Mike Downing stands in the RSU 16 bus depot in Poland in March. Downing was fired this year for making racist and sexist comments and has since been elected to the board of the school system that fired him. (Sun Journal file photo)

MINOT — An RSU 16 school bus driver who was fired recently for making racist and sexist comments cannot be removed from his newly elected seat on the school board.

Mike Downing was elected to represent Minot on the RSU 16 school board March 2. A write-in candidate, he won the open seat with 31 votes, but his firing from that school system — and the reasons for it — was not made public until after the election.

A number of residents have since approached both the town and RSU 16 about recalling Downing.

Superintendent Tina Meserve has said there is nothing the school system or school board can do because Downing’s election fell under the town’s authority.

The Minot Board of Selectmen said Monday there is nothing the town can do because Minot’s recall ordinance addresses municipal officers only, not school board members.

Minot could amend its ordinance, but such an amendment would have to be done at a town meeting. That would take time, and Downing is set to start his three-year term in July.

Town Administrator Arlan Saunders told selectmen during their regular meeting Monday night that he has talked with multiple lawyers about the issue, including private lawyers and one from the Maine Municipal Association, and they all agree the town’s ordinances provide no way to recall Downing.

“There is something that the town can do,” Saunders told the selectmen, “but it’s going to take a while.”

“That doesn’t solve this issue,” Selectmen Lisa Cesare added. “It protects us going forward.”

One Minot resident spoke at the meeting. He urged selectmen to make a public statement regarding Downing.

“If we don’t say anything, are we kind of saying that’s OK?” Eric Holman asked the board. “And if there’s something we disagree with, if I raise my hand and I say, ‘I disagree with that,’ be it behavior or anything, I’ve paved the way for when worse problems come down the road later then I can say. … I’ve got this track record of saying, ‘I don’t agree with that.'”

The board did not put forward a motion to make a public statement.

Downing, 68, has admitted to having made a variety of racist or sexist comments over the years, including referring to a student on his bus as “the Negro girl” and, in recent months, calling Martin Luther King Jr. Day “National N(word) Day” and referring to Superintendent Tina Meserve and school board Chairwoman Mary Martin each as a “C(word).”

He was fired Jan. 22, after 45 years with the school system.

Meserve recently was hired as superintendent of the Farmington area’s RSU 9. She starts her new job in July, the same month Downing will begin serving on the RSU 16 school board.

“The only thing I can say is hopefully this (Downing’s comments) will not be an issue with Tina (Meserve) stepping down now, if there were some personal issues that were part of this. Maybe, maybe, that goes away,” Cesare said. “We can only be hopeful.”

RSU 16 includes Minot, Poland and Mechanic Falls. Downing will be one of five people representing Minot on the 15-person school board.

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