DENMARK — Residents have started a petition to recall selectmen in what the town manager said is a preliminary move to force his ouster. 

On April 7, two petitions formally seeking to unseat Board of Selectmen Chairman Richard Mason Jr. and Selectman Beverly Caparco were submitted to the Town Office. 

Selectman Ed Enos, whose term expires in June, is not listed on either petition because he is not seeking re-election. 

Petitioners contend selectmen ignored their directive in a Dec. 3, 2014,  petition requesting Town Manager Daniel Merhalski be fired during his six-month probationary period because his professional demeanor was “unsuitable for the town of Denmark.” 

Merhalski has held the position since September.

Petitioners also claim the board held an illegal executive session, voted not to allow public comment about Merhalski’s actions as town manager, and made errors and willful omissions drafting minutes of public meetings. 

“This is not something anyone wanted to do,” Ralph Sarty Jr. said. “Every effort was made to work with the board and come up solutions.”

If the petition garners 186 signatures before May 7, it will force a recall election, according to terms of the town charter. From there, the town clerk would have five days to validate the signatures and send notice to the selectmen. Once notified, selectmen would be required to call a recall election no less than 30, but no more than 40 days later.

Caparco, in her second term, and Mason, who has been in office for seven years, did not respond to an email seeking comment Friday. 

In a phone interview Friday, Merhalski said the controversy stems from the beginning of his tenure, when he requested, on selectmen’s behalf, that Code Enforcement Office Mike Lee hold regular office hours.

The act, he said, has touched off mistrust between officials and residents in the town of 1,500.

Asked if he would resign, Merhalski said, “I’ve thought about this. There were 160 [valid] signatures on the [first] petition. Of those, only eight had met me. Since, a number of people have come into my office apologizing, saying they didn’t know what they were signing. Most people have showed support for me.”

An unsigned, open letter by a group calling itself Denmark Concerned Citizens states that relations between selectmen and residents have deteriorated.

Merhalski, the letter reads, referred to residents who questioned his actions as a “lynch mob,” harassed Lee, and when questioned about these assertions “addressed some citizens in a disrespectful and arrogant manner.” 

The letter was apparently mailed to all Denmark households. 

Merhalski said the “lynch mob” quote was a joke taken out of context and he has since apologized. He said Lee confrontational with him.

In regards to the Dec. 3, 2014, petition requesting the selectmen to fire him, Merhalski said the town attorney advised that selectmen could take the petition under consideration but were not bound to act one way or another. Citing confidentiality, he did not make the correspondence public to the Sun Journal.

He said residents were informed of the attorney’s advice. 

A recall of selectmen would trigger an election to fill the vacancies. However, since the timing could leave the town with one selectmen, the town would need a court order to sign all but the most rudimentary checks, Merhalski said. 

One of the 20 or so residents behind the petition and open letter, Jimmy Booker rejected the notion that the goal was to fire the town manager. Merhalski, Booker said, could do a good job if it weren’t for the selectmen.

“My goal is to get selectmen on the board who respect the people of the town,” Booker said. 

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