Recall election scheduled in Freedom

By Fran Gonzalez | May 13, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Freedom Selectmen Steve Bennett, left, and Ron Price at a March board meeting. Over 100 residents signed petitions to have them recalled from office on various charges. The recall ballot referendum will coincide with the school budget vote on June 11.

Freedom — Two of the three town selectmen were presented with recall petitions at their May 6 board meeting. An election to decide the outcome is scheduled for June 11, to coincide with the school budget vote.

Selectmen Steve Bennett and Ron Price were both read charges for which a recall vote would be taken. For Bennett, 53 registered voters signed a petition accusing him of "repeated violations of selectboard code of ethics" and "abuse of office of selectmen."

Bennett said he believed in the idea of a recall, but only if "you actually do something wrong."

For Price, 51 signatures were collected accusing him of "violation of selectboard code of ethics," and also "continued conflict of interest regarding town business decisions/actions and personal family gain" and "abuse of office of selectmen."

It feels like someone "hit you in the gut and took the wind out of your sails," Price said.

These charges are "100% bogus" and the accusers have no evidence backing up their charges, he added. "I refute all of them."

Bennett said there have been several initiatives that have irked some people in town in the past, including the $25,000 renovation of the town post office, the $38,000 purchase of the derelict Skidgel property, and the lease of a town excavator with intent to purchase.

Bennett said, since renovating the post office, the town rents it back to the Postal Service and makes $8,000 profit a year from the lease. The Skidgel property, Bennett said, was a "dump in the middle of town." He said the town plans on cleaning up the site themselves at a "fraction" of what other companies charge and that the site still has some "positives." The new excavator works out to be less than their previous lease and, according to Bennett, the town has the option to buy after five years.

"We carried out the will of the voters," Bennett said.

An incident in March involving a stuck motorist on Mitchell Road apparently solidified a contingent of residents unhappy with the condition of roads in town.

According to Bennett, an individual he did not know came to his house on a Saturday night, asking if he could come down and take a look at a car stuck on Mitchell Road.

Bennett said he would "do whatever he could" and drove over to talk to the individual stuck in the mud, along with five or six people there.

He asked me if "I could get him hauled out," Bennett said, and asked, "If I called a wrecker will the town pay for it?"  Bennett refused and said he could not authorize it and suggested the individual call for a tow himself, and then come to a selectmen meeting "and bring the issue up then."

Bennett said he did not give him permission to leave his car there, which ultimately was towed at the request of a Waldo County Sheriff's officer, and according to the owner, incurred damages.

At a later selectmen's meeting, the individual did ask whether the town would pay the towing fee. Selectmen offered to submit his claim to the town insurance company and see if it was covered.

According to Bennett, "I gave him the claim form — he was persistent, but he never turned it back in."

SallyAnn Hadyniak, secretary to the board, said the job of selectmen is a "thankless" one, into which they put their "heart and soul." She said the people who signed the petitions did not normally attend selectmen's meetings or annual town meetings.

"Roads in Maine have always been a problem and always will," she said.

Price said that, in the event they do get recalled, the town would "basically shut down" for about six to eight weeks until a new election for selectmen could take place.

Many essential day-to-day town dealings would be affected. Payroll and accounts payable would not be processed and there would be no road repair or trash pickup.

According to Price, registrations could be processed by the clerk, but if there is no payroll, town employees would be working for free.

"I am afraid if we shut down, we won't have any more town employees," Price said.

The recall and school budget election will take place June 11, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Freedom Election Hall next to the Town Office. According to state statute, within two business days of a recall election, the clerk shall certify and record the election results and notify the municipal officers of the results.

If a majority of voters vote to remove the official(s), the recall takes effect on the date the election results are recorded.

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