SOUTHWICK — The newly formed citizen group hoping to recall Select Board member Russell Fox misread the law and will have to wait before collecting signatures, Town Clerk Michelle Hill said on Friday.
Jason Giguere and Citizens Reclaiming Southwick submitted a petition with 117 signatures this week in support of starting a recall election. Based on his reading of the law, Giguere said he expected to have until Nov. 23 to collect 1,800 signatures to force a town-wide vote.
Hill clarified on Nov. 5 that the clock hasn’t started on the main petition drive yet, as her office is still consulting with the town’s legal counsel on the wording of the petition that Citizens Reclaiming Southwick will have to circulate. The 20-day window will begin only when the petition is formally drafted, which she said could take place next week.
The group will be unable to collect any signatures until that legal petition is created and given to them. Giguere said that there had been some signature collecting events scheduled for this weekend, but they will be canceled until the legal petition is ready.
Earlier this week, Giguere said his group was pushing to recall Fox for “violations of town
bylaws, current governing protocols, and Massachusetts state law.” Fox has been criticized regularly by audience members at Select Board meetings ever since a vote that he and board member Douglas Moglin took on Sept. 27 to leave three volunteer commissioners off the annual list of reappointments to the Agricultural and Conservation commissions. The dismissed commissioners say the vote was punishment for speaking out on political controversies. Fox has said he was only trying to add new members and fresh ideas to town government.
To force a recall election, the petitioners must receive the qualified signatures of at least 25 percent of Southwick’s registered voting population, which Hill said was 1,786 as of Nov. 5 — slightly less than the 1,800 Giguere had estimated. That number could change slightly if anybody registers to vote before the petition is initiated.
Giguere said that he simply rounded up the number, and his group is going to make an effort to get far more signatures than that.
“We plan to collect 2,100 or 2,200, just to be safe. All of my top 10 people think we will go for 2,500 signatures,” said Giguere.
Hill said that the petition could be rejected if signatures are disqualified for being illegible or for being from a person not registered to vote in Southwick.
She noted that of the 117 signatures in the original petition, two were from people who signed twice, and the duplicates were disqualified. The 115 remaining signatures were still enough to start the process, however.
In the main recall petition, “if they bring 1,800 and 100 are disqualified, then the petition fails,” said Hill.
Regardless of the timeline, if the group gathers the required number of qualified signatures, the recall election would have to take place sometime before the May elections, though Hill could not yet give an exact date. That means the town would incur the cost of running a second town election in 2022 solely for the recall.
In an interview earlier this week, Fox said a recall election would cost the town “thousands of dollars.” Fox’s three-year term on the Select Board does not expire until spring 2023. The member up for re-election next year is Joseph Deedy, who was not present for the commission appointment votes.
If enough certified signatures are collected, Fox would be given a formal letter with the recall petition. If he does not respond in five days, a special election is triggered with himself as a candidate. Giguere said Citizens Reclaiming Southwick will wait to see if they can get enough signatures before putting forward an opposing candidate.
Both Hill and Giguere said that in their research, they can find no record of a recall election in Southwick’s 251-year history. They both also noted that this does not mean that one has not taken place, only that they have not found a record that one has. Because of this, Hill said that she and the town’s legal counsel are still learning some of the process themselves. The entire process of the petition and recall, if it takes place, will be conducted by town of Southwick employees and budgets, with no assistance from the state.