Voters in Kennebunk, Maine overwhelmingly reject recall of RSU 21 school board member Tim Stentiford
KENNEBUNK, Maine — Voters overwhelmingly rejected an effort to recall RSU 21 school board member Tim Stentiford to the polls on Tuesday.
When asked if Stentiford should be recalled, 1,716 voters answered “no”, while 516 answered “yes”. Five voters left their ballots blank.
Based on the results, Stentiford will remain on the school board and complete his current term, which expires June 30. With nomination papers due at Kennebunk Town Hall by April 15, Stentiford will have to decide whether he wants to seek re-election.
Kennebunk resident Norm Archer kicked off the local recall process in late November, when he filed an affidavit against Stentiford and school board chairman Art LeBlanc alleging lack of leadership, controversial behavior toward teachers and parents, the absence of a program committee and the increase in administrative expenses as the reason. enough to remove them.
The petition to recall LeBlanc failed, lacking the number of signatures required by the city charter. The petition to recall Stentiford was successful, setting the stage for an election that would decide his fate on the school board.
Voters have their say
In an email Tuesday, LeBlanc noted that the recall failed by more than 3 to 1.
“Our community has sent a clear message, and how we move forward is important,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said the school board will continue to focus on providing a safe, in-person learning environment that meets the specific needs of all students during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Looking to the next three months, LeBlanc said the board will present the district’s fiscal year 2023 budget to voters and continue negotiations with administrators and education technicians. LeBlanc also said that, pending budget approval, the district plans to open its new sports complex this summer.
“This summer will see the installation of an inclusive playground at Kennebunk Elementary School, a combined effort between local fundraising and RSU 21, which will serve as a model for all of our elementary school playgrounds,” he added.
Stentiford and Archer could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night.
For the past few months, resident Miriam Whitehouse has been the spokesperson for The Upstanders, a group of local people who have campaigned against the recall. On Tuesday night, Whitehouse said she was relieved by the results.
“I am relieved and very happy to see that our city has firmly rejected the bullying, lies and petty attacks that have characterized this recall effort,” she said.
Whitehouse noted that the petition to recall Stentiford had 665 verified signatures, but Tuesday’s “yes” tally was “only 516”.
“It’s a pretty big drop in the number of supporters,” she said.
If voters had recalled Stentiford, Gayle Asmussen Spofford was the only ballot candidate vying to succeed him. Spofford, who opposed the recall and supported Stentiford, received 1,508 votes. A total of 596 ballots remained blank.
In the early afternoon, City Clerk Merton Brown reported a “slow and steady” stream of voters who had voted in the Town Hall auditorium since polls opened at 6 a.m.
Resident Kenny DeCoster said he voted against the recall, which he described as “baseless in its claims” and a “huge disruption”, which was taking place just months before the “real election” in June.
“It just seemed like they were going after somebody in a very hateful way,” DeCoster said. “It seems like it should never have happened.”
Another voter was more discreet. “Paul,” who declined to give his last name, said he voted to recall for the “right reason.” When asked to explain this reason, he did not elaborate.
“It goes far beyond local politics,” he said.
Recall election ends months of division
The results — released by Deputy Clerk Katrina Boyer on Tuesday shortly before 11 p.m. — ended months of division in the community. In the months leading up to Tuesday’s vote, supporters and opponents weighed in on the recall with signs throughout the community, comments at town hall meetings and letters to the editor.
Supporters have argued that the recall concerns leadership, finances and the council’s treatment of teachers and parents.
Opponents claimed the recall was part of a nationwide effort to target school boards on the curriculum and, locally, was an effort based on homophobia and racism. Stentiford is openly gay, and RSU 21 Superintendent Terri Cooper, whom Archer called “unfit” in a letter to potential recall supporters, is black. Archer called the claims of homophobia and racism “repulsive and lazy.”
The tension also surfaced in other ways. Some opponents of the recall said the affidavits that kicked off the process contained “provably false” statements, particularly about Stentiford and accusations of fiscal mismanagement. Some promoters received obscene material at home that they believed had been sent to them because they had all requested the recall.
The school board attempted to stop the recall, filing an injunction with York County Superior Court in January. The board argued that its members serve a regional school unit, not a municipality, and are therefore not subject to the revocation provisions of a municipal charter.
Judge Wayne Douglas held a final hearing on the case in early March and later dismissed the school board’s request. In his written decision, Douglas said the city of Kennebunk had the authority to remove members of the RSU school board based on its charter, the principle of self-reliance, and provisions of Maine state law.
Time to revise the recall provision of the city charter?
With the recall completed, the city’s healing process and reconsideration of its charter must now begin, Brown said during a lull in voting Tuesday afternoon.
Brown said he would like the city’s address to need changes to the charter recall provisions “as soon as possible.” Brown said he’d like to see revised wording that says recalls must be about “actual egregious activity,” like certain crimes, and not just because an elected official may be unliked or have a different opinion.
Brown said he’s heard of a proposal to create a charter commission to be on the ballot in the November election.
“I don’t think we can wait that long,” he said.
Zoning proposals gain voter approval
Rejecting the recall wasn’t the only thing voters did on Tuesday. They also approved two zoning proposals.
The first was to amend the city’s zoning ordinance so that the lot width for multi-family dwellings could be increased from 200 feet to 100 feet in the mixed-use residential and commercial district of York Street.
Peter Gay of Kennebunk requested the amendment, given the development plans he has for property he owns in the district. Voters approved the amendment, 1,433 to 736. Sixty-five voters left their ballots blank.
The second proposal was for a contractual zoning agreement to allow Home for Our Troops to build a new home on Perkins Lane for a local injured U.S. Army veteran. Home for Our Troops is a non-profit organization that builds and donates homes for seriously injured post-September veterans. 11 st. Voters rolled out the welcome mat for the local veteran by voting “yes” to the proposal, 1,945 to 229. Sixty voters left their blank ballots.