MONTEREY — An attempt by some residents to oust a Select Board member through a vote for an election recall law hit a snag Wednesday when two Berkshire County lawmakers said they would delay filing that legislation until they can confirm that the vote is valid.
State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, wrote in a joint letter that the advice of Senate and House Counsel was to hold off on filing legislation for the election recall provision due to “recent developments surrounding this matter.”
The legislators are referring to controversy related to the admitted defacement of the petition by two residents used to bring recall law to a town meeting vote last month.
“It has since come to our attention that there are allegations of potential irregularities with the procedure by which this matter was placed on your Town Meeting Warrant, leaving the validity of the vote taken in question,” Hinds and Pignatelli wrote in the letter, obtained by The Eagle.
The pair said there would be a probe, but that it doesn’t indicate a stance on the matter.
“While we always strive to introduce and advance home rule petitions in a timely manner, these unusual circumstances require us to defer to proper authorities to conduct any necessary investigations and to rule on the validity of the vote taken.”
The letter comes amid worsening discord at Town Hall, where Select Board member John Weingold continues to boycott work, alleging that other officials are lawless in their governance — something they strongly deny. They accuse him of not doing his job and of combativeness.
Complaints filed by town officials against each other continue to roll in, and have hit at least 20 and counting. The Select Board Thursday hired an investigator to sift through them.
On Nov. 6, voters approved the town’s seeking of an act of the Legislature to secure an election recall bylaw meant to oust Weingold. It was a petition, signed by 113 residents, that brought this to a vote.
But the admission that one name had been scribbled out by resident, Ellen Coburn, and another printed for clarity by Town Administrator Melissa Noe, set off concerns that the petition, and thus the vote, would not pass muster at the State House.
Monterey Town Clerk Terry Walker reported the issue to state elections officials, who told her to contact the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office. The DA in turn redirected Walker to notify local police. Monterey Police Chief Gareth Backhaus could not immediately be reached to confirm that he is investigating any motives regarding the defacement.
Steven Weisz, Select Board chairman, says it’s a non-event.
“I think this is much ado about nothing,” he said of the alterations on the petition. “It doesn’t seem to be nefarious.”
He noted that the petition was certified before town meeting, an indicator of its legitimacy. Weisz said that, while he wished he had known the letter from the lawmakers was coming, he appreciates their need to be prudent with such a weighty matter.
“The [election recall] bylaw is a dramatic change as to how the town governs,” he said.
Weingold, the current target of the recall provision, said he’s pleased.
“I’m very thankful that the state is following law and proper procedure, unlike the town of Monterey,” he said.