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Independent Thoughts: Town clerk can’t recall situation so divisive

by | Feb 20, 2024 | Featured, Featured: Features

Recall drive 2-10-24

Organizers collect signatures Feb. 10 in the parking lot outside CVS on Main Street as part of their effort to recall members of the Select Board. PHOTO/JOHN CARDILLO

Town Clerk Connor Degan has seen quite a bit during his eight years in office. After all, Degan started in 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president and started aggressively pushing conspiracy theories, which trickled down to local election offices. But the current controversy at Town Hall is new to him.

Supporters of Tim Brennan, the popular sergeant who was fired by the Select Board for violating Hopkinton Police Department policy by not sharing accusations of sexual assault by former Deputy Chief John “Jay” Porter (who now is facing charges of child rape) have initiated an effort to recall all five Select Board members (see Page 1). The supporters say Brennan did the right thing by acting to protect the alleged victim, who needed time before getting to a point where she was willing to come forward, and should not face punishment.

The recall targets include chair Muriel Kramer, despite her being the lone member to vote against firing Brennan, and Irfan Nasrullah. However, Degan pointed out that those two recalls would be invalid, as we are well within six months of the end of their terms this May. (Both already announced that they will not run again.)

The other three members — Mary Jo LaFreniere, Shahidul Mannan and Amy Ritterbusch — are not up for reelection this year, so they are fair game.

There has never been a recall election in town, Degan noted.

“This is the furthest our recall process has ever gotten,” he said. “It’s been discussed in the past — probably three times where people have inquired about recall proceedings. But people either saw how much work it was and said, ‘That’s way too much, it’s not worth that much time and effort.’ Other times, the [office-holder] has resigned, or the person got what they wanted.

“This is the first one where they’ve been collecting signatures in a widespread manner. No one’s ever come back with the statement.”

The “statement” is the recall request that must be accompanied by signatures from at least 10% of the town’s registered voters. That comes out to about 1,320 names. And at least 200 signatures must come from each of the town’s five precincts.

But wait, there’s more — much more. That’s only the first step.

Once those signatures are confirmed by the Town Clerk’s Office, that means the organizers would start the actual recall petition, and that requires 20% of the town’s voters (about 2,640 people) to sign on to it. And the organizers don’t get to add on to their original list. They would need to start from scratch, getting people back to sign a second time, while obtaining substantially more additional names. Only then would an election be called.

“Something I told them when they first asked about it is that this is designed to be arduous,” Degan said. “It’s certainly not supposed to be taken lightly. The goal of this is to be a watchdog for true government abuse. If the people truly believe in that, it will move forward and will happen.”

Degan also noted that a recall election would be costly, unless the petitioners act fast enough to combine it with the May 20 Annual Town Election, which seems unlikely (although not out of the question) — the deadline for that ballot is April 15, but there needs to be time for candidates to take out papers and gather signatures. A stand-alone recall election would cost the town something in the neighborhood of $10,000.

“In theory, you could have the entire Select Board replaced in one election,” Degan said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

Crosswalk controversy continues

Following up on this column’s report in the previous issue about the non-functioning crosswalk beacons on Main Street, the town confirmed to resident Peter LaGoy that the flashing lights will not be operational until Eversource completes the underground infrastructure so that the Main Street Corridor Project can be completed. Eversource has said it is waiting on transformers and could not provide an estimate for when they would be available.

The town’s “project team” also told LaGoy that while the beacon is “not a regulatory requirement” … “we do share your concerns regarding safety at this location, especially at night. As an additional interim measure to identify which rapid flashing beacons are not functional, the town will bag the lights in addition to the push buttons that are already covered. The town will also provide an additional temporary measure by placing temporary ‘State Law Yield to Pedestrians’ signs near the crosswalks at the Church Street and Hayden Rowe crosswalk locations.”

LaGoy questioned the reference to the beacon not being a regulatory requirement.

“The standard safety practice, as spelled out in OSHA guidance on safety (first place I looked on a quick Google search), is that safety and health programs focus on a proactive approach to finding and fixing hazards before they cause harm,” LaGoy wrote via email. “Safety is not a one-time event but rather a process striving for constant improvement. Safety managers work to improve safety measures, not to decrease safety measures as was done in this case. Is there a specific standard that says, ‘Do not remove a safety measure until a better measure is in place?’ Probably not. That’s because it is understood that one simply does not do that if at all avoidable.”

Added Select Board chair Muriel Kramer: “I hope we can all agree that assertive, proactive safety measures are the right way to go. Every! Time!”

4 Comments

  1. annie

    Nobody ever stops for pedestrians at the crosswalks in Woodville do what is the big deal here?

  2. Brad

    By not sharing accusations of sexual assault, isn’t that like aiding and abetting the crime? Is that what we want to teach our children? It’s ok to keep quiet about a sexual assault because he’s a nice guy?

    • Stephen D Small

      Accusations can permanently tarnish a person’s reputation and have a profound effect on their lives. Remember an accusation does NOT indicate guilt. Is it not enough to wait until a formal charge is filed?

  3. Anonymous

    Recalling the SB because they don’t agree with seems a bit infantile to me. I’m guessing many of the signers might be the last to want to take the place of anyone on the SB. It’s a lot to do and will accomplish little. The SB gave Tim an offer and he turned it down. He’s still fired.

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