MONMOUTH — Selectmen this week extended a deadline for submitting Town Meeting petitions, prompting sharp criticism the board is acting unfairly.

One resident indicated he might use the extension to include a question on the June Town Meeting warrant that would loosen standards for recalling elected town officials.

The discussion at Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting was prompted by an unusually high number of requests for petition information, Town Manager Curtis Lunt said.

“We haven’t had any petitions in a few years,” he said.

As a result, selectmen have never set a deadline for submitting petitions that seek to place an item on the Town Meeting warrant.

Lunt told at least one resident, Ray Simond, the deadline was March 30, but Lunt acknowledged that selectmen never made the deadline official.

Saying he had recently had another request for petition information, Lunt told selectmen he decided to take the matter to them.

Lunt said the deadline could be extended to April 13 and still leave time for town staff to review the petitions and include the petition question on the warrant for Town Meeting in June.

“I think people should have as much time as the law allows,” Selectman Tim McDonald said.

But resident Sharon Wing argued against extending the deadline.

Wing said Simond gave up his petition drive, which dealt with the Police Department, because Lunt told Simond the deadline had passed.

Wing said it would be unfair to extend the deadline for someone else.

“The deadline is gone,” Wing said. “The town manager specifically said March 30. If this goes through and a petition comes in, we’re going to know there are backroom politics.”

Simond said it would be difficult to begin the petition drive anew and complete it in less than a week. A successful petition requires signatures equal to 10 percent of the number of residents who voted in the previous election — in Monmouth, about 200 residents.

“The game-playing and misinformation has to cease,” Simond said. “Everyone’s got to be on the same page.”

But resident Jessie Sanborn said Lunt never had the authority to set a date in the first place.

“It should be the five selectpersons that set the date,” she said.

Selectman Harold Jones, who said he had been unaware of any petition drives, suggested the board develop a standard for establishing petition deadlines.

The board voted 4-1 to extend the deadline, this year, to April 13. Selectman Colleen Fournier was the lone vote against the extension.

Resident Martin Bonan indicated he might use the extension to circulate a petition aimed at lowering the threshold to successfully recall an elected official.

The current ordinance calls for a “supermajority” — a two-thirds approval in a townwide vote.

Bonan believes recalls should be successful with a simple majority. He said forcing a supermajority exposes the town to the possibility of court action and legal fees.

“It only takes a simple majority to be elected,” Bonan said. “It should only take a simple majority to be removed.”

Bonan asked selectmen to include the question on the June warrant, but selectmen instead decided to gather more information with an eye toward presenting the issue at a subsequent Town Meeting.

“If I get enough signatures by April 13, you have to put it on,” Bonan said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

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