SOUTHWICK — The petition to recall Select Board member Russell Fox failed to gather enough signatures to trigger a special election by the Nov. 29 deadline after a three week signature gathering campaign.
Jason Giguere of Citizens Reclaiming Southwick announced during the Select Board meeting Monday evening that the group had gathered 1,032 signatures, which fell short of the requirement of 1,786 qualified signatures needed to trigger an early election for Fox’s seat on the board.
Though the campaign failed, Giguere said that there was still success to be found in the effort, and that getting more than 1,000 signatures was an achievement in its own right.
“Over 1,000 signatures is a massive reflection of what our citizens want and need,” said Giguere.
Giguere claimed that more signatures could have been collected, but many Southwick residents who they approached declined to put their name down out of fear of retaliation from Fox and his family.
“We literally had people show up at our events saying they would sign it, but they planned on putting up garages or extensions and would need permits,” said Giguere, implying that people feared Fox or his supporters would retaliate.
Fox called these claims “an insult” to himself and his family.
“The idea of fear of retribution from me or my family is an insult,” said Fox. “These people have to be ashamed to even write something like that.”
Fox said that he was pleased to see the end of the recall campaign, and expressed gratitude to the “outpouring of support” he received over the course of the last several weeks.
He said he wished to extend an olive branch to those who sought his removal from the Select Board, and that he would meet with prominent opponent Diane Gale later this week. He extended that offer to any Southwick resident in order to address concerns, ongoing rumors and accusations against him in a civil manner.
“There was a tremendous amount of rumors, accusations, and outright lies,” said Fox.
Fox accused Citizens Reclaiming Southwick of violating state laws and town bylaws in the way they conducted their campaign, including what he said was the illegal placement of political signs on state and town property.
“The people talking about democracy and transparency need to look in a mirror,” said Fox.
He noted that he does not think every member of the group was engaged in illegal activities, but that some opponents of his “went too far.”
Giguere said Tuesday morning that Citizens Reclaiming Southwick, which formed as an ad-hoc organization to run the recall campaign, would regroup and have a meeting next week to decide its next actions. Though the recall petition effort is over, he said that the group is “not going to go away.” He also said that the group plans to have a presence at every Select Board meeting going forward.
The recall petition built on opposition to Fox that surfaced after he led a 2-0 Select Board vote to abruptly remove three members from their seats on the Conservation Commission, Agricultural Commission, and Community Preservation Commission. After town attorneys advised that their removals may have constituted an Open Meeting Law violation and an illegal shortening of three-year terms under state law, the board reinstated Maryssa Cook-Obregon and Dennis Clark to the Agricultural and Conservation commissions. Chris Pratt was not reinstated to his seats on the various boards.
The three dismissed commissioners said they believed the dismissals were related to public stances they had taken at odds with Fox’s opinions on conservation and historical preservation projects in town, including the Carvana proposal last summer for an automobile sales processing facility on College Highway.
Fox was the only member of the three-person Select Board targeted by the recall petition. Member Douglas Moglin also participated in the commission appointment vote on Sept. 27. Select Board Chair Joseph Deedy was not present at the meeting where the vote was taken.
Select Board members are elected to staggered three-year terms. Deedy’s seat is up for re-election in spring 2022. Fox’s current term ends in spring 2023. Moglin, who was re-elected this year, is slated to serve until 2024.