OGUNQUIT, Maine — The recall election of three members of the Select Board will take place on May 9, following a York County Superior Court Judge’s ruling Wednesday.
A lawsuit — filed by Ogunquit residents Mary Buck, Barbara Ferraro, Patricia Hussey and Peter Kahn — asked the court to rule on legal challenges to the recall petition process which was launched last fall and seeks to oust Select Board Chair Charles “Bunky” Waite, Selectwoman Madeline Mooney and Selectman Bob Winn.
Those pursuing the recall were angry about the September firing of former Fire Chief Mark O’Brien.
Petitioners gathered the required signatures to launch the recall, but challengers who filed the lawsuit alleged numerous problems with the way petitions were handled, by both circulators and at Town Hall.
In a much-anticipate ruling, Judge John O’Neil denied the plaintiff’s claim for a declaratory judgment saying they “have not sustained their burden of proof” in the case.
Stephen Langsdorf, attorney for the plaintiffs, said Thursday that the judge’s decision was very disappointing for his clients, but they will not appeal.
“Despite clear evidence of fraud and other mistakes made in the process it appears the court simply didn’t want to get involved in a political process,” Langsdorf said. “The plaintiffs do not intend to file an appeal and will focus their efforts on the May 9 recall election.”
Proponents of the recall were pleased with the judge’s ruling.
“This is what we’ve been asking all along, a chance to let the Ogunquit voters decide,” said Mark McLeod, who is part of the group that initiated the recall process.
Earlier this week, Kahn said while they hoped the judge would rule in their favor by eliminating more signatures, they feel the voters will “do the right thing” at the polls.
“We’ve done some preliminary polling, and we feel voters will do the right thing and not support this recall,” Kahn said.
In his ruling, O’Neil said Town Clerk Chris Murphy followed protocol when she found that three Ogunquit residents who signed the recall petitions — John Mixon, Philip Cavaretta and Richard Barber — were registered voters in town, something the plaintiffs challenged.
The lawsuit also asked the court to throw out three petitions from the counter at Town Hall, arguing that Murphy and her deputy town clerk did not witness all of the signatures while working during Town Hall business hours.
The judge “declined to find that the clerk failed to maintain adequate control over the petitions such that invalidation of the petitions maintained at the Town Office is warranted.”
In his decision O’Neil wrote, “The record indicates this was the first recall effort that occurred in Ms. Murphy’s twenty-plus years of service to the Town of Ogunquit and she made a number of conscious efforts to ensure she was acting in accordance with the Town Charter.”
O’Neil concluded that the burden of proof by “clear and convincing evidence” was on the plaintiffs in the case because “the outcome they seek to avoid is simply putting the ultimate question of recall to the voters.”
Rick Dolliver, a selectman who along with John Daley, is not subject to the recall said he’s pleased that the townspeople will get to vote.
“It shows that the judge listened to the merits of the case. I think it’s democracy at its finest, and this follows the town charter. We have a fiduciary responsibility in everything we do to follow the town charter. This gives the people the chance to vote,” Dolliver said.
The decision clears the way for voters to decide whether to recall Waite, Mooney and Winn in an unprecedented election where more than half of the five-member board could be replaced.
The recall election will take place at Dunaway Center on Thursday, May 9 with polls open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots are available now through Monday, May 6 in the Town Clerk’s office.