Steps Taken To Initiate Another Recall
By: Christopher Kazarian
Since 1991, when Falmouth adopted its town charter, there had been no attempts to recall a selectman from office until last fall.
A little more than three months later a second one is in the works.
On Friday afternoon Sheryl Kozens-Long of Galleon Drive, Hatchville, began that process when she picked up an affidavit from Falmouth Town Hall to recall Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Mary (Pat) Flynn for what she alleges is a clear violation of the town charter as well as a possible violation of the state’s open meeting laws.
Ms. Kozens-Long has since collected the necessary 100 signatures required to begin the next step in what is considered an arduous task to remove a selectman from office—obtain 3,847 signatures in 20 days in order to hold a special election to see if residents want to oust Ms. Flynn from her seat. Of those signatures, which constitute 15 percent of the 25,648 registered voters in Falmouth, no more than 25 percent can be from any one precinct.
While Ms. Kozens-Long agreed that the timing is dubious—Ms. Flynn is up for reelection in May—and the cost to the town to hold such an election would be onerous—at least $15,000—she said the board’s actions of late necessitated this kind of action.
“Over the past 10 days I’ve been trying to figure out a way to justify some of the things they’ve been doing that clearly seem to be a violation of the town charter,” she said.
Her complaints pertain to the possible removal of Town Manager Robert L. Whritenour Jr. and the process by which it has taken place. At the top of her list is the allegation that Ms. Flynn requested independent counsel Thomas J. Urbelis of Urbelis & Fieldsteel LLP of Boston to negotiate the terms of Mr. Whritenour’s severance package.
If Ms. Flynn did this on her own, Ms. Kozens-Long said, this is a clear violation of the charter, which dictates that selectmen act collectively as opposed to each board member acting alone.
In addition, she complained about the lack of due process and the fact that there has been no clearly stated justification for removing Mr. Whritenour from office. According to the charter, if selectmen remove Mr. Whritenour, they must do so in a public session and list their reasons for doing so.
Ms. Kozens-Long also was upset that no evaluation of the town manager has been done though the charter stipulates one must be done by selectmen. “A review of the town manager is necessary, especially when you are coming to a resolution to dismiss him,” Ms. Kozens-Long said.
There is a possibility, she said, that selectmen may have violated open meeting laws by going into executive session two weeks ago for the purpose of entering into negotiations with non-union personnel. She said there are only three reasons for the board to have gone into executive session that related to Mr. Whritenour: collective bargaining, litigation, or criminal misconduct.
“I don’t believe the town manager is suing the town. I don’t believe it had to do with collective bargaining, because his contract was renewed last year, and I don’t believe he has any criminal misconduct on his part,” Ms. Kozens-Long said. “But that is not fact yet, because we don’t know what happened in executive session.”
While she has questions about the actions of other members of the board, she said the chairman is ultimately the “leader who must follow the constitution of the town.”
Yet, Ms. Kozens-Long said, that has not happened over the past two weeks and the charter has been trampled on. “Our government is not a playground,” she said. “It needs to be taken seriously.”
She said the decision to request an affidavit was a difficult one, but the recall process is the only mechanism through which the citizens can express their displeasure with the charter being violated by an elected representative.
She said it is quite possible that the actions of the board, and in particular those of the chairman, could potentially open up the town for a lawsuit if Mr. Whritenour is let go. “How much are we going to spend for outside legal help if this wasn’t done properly?” Ms. Kozens-Long asked.
At the same time, Ms. Flynn said she is unsure whether she will continue the recall effort because of the implications behind it.
For that reason she has stepped up to take responsibility for pulling papers, a situation unlike those this past November when it was alleged that Mary Ann Stacey of East Falmouth Highway was behind the effort to recall Selectman Melissa C. Freitag. Ms. Stacey never confirmed this publicly to the Enterprise despite repeated attempts to contact her.
“I feel the recall process with Selectman Freitag was out of line and frivolous,” Ms. Kozens-Long said. “I take this very seriously because it has some real teeth behind it.”
Nonetheless, she said, Ms. Flynn and her board are jeopardizing the public trust, something that is difficult to swallow in this economy and with large projects upcoming, most notably townwide sewering.
“We need some strong and stable leadership to pull us through these times and this is kind of a wrench in the wheel,” Ms. Kozens-Long said. “Clearly the leadership needs to pull it together and we need to regain some sort of character integrity on that board.”
None of this, she said, is being done for her own political gain. She has run for selectman twice in the past, but does not plan to pull nomination papers on Wednesday when they become available.
Ms. Flynn, on the other hand, said this will not sway her decision to rerun for the board at all. “I do intend to take papers out,” she said.
And she did not have much to say about the recall petition since it has not been turned into town hall. “I don’t know what the reasons are behind it,” she said.
The fact that two recalls have happened within a three-month period, Ms. Flynn said, is somewhat unsettling because it is intended for “someone who has committed some egregious behavior, speech, or action.”
Beyond that Falmouth Town Clerk Michael C. Palmer said this petition will most likely be moot since Ms. Flynn is up for reelection in May anyway. “If they want to recall Mary (Pat) Flynn she is on the ballot. Either vote for her or don’t,” he said. “If she gets reelected, why would a recall election change that?”
His sense is that this is simply an avenue for some residents to voice their displeasure with Ms. Flynn publicly.
For most residents, he said, that would most likely not justify spending $15,000 to hold a recall election to remove Ms. Flynn for office. “I don’t think the intent is to carry this out,” Mr. Palmer said. “And I don’t think this is the correct use of the recall petition or the intent of the charter.”