Effort Underway To Recall Selectman Freitag
By: Christopher Kazarian
Yesterday afternoon Selectman Melissa C. Freitag stood in front of a group of students at Cape Cod Community College teaching them about authoritarianism, dictatorships, and totalitarianism.
Shortly thereafter she received a lesson in democracy, when she learned of a recall petition that was signed by 100 residents and turned into Falmouth Town Hall on Wednesday, seeking her removal from office after just six months as a selectman.
The basis for the recall lists four reasons that include misleading the citizens and government; lack of commitment, due to poor attendance record; lack of experience; and lack of respect for the community.
“This is politics at its dirtiest,” Ms. Freitag said, noting that whoever had filled out the recall form had misspelled her name: “Mellissa Freigtag.”
As to who is behind this effort, it is unclear, but Falmouth Town Clerk Michael C. Palmer said the first 10 people on the affidavit are the ones he will contact for the next step in the process. They will be given 20 working days to circulate the petition in order to obtain signatures of 15 percent of the 25,648 registered voters in town, which is equivalent to 3,847 people. No more than 25 percent of those signatures may be from any one precinct.
“They have a long road to go and a lot of requirements to take place,” Mr. Palmer said. “There is a lot of work to make this happen...It is meant to be that way, because it is a serious thing, trying to remove someone from office.”
Having lived here all his life, he said, this is the first time he can recall a petition being circulated in town.
As to who is behind this effort, rumors pointed to George W. Morse of Highview Drive, East Falmouth, the former town constable who was not re-appointed to that position in June. Mr. Morse has since filed a complaint with the state Criminal History Systems Board, alleging that the town improperly accessed his sealed records.
Mr. Morse’s wife, Sheila Morse, is one of the first 10 people on the signed recall.
Mr. Morse admitted dropping off the document at town hall, but said he was assisting another resident, Mary Ann Stacey of East Falmouth Highway. “All I did is deliver papers for her,” he said. Efforts to contact Ms. Stacey were unsuccessful.
Mr. Morse defended his actions in signing the petition, arguing that the reasons listed on the document were justification for Ms. Freitag’s removal. None of this, he stressed, has anything to do with the selectmen failing to reappoint him in June. For that vote, the selectmen were deadlocked in a 2-2 vote. Ms. Freitag was absent from that meeting.
One of his criticisms was Ms. Freitag’s record of attendance, arguing that she “missed the first six meetings...I feel the lack of responsibility is just not good. This town doesn’t need more problems. It needs people to look forward to resolve issues and be part of the solution.”
Ms. Freitag actually missed three meetings, due to a European vacation during which she attended a science conference at which her husband, Lee. E. Freitag, an engineer with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, was a speaker.
While the goal is to have board members attend every meeting, Chairman of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen Mary (Pat) Flynn said absences are always expected. Former selectman Kevin E. Murphy, she said, missed the same number of meetings as Ms. Freitag did at the end of his term earlier this year.
On Monday, Selectmen Carey M. Murphy and Brent V.W. Putnam will both be out, due to excused absences.
In looking at the reasons listed for the removal of her fellow selectman, Ms. Flynn suggested “the reason may be to shift the tone, tenor, and thinking of the board. It can’t be about Melissa. How can you judge someone in six months?”
She also referenced the fact that Ms. Freitag’s name was misspelled on the petition and the lack of a solid rationale for the petition. Again, she said, there may be some underlying motive that points to putting someone else onto the board.
She said she would be surprised if the recall gains any traction in town, arguing that Ms. Freitag “cares a great deal about the town. I think it is unfortunate people want to recall her.”
If organizers of the movement are successful in obtaining the necessary signatures by Wednesday, December 16, Mr. Palmer said, the town would have 14 working days to certify those signatures.
On Thursday, January 14, the town would then have three working days to give notice to Ms. Freitag, who could resign. If she did not, then selectmen would order a special election that would be held between Monday, March 22, and Thursday, April 8.
Mr. Palmer estimated the cost to hold such an election could be as high as $18,000. “I don’t know where the money would come from at this point,” he said.
The ballot question would ask voters whether to remove Ms. Freitag and list choices for replacements. At least 20 percent of the registered voters would need to come out to make the ballot question valid.
While there may be many questions still unanswered with this petition, at least one thing is known—Ms. Freitag plans to fight the recall. She was unsure whether she would make an official statement at Monday’s selectmen meeting, but she disagreed with many of the claims that are being used as justification for her removal.
“If someone wants to challenge me, fine; but they should list the evidence,” she said.
She also said she would have preferred that if someone had any complaints about her, they could have chosen to approach her first instead of choosing this more drastic option. “Certainly, I would listen to their concerns,” she said. “Constructive criticism is always preferred.”
As of yesterday, none of this had soured Ms. Freitag’s opinion of politics even though she viewed this tactic as destructive. “I really like the job,” she said, adding that “I’ve learned you need to have thick skin to be involved in local politics. I guess it will have to become a little thicker.”
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