PERU, Maine — On Monday night, residents will gather for a public hearing to discuss the recall of five selectmen, comprising the entire Board of Selectmen.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. and will be held at the Dirigo Elementary School, Route 108.
This is the first exercise of the town’s recall ordinance, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters last November.
The recall actions are the result of five separate petitions submitted to the town to recall Selectwoman Kathy Hussey, Selectwoman Laurieann Milligan, Selectman Edward Ferland, Selectman Richard Powell and Chairman Timothy Holland.
Hussey helped circulate the petitions to recall Ferland and Powell and the paperwork was submitted to the board by Holland, adding to hostility among members of the board.
In the petitions to oust Hussey and Milligan, the reason for recall is that petitioners have lost faith in the selectwomen’s “ability to represent and lead the town,” because of their “failure to represent the will of the voters in Peru; failure to abide by the No Political Activity Ordinance” approved by voters last June, and failure to abide by the terms of political activity restrictions outlined in the town’s personnel policy.
One hundred six voters signed the petition to recall Hussey; 98 signed the petition to recall Milligan.
“People are just fed up, ” said Tammy Ferland, who spearheaded the petitions to recall Hussey and Milligan and is the wife of Selectman Ferland.
She said the root of the wave of recalls is Hussey’s refusal to leave the board, even after voters passed an ordinance last year outlawing any town employee from serving on the Board of Selectmen.
Referring to Hussey, Tammy Ferland said, “If you’re not going to listen to what the townspeople want you to do, then get off the board.”
In addition to being frustrated by Hussey’s refusal to leave the board, Ferland said petitioners are frustrated that Milligan refuses to uphold the political activity ordinance.
“They’re supposed to go along with what the voters want, but it doesn’t happen that way,” Ferland said.
After voters passed the ordinance controlling political activity, the board asked the Maine Municipal Association and the town’s lawyer to advise selectmen on whether Hussey would have to be removed from either the board or her full-time employment as secretary to the board. Both attorneys advised that Hussey could remain on the board until the next election. She was grandfathered to both posts because the ordinance did not expressly state otherwise.
However, petitioners who seek to remove Hussey point to a June email from MMA attorney Amanda Meader — written before the town voted on the political activity ordinance — recommending the town revise the ordinance language to be more specific to a person’s potential conflict as an elected official and employee of the town, to “make it clear that the ordinance does not apply to anyone serving on the Select Board or Finance Committee at the time of ordinance adoption.”
And, since the selectmen declined to make that change, petitioners believe no grandfather protection exists and Hussey should have immediately resigned one of her two positions, which she did not.
A civil lawsuit has been filed against the town seeking a court ruling on Hussey’s continued presence on the board while still employed by the town. In defending the suit, the board has voted not to pay for Hussey’s legal representation, and she is countersuing for recovery of her personal attorney’s fees.
The animosity on the board, Tammy Ferland said, is affecting a lot of people in town. “Everybody is getting tired of the same old. Of things not happening the way that they should have. People cannot believe that Kathy is still on the board.”
In the petitions to oust Ferland and Powell, the reason for recall is that petitioners believe the two selectmen have “failed to appropriately carry out the duties and responsibilities of the office,” and have “engaged in conduct which has brought the Board of Selectmen into disrepute and displays an unfitness to hold the office of Selectmen.”
One hundred fourteen voters signed the petition to recall Ferland; 113 signed the petition to recall Powell.
Hussey said the language of that petition was taken from the municipal ordinance, but she declined to say precisely what she thinks Ferland and Powell have done to hurt the board’s reputation.
“It’s too nasty. I can’t take any more,” Hussey said. “No matter what I do here, it’s not right.”
She said she feels targeted by Ferland, Powell and others who have a vendetta.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Hussey said.
Milligan, who is serving her second term on the board, said the animosity on the board has been building over the past six months and “it’s become very difficult to conduct business.”
In particular, she said, Powell has returned to the board after a long absence as selectman and things have changed. “It’s difficult to play catch-up when things have changed so dramatically” over time, she said, and she believes Powell brings a weakness to the board because of his “significant gap” in experience of board administration.
And, concerning Ed Ferland, Milligan said, “Ed doesn’t really want to make a decision on his own. He’s always looking to Dickie [Powell] to see how he wants to vote, so we’re basically down to a four-person board” of decision-makers, which she said makes it hard to conduct business.
Milligan believes Peru ought to move forward to a town manager-style government because “it really is not efficient to be running as a select board as your primary and only source of running a town” because the board meets just once a week, which is not enough attention to town affairs.
And, she said, she’s frustrated by the difficult personalities and lack of communication among board members, causing an “inability to try to move forward. Whatever has brought the town to its current situation, business must go on and we must put personal feelings in our back pocket.”
Ninety-four voters signed the petition to recall Holland.
Warren Oldham, who submitted that petition, said Friday, with some sarcasm, that he submitted the petition to oust Holland after the other four petitions had already been submitted because “I didn’t want Tim to feel left out.”
He believes Holland has abused his power as board chairman and has failed to represent the will of the voters.
“If Mrs. Hussey had stepped down, no problem would have existed,” Oldham said, but Holland continues to back Hussey’s presence on the board.
Oldham also said “there was no need of Tim going after” Powell and Ferland in submitting petitions for their recall. “Neither one of them have done anything wrong. They’re not guilty of anything except they don’t get along with Tim [Holland] and Kathy [Hussey].”
Oldham said he has talked to a couple of people who are interested in filling a seat on the board, but “only if Tim is gone.”
Milligan, who isn’t sure whether Holland will follow through with his announcement not to attend Monday’s public hearing, said “the forum is not going to be a fact-finding forum” anyway.
She predicts the audience will consist of the same “small group of people” who have petitioned for her removal and “it’s going to turn into something horrible.”
She is so certain of that that she has suggested to her fellow selectmen that they consider asking an independent moderator to conduct the meeting.
Oldham and Tammy Ferland said they hope a lot of people will attend Monday’s hearing and that people should show more interest in attending regular selectmen’s meetings.
“It’s about time that people step up and start seeing what’s going on, because this is our town,” Ferland said.
She’s concerned about increased town spending and the possibility that some elderly residents are struggling to pay taxes, among other things.
“Everything else is going up around us except our wages,” Ferland said, “and we can’t just kick the elderly people out” of town.
Hopefully, she said, after the vote on the recall petitions “things will turn around.”
A vote on the recall petitions will be held March 4. If any of the selectmen are recalled, the board has already agreed to set up a special election as quickly as possible. If all selectmen are recalled, according to the MMA, a notary public has the authority under state law to call for that election. And, according to MMA, a special election can typically be organized and held in less than a month.