournment. The decision followed prompts that the next Article was subject to the same debate. 

Article 7, by the same sponsors, proposed a process to remove appointed officials.

With voters eager to call the vote and go home, sponsors opted not to present their case. Instead, they sought to indefinitely postpone. But Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Andrew Dennington asked voters to deny that and defeat the article.

Moderator Stephen Morreale asked Gillespie if there were substantial differences to Article 7. She indicated that there were, but they wouldn’t bother presenting them. 

Voters rejected the postponement and killed Article 7.

If the article was presented, voters would have learned that an amended version required grounds for removal to be for cause.

That may have made a difference. Or, it may not have. Opponents would have likely been troubled by the lack of definition for “cause”. (Could causes include “bad attitude” or “ignoring residents’ wishes”?)

Current and former members of Town boards and committees stand for recognition (from SAM video)

It’s worth noting that at the meeting’s start the Town Moderator asked people who serve(d) on Town Committees to stand for acknowledgement. He joked that it was about half the room and he wasn’t far off.

That’s not to say those voters were automatically against the Article. (Two of the sponsors currently serve on committees.) But, it certainly provided them with context about what goes into volunteering for Southborough’s Town Government.

Following the vote, Special Town Meeting was adjourned to be reconvened tonight at 8:00 pm. Morreale explained that Annual Town Meeting would reconvene at 7:00 pm and Special Town Meeting would be re-opened in the midst of that.

Sponsors of STM Articles 6 & 7 still have one more to go. Article 8 seeks to grant authority to elected officials to hire independent counsel if Town Counsel is conflicted out. (Selectmen currently act as the arbiters of that based on advice from Town Counsel.)

For information on how to follow the meeting tonight from home, click here.

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