MEXICO — The Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 during Tuesday evening’s selectmen’s meeting to place the final draft of a recall ordinance on the warrant for the upcoming town meeting in June.
The road to a recall ordinance began during an Aug. 29 Planning Board meeting, when Albert Aniel attempted to submit a recall ordinance to the selectmen, saying the town “needed an ordinance to be able to remove selectmen if they were not acting in the best interest of the voters, abusing their position, acted inappropriately or were convicted of a crime.”
On Oct. 8, selectmen voted to create the Recall Ordinance Committee, which consisted of Chairman Richie Philbrick, Selectman Byron Ouellette and seven residents who were appointed by the Board of Selectmen.
At the start of the meeting, Selectman Reggie Arsenault told Philbrick that he wished to make some amendments to the ordinance before they voted on it.
“Right now, the final draft says that the petition for a recall requires a number of voters to sign it equal to 10 percent of the number of votes cast at the last gubernatorial election,” Arsenault said to Philbrick. “We sent the ordinance to the lawyer, and he said he felt 10 percent was too low and that it should be increased. Every time a selectman upsets a group of citizens in one way or the other, you’re going to end up with a petition.”
Arsenault said that he wanted to change the 10 percent to an “automatic 500 signatures, or equal to one-third of the registered voters in Mexico.”
Arsenault’s suggestion elicited laughter from the crowd.
Resident Albert Aniel, who also served on the recall ordinance committee, said, “We don’t even get that many people coming in to vote, for God’s sake!”
“We have 1,500 registered voters, so I see nothing wrong with having 500 signatures on a petition to call for a recall,” Arsenault replied.
“Reggie, I feel like requiring 10 percent of the voters at the last gubernatorial election is still a little bit of work that people will have to do,” Philbrick said.
“Come on, Richie, that’s only 108 signatures,” Arsenault said. “Be realistic.”
Aniel told the board, “Having worked on petitions, I can assure you, getting 108 signatures is a hard job.”
He later added, “Any time a petition comes up in town, the requirement of signatures is equal to 10 percent of voters at the last election. We cannot change the bar for one ordinance. We need to keep everything the same. We can’t do it piecemeal.
“Also,” Aniel continued, turning to Arsenault, “it was not a legal opinion that the town attorney gave. It was just a personal opinion. You don’t have to change the number. A lot of other towns have 10 percent. Some have more, some have less. All of the members of the recall committee were unanimous in their agreement that the way we had formulated it was the safest way to do it.”
Arsenault replied, “Nowhere is it written that you have to go with 10 percent. You can have it at 25 percent, 50 percent or 75 percent. There’s no state law saying you have to go with 10 percent.”
Ouellette said that the committee felt that the number should remain 10 percent, in accordance with the other ordinances in town.
“If for some strange reason we end up getting frivolous petitions, we can amend the ordinance,” Ouellette said. “It’s not set in stone. We can change it.”
Before any more discussion could take place, Arsenault made a motion to amend the recall ordinance draft to require 500 signatures on a petition.
After Selectman Peter Merrill seconded the motion for discussion, Selectman George Byam said he thought that there “was nothing wrong with what was written” in the ordinance.
Arsenault’s motion was rejected by a 4-1 vote.
Following the first vote, Merrill told the board that while he felt 500 signatures was too high of a number, he would like to see the requirement for petition signatures increased to 25 percent, equivalent to approximately 216 registered voters.
“I like the petition,” Merrill told Aniel. “I didn’t like it when you first submitted it. I was dead-set against it, but now I like it. I’d just like to see that number a little bit higher.”
“I’m sure John would’ve loved to see the petition numbers higher when I came up with the idea for a tax cap on town operating expenses, and I’m sure there’s another petition somewhere where someone was thinking, ‘Gee, I wish the numbers were a little higher,’” Aniel said. “You can’t just pick and choose because you don’t happen to like the number for personal reasons.”
Philbrick then called for a vote, upon which Merrill’s motion was shot down 3-2, with Merrill and Arsenault voting in the minority.
Byam made a third motion to accept the recall ordinance as it was submitted by the Recall Ordinance Committee and to put it on the warrant for the June town meeting.
Byam’s motion was approved by a 3-2 vote, with Merrill and Arsenault voting against it.