Residents in Anson will consider adopting a recall ordinance on Tuesday that would allow elected officials to be removed from office, a proposal that town officials say is related to a recent lawsuit against a former tax collector accused of misappropriating town tax revenues.
The question, which goes to voters in a referendum, follows criminal charges against former Tax Collector Claudia Viles, who remained at work for several weeks even after the town brought a lawsuit against her accusing her of misappropriating more than $400,000 in town money.
“I think it’s a good thing for the town to have,” said Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Arnold Luce. “It prevents them from elected officials who might do something people don’t like or that they feel is wrong. If there’s a percentage of people who want a recall, they can have one, and I think that’s a good thing to have in place.”
A handful of towns in Somerset County already have recall ordinances. Eric Conrad, a spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, said the issue is one that comes up “from time to time” around the state.
The proposed ordinance, titled Ordinance for the Recall of Elected Municipal Officials, applies to all elected officials with the exception of school board members.
It states that a recall can be initiated by a petition signed by at least 10 percent of the number of registered voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election.
Within 10 days of receiving the petition, the town clerk or deputy town clerk is required to sign the petition provided the signatures are valid and in compliance with the ordinance.
The Board of Selectmen can then call for a recall election. A petition cannot be submitted within the first or last 90 days of an official’s term. If an election is held and does not result in a recall, another petition cannot be filed within 90 days of the vote.
State law provides a recall process only for elected officials who have been convicted of a crime while in office. Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, sponsored a 2011 bill that tightened the state’s recall law and told the Morning Sentinel in August that while there are provisions for recalls in state law, there are many cases where the state law is not applicable.
“(State law) does give some recourse, but it’s a high threshold,” Sanderson said. “And it should be a high threshold on the state level. Every town has the opportunity to create their own process. That’s what they should be doing, and this is a last safety net.”
In 2003 Madison updated its ordinance after repealing an earlier version that was found inadequate when residents tried to use it to oust Selectwoman Alice Ouellete, who was accused of harassing the town manager and other office personnel. A petition to oust her was dropped by the board of selectmen prior to the new ordinance being adopted, according to Morning Sentinel archives.
Skowhegan also adopted a recall ordinance in 2001 during discussions on whether to retain three town positions as elected offices or convert them to appointed.
The proposed ordinance does not include school board members, whom town officials said cannot be removed by municipal recall ordinances.
Polls in Anson are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Anson Town Office.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368