That is the big question for voters in Tiverton after a very contentious Board of Canvasser’s (BOC) meeting last night. “The Budget Petition is defective and should not be certified by the BOC…that was the legal opinion of Tiverton Solicitor, Anthony DeSisto,” Esq.
The Public Notice deadline for electors submitting a budget this year was Saturday, April 22, 2017 by 12:00 noon. The budget in question, jointly submitted by Town Council President Joan Chabot, Town Council Member Randy Lebeau, School Committee Chair Dr. Jerome Larkin and School Committee Vice Chair Sally Black, was submitted around 3:00pm the afternoon of April 22, when the town hall was closed for the day. The Town Charter states that all documentation and signatures required must be submitted 28 days prior to the referendum date. The argument from the petitioners is that the petition was submitted within the 28 day requirement, and that the time of submission does not matter.
The Town Solicitor’s legal opinion states that the Public Notice deadline of 12:00 noon was not met. Should the petition be allowed, this would have serious consequences for a violation of the Open Meeting Laws as well as violation of the Town Charter, and also would have serious consequences for setting precedence for other petitioners.
Dr. Larkin argued that the Town Charter, which governs the process of town matters, is ambiguous in it’s statement of procedure and deadline, (Section 301 [d] ) for ballot budget submissions. Gregg Jones, a member of the Library Commission, stated that by not certifying the budget petition, “voters are not given a budget choice”. Mike Burke, Chair of the Tiverton Democratic Town Committee stated that the BOC should “cast some sunshine onto the process” and allow the petition to go forward. Sally Black and Gayle Lawrence both stated that democracy for a choice would be taken away by the BOC not allowing the budget to be placed on the ballot, implying that the BOC would be responsible for taking away voter choice. None of the supporters of the petition who spoke assumed responsibility for the petition not meeting the deadline or not meeting the requirements specified in the Town Charter, they all requested that the BOC overlook the process and allow the voters to have a choice.
Nancy Driggs, Jeff Caron and Cecil Leonard, members of the Budget Committee, and Rob Coulter, Esq. all argued that the process and deadlines for submission must be, and were not met, so therefor the petition should not be certified to e placed on the November 20, 2017 ballot.
Solicitor Anthony DeSisto defended his legal opinion but first stated that, “Nancy Mello, Town Clerk, did not, in any way, violate any part of the Town Charter”. The Solicitor’s concerns are:
The documentation did not meet Town Charter process (forms, all documentation and required 50 signatures, have to be submitted as a package, not submitted separately)
The deadline for submission was not met as per the Legal Notice of 12:00 noon on Saturday, April 22, 2017 that was set forth by the Town Clerk.
BOC Chair Bobby Harris made a motion to not certify the budget petition submitted by Chabot, Lebeau, Larkin and Black per legal opinion by the Solicitor that the budget petition submission was not valid. The motion carried unanimously to not certify the budget petition submitted.