The ugly tone of Hinsdale politics, culminating recently with the hamhanded firing of Police Chief Nancy Daniels, understandably frustrates residents of the town. However, if voters grant themselves the option of recalling town officials it is likely to make matters worse, not better.
Article two of Wednesday night's special town meeting would enable voters to remove office-holders for "lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties, corruption, malfeasance, or violation of oath." If passed, the measure would have to be brought before the Legislature for confirmation. The citizens petition for the recall ignited after Chief Daniels was fired, as many in the community believe that Select Board Chairperson Bonnie Conner and Selectman William Goddard Jr. were biased against the chief.
The article establishes the extremely low bar of just 100 registered voters to initiate a recall, with the signatures of only 20 percent of the town on an official petition required to oust the official. As the citizen petition calling for recall power had more than 300 signatures, it can be assumed that there will be a recall effort if that power is granted. As a recall could, under provisions of the article, be started at any time, allies of the ousted Selectmen would surely be motivated to recall their replacements. Do Hinsdale residents really want the threat of multiple recalls hanging over them, or the chaos that could ensue if board members are regularly ousted by whatever faction is out of power?
State ethics laws include provisions by which town officials can be removed for sound, clearly defined reasons that go beyond unhappiness over a specific action. There is no need to institute a procedure that would severely undermine the town's electoral process. If voters are unhappy with a member of a board there will be opportunities to remove him or her at a regularly scheduled election. This system provides an incentive for residents to show up at the polls - and it is disappointing that only 37 percent of Hinsdale's voters did so at last May's town elections.
Town officials should be voted in or out by majority vote at regular elections. They should not be removed through a random and easily abused recall process that provides nothing less than rule by minority, and will dramatically elevate the bad feeling that poisons the community.