EXETER—Late last week, the town’s Board of Canvassers confirmed that the requisite 496 signatures were all Exeter residents, which sets in motion a recall of four town council members. This past June, a group of Exeter residents formed a petition committee in order to collect signatures from fellow residents in support of removing the Exeter Town Council members for their attempts to change the authority for concealed weapons permitting from the town clerk to the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office, among other issues.
Four affidavits, one each for council member, Calvin Ellis, Robert Johnson and William Monahan, as well as Council President Arlene Hicks, were submitted by the committee. According to town clerk Lynn Hawkins, the signatures were tallied as such: 581 against Monahan, 580 against Johnson, 582 against Ellis and 578 against Hicks.
Hawkins also stated on Tuesday that the recall election will be held at three polling areas throughout town on Saturday, Dec. 14. As of Aug. 27, according to Hawkins, Exeter has 4,995 registered voters.
The current situation stems from the previous town council’s desire to review concealed weapons permitting practice in Exeter, which is at this time done by the town clerk and town sergeant. The presiding council has stated that because the town clerk has no formal law enforcement background, the attorney general’s office would be a more fitting authority to issue concealed weapons permits, a point which the Exeter residents have contended.
Rep. Larry Valencia (Dist. 39-Richmond, Exeter, Hopkinton) had legislation that he drafted on behalf of the town council which would call for the attorney general’s office, in absence of a police chief, to serve as the town’s licensing authority fail in the House after residents expressed their concerns at a June hearing with the House Judiciary Committee.
If the recall vote is successful and the four Exeter council members are removed, the challengers who lost in last November’s general election, former Exeter Councilor Dan Patterson, Ted Nataly, and Lincoln Piccillo, would take their places, an outcome which Monahan does not see as beneficial to the town.
“If this recall moves forward, there will not be a second vote for who the town council members are[ for Exeter],” said Monahan. “According to the previous election, voters did not want them for the town council.”
Sen. Catherine Cool Rumsey (Dist. 34—Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton) echoed Monahan’s concerns this past week, imploring Exeter residents to take the time to fully understand the facts behind the recall.
“The fact is, the Exeter Town Council initially passed this resolution in 2011, [and] in 2012, the majority of Exeter voters re-elected three of the council members who supported the resolution,” said Rumsey. “The majority of voters chose not to re-elect a member who had opposed the 2011 resolution. The new town council then passed the resolution again.”
“A minority of dissenting voters leveraged a recall process in an attempt to unseat the majority elected town council,” she continued. “Therefore, a much bigger issue than this specific resolution should be addressed; is democracy in the Town of Exeter best served by this recall process?”
Exeter Town Council President Arlene Hicks further asserted last week that outside gun lobbying groups are behind the fervent opposition to their proposed permitting change.
“We followed the Exeter charter procedure for passing a resolution and state law for submitting our resolution to the legislature,” said Hicks last Tuesday. “This was never about guns; no one’s civil rights were violated. We did not, as the petition states, usurp either the state or U.S. Constitution.”
“Gun owners groups around the state were alerted and they descended on Exeter,” she continued. “Council members were warned that these groups would make an example of us. Their fear was that any change to permitting in Exeter would open the door to changes in their towns. This recall is being orchestrated by and paid for by these out-of-town groups.”
Members of the petition committee stood outside the Exeter Town Hall last week, speaking with local and state reporters about their reasoning behind pushing for the recall.
“This started as a gun issue, but it is [now] a constitutional issue, one of honesty and integrity and clean government,” said petitioner Lance Edwards. “It appears that the town council does whatever it wants and [members] do not want to be questioned.”
“To say the town clerk doesn’t have the ability to do background checks is a crock because she doesn’t have to,” he continued. “Because Exeter doesn’t have a police department, it has to jump through more hoops, but the town is not supposed to do background checks. If a state and national BCI check comes back clean, and [a resident] meets all the requirements, Rhode Island law says that you shall issue a [weapons permit].”
Rumsey has argued, however, that petitioners are misleading Exeter residents regarding their motivation behind pushing for the recall.
“The recall participant who visited our home to request signatures justified the recall by focusing on town fiscal matters related to the school budget and management of the fire district, [but] the town council does not manage either of these areas,” said Rumsey. “It is also important to note the recall process is an expense for the Town of Exeter. This too was not made clear to many people who signed the petition.”
“Also, many people signing the petition did not realize the recall process does not entitle voters to a new election,” she continued. “A recall only allows Exeter voters the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no” on the recall. If a majority of voters should vote “yes” for a recall the result will be that four out of the five Exeter Town Council members will not be duly elected by the majority of town voters.”
If the four councilors, Monahan, Hicks, Johnson and Ellis, are removed, the three losers of the 2012 election will be sworn in as soon as they recall process is completed. Polling places will be open to Exeter residents on Dec. 14 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.