Fed up with their Select Chair, more than 100 people in the town of Hinsdale, Massachusetts have initiated a recall petition in hopes of removing her from office.
On Wednesday, a piece of paper with 134 signatures was delivered to the town clerk’s office seeking the recall of Hinsdale’s Select Chair Bonnie Conner. The reasons stated are “incompetence, neglect of duties and malfeasance due to, but not limited to the unjust termination of employment of Police Chief Nancy Daniels,” transfer station attendant and custodian Bruce Stetson and “repeated and intentional violations of the Open Meeting Law and overall abuse of power.” One of the signees is Jim Sullivan, who has been escorted out of a Select Board meeting by police at the request of Conner for speaking out.
“I don’t like my government running ram-shat over the citizenry,” Sullivan said. “We come to these meetings - we have to fight for a voice and an opinion on things that are going on. They’re very blasé and lackadaisical about their attitude toward the concerns of this town. They’ve driven a wedge in our community.”
In December 2013, more than 300 people called for Conner to resign. A month earlier the Select Board placed then Police Chief Nancy Daniels on paid administrative leave because she did not have the necessary training to serve as a full-time chief. She says injuries and surgery prevented her from doing so. The Select Board fired Daniels in January 2014. Since then, town voters approved measures allowing the recall of elected officials. It was signed into law by then Governor Deval Patrick in October 2014. Conner says the board was following the law when it fired Daniels and that Stetson was fired for not appearing before the board three consecutive times over performance concerns the board had. Two of those meetings have been cited by the Massachusetts Attorney General Office’s for violating the Open Meeting Law.
“No actions were taken in either one of those meetings other than to extend to another meeting and give him a third try.” Conner said. “The third try was delivered in-hand by a police officer and he still decided not to come in. So what happened, happened.”
Conner says the AG’s office has recommended the town pay $1,000 to settle the violations, but the board voted two to one to appeal the violations Wednesday. Earl Peck, Daniels’ fiancé, questioned Conner and Selectmen Bill Goddard about whether the town would have to pay for legal counsel even if it loses the appeal.
“So it costs us more money?” asked Peck.
“That’s correct,” answered Conner and Goddard.
“Which was a mistake not of the taxpayer, but of the Board?” continued Peck.
“That’s correct,” answered Conner and Goddard.
“So you guys can just screw up and it comes out of our pocket?” asked Peck.
“Yep,” answered Goddard.
“Sweet,” replied Peck.
Bruce Marshall, a selectman of nearly three decades, voted not to appeal the violations. According to the town’s recall law, upon certification by the board of registrars, the town clerk is expected to deliver the petition to the Select Board. Then 20 percent of the town’s roughly 1,400 voters would have to sign the petition. Following that, it would have to be delivered to the elected official. If he or she does not resign within five days, a recall election would be held. Saying she is trying to fix decades of wrongdoing in town government, Conner refuses to resign if handed the petition.
“Because as far I’m concerned I think we’ve done the right thing and I think we are doing the right thing,” Conner said. “We’re trying to comply with the law. This not a vendetta against somebody. This is not a personality contest. There are state laws. Comply with them. If you don’t comply with them, then suffer the consequences.”
Conner says the vocal minority, evident at rowdy town meetings, doesn’t represent the town of roughly 2,000 people.
“I guess I kind of equate them to spoiled kids,” Conner said. “If they don’t get it their way they’re not going to stop crying and complaining until they do.”
Earl Peck also signed to initiate the recall.
“It’s time for her to go,” Peck said. “She’s costing the town money. And she doesn’t care. You can see they don’t care. They know they are making mistakes and they just keep on making them. And we’re paying for it.”
Selectmen Goddard has said he doesn’t plan to run for re-election for his second three-year term in May 2016. Conner is so far unsure.
“Right now it’s time for the silent majority to step up and open up their mouth,” said Conner.
Meanwhile, petition-signer Jim Sullivan, who has run unsuccessfully for office in the past, says the community spirit has been damaged by the Select Board.
“So yeah I have political aspirations in this town,” Sullivan said. “I don’t plan on going anywhere.”