Androscoggin County Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales watches as his anti-mask supporters were asked to reduce their numbers in the room at the Feb. 3 meeting in the county building in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — The spokesman for a group of local residents seeking to recall up to three members of the Androscoggin County Commission said Tuesday that his group will drop the recall effort if each targeted official publicly renounces the anti-mask resolution being considered by the board.

Late last week, the group began a recall effort against Commissioner Brian Ames of Lewiston. The group also has its eyes on two other commissioners — Isaiah Lary of Wales and John Michael of Auburn.

“Our goal is not necessarily to recall anyone, but rather to get them to drop this anti-mask craziness,” Kiernan Majerus-Collins of Lewiston, who is serving as the group’s spokesman, said in a statement. “If Commissioner Ames publicly states his opposition to the two anti-mask resolutions, we will stop the recall effort, and the same principle applies to commissioners Lary and Michael. We will only pursue the recalls as long as they pursue this anti-mask agenda.”

Lary, a vocal critic of Gov. Janet Mills’ executive orders that required face coverings and mandated strict guidelines for businesses and limits for public gatherings, proposed a two-page anti-mask resolution at last week’s commission meeting.

“We, the Androscoggin County Commission do hereby resolve and acknowledge that all citizens, businesses and visitors of Androscoggin County are free to wear or not wear masks or other similar devices, and to peaceably assemble for religious or secular reasons, according to the dictates of their own conscience and preference.”

As a couple of commissioners correctly pointed out, the county does not have the power to override the governor’s mandate.

The resolution and a competing one offered by Michael were tabled by a 4-3 vote last week. The three commissioners targeted for recall all voted against postponing the vote.

The process to recall a commissioner takes up nearly three pages in the County Charter. Once the county administrator approves the letter of intent filed with his office, petitioners have 90 days to collect signatures from registered voters who reside in the district of the commissioner being recalled. Petitioners need at least 10% of the total number of votes cast in the last election for that office.

Ames is from District 3, which includes Greene, Durham and part of Lewiston. Lary represents District 4, which includes Lisbon, Sabattus and Wales. Michael is from District 5, which includes part of Auburn.

Once the signatures are verified by each municipality and the petitions are filed with the administrator, the board will order a recall election be held by secret ballot within 90 days. If residents vote to recall the commissioner, the political party of the ousted member will choose an individual to serve until the next general election.

Ames and Lary are Republicans, while Michael is an independent. Of the four remaining commissioners, Sally Christner of Turner and Terri Kelly of Mechanic Falls are Republicans and Noel Madore and Roland Poirier, both of Lewiston, are Democrats.

Any attempt to recall Lary will have to wait. According to the charter, newly elected officials cannot be recalled until 90 days after they’ve been in office. Lary was unopposed when he was reelected in November to another four-year term, which began Jan. 1. Ames and Michael were elected in 2018.

Lary has never worn a mask, while Ames and Michael wore one for the first time at last week’s meeting.

Lary has stated that his goal is to challenge the governor’s powers to issue executive orders in the courts. He issued a defiant statement Monday night.

“There may be a recall election, but that does not change the fact that Governor Mills and her administration have acted outside of their constitutional authority by violating the separation of powers and nondelegation clauses of the Maine State Constitution, and that is a question that urgently needs to be submitted to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Had the governor acted within her bounds, we would have had the legislative process. Hearings would have been held, and people would not have been forced to come to a county meeting to be able to have their voices heard.”

“Nevertheless, the message of the people who came out and peacefully yet powerfully shared how they and their loved ones have been seriously harmed by Gov. Mills and her administration’s overreach can never be recalled,” he wrote.

Michael’s resolution never mentions masks nor social distancing, but complains about the governor’s use of executive powers. He proposes that the state consider alternative research in combating the pandemic, such as the controversial Great Barrington Declaration, which calls on the young and healthy to eventually protect the population through herd immunity, while utilizing “focused protection” for the elderly and at-risk individuals.

His resolution also calls for the state to fully open restaurants, bars, schools and cultural activities.

On Friday, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey sent a letter to the county informing the commissioners they must follow the mask mandate or face legal consequences.

In response to the letter from the attorney general, commission Chairwoman Christner announced that future meetings would be closed to the public. Only commissioners and county department heads will be allowed in the meeting room. The public can only watch the meetings on Zoom.

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