New Charter Passes By One Vote, Recount Requested
By: Laura M. Reckford
Town Hall was abuzz this week after the new charter, a document that even supporters believed would be unlikely to pass, squeeked by with a one-vote lead in the townwide election Tuesday.
Out of 5,389 votes cast, about 17 percent of the electorate, town officials were amazed that the charter question came down to one vote: 2,579 in favor and 2,578 opposed.
A recount was requested yesterday morning by Jeffrey T. Wilkinson of Shootflyinghill Road in Centerville in Precinct 2.
Barnstable Town Clerk Linda E. Hutchenrider, who said she has never seen a one-vote win before, said at first she thought she must have miscounted. Once she realized the vote was for real, there came the question of whether a recount would be necessary.
By Wednesday morning, she said, she had already received an e-mail from a citizen—Nathaniel D. Munafo of Hyannis—asking for a recount. Ms. Hutchenrider tried unsuccessfully during the day Wednesday to get in touch with Mr. Munafo, who is the son of town councilor James Munafo Jr., to let him know the process for requesting a recount.
A request for a recount cannot come by e-mail, she said. It needs to be done through the petition process and by stopping by the town clerk’s office in person. Ms. Hutchenrider said that one person needs to come into the office to initiate the petition process and fill in all the petitions in an identical fashion. Then the petitions would need to be circulated in each of the town’s 13 precincts and 10 names would need to be gathered on each petition. One name on each petition needs to be notarized.
As word spread Wednesday of the one-vote margin, several citizens, including at least one town councilor, Janet S. Joakim, were planning to help in the effort to circulate petitions.
The main changes in the new charter are to the make-up of the town council. It would change from 13 councilors to 11 with seven, including the more powerful position of town council president, elected at large. The other five councilors would be elected from five new districts made by combining current precincts. In the current charter, each of the town’s 13 precincts has its own councilor. The new charter also puts the town council president on the school committee, which would be expanded from five to seven members.
Sections of the charter dealing with citizen petitions and charter objections have been altered slightly. There would be mandatory charter review every six years and two mandatory citizen meetings per year.
There are numerous smaller changes to the document that clarify its language.
Recount Process Clarified
Ms. Hutchenrider said if the names are gathered and petitions turned in within 10 days of the election, she can start the recount process. Because of timing issues, she said she would prefer it if the petitions were turned in by Monday or Tuesday so she has time to certify them and do the recount on Friday the 13th of November. “I thought that was a good time,” she said with a laugh about the ominous date.
But until the matter is clarified about whether or not there will be a recount, Ms. Hutchenrider said, the matter of the charter is “frozen.” “It is as is until a recount and those results taken in,” she said.
Waiting on a possible recount process also holds up the processing of the entire election, Ms. Hutchenrider said. She would normally pack up the results and send them to the state, but she now has to wait until the recount question is resolved.
As to her personal feelings about the charter, Ms. Hutchenrider said she preferred to remain non-commital. “There’s a good and a bad to everything.” With the one-vote difference, Ms. Hutchenrider said people in town hall have been teasing each other about who did and did not make it to the polls Tuesday. Ms. Hutchenrider admitted she was one of the ones who did not. Though she usually votes in elections, she missed Tuesday’s because there was not time to leave town hall and go to vote in her precinct in Cotuit.
In fact it was the vote in Cotuit, which was the last precinct to come in and which had a three-to-one margin against the charter, that pushed the question to within one vote. The charter question had been leading by about 200 votes until Cotuit came in with 316 votes against the charter, Ms. Hutchenrider said. “That flipped it and brought it within one vote,” she said.
The other precinct that voted strongly against the new charter by a three-to-one margin was Precinct 1, Barnstable Village.
Voters in eight of the town’s 13 precincts voted mostly in favor of it but by smaller margins, except Precinct 5 in Osterville, Precinct 12 in Marstons Mills, and Precinct 13 in Hyannis, which all turned it down.
As Goes Precinct 9, So Goes The Town
Precinct 9 in Hyannis passed the charter by the same number of votes as the town as a whole: one vote.
As to the unusual nature of the one-vote win, she said she had never seen it. The closest was a seven-vote margin a few years ago.
If the recount goes forward, this will not be the first recount Ms. Hutchenrider has done. She said there had been a number of recounts of elections in the early ‘90s.
Those who were elected in this election will be sworn in on November 19, Ms. Hutchenrider said, which allows 10 days for anyone to contest the election.
Among those surprised by the charter victory was Richard Clark of Barnstable Village, who headed the Barnstable Charter Commission that took 18 months studying the charter and presented the new document to the electorate.
As members of the charter commission began to receive reports Tuesday night that the question might actually pass, they called each other and decided to meet at Ardeo’s restaurant on Main Street, a place they often gathered at for a bite to eat after commission meetings. No matter how much they may have disagreed on individual points in the charter document, committee members managed to remain friendly, Lucien Poyant of Hyannis, one charter commission member, explained.
Mr. Clark said he walked into Ardeo’s and Mr. Poyant, practically shaking in his boots with the news, said they had won by one vote. “I thought he was joking,” Mr. Clark said.
Mr. Clark credited the win to the committee’s last-minute media and public information blitz that included long stints at the town landfill. Mr. Clark said in three and a half hours at the dump on Saturday, he handed out 400 flyers about the charter and spent a lot of time explaining the proposed changes to people.
Committee members decided to take an aggressive public relations stance, even making what Mr. Clark said was an unscheduled visit to a candidate forum in Centerville, because they realized that no one was really talking about the new charter document.
“What disturbed us the most is we were dying by being ignored,” he said. Mr. Clark said he thought committee members would get calls from civic associations to make presentations this fall, but no calls came. “We realized we were being ignored intentionally. When we got ignored, we took the bull by the horns,” he said.
Mr. Clark said it was the idea of charter committee member Robert R. Jones of Hyannis to use the recent controversy about sewering Stewart’s Creek to get people interested in the new charter document.
For that special election, there was one petitioner’s question on the ballot, whether to move forward with the sewer project in a section of Hyannis. But despite the small number of properties affected, about 300, more than 3,000 people turned out to vote. Mr. Clark said that question illustrated the issue of having town councilors be responsive to individual voters, which is something the new charter addresses by having citizens elect seven out of 11 town councilors.
But the main point people kept repeating about this week’s election was one emphasized by Mr. Poyant.
“The civic lesson to take away from this is every single vote counts,” Mr. Poyant said.
Mr. Poyant said his first clue that the charter question had a chance at the polls was the response he received at the town landfill, talking to citizens. “People were not turning us off; they were asking questions,” he said.
As to the fact that the question passed, Mr. Poyant said he is still floating with the news. “I’m not down yet. I still can’t believe it,” he said.
Incumbents Keep Seats
Three incumbents on the town council had the unusual experience of fighting against not only opponents but a political action committee (PAC) for this election.
The committee called Stewart’s Creek Residents United on Barnstable Sewers (SCRUBS) was registered with the town clerk’s office on October 26 by Ernest J. Doody and Louise DiCecca, who live near each other on Greenwood Avenue in Hyannis. Mr. Doody registered as the chairman of the PAC and Ms. DiCecca is the treasurer.
The purpose of the PAC as stated on the registration form is “to encourage voters to elect new town councilors.” Another issue listed is “to raise awareness of unfair betterment costs to homeowners for sewers.”
The PAC paid for radio ads against the incumbents, among other efforts. But the three incumbents in the race managed to defeat their challengers.
In Precinct 4, incumbent and town council president Frederick Chirigotis of Centerville prevailed over challenger Christine S. Carey of Centerville by a vote of 350 to 285.
Mr. Chirigotis said he was happy all the incumbents were reseated but he also praised the challengers, saying “they did a lot of hard work.”
His key election strategy was to keep doing what he already does: “I attend everything,” he said.
On election day, Ms. Carey said her strategy was an enormous door-to-door effort. With the help of her husband, she said she knocked on about 1,300 doors out of 1,400 in the precinct. About 15 to 20 percent of the people were home, she said. For the others, she left information about her campaign on doorknobs.
She said she spent time talking to many town citizens about election issues. “I enjoyed it. I really did,” she said.
Incumbents Concerned About Charter
Of the charter victory, Mr. Chirigotis said, “I was amazed.” He said most people he talked to thought the question would lose by a two-to-one margin. He said he intended to participate in gathering signatures to request a recount, if his constituents request that.
Mr. Chirigotis said he voted against the charter. One provision that he disagreed with was the requirement for the entire town council to run for re-election every four years. “You lose the continuity and you start all over on page one,” he said.
Mr. Chirigotis noted that this year has been a particularly difficult one for councilors with the sewer issue forcing the board to hold two meetings in the Knight Lecture Hall at Barnstable High School in order to have enough room for everyone who wanted to attend. This was the first time the council had ever held a meeting in the auditorium, he said.
In Precinct 2, incumbent Thomas R. Rugo of Centerville bested his opponent Robert Anderson of Centerville by a vote of 451 to 242.
Mr. Rugo said, “I’m just grateful to the residents of Precinct 2 for their strong support of my re-election. I promise to continue to represent their interests as much as possible.” Mr. Rugo said he realizes the sewer issue is first and foremost in the minds of residents of his precinct, some of whom live near Wequaquet Lake in a proposed sewer district.
“We need to find a fair way to fund it that doesn’t include an overbearing betterment fee. It couldn’t be any clearer,” he said.
Mr. Rugo had been a supporter of bringing the sewer project forward so the town could take advantage of a 9 percent governemnt subsidy on the project. But once he heard the loud opposition from his constituents, he voted against it. “Clearly the betterment option was unacceptable,” he said.
As for the fact that there was a political action committee working to unseat him, Mr. Rugo was nonplussed. “That’s what makes it fun. Bring it on,” he said.
Mr. Rugo said his campaign strategy was to reach out to voters by phone. Asked how many calls he made he answered with a laugh, “Enough to win.”
Mr. Rugo is one of the veterans on the council. He served on the first town council in 1989 for a four-year term. He was then elected to a two-year term in 2003 and then re-elected in 2005 to a four-year term.
On election day, Mr. Rugo’s challenger, Mr. Anderson, was standing with Ms. Carey at their precinct’s polling place beside the driveway of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Centerville. Mr. Anderson said he knocked on about 700 to 800 doors as part of his campaign effort. He said he also positioned his candidacy with the effort to stop the Stewart’s Creek sewer project by placing his signs next to signs placed by petitioners who opposed the sewer.
In Precinct 8, Janet S. Joakim of Centerville held onto her seat against challenger Joseph R. Pino of Centerville by a vote of 401 to 366.
Ms. Joakim said it was a lower turnout in Precinct 8 than usual and she heard from people who had trouble finding the voting location at the gym of Christ Chapel on Oak Street in Centerville.
This is the fourth time Ms. Joakim and Mr. Pino have squared off. In 2001, she beat Mr. Pino when he was the incumbent by just nine votes. In 2003, there was a charter change and all councilors had to run for re-election. She won a two-year term. In 2005, Mr. Pino challenged her again and she won.
Last year, Ms. Joakim had to campaign again—against a recall effort to unseat her and she prevailed once again.
Her strategy this year was an intense door-to-door campaign with help from her husband.
Ms. Joakim said she is concerned that the new town charter passed by one vote because she has heard from some constituents that they did not understand what they were voting for. She said she had been asked by constituents to help collect names to petition for a recount and she intended to do so.
Mr. Pino said his biggest concern about the election was that he heard after the fact from a town employee among others that a woman who is opposed to Ms. Joakim’s candidacy was telling people she was his campaign manager. He said the woman had nothing to do with his campaign and that she misrepresented herself to voters. He said he wants to clarify to his supporters that the only people working on his campaign were his son and daughter-in-law.
Mr. Pino also noted the relatively low turnout in Precinct 8 and that the highest turnouts were in Precincts 2, 4 and 6.
Mr. Pino said given what happened with the charter, his loss “turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” because with the new charter every councilor serves for just two years and then must run again in 2011 when the new charter takes effect.
He said he intends to run again in 2011. “In less than 20 months, I’ll be drawing nomination papers out again. I’ll be back,” he said.
As for the charter, Mr. Pino noted that the town council has the ability to alter the document itself with approval from the state legislature. He said the council should change the town charter language to reflect a mayoral form of government, as, he believes, those who gathered signatures for the charter change wanted.
In the race between John T. Norman of Marstons Mills and Oliver P. Cipollini of Marstons Mills to fill the seat on the council left vacant by Leah Curtis, Mr. Norman prevailed by a vote of 166 to 143.
Mr. Norman said that since this was his first time running for anything, he was pleased with the outcome.
With a full-time job and five children, he said he did not have a lot of time for campaigning and did a lot of networking by phone with people he knows from his 20 years in town. He said his win would serve to “get some working-class people” in the town council.
Mr. Norman had been in the news last year as part of the mass resignation by members of the Barnstable Zoning Board of Appeals. He said the resignation stemmed from an appeals board vote on the Blanchard Liquor Store project. Mr. Norman and others approved the project with mitigation. Mr. Norman said some town councilors and the town manager disagreed with that decision and the project is now before the Cape Cod Commission.
Mr. Norman said he believes that the town council’s failure to appoint him to a full seat on the appeals board was linked to that liquor store project. But Mr. Norman said he is ready to work with the other councilors on the board in an open fashion and believes “some good people made a bad decision based on bad communication” regarding the appointment decision.
On the question of the charter, Mr. Norman said he felt the document fell short of the radical change people had wanted to town government. He said he voted against it.
Mr. Cipollini praised Mr. Norman and said the two actually agreed on a lot of issues.
But as for the charter victory, Mr. Cipollini said he was “shocked” by the win, though he had voted for it.
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