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Poland recall petitions filed
POLAND — Recall petitions for three selectboard members were filed with the town office November 15, according to Town Clerk Judy Akers.
According to organizers, the recall of Chairwoman Wendy Sanborn, Vice Chair Larry Moreau and James Fernald is a response to the abrupt termination of former Town Manager Rosemary Kulow in October.
The three board members voted for the measure, while Selectmen Lester Stevens and Stephen Robinson did not.
During the November 20 selectboard meeting, residents iterated claims that Kulow's termination violated the town charter and accused board members of conducting town business without transparency.
According to Akers, the recall petition needed 128 verified signatures, 3 percent of registered voters.
Petitioners received 182 signatures apiece for Moreau and Sanborn and 180 for Fernald, Akers reported.
Poland's town charter gives the town clerk 20 days to certify the petition's sufficiency after filing.
In a letter to the selectmen accompanying the petition and read at the November 21 meeting by Fernald, recall organizer Art Berry claims the board violated the charter by terminating Kulow.
According to the charter, to remove a manager the board is required to adopt a resolution it provides to the manager, provide the manager with the opportunity for a public hearing and adopt a final resolution.
Berry says none of the charter procedures were followed.
"Rosemary Kulow was forced into absence ... She has not resigned; therefore she is still the town manager," Berry writes.
Berry also claims Rosemary Roy's promotion from assistant town manager to town manager is a charter violation and Roy "does not have any of the qualifications, training or expertise to run the Town of Poland in a fiscally responsible manner."
Reading the board's response to the letter on November 21, Sanborn said Roy's appointment as assistant town manager was authorized by Kulow and the board followed the charter when installing her as interim manager.
Citing a legal opinion from the town's attorney, Sanborn said the procedures for town manager removal only applied to a situation when a manager was fired with cause.
"Since the termination was without cause, those procedures were not followed and were not required to be followed," Sanborn said.
Kulow's termination followed her contract, Sanborn said. Kulow is receiving the three months' pay and benefits she is entitled to, Sanborn reported.
Sanborn said the board would not give specifics of Kulow's termination, citing confidentiality of personnel matters.
In spite of the board's response, residents continue to question its conduct.
At the November 21 meeting, Michelle Arsenault said the town's personnel policy provided for internal promotion, but did not require it if an outside candidate was more qualified.
She wondered why the town manager position wasn't advertised before Roy was promoted.
"Wouldn't you want the most qualified candidate to run our town?" Arsenault asked.
Sanborn responded that advertising the position was not required.
Sandy McAuly questioned Roy's suitability and asked when the town would advertise for a new manager.
Stan Tenteman questioned if board members had attempted to resolve their issues with Kulow before firing her. He said Kulow told him the board made no such attempt.
"Rosie can tell you whatever she wants to, that's her prerogative," Sanborn responded, but stated that confidentiality prevented the board from speaking further.
Residents also questioned the minutes taken following the October executive session before Kulow's termination.
According to Sanborn, Kulow recorded the minutes of the meeting. Moreau said Kulow retained the minutes and the town did not have a copy.
The handwritten minutes reflect that an executive session was convened during the October 16 selectboard meeting at 9 p.m.
According to the minutes, the meeting returned to open session at 9:40 p.m. at which time Moreau "moved to terminate my contract per its terms effective immediately," the minutes show.
According to the minutes, Fernald seconded Moreau's motion.
The absense of the minutes, as well as the fact the open session they record was not filmed has been held up by some as an example of the board's lack of transparency.
Berry claimed the board was using lawyers to exploit loopholes in the town charter and a recall was the resident's only option.
"We are paying taxes in this town to have things done right, by a law that you had given us a charter to go by ... and then you turn around and tell us you're doing this wrong?" he asked.
"The only recourse we have as citizens of Poland is to go out and do a recall because what we think you did was wrong."
Citing legal information that came from the Attorney General's Office, Berry claimed Kulow's contract would override the charter only if it was signed before 2009.
Any contract signed afterward would have to reflect the charter, he said.
Berry decried the board's perceived lack of transparency and demanded to know why the board didn't try to help Kulow do a better job, instead of firing her.
Moreau responded that the board answered the recall committee's questions and did not have time to review issues raised at the previous selectmen's meeting, and that the meeting was the first opportunity for the board to tell its side of the story.
Moreau said that he had been involved in Poland town politics for 15 years and never put a private agenda before the good of the town.
According to Moreau, the recall petition was filed too late to be put on the warrant for a November 29 special town meeting and the town would need to prepare a separate ballot, at greater expense.