Select Board members voted Dec. 22 to initiate a recall election of Select Board member Bruce Haffner and Budget Committee member Elinor Goldberg after petitions to start the recall process were submitted to the town with more than the 98 required signatures each.

The petition for Haffner states that he betrayed the trust placed in him in his position when: “He took it upon himself to undercut a majority Select Board decision on the roads budget because he disliked the outcome and so passed out misleading and unattributed flyers in a failed effort to have budget (sic) voted down,” and “He was caught on audio specifically threatening two elected town officials and a female town employee over whom he holds a supervisory role.”

It also states “e-mails presented in the December 8th Select Board meeting indicate that he is an active participant in efforts to smear the town administrator and undermine confidence in town government.”

Finally, the petition document states he discussed confidential personnel issues in public even though he had been warned not to.

The petition to recall Goldberg also cites the emails presented at the last Select Board meeting by Chair Sarah Ann Smith in which Goldberg talked to Haffner and former bookkeeper Langley Willauer the day after Willauer was fired by Town Administrator Samantha Mank. “So, here is the deal,” Goldberg states in the email. “We can make a huge mess of it by not keeping our powder dry and collecting all the dumb things Sam has done and getting ‘witnesses’ to those dumb things, creating affidavits with specific witnesses and proceeding to get rid of Sam in an orderly fashion that cannot be disputed…” The email goes on to call for a conversation about longer-term strategy.

The petition states this “clearly indicates that Ms. Goldberg is working in concert with at least two other town officials to undermine and attempt to oust the Town Administrator. Such behavior undermines confidence in Town Government and is utterly and completely unacceptable in any circumstance. The Town of Hope deserves better.”

The new recall process, approved in the November election, calls for five residents to request the recall petition and form the petitioner’s committee. Molly Luce, Wayne Luce, Jessica Snyder, Todd Snyder and Paul Smith formed that group for these petitions. Molly Luce, Amy Powers and John Monroe circulated the petitions. Powers is married to Vice Chair of the Select Board Brian Powers and Paul Smith to Chair Sarah Ann Smith.

Acting Town Clerk David Herrick said the blank petitions were requested at the town office Dec. 11 and returned by Dec. 18 with more than the required number of signatures (10 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election), and the signatures have been certified. The petitioners needed 98 signatures. They brought in 106 for Haffner and 103 for Goldberg.

Chair Sarah Ann Smith offered Haffner a chance to respond. Haffner said he had tried to get on the agenda to speak at the meeting, but had not been placed on the agenda and so had not prepared anything to say.

Goldberg commented by email Dec. 23, “I am not willing to resign but if recalled I would say that if the majority of the voters prefer mismanagement of the precious assets of the town instead of effective and accountable leadership, I accept that decision.”

The recall ordinance calls on the Select Board to hold a special recall election in 30-60 days, but has a provision stating that it can be combined with a regular election if one is anticipated within four months. Select Board members considered Feb. 16 for this, but wanted to look into whether this provision means it should be held off till the June town meeting, which might fit into that four-month window from February.

Smith said it might make sense to put a question in the same special election about whether to hire or contract a town Code Enforcement Officer. Presently this position is held by Mank in addition to her duties as Town Administrator. The Select Board has learned that Hope is the only town in Maine without a separate Code Enforcement Officer, though many contract part-time code officers and those sometimes work with more than one town.

Brian Powers said he would like to hold off on that until it can be vetted through the budget committee and discussed in an open town meeting. Smith said she believes the town is going to end up with a separate code officer, and said it would free up Mank to focus on town office work and cut down on her overtime.

In other business, the Select Board discussed ongoing questions about the differing ballot counts on the town meeting items in the July 14 election and whether it was legally possible to open the sealed boxes of ballots from that election to review them to see what happened. They stressed that this would not be a recount or change the outcomes of that election.

The town’s attorney had said it could cost thousands and that he would need to research election law to find out how to legally open the boxes this long after the election. State law allows for recounts called for by those with standing directly after the election, but once those deadlines have passed, it becomes more complicated.

Smith said she had learned that copies of election tally sheets were historically kept by town clerks to help in answering any questions that arise, but said those too had been sealed in the box for the July election. The town did not have an experienced town clerk for that election and she said they did not know to keep those copies of the tally sheets.

Smith said the law allows for the transfer of documents from the sealed box to another container for destruction, and that at that time, in the presence of witnesses, the town might be able to remove the tally sheets for review. The ballots themselves are confidential and cannot be reviewed.

The board decided to do more research to find out if there is an attorney with expertise in elections who can answer the questions without conducting lengthy, costly research and give initial authorization for Smith’s plan, though it was expected this will be discussed again next meeting.

Betty Ingraham commented as a member of the public that she found Smith’s comments criticizing Willauer at the last meeting disheartening and mean. She said the emails presented involving Goldberg and Willauer came right after Willauer had fired and everyone in town was shocked at the time by the firing. She said that context mattered.

Another member of the public also commented saying that Smith’s statements about Willauer had been harsh.

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