Hinsdale Voters Approve Recall Measure
People in the small western Massachusetts town of Hinsdale have voted in favor of a measure allowing voters to recall elected officials.
“Yes votes...202 and the ‘no’ votes…95,” meeting moderator John Conner read to the crowd gathered which answered with cheers and applause.
About 300 people in the town of roughly 2,000 showed up for a special town meeting, causing the start time to be pushed back an hour as a line of residents looking to get inside the school gym stretched into the parking lot. The special meeting was triggered by a citizen petition signed by more than 300 townspeople. Opponents of the recall article raised concerns about the cost of special elections in the town; about $1,300, according to the town clerk. The Select Board’s ousting of former police chief Nancy Daniels spurred the recall initiative. Resident Rudy Pfeiler says the issues that led to the vote could have been settled already.
“For some reason we’re here taking a vote on something that a small town like us shouldn’t be getting involved in to start with,” Pfeiler said at the meeting. “We should be getting along with the people we got in this town.”
The article needs to be passed by the legislature and signed by the governor before taking effect. State Representative Paul Mark says that could happen before the end of 2014.
“It’s totally up to the people of Hinsdale,” Mark said. “If having sent me a home rule petition I will do my best efforts to get it passed because that’s what my job is as a representative.”
Hinsdale town counsel Joel Bard says about 35 percent of Massachusetts towns have some form of a recall option. If enacted in Hinsdale, 100 registered voters would be able to initiate recall measures for reasons of “lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties, corruption, malfeasance, or violation of oath.” From there, 20 percent of the town’s roughly 1,400 registered voters would have to sign a recall petition. If the elected official facing removal does not resign within five days of receiving written notice, a recall election would be held at least 64 but no more than 90 days after. Select Board member Bill Goddard says it’s possible he could be the subject of a recall. He was one of two board members to vote in favor of placing Chief Daniels on paid administrative leave in November after she failed to complete training required to serve as a full-time officer in the commonwealth.
“I think it could be a double-edged sword for whoever gets in office if somebody is in fact recalled,” Goddard said. “Now if you’re in there for six months and somebody doesn’t like you and they get 100 people to go against you…I don’t think it’s the right way. I think it should be done through an annual election. If you don’t like the way the people are then vote them out at an annual election.”
Bruce Marshall has been on the Select Board for 36 years.
“I think it’s a good option,” Marshall said. “For myself, I’ve been here awhile and if I wasn’t doing my job and people wanted me out of here I’d be the first one to go. But you got to do your job. You got to work for the people in the town of Hinsdale. That’s not being done.”
Select Chair Bonnie Conner also says she could be targeted, but says she wouldn’t resign in the face of a recall petition.
“I think its part of their plan,” Conner said. “They have a whole plan laid out.”
Marshall, who opposed placing Daniels on leave, says he would consider resigning if faced with a recall petition, but sees no reason why that would happen.
“I don’t think so because I’ve always done my job,” Marshall said. “I’ve always treated the people fairly. They’d have no reason to recall me and if they did they’d never make it.”
Goddard, who along with Conner was elected to a three-year term in May 2013, says he would think about stepping down if recall was brought against him.
“It’ll be the last,” Goddard said answering a question about his first term.
Residents also approved transferring $3,500 from the town’s free cash fund to its general legal expense account to pay for counsel addressing multiple lawsuits against the town including one from Daniels. Conner had asked for $15,000 for anticipated future legal expenses.