Petition to Study Falmouth's Form of Govt Will Not Appear on May Ballot

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By: Christopher Kazarian
Published: 01/11/11

The organizers behind an initiative to change Falmouth’s current form of government will not be able to gather the required number of signatures to put the question put to voters in May.

The group, headed up by F. Bradley Stumcke Jr. of Sailfish Drive, East Falmouth, needed to obtain signatures of 3,872 registered voters, or 15 percent of the electorate, to place the question on the ballot.

Mr. Stumcke said he personally had at least 842 signatures in his possession yesterday, although there were also several petition forms in the hands of those assisting him. The signatures already obtained, he said, will be used when he ultimately submits them to be placed on a future ballot.

For the upcoming election in May, those signatures would need to be submitted to Falmouth Town Clerk Michael C. Palmer by Friday, February 4.

Due to a problem in obtaining the signatures, Mr. Stumcke said yesterday morning that “we are not going to make the February deadline. We don’t have enough signatures to put this over the top.”

A study in the democratic process

If successful, voters would have been asked whether to form a charter commission, made up of nine members, to study Falmouth’s present form of government and determine what, if any, changes should be made to improve it.

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A grassroots effort to restructure Falmouth's government developed last summer, following a string of incidents with selectmen and the town manager.

Since September Mr. Stumcke has been joined by a small group of residents—John F. Flanagan Jr. of Kettle Hole Road, Falmouth; Paul C. Dreyer of Lakeview Avenue, Falmouth; James L. Tow of Siders Lane, Falmouth; and Donn C. Winner of Nashawena Street, West Falmouth—in canvassing neighborhoods throughout town to seek the necessary signatures to move to the next step of the process.

For him it is not a matter of if, but when. “The main problem is getting to the electorate,” he said. “When you have only 5,800 voters [participating] in the last municipal election, to get over 3,800 signatures, you can see it is an uphill battle.”

He blamed the inability to obtain the signatures on several factors, from the timing—November and December being months when holidays got in the way of their efforts—to the recent spate of bad weather in Falmouth.

Adding to their difficulties, he said, has been the fact that there are only a small contingent of people involved in the grassroots campaign.

He was hopeful that when the weather gets warmer and more residents return to Falmouth from warmer climates that he will have a larger pool of people helping him.

“That is why we’ve decided to regroup and branch out,” he said.

Gathering support takes time

During the times when he has been seeking signatures, Mr. Stumcke said, most residents have been supportive of the campaign. During one cold Saturday morning in November, he stood in front of the East Falmouth Post Office for nearly two hours, obtaining roughly 90 signatures.

“It is not the problem that people won’t sign the petition, it is the one-on-one type of thing,” he said. “I would say about 80 to 85 percent of the people I approached were in support of it.”

Mr. Palmer said the biggest hurdle many face in efforts such as this is related to manpower and thus, was not surprised that Mr. Stumcke would fail to meet the February deadline.

“The huge issue is having enough foot soldiers to go out and collect signatures,” he said.

He said there is no deadline for Mr. Palmer to submit them, so he can continue collecting signatures until he has the required amount.

One potential problem in prolonging the collection, he said, is that some voters who signed the petition form may have moved or may have died, and their signatures would not count in the final figures.

Mr. Stumcke and his supporters have two options should they obtain enough signatures to move the question to the ballot. He could submit them at any time to selectmen, who would then have 60 days to call a special election for the question, something that would cost the town $15,000.

The other option is to place the question on the annual election. That would push the process, at the earliest, to May 2012. Mr. Stumcke would have until February of next year to submit the signatures.

And that would then push the work of the commission, if created in the May 2012 election, back a year. Following this time line, the commission would file a report to selectmen, the attorney general, and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Communities and Development on any decisions it has made in February 2013.

Voters would then have the final say on whether to approve any changes to Falmouth’s form of government in May 2013.

Voters to decide on leadership

While opponents have called this a move to push through a mayoral system of government in Falmouth, Mr. Stumcke said that is simply not true. The commission, he said, would make any determination on recommended improvements and voters would have the ultimate authority on the matter.

In November, Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly in favor of a non-binding resolution, with 150 in favor and 47 against, to support the creation of a charter commission to study potential alternatives.

“Seventy-six percent voted for the resolution, which was amazing because some read into what we were doing as eliminating Town Meeting,” Mr. Stumcke said.

Again, he reiterated the fact that there is no one set model of government he and his supporters are pushing. “All we want is to get a commission established and let them decide with input from citizens,” he said.

It is clear to Mr. Stumcke that something needs to change. This is a stance he has refused to waver from since September, when he complained about everything from the inability of town officials to locate an express branch of the Registry of Motor of Vehicles in Falmouth to selectmen voting on wedding permits when there are more pressing issues before the town.

To him that lack of leadership is still apparent on the board. The latest example? Selectmen having yet to make any meaningful strides in the search for a replacement of former town manager Robert L. Whritenour Jr., who resigned in November.

On Sunday he sent an e-mail to the board’s chairman, Brent V.W. Putnam, asking him why last night’s meeting did not include a discussion about the search process although it was stated in minutes from the December 13 meeting they would.

“I urge you to correct this oversight so the public knows what is going on with this crucial issue,” he wrote.

“Rumors are already starting to circulate about the lack of communication from the town’s leadership and what is going on behind closed doors.”

In response, Mr. Putnam apologized, admitting it was an oversight. He pointed out that putting together every agenda is a juggling act and that “while the selection of a new town manager is the most important of the board’s many jobs, we must also be mindful of our legal obligations,” Mr. Putnam wrote.

In Mr. Stumcke’s opinion this is just additional fodder for his campaign.

“This should be the most important thing they have on their radar to get a town manager, but they are more worried about whether there is a yacht club at Green Pond,” he said.

“I am concerned they say things, but don’t follow through on them.”

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