The recall of the Board of Selectmen is now underway, with signature collectors out with petitions in hand, thanks to some pro bono work in Superior Court on Friday by Dick McClure. Section 3-12 of the recall bylaw requires the town to provide recall petitions immediately when the necessary number of signed affidavits are filed with/delivered to the Town Clerk and actually states the town shall have such petitions readily available. However, the clock for gathering signatures on the recall petitions is specified to start ticking when the affidavits are delivered to the Town Clerk and NOT when the recall petitions are actually provided to the signators of the affidavits.
This provides a window of zero to 14 days for signature collection, depending on how well the town adheres to the bylaw's requirement to provide petitions immediately. The Town Manager and the Town Clerk chose to call the delivery of the affidavits "filing," and chose to adhere to the starting of the clock to collect signatures at that time. However, they chose NOT to adhere to the requirement of the bylaw that the town provide petitions at the time of filing. Cohen's statement that his end-run around the bylaw's requirements is "just adhering to the bylaws," is similar to the Planning Board's insistence that all the 9 North Road special permits circumventing bylaw protections were "just adhering to the bylaws."
This could of course have been solved by applying common sense and "filing" the affidavits once the signatures are verified, and the petitions could then be provided the same day as required under the bylaw. It is glaringly obvious that the intent and spirit of the bylaw was to allow those signators of the affidavits a full 14 days to gather signatures on town-supplied petitions once their affidavits had been verified. It is also glaringly obvious that the Town Manager, who works for the very Selectmen sought to be recalled, has gone out of his way to make this recall effort as difficult as possible and was willing to waste thousands of taxpayers' dollars in legal fees defending his foolish decision. The Selectmen knew this but did not direct Mr. Cohen to avoid the unnecessary legal action. In fact, Jon Kurland wrote that he agreed with the town’s decision to go to court, and selectman Jim Lane hopped in his car to join the Town Manager and lawyers in court.
Paul Cohen didn’t hop in his car, he had a police cruiser chauffeur him and the Town Clerk to the Superior Court, along with the two lawyers, arriving with lights blaring. The judge was apparently not impressed, ruling in favor of us voters who simply are exercising our rights under the law. I would guess those fancy town lawyers are billing at around $300/hour each, so that little exercise in petulance by the Town Manager and the Board of Selectmen cost thousands of dollars. But they’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that it’s “wasteful” and “inappropriate” to have the town spend thousands of dollars on a special election to allow the voters to express their will.
Paul Cohen has finally decided to file an ethics complaint. No, not against Phil Eliopoulos, who flagrantly and repeatedly violated state and local ethics laws. Paul Cohen has publicly announced that he is filing unspecified ethics charges against Dick McClure for appearing in court to protect his own interests and every other resident’s interests under the law! It would be funny if it weren’t so despicable!
Dick McClure’s letter to the editor provides more detail. You can read it here: http://www.chelmsford.patch.com/articles/a-letter-from-richard-mcclure
By the way, signature gatherers, who are hardly paid luxury wages, are out in the rain giving people the opportunity to sign, and are being harassed by town officials anxious to impede the recall effort. Please sign the petition and thank the gatherers for their efforts to help us achieve good and honest government in our town. Most of them don’t live here, just like the Town Manager. But unlike the Town Manager, they are working to help us achieve good and honest government.
Yours with best wishes and hope for the future of our town,
Roland Van Liew