2018-05-11 / Front Page

Recall ... and it wasn’t close

By Grant McPherson Staff Writer

Scarborough residents voted overwhelmingly to recall three board of education members after a group of residents collected over 3,000 signatures in a petition to hold the election, citing dissatisfaction with the board’s leadership and Superintendent Julie Kukenberger.

According to unofficial results from Town Clerk Tody Justice, residents voted 3,086-1,496 to recall Board Chairman Donna Beeley, 3,047-1,535 to recall Vice Chairman Jodi Shea and 3,040- 1,550 to recall Cari Lyford.

The recall effort was led by the citizens’ group Road to Renewal, which collected the petition signatures and whose members spoke at a public hearing held Wednesday, April 25 to the disatisfaction of the three board members and the reasons for their recall.

Road to Renewal members expressed a frustration at the board’s refusal to listen to residents and teachers in town and their refusal to compromise on issues such as school start times and proficiency based education until the petition was initiated.

Town council members and residents opposed to the recall were worried it would set an uncomfortable precedent for removing elected officials.

Paul Johnson, a spokesman for Road to Renewal, spent Tuesday holding a sign in front of town hall urging residents to vote in favor of the recall. He shared the sidewalks outside town hall with sign holders urging voters to vote against it.

Johnson said that approximately 1,650 absentee ballots had been returned before Tuesday and 200 still had yet to be returned. He said he felt confident going into the vote on Tuesday despite the group’s hope that the election would be held June 12 to allow for more time for ballots to be returned.

“We were hoping for June 12, but preparing for May,” Johnson said. “We already had signs ordered. We had them without the date, knowing we might have to paint it on. Obviously through the whole (recall) process we established a strong network of supporters through social media. That was relatively easy. The matter of getting voters out who aren’t plugged in was our biggest concern.”

Road to Renewal planned to hold a community forum in early May, but delayed it due to the scheduling of the election. Johnson said the group will still hold one, hopefully by the end of May. He said there’s no reason the two sides of the recall effort can’t work together going forward.

However, he said the group will still oppose renewing Kukenberger’s contract in June 2019 and that influenced the group’s decision to request a recall before November.

“Typically the board would start looking at (contract) renewal this summer,” Johnson said. “One of the biggest motivating factors for doing this was because the board was so supportive and we would suggest, stubbornly, of (Kukenberger’s) actions. We were concerned her contract would be extended another three years and that (sentiment) got lost in the back and forth. But it’s a really important component of what we’re doing. We don’t want the board to rubber stamp her contract.”

Beeley also stopped by town hall to introduce herself to residents and thank those who turned out to vote.

“I am looking forward to getting some relief,” Beeley said Tuesday before voting ended. “This has been extremely stressful on the families of the three board members under recall. It’s been just about three months now and it’s taken a big toll on our kids and our spouses. We’ll be glad to have it over with one way or another so we can move on.”

Beeley, who said she would not seek reelection in the fall, said she was proud of her work on the board, most of which she said takes place behind the scenes and away from public eyes.

“The lesson is any elected official could be recalled by a group of people who do not agree with the decisions you make on the board,” Beeley said. “Going into a decision to run for a position you have to be well aware if people don’t like your decision there’s a possibility of this happening again. Now there will be a precedent set.”

Johnson said while Principal David Creech’s resignation was a major contributing factor to the recall effort, just as important is seeing a fundamental shift in who is making what decisions.

“As citizens it’s our responsibility to be more active, to listen, ask more questions and be a little less complacent,” Johnson said. “I also think from the town side, which includes council, town manager, board of education and superintendent, it’s time they do a little less lecturing to us and a little more listening. It’s pretty evident (the vote) has turned into a referendum into the way town government is run.”

Beeley said the town has weathered divisive issues in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

“We’re going to have to be really good at communication on the part of the board with citizens,” Beeley said. “But communication is a two-way street. People have to be open and willing to come to meetings or inquire and ask questions. There’s usually no one in the room, maybe one or two, when we have meetings. We’ll continue to try to get the word out to hold more forums, going into the community and setting up sessions around town so that we can try to inform citizens about what’s going on.

“I’m hopeful that our community will come back together again in a respectful dialogue and behavior toward one another as quickly as possible.”

Staff Writer Grant McPherson can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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