A judge has temporarily stopped Ogunquit officials from moving forward with a contentious recall election targeting three members of the Select Board.

The temporary stay issued Tuesday in York County Superior Court halts the Ogunquit Select Board from voting Tuesday night to set the date for a recall election targeting Chairman Charles “Bunky” Waite, Madeline Mooney and Robert Winn Jr.

The stay was ordered in response to a lawsuit filed by residents Mary Buck, Barbara Ferraro, Patricia Hussey and Peter Kahn. The plaintiffs are asking the court to stop the town from moving forward with the recall election because of what they cite as a number of problems with the recall petitions and the way the process was handled by town officials. The lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction to stop an election from being held, as well as a declaratory judgment ordering the town to take no further actions related to the recall.

Justice John O’Neil wrote in the order that both parties presented to him “an agreed upon order staying town administrative proceedings related to setting up and holding the election until the court process can play out on an expedited basis.”

“The court concludes that due to the nature of the dispute it has the authority to issue injunctive relief in the nature of a stay. This order does not eradicate the Charter provisions but rather places them on hold and stops the running of the clock. However, since the Charter has relatively expedited time frames regarding the calling of the election, the duration of the order shall be brief,” O’Neil wrote.

The order temporarily stops all administrative proceedings related to the recall election. It also temporarily prevents the use of a provision in the town charter to have a notary call the election if the Select Board does not. A status conference will be held next week to determine a schedule to address the lawsuit.

“We’re very pleased that the judge recognizes there are some significant legal issues to be resolved and it doesn’t make sense to move forward with the election while those are pending,” said Stephen Langsdorf, the Preti-Flaherty attorney who represents the plaintiffs. “It’s our goal to get this resolved as quickly as possible.”

The group Take Back Ogunquit launched the effort in October to recall Waite, Mooney and Winn, all of whom had voted to uphold the town manager’s termination of the fire chief. The group later released a detailed list of complaints about the board members that accused them of a number of things, including abusing their positions by opposing a new version of the town’s Comprehensive Plan and mismanaging the termination of Fire Chief Mark O’Brien.

Jerry DeHart, a member of Take Back Ogunquit who circulated recall petitions, on Monday filed a motion with the court to join the lawsuit as an intervenor. In his order, Justice O’Neil noted that the existing parties indicated they would likely have no objection to the motion, but the court will not take action on it until the next conference on the lawsuit.

DeHart said Tuesday that he felt he had to rush to court so a voice for the recall would be involved in court proceedings.

“We want to follow the charter. We’re the only people who seem to want to follow the charter,” he said. “We have had delay after delay from the other side. We’re very disappointed a judge has decided to get involved in the town of Ogunquit’s charter.”

Town Clerk Chris Murphy determined the petitions contained 257 valid signatures to recall Mooney, 259 signatures to recall Waite and 253 signatures to recall Winn. Take Back Ogunquit was required to submit 215 signatures for each Select Board member it seeks to recall. Under the town charter, the Select Board had until Tuesday to set the date for the election.

After Murphy certified the petitions, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who are all members of the Ogunquit Residents Alliance, filed the lawsuit to stop the election.

According to the lawsuit, the town clerk issued more petition forms than allowed under the town charter and the person who prepared the affidavit attached to each petition was not a registered voter. The lawsuit also alleges Murphy and the town’s deputy clerk signed a circulator’s oath on the petition left at Town Hall even though they did not personally witness each signature. A petition form left at the clerk’s window was also inadvertently taken from Town Hall by a resident and the clerk cannot confirm that no additional signatures were added during that time, according to the lawsuit.


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