Efforts toward formally inquiry into the 9 North Road scandal and accountability for malfeasance by Chelmsford town officials have been gaining momentum over the past few months. Thousands of residents have asked our officials to be more honest with us, to uphold the law on our behalf, and to facilitate formal inquiry into malfeasance and corruption of the sort that has led to the obliteration of our Village Green, breakdown of honest discourse from our top public officials, and of course expensive boondoggle proposals to protect the interests of the few at the expense of the many.
Unfortunately, our highest ranking officials continue to ignore your interests, and the expressed sentiments of you as their constituents. Some Town Meeting Reps have responded with good intentions to the increasing outrage at the nonstop malfeasance by our Town Manager and the complicity of many selectmen, but the Planning Board incumbents and the Board of Selectmen remain defiantly opposed to accountability or inquiry.
Nevertheless, they are feeling the heat. The warnings have not gone completely unheeded. The selectmen’s response to calls for formal inquiry into the 9 North Road debacle has been to submit a warrant article to Town Meeting to change the recall process to make it virtually impossible to recall any official. It’s hard to imagine a more arrogant or self-serving response.
The recommend changes would eliminate the ability to have voters sign separate affidavits requesting a petition. They also would increase the number of voters required to sign a recall petition from 10% to 15%. That’s about 3800 signatures. To put that in perspective, about 4600 voters TOTAL voted in the election April 5.
There is also an explicit provision added that blank recall petitions shall not be photocopied or reproduced. In other words, these officials are quite concerned that residents could recall public officials by actually reaching enough voters with affidavits or petitions! And the changes are specifically designed to preclude direct mail as a technique that could be used to reach voters.
There are too many clever changes to call them all out individually. As an example, the proposal to "give the lead petitioner enough petition blanks containing the number of signatures required multiplied by five" might sound reasonable at first, but for 3800 signatures it would lead to distribution of about 250 petitions with room for 75 signatures each, or 375 petitions with room for 50 signatures each. Try getting 3800 signatures with 375 petitions. It can't be done, period, especially in a compressed time frame as the proposed draconian recall process requires.
Limiting the number of petitions is precisely what Paul Cohen tried to do last fall. He maintained that 300 petitions should be issued to obtain 2500 signatures (the current requirement). After our complaint to the Secretary of State's Office, the town issued a couple of thousand petitions. But we were left with just over a week to collect 2500 signatures. It can’t be done.
The provision to prohibit photocopying is a dead giveaway that officials simply want to keep any petition from widely circulating while squeezing the time frame as much as they can. This was their strategy last fall, and it remains their strategy today. The proposed warrant article increases the total time frame after submission of affidavits requesting the petitions from 14 days to 20 days, but it's a spurious increase because in the proposed warrant article the town is given several more days to provide the petitions in the first place. Why not just provide 21 days from the issuance of petitions?
The proposed changes are clearly meant to keep voters from having access to ballots, which is what recall petitions are, under Massachusetts law. That's unconstitutional and will clearly result in court challenges. Any claim to be trying to "save the town money" (a statement of Cohen's) is spurious. If the town really wants to save money, then declare that a small number of petitions must be issued – say 500 – but don't prohibit photocopying.
And there is absolutely no rationale for requiring that voters all sign a single affidavit or limited number of affidavits for recall. The affidavits are not provided by the town or paid for by the town. That's just aimed squarely at preventing any recall from ever getting off the ground.
Paul Cohen was quoted as saying that the changes are "just meant to bring us into alignment with our neighbors." He then provided an example: Falmouth! Yes, Falmouth! I say, how about our good neighbor Mashpee. Mashpee requires exactly 25 signatures to force a recall vote for any public official. You can see how disingenuous our Town Manager is, and it’s never going to end as long as these selectmen are in office.
Thank you for all you do to help restore integrity to our town’s government.
Yours with best wishes and hope for the future of our town,
Roland Van Liew
P.S. The Lowell Sun's Chelmsford reporter asked me to comment on the warrant article when it was first proposed in January, and in my response to her I highlighted (bolded) the two most harmful stipulations just as I did above in this message to you. Those are the two stipulations she took care to omit from her article. So these private messages are the only way that ordinary citizens like you can find out just what slippery legal maneuvers like this by our top officials are REALLY all about.