Editor’s Note: Beth Baron, Kerrin Morrin, Stephanie Jasmin, and Melanie Rothstein resigned on Wednesday, Jan. 23, after we went to press for this week’s print edition. To read their resignation letters in full, please visit the Longmeadow News Facebook page. We will have much, much more on this developing story in our print edition next week.
LONGMEADOW, MA – A warrant article that would allow for the recall of elected officers in the Town of Longmeadow except for members of the Select Board was approved Thursday night, Jan. 17, at a Special Town Meeting held at Longmeadow High School.
Article 3: An Act Providing for Recall Elections in the Town of Longmeadow was approved by a ballot vote of 635 in favor and 235 against. To pass, two-thirds majority was required – a mark that was surpassed by the 73 percent of voters who were in favor of the article.
The Longmeadow Home Rule Charter currently does not contain a provision for recall elections.
The Select Board isn’t included in the charter change petition because according to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 43B, Section 10, the terms of office of select board members can only be changed by an elected charter commission.
Prior to the vote at the Special Town Meeting, petitioner Patrick O’Shea explained why he thought Article 3 should be approved.
“Having recall language in the town documents is the proper thing for this town,” he said. “We need to have this type of language to allow for bad actors, for controversial issues where people of this town feel that there’s a strong sense that we don’t agree with our elected official, or officials, etc., where the town voters have the possibility to bring a recall action.”
The Special Town Meeting included three articles, and Articles 1 and 3 both had to do with the recall of elected officials in town. They were filed shortly after the Longmeadow School Committee’s controversial 4-3 vote in November 2018 to not renew Superintendent M. Martin O’Shea’s contract, a move that has drawn heavy criticism from residents, administrators, and students in town.
No action was taken on Article 1, as its petitioner said Article 3 was a better mechanism. Article 2 would have transferred the control of $2 million from the 2019 School Operations Budget to an account under the control of the Select Board called the Select Board Reserve for School Expenditures, but the warrant was deemed unlawful by town counsel and ultimately withdrawn by resident Marc Haber, who submitted the citizen’s petition.
Jennifer Falcone, a representative of the group “Citizens for Longmeadow’s Future” said Article 3 is confusing because it doesn’t apply to every elected official in town.
“Only after speaking with an attorney in town, and there does seem to be quite a few of them in town, did I realize that this article carves out specific elected officials,” Falcone said. “To even figure out which ones it applies to, you need to hold the article side by side with the town charter.”
Falcone said that the charter is a “complex” and “changing, legal document” that “must be carefully examined.”
“Proponents for Article 3 say it will increase accountability, but why wouldn’t we want that accountability for everyone?” Falcone said. “Article 3 leaves out the most important elected body in town, our Select Board. This group of elected officials makes hard decisions that impact the entire town, not just our schools. As far as we can find, no other towns or cities in Massachusetts have recall provisions that specifically exclude the Select Board. I believe that if we want more accountability for our elected officials, it should apply to everyone.
“The Longmeadow Home Rule Charter is basically the constitution of our town,” Falcone added. “Many things could go wrong with this article. For example, it allows for recall elections for any lawful reason. No illegal activity is required. … if you don’t like how someone voted on something, you could put the whole town through the drama and significant expense of recall campaigns and elections. As we’ve seen, in this day and age you can swing public opinion with a few social media posts. If you can create recall elections based on opinions, this town could turn into a three ring circus every time a controversial vote comes.”
Falcone added that having a recall mechanism may deter people from serving as elected officials because any decision made “could lead to a very public and embarrassing recall process.”
“Personally, I elect people that I think will make reasoned, fair decisions based on all the information that they might have, that I might not have as a regular citizen,” Falcone said. “And I expect them to make those decisions in the best interests of our town for the long term.”
Former Select Board member Alex Grant echoed Falcone’s sentiments, detailing the time, energy, and money it costs to run for an elected position in town.
“This isn’t like coaching your kids’ soccer team, it’s not like serving on the PTA, it’s way different,” Grant said. “It’s a very significant, unpaid, part time job. Not only that, you have to spend money for your campaign. That means you have to go into your own pocket, or you have to ask your friends to kick in money, probably both. To run for election in this town, it is at least several hundred dollars and probably closer to $2,000. Some people have spent even more than that. Most of these elected boards are completely unpaid, so you have to go into the hole to campaign and serve on these boards. Now, guess what? If there is a recall election, you would have two choices. You can resign or you can do the campaign all over again, and you can dig further into your pocket, into your friends’ pockets, to pay for it. …This recall article is the biggest poison pill to public service that you could ever come up with, and it should be rejected.”
Former School Committee Vice Chair Russell Dupere said changing the charter “based on issues like this is a very dangerous precedent
“If we start doing that, and every time we have a controversy, whether it was redistricting, or the mansion, or all the different things we’ve had over the years, if we start changing our charter because of that, we could have a drastically different charter,” Dupere said. “I think we need to think carefully about whether the charter should change based on one citizen’s petition and 200 signatures.”
Former School Committee member Jerold Duquette proposed an amendment to the article that would prevent a recall of elected officials until their term expires, but that amendment ultimately failed.
In Longmeadow, members of the School Committee are elected in June and serve three-year terms, with no more than three terms expiring each year.
The terms of Chair Beth Baron, Vice Chair Kerrin Morrin, and Melanie Rothstein – three of the four School Committee members who voted to not renew O’Shea’s contract – will expire in June 2020. The term of Stephanie Jasmin, the fourth member who voted no on O’Shea’s contract renewal, is set to expire in June of this year, along with Armand Wray, who has been the most outspoken School Committee member in favor of O’Shea. The terms of Bronwyn Monahan and Ryan Kelly, who voted to renew O’Shea’s contract, expire in June 2021.
This year’s Annual Town Election is set for Tuesday, June 11.
Following the Special Town Meeting, Longmeadow Town Clerk Katherine Ingram notified State Sen. Eric Lesser and State Rep. Brian Ashe on Jan. 18 about the approved article. Since it is a Home Rule Petition, it now requires Massachusetts Legislature approval.
If approved, a Citizen’s Recall Petition would require 200 signatures from registered voters and would need to be specific to an elected official. The Town Clerk would have seven days to certify the signatures and two weeks to issue a Recall Petition Sheet for each elected official being recalled, and then signatures from 15 percent of the registered voters in town would need to be obtained within 45 days for each elected official being recalled.
Following certification again from the Town Clerk, the Select Board would be notified. The Select Board would then notify the elected officials in question, and they would be given a seven day window to resign. In the event of no resignation, the Select Board would schedule a recall election at least 60 days but no more than 90 days from the date of notice.
– Article by Jeff Hanouille/Longmeadow News