The Windham Town Council is currently considering competing proposals for allowing members of the town to recall their elected officials — one introduced by Windham residents, the other by the Town Council.
The proposal set forth by residents is an ordinance — the local equivalent of a law — whereas the Town Council has proposed an amendment to the Town Charter — the local equivalent of a constitutional amendment.
The residents first proposed their ordinance earlier this year after learning that no such provision was currently on the books in Windham.
Kristen Day, the co-author of the ordinance, spoke to the Maine Wire about the inspiration behind this effort.
“Over the past few years some members of the community and I have been subject to biased, uncivil behavior from certain elected officials that we feel would warrant review against their Code of Ethics,” Day said. “There is an overwhelming perception that once in their seats they don’t need or want taxpayer’s input to decide how to run the schools or the town.”
Day then recounted her experience as she sought to have Jennie Butler removed from the school board on account of “her support of CRT and her inflammatory Facebook re-post about being prepared for the right wing extremists and their anti-CRT rhetoric.”
Day also noted that Butler “was censured this past spring for gesturing the middle finger to the gallery at a School Board meeting.”
“At this point it became clear that the people needed to implement a recall process to hold elected officials accountable to their Code of Ethics they agreed to when they were elected. The best solutions come from all members of the community working together, but that process is stunted if elected officials don’t set the tone of civility,” Day said.
Butler did not respond to an email seeking an interview.
Day and her co-authors — Justin Whynot and Steve Napolitano — had their ordinance reviewed by the town’s lawyer, as well as by the Secretary of State’s office. After this review, they submitted their proposal to the Town Clerk and were provided petitions to circulate
According to Day, they gathered more than 1,600 signatures in support of the measure, 1,541 of which were validated when the petition was certified.
Shortly after this, the Town Council proposed an ordinance of their own, alongside an amendment to the Town Charter. The Council has since voted down their own recall ordinance, but the amendment is still set to go up against the residents’ ordinance at the ballot box pending a vote that is scheduled to take place on September 5.
“In Windham’s history, no town Council has ever created their own referendum to directly compete with a citizens’ initiative referendum,” Napolitano told the Maine Wire. “You have to ask yourself why is the town rushing to get their own referendum on the same ballot. What are they afraid of?”
“The Windham Town Council should do the right thing and wait for the election results in November,” Napolitano said.
Although both proposals outline a largely similar recall process, there are a number of key differences between the two drafts.
The recall process set forth in both proposals requires an affidavit be filed with the Town Clerk containing the name of the relevant individual and the reason for initiating the recall.
Under the residents’ ordinance, the affidavit would need to be filed by 25 qualified voters, whereas under the Council’s amendment, it would need to be filed by 75.
Once accepted, a recall petition must be signed by a certain number of registered voters in the town — a number determined by multiplying the total turnout in town for the previous gubernatorial election by a given percentage.
The residents’ ordinance would set this threshold at 10 percent, while the Council’s amendment would require 15 percent. Additionally, the Council’s amendment would require that the name and address of the person collecting signatures be printed “clearly” on the petition.
After the petition is certified by the Town Clerk, the official in question has 5 days to resign. If the official does not resign within this time frame, a recall election must be held 50 to 60 days later.
The residents’ ordinance states that if an election is already scheduled to occur within 75 days, the Town Council may opt to postpone the recall election to coincide with it. The Council’s amendment extends this period to 90 days.
The methodology for replacing recalled officials also differs between the two proposals.
Added in the Town Council’s amendment is a turnout requirement stating recall election turnout must be equal to 25% or more of the turnout for the previous gubernatorial election. If this threshold is not met, the recall would be considered as having failed regardless of the results.
Both proposals also contain provisions that prohibit new recall petitions from being filed immediately following a failed recall attempt, as well as directly before or after an election.
In the residents’ ordinance, a recall petition cannot be filed during the last 60 days before an election, the first 3 months after an election, or within 3 months of a failed recall attempt.
Although the Council’s amendment maintains the 60 day period before an election, it extends the waiting period after an election, as well as following a failed recall attempt, to 6 months.
“As a co-writer of the Windham Citizens Recall of Elected Officials Ordinance, and as a current RSU 14 School Board candidate,” Whynot told the Maine Wire, “I proudly stand behind the language as written in The People’s Recall Ordinance.”
“It’s a fair and just ordinance providing a process of checks and balances to hold elected officials accountable to their Code of Ethics and the people of Windham,” Whynot said.
Aside from the technical differences between the two proposals, the method by which each would be instituted is also of consequence.
While an ordinance — or local law — can easily be changed or altered, an amendment to the Town Charter — akin to a state or federal constitutional amendment — is a far more permanent and rigid change.
“As an amendment, the towns recall process is permanent,” Day said. “We chose to assemble an Ordinance which the town Charter outlines a process for, which the people could initiate a petition to amend, or Council could clarify as needed.”
The Windham Town Council will be holding a vote on September 5 to decide whether or not to place the proposed amendment to the Town Charter on the ballot in November where it would be positioned to compete against the recall ordinance proposed by Windham residents.
Neither the Windham Town Council nor Jennie Butler immediately responded to requests for comment from the Maine Wire.
Read the Residents’ Proposed Ordinance
Read the Town Council’s Proposed Amendment
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Town Council amendment’s recall election turnout threshold would be equal to 25% of Windham’s registered voters at the time of the last gubernatorial election. This assertion was made on the basis of a previous draft of the amendment. This article has now been updated to reflect the amendment’s most up to date language.