Legal issues complicate District No. 3 elections

Apr 11, 2018

With uncertainty surrounding its clerk/treasurer position, confusion about election procedures, and voters heading to the polls on April 30, District No. 3 Prudential Committee members are scrambling.

Joan Brennan, who had previously served as both the district’s clerk and treasurer, said she resigned from the clerk’s position last month. The district clerk is charged with running its elections.

Due to the wording of Brennan’s resignation letter it’s unclear whether she actually resigned from the clerk’s position in March.

As a result, Prudential Committee members announced Tuesday, no one is currently on tap to run the election.

“Joan has always done this stuff,” said Prudential Committee member Terrance Pimental. “I mean, I’ve never done it, Bobby’s [Robert Zina] never done it, now we’re in a glitch over here as to who the hell is going to do it all. I have no clue. I don’t know who’s going to do it.”

Further complicating the situation is confusion over whether the district has been properly running its elections.

Attorney John Markey, who represents the Prudential Committee, said that for many years, the district was following voting procedures similar to ones other districts have in place. But district officials learned at the meeting that they should be following the town’s and state’s voting bylaws and statutes.

Brennan said she would be willing to run the election as long as she can get assistance to ensure that the proper procedures are being followed. The committee plans to reach out to Ed Pimental, District No. 1’s clerk, for help.

There is also confusion about whether the clerk and treasurer positions can be legally appointed, rather than elected by voters.

According to attorney Anthony Savastano, in 1999, district voters approved a change of the treasurer’s position from an elected to an appointed position. It is unclear if the vote was on a ballot or at the district’s meeting. The state legislature approved the change in 2001, but with the stipulation that the change must be approved at an official district election.

It is unclear if such a vote ever occured. Savastano said no paperwork exists to verify the vote. The clerk’s position, which is also currently filled by appointment, may also have the same problem.

There are several ways officials can rectify the situation, although the exact steps that will be taken are unclear. The committee could have the state legislature sign a special declaration saying the district acted in good faith when it originally went through the process to make treasurer’s position appointed.

“No doubt about it, it has to be cleaned up,” board member Terrance Pimental said.

The legal mess has put a halt on Brennan’s request for a contract for her work as district treasurer. The committee had approved one last month, but another vote is now necessary after it was revealed that the committee violated the state’s open meeting law. The discussion of the contract was never put onto the agenda allowing for proper notice to be given to district residents.

Officials said Brennan will be temporarily appointed to the treasurer’s seat when her current contract expires later this month. Her new contract cannot be voted on until the situation is resolved.

The committee plans to next address the matter at a meeting on April 17. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at the district's 140 Cross Road station.