BELGRADE — Two residents are contesting the result of Friday’s 179-162 vote approving funding a full-time librarian’s position, saying a homemade sign against the ballot measure was removed improperly and could have swayed voters.

Ernie Rice, a Belgrade selectman until last Sunday, and Kathryn Brown, corresponding secretary for the Friends of the Belgrade Public Library, both signed the complaint, which was hand-delivered to the Town Office on Monday.

They say town officials illegally removed for about two hours a homemade sign they had erected along the driveway to the Town Office.

“Our sign in opposition to Article 5 was illegally removed by a town official and during that time the town manager stated that there were 16 votes cast,” they wrote. “There may have been more people in the Town Office away from the polls, in the process of registering or in the booth voting. That activity could have had an additional impact on the final tally.”

They want a new vote on the controversial article, which involved $20,990 for the librarian position as well as additional hours.

“We don’t agree that it was illegal,” Town Manager Dennis Keschl said Wednesday.

A 1989 state law concerning “Unlawful removal of political signs” from public roadways was repealed in 2015.

Rice said Tuesday that they estimate the homemade sign was down about for about two hours, a violation to their right to free speech.

“If the town opts to just go out and do a re-vote, we will not pursue legal action,” Rice said. “Otherwise we are going to pursue legal action to the fullest extent.”

Rice added that it was the 17-vote margin that led to the filing of the complaint.

“If it they had just won outright, it would be done and over,” he said. All the other business articles appearing on the secret ballot succeeded by at least a 2-to-1 margin.

The idea of a having a full-time librarian had proved controversial in the past. The town has gone through a series of part-time library directors, who were paid for 32 hours a week — 25 hours while the library is open and seven hours for administrative work. This year, the proposal was to have a full-time library director, increase to 30 the number of hours the library is open and allow 10 hours for administrative work.

The Belgrade Board of Selectpersons had voted 3-2 against recommending it for passage, as did one member on the Budget Committee. A similar proposal was shot down two years ago in a 4-1 vote by the selectmen, so it never made it to the ballot.

Rice, who was chairman of the board at that time, said the town could not afford the additional $20,000 required to support the post for a year.

Town officials discussed the complaint Tuesday night at the regular meeting of the Board of Selectpersons, but neither Rice nor Brown was there. They said they did not know it would be considered.

At the meeting, Keschl told selectmen that Town Clerk Cheryl Mitchell, who is also the elections clerk, saw the sign early that morning and thought it was too close to the Town Office.

A Maine statute says, “A person may not display … or distribute campaign literature, posters, palm cards, buttons, badges or stickers containing a candidate’s name or otherwise intending to influence the opinion of any voter regarding a candidate or question that is on the ballot for the election that day on any public property located within 250 feet of the entrance to … the voting place.”

Mitchell said she took the sign down and told Keschl when he arrived, and the two obtained a measuring device, finding that the sign was some 30 to 40 feet beyond the minimum distance.

“I figured it might have been Ernie, since he has been opposed to Article 5,” said Keschl, explaining that he called Rice and left a message asking whether Rice wanted the sign replaced if it was in the proper area.

Brown called back and said to replace it.

“I went down and put it back up,” Keschl said. He said elections clerks said 16 ballots had been cast by the time it was reposted.

Keschl told selectmen that he checked with state elections officials, who said they do not get involved with municipal elections, so he consulted with Maine Municipal Association as well.

Keschl said Rice and Brown could request a recount or take their complaint to superior court. Keschl also said the board could put it out for a new vote, or Rice could circulate a petition to collect 170 or so signatures from Belgrade registered voters to require a new vote.

Selectmen directed Keschl to respond to the complaint by letter, listing the options.

Rick Damren, the board chairman, asked whether the distance had been measured previously, and Keschl said he and Mitchell went out before the fall election and put a stick in the ground to mark the 250-foot distance. However, the stick has been buried by snow.

By Wednesday, a red line had been spray-painted across the driveway to the Town Office to mark the 250-foot distance, a move suggested by Howard Holinger, chairman of the Budget Committee.

“I have some very serious concerns having had the sign taken down,” Rice said. “Our sign is our speech. It was a town official that went out and took the sign down.”

He said he was particularly concerned because of the number of votes apparently cast during that time. “It only takes nine votes to change the outcome,” Rice said. “All we really want is a re-vote; it’s that close.”

He said he anticipated that the 162 people who voted against the measure definitely would sign a petition, but said that effort should not be required.

“It would be in the best interests of the taxpayers of this town to put it out for a re-vote,” Rice said.

He was among the selectmen who recommended against passage of the article.

Rice had submitted his resignation as a selectman effective Sunday. Melanie Jewell, a former selectwoman, was elected to complete the final year of Rice’s three-year term.

“The thing is we support the library and do all kinds of things for the Friends of the library,” Rice said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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