Friday, March 18, 2011

Recall Provision in Proposed Charter

One of the better public meetings I've ever attended was the other night at City Hall. Convened by the Charter Commission, this was an opportunity for the public to give input to the Preliminary Report which has been sent to the State for review. Commissioners and the public really listened to each other.

The Daily News article is linked here:

With very little coffee in my bloodstream very early the next morning, I sent each Commissioner the following email. I do hope they take another look at including a recall provision. I expect that I will vote for the charter when it is on the November ballot even if there is no recall provision, but I do think it's a good idea with little downside.

Dear Commissioner,

As I said last night at the Public Hearing of March 16, I applaud the efforts and results of the Charter Commission. You’ve really done a tremendous service to the City.

I know you have deliberated extensively about the recall provision for Mayor.

I offer the following for your consideration:

  • · With the current two year Mayoral term, essentially the citizens sign a contract with the Mayor for two years with no “out clause” except for the Mayor choosing to step down. With a four year term, that contract become a four year contract with no “out clause” except for the Mayor choosing to step down. You have taken a tremendous step in making the position more attractive to highly qualified candidates by working on salary and years of employment; but it still possible for us to hire/elect a person who is not really up to the job. A recall provision offers a recourse in that unlikely event.
  • · Recall as a source of divisiveness in a community—here I think we are mixing correlation with causation. The argument could be made that a recall is the result of divisiveness in a community not the cause; for example, whether there was an ability to have a recall election in Amesbury a few years ago or not, there is divisiveness in Amesbury. Elections in and of themselves are focal points of divisiveness because issues and candidates are properly and publicly vetted.
  • · Likelihood of Recall—Recall is an option for a low-frequency/high impact event---a poorly performing Mayor. I think it’s an additional small check and balance on the Executive. As one Commissioner pointed out, actual recall is very rare nationally even though there are many entities of government which have such provisions. Properly constructed (see below the Greenfield example), it would be a rare or never used option but would have the marginal effect of improving motivation of the person holding the office.
  • · Small City—why does our size matter? I’m only being somewhat facetious in saying that being Mayor of Newburyport is more difficult than being Mayor of Boston, New York and Chicago. Mayor of a small community must be a jack of all trades because there is no economy of scale to hire expertise in finance, technology, human resource, and many other important functions. Big cities hire many people to offer advice in these areas. The Mayor of a small city is ‘chief cook and bottlewasher’; I favor a recall provision in Newburyport for the Executive because that position by its action or inaction will have enormous impact on our City.

Thank you for your consideration.

Ed Cameron

Additional information:

The Greenfield Recall Provision has a high, three step bar which must be hurdled in order to remove an elected official. Again I favor the recall for only the Mayor; Councillors and School Committee members have the check and balance of the other Councillors or the other members.


( a) Application - Any person holding an elected office may be recalled from such office by the voters in accordance with the procedures made available in this section.

(b) Recall Petition - Five hundred (500) or more voters may file with the Board of Registrars of Voters an affidavit containing the name of the elected at-large officer sought to be recalled and a statement of the grounds for recall. The signatures on such affidavit shall contain the names of at least twenty-five (25) voters in each of the precincts into which the Town is divided for the purpose of elections. One hundred (100) or more voters may file with the Board of Registrars of Voters an affidavit containing the name of the individual precinct elected officer sought to be recalled and a statement for the grounds for recall.

If the affidavit is found to be valid the Town Clerk shall thereupon deliver to the first ten (10) persons named on said affidavit, petition blanks demanding said recall, printed forms of which shall be kept available. The blanks may be completed by printing or by typewriting; they shall be addressed to the Town Council; they shall contain the names and residence addresses of the ten (10) persons to whom they are issued and they shall contain the grounds for recall as stated in the affidavit; they shall demand the election of a successor to the office; and they shall be dated and signed by the Town Clerk.

The recall petitions shall be returned to the office of the Board of Registrars of Voters within twenty-one (21) days following the date they are issued, signed by not less than twenty percent (20%) of the total number of voters of the Town as of the date of the most recent Town election.

The sheets constituting a petition need not all be filed at the same time. For the purposes of this section such a petition shall be deemed filed whenever the persons responsible for its filing notify the Board of Registrars of Voters, in writing, that the filing is complete. Before receiving such notice the Board of Registrars of Voters may, but shall not be required to, certify signatures on the sheets already filed.

The Board of Registrars of Voters shall within ten (10) days following the date the petition forms are filed certify the number of signatures thereon which are the names of voters and the percentage that number represents of the total number of voters as of the date of the most recent Town election.

(c) Recall Election - If the petitions are certified by the Board of Registrars of Voters to contain a sufficient number of signatures, they shall forthwith submit the same, with their certificate, to the Town Council. Upon receipt of the certified petition forms the Town Council shall forthwith give written notice to the officer whose recall is sought of the validity of such petitions. If the officer whose recall is sought does not resign the office within five (5) days following delivery of the said notice, or by leaving at the last known place of residence, the Town Council shall, after consultation with the Town Clerk and the Board of Registrars of Voters, order a special election to be held on a date not more than ninety (90) days after the date of its notice to the officer whose recall is sought.

(d) Ballot Question - Ballots used at the recall election shall state the proposition in substantially the following form:

Shall (insert name of officer) be recalled from the office of (fill in office)?

________YES _________NO

(e) Officeholder - The person whose recall is sought shall continue to hold the office and to perform the duties until the recall election. If a majority of the votes cast on the question as stated above is in the affirmative, the officer shall be deemed to be recalled and the office shall be deemed to be vacant upon the certification of the election results. If a majority of the votes cast on the said question is in the negative the person whose recall was sought shall continue in the office until the expiration of the term for which elected, but subject to recall as provided in section (f), below.

(f) Restriction on Recall Petition - No recall petition shall be filed against any elected official until at least six (6) months following the commencement of a term of office, nor, in the

case of any elected official subjected to a recall election and not recalled thereby, during the remainder of the current term of office. A recall election shall not be held if less than six (6) months of the term of office of any elected official remains at the time of the certification of the petition forms.

(g) Filling of Vacancy - If the office of Mayor is declared vacant as the result of a recall election the Town Council shall forthwith call a special election to be held on a date fixed by it not less than sixty (60) nor more than ninety (90) days following the date of the recall election. The person elected at such special election shall serve for the balance of the unexpired term remaining at the time of election.

If a vacancy occurs in the office of Town Council, or School Committee, it shall be filled in the manner provided (section 2-11, or section 4-6 respectively).

No person recalled from an office under the terms of this section shall be eligible to be a candidate to fill any vacancy created by such recall.

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