MONMOUTH — Amy Dolan keeps bumping into them. It happened again just a few days ago.

Every time she does it convinces her even more that many people, perhaps even most people, did not understand the questioned being posed to them when they stepped into the ballot box in June and decided to begin the process of withdrawing from Regional School Unit 2.

“Someone going into the ballot should be able to read a ballot question and understand what it’s for,” Dolan said. “The wording was wrong. We need to fix it.”

Toward that end, Dolan is helping circulate a petition she hopes will at least convince selectmen that the ballot questions created confusion among those who voted during the June 12 election.

The petition also seeks to abolish the results of that vote.

“The point is to re-vote in November with the correct wording,” Dolan said. “It might turn out the same way, but at least we’ll know everyone is on the same page.”

But state officials believe there is little — short of court action — that can stop the process now that it has started.

Selectmen last month agreed to create a withdrawal committee to negotiate a financial agreement with RSU 2, which also includes Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell and Richmond. Once that agreement is in place it would need final approval from voters to complete the withdrawal process. If voters reject the agreement during the second vote, Monmouth would remain with the regional school unit.

Selectmen presented the withdrawal question during the June annual town meeting in response to a petition drive. But Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, in a letter authorizing the town to create a withdrawal committee, said the petition and warrant article had a “significant omission.” Bowen suggested the town seek legal advice before proceeding.

Town Attorney David Perkins said the omitted words “for withdrawal” were not necessarily required to meet state statute, which stipulates only that wording should be in “substantially” the form outlined by the state.

Perkins said testimony at a public hearing, media coverage and common sense indicate the public understood the petition and warrant article were asking whether residents wanted to leave RSU 2.

But Perkins acknowledged the omission left the opening for a legal challenge.

“If someone brought a legal challenge based on the petition and article missing the words, ‘for withdrawal,’ a court could decide that the petition was not substantially in the form required by statute,” Perkins said. “If a voter testified that there was confusion as a result of the two missing words, then the risk of an adverse court decision would obviously be elevated.”

A court challenge would, at least, create confusion and require the petition process start from scratch, Perkins said.

Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said the department was trying to carrying out the voters wishes when it overlooked the omission approving the withdrawal vote.

“We probably could have rejected this one,” he said. “It’s really more about protecting the town and its process.”

At this point, Connerty-Marin said, the process cannot be ended by either the Department of Education or a petition. Connerty-Marin said withdrawal can be rejected during the second vote after the withdrawal committee has completed its work.

“Once the process is approved by the voters, the voters have spoken,” he said. “You have to move forward.”

James Grandahl, who represented Monmouth on the RSU 2 Board until this year, sent a letter to Bowen earlier this month to “formally complain about the wording” on the June 12 ballot. Grandahl, who said he was unable to attend the public hearing on the ballot question, said he believed the money being sought in the ballot was to continue doing the work of the RSU Fact Finding Committee the town established last year to research the impact of staying with the school district and leaving and joining in an alternative organizational structure.

Grandahl said those who did attend the public hearing left believing the $15,000 was to hire an attorney to investigate the withdrawal process and not to begin the process.

“I find the ‘common sense’ argument from Mr. Perkins to be insulting,” Grandahl said.

Selectmen, who spent a considerable portion of last week’s meeting on Wednesday answering questions about the ballot question and their decision to move forward, believe the majority of voters understood they were voting to begin withdrawing.

But even if voters misunderstood and believed they were simply voting to gather more information, the two-vote withdrawal process ensures their wishes will be carried out, said Selectman Harold Jones. There were a number of questions at the public hearing the fact finding committee was unable to answer, particularly relating to the financial impact of leaving the RSU and the town’s future educational structure. The withdrawal committee will answer those questions and present the information to residents, who will then decide whether to withdraw.

“In my mind it was clear it was a two-step process,” Jones said. “In a sense this wasn’t a vote to withdraw, it was a vote to come up with a plan to withdraw. I don’t see how this changes anything.”

Dolan said even if the petition fails to stop the process, she hopes selectmen will at least come to share her conviction that a number of people failed to understand what their vote meant.

“It’s not just me stomping my feet and saying I didn’t get my way,” she said. “I want the selectmen to realize there’s a large portion of the population that feels like people were misled and that we need to get an accurate vote to move forward in this very serious issue. People still don’t know that they voted for or against withdrawal. With those two words, everything would have been made clear.”

Craig Crosby–621-5642

[email protected]

THE QUESTION

The following questions was presented to voters during the June 12 annual town meeting. The questions was approved by a vote of 352 to 280.

“Do you favor filing a petition with the Board of Directors of Regional School Unit #2 and with the Commissioner of Education, authorizing the withdrawal Committee to expend $15,000 and authorizing the Selectpersons to issues notes in the name of the Town of Monmouth, or otherwise pledge the credit of the Town of Monmouth, in the amount not to exceed $15,000 for this purpose?”

THE PETITION

A petition currently being circulated has two objectives, according to Amy Dolan, who is circulating one of the petitions. A total of 192 signatures is required for submission.

* “To draw selectmen’s attention to the fact that there were lots of people in town who didn’t know what they were voting on.”

* “To vacate the June 12 vote.”

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