WILMINGTON, MA — In a follow-up to yesterday’s article (“BREAKING: Petition Submitted To Call For Special Town Meeting To Change Zoning Bylaws Over Detox Centers“), Wilmington Apple has learned that the Town has found a serious flaw with the petition — it didn’t actually ask the Selectmen to call for a Special Town Meeting.
“There is no language in the body of the text or on the documents turned into the Town Clerk that specifically expresses the intention of the petitioners to seek a Special Town Meeting,” explains Town Manager Jeff Hull. “Massachusetts General Law Chapter 39, Section 10 establishes the process for a calling a Special Town Meeting. The petition must express a desire that the Board of Selectmen call for a Special Town Meeting and include the article that is the basis for calling the meeting.”
Hull also points out that residents who are asked to sign a petition need to know whether the petition article is intended for an Annual Town Meeting or a Special Town Meeting, in addition to the details of the article itself.
“Some residents may agree with the merits of the article, but not agree that a Special Town Meeting needs to be called to consider it. In that instance, they might decline to sign the petition,” said Hull.
Even if the volunteers gathering the signatures verbally communicated their plan to ask the Board of Selectmen to call a Special Town Meeting, that’s simply not good enough, according to the Town Manager.
“According to the law, only verbally communicating the desire to request that the Selectmen call a Special Town Meeting is insufficient,” stressed Hull. “The petitioners’ intentions need to be in writing ‘for the record’ so that potential signatories have the opportunity to read what they are being asked to sign.”
Town Counsel reportedly also did not like the fact that the article’s language was on a page separate from the petition. The petition said “see attached.” The lawyer has advised that the article’s language should be included at the beginning of the petition.
How Did This Happen?
According to Ed Coughlin, one of the lead petitioners, Town Clerk Sharon George took responsibility for the mishap and was sincerely apologetic in a meeting this afternoon. Town Manager Jeff Hull and Mike McCoy, acting as a resident and lead petitioner, were also present.
“The Town Clerk’s Office didn’t give us the correct information about the things that needed to be specifically on the petition,” said Coughlin. “It’s frustrating.”
Town Manager Hull tried to pinpoint some of the sources of confusion.
“It is my understanding that the Town Clerk was asked by the petitioner if the article was acceptable,” Hull told Wilmington Apple before the meeting. “Her response was that the article was acceptable with respect to its form only. Her response was not validating that the article as to legal form and was not confirming that, if adopted, it would be approved by the Attorney General.”
“It is also my understanding that the Town Clerk told the petitioner that he needed to communicate his intentions to call a special town meeting,” continued Hull. “Ms. George should have been more clear that the communication of his intention to call a special town meeting must be done in writing as part of the article.”
George will help create the new petition to ensure it contains the correct language on the form expressing the intention to call a Special Town Meeting.
The petitioners, according to Coughlin, intend on starting the process over immediately, quickly gathering a bit more than the 200 required resident signatures this weekend, with the hopes of refiling on Monday.
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