Freedom – Faced with four hot-button, petition-initiated questions, Freedom voters at a special referendum Tuesday, July 26 cast their ballots mostly in the negative, sparing two selectmen from recalls, rejecting a proposed wind energy development moratorium and also rejecting a fire truck purchase by a wide margin.
A total of 260 residents – just under half of the town’s registered voters – voted Tuesday, and with no more than seven blank or void ballots cast on any of the six questions, no single question appeared to account for what several town officials described as a high turnout.
An attempted recall of Selectman Ronald Price was defeated by a vote of 173-84. A nearly identical question seeking the recall of Selectman Clint Spaulding was also defeated, by a vote of 164-92.
“I think it turned out the way it should have,” said Price, speaking on the day after the referendum. “Obviously there are some people in town who were not pleased with our performance in office, but they were far from a majority.”
Spaulding thanked the residents who came to the polls and voted against recalling him and Price. “We really appreciate their support,” he said.
On the recall petitions themselves, Spaulding voiced concern that allegations could be made against an official and voted upon without supporting evidence.
“As long as we have petitions brought up, stuff should be facts,” he said. “Anyone can write something on a piece of paper.”
A request to purchase a new $250,000 pumper tanker for the Freedom Volunteer Fire Department came up for a third vote on Tuesday’s ballot, but was defeated, 164-94, despite being approved at two previous votes.
The new fire truck question first came up at the town’s annual meeting March 11, where it was approved by a 31-21 vote.
A group of residents subsequently petitioned for a second vote on the assertion that many residents weren’t aware that the large purchase had been on the town meeting warrant. The re-vote took place at a special town meeting April 16, where the purchase was again approved, this time by a one-vote margin, 50-49.
But opponents – whose principal concern with buying new truck has been the cost and the fact that the town would have had to borrow money privately at a high interest rate to finance the purchase – thought the vote at that town meeting was not conducted fairly. They petitioned for a third vote by referendum, arguing that the typically larger turnouts for secret ballot, election-style votes would show a more representative cross-section of local opinion.
The town currently has a working pumper tanker on loan from neighboring Montville, but Freedom Fire Chief James Waterman has voiced concern that the truck could be taken back at any time, leaving Freedom without adequate equipment to fight fires within its borders.
VillageSoup attempted to contact Waterman on Wednesday, July 27 but was unable to speak with him directly. A person who answered the phone at his home said Waterman had left a “no comment” response in regards to inquiries about the referendum.
VillageSoup also left a message for petitioner Nancy Bailey-Farrar on July 27 seeking comment, but did not immediately hear back from her.
A proposed moratorium ordinance on wind power development was defeated by the narrowest margin of any of the five questions on Tuesday’s ballot, 141-117.
Residents previously voted in a sweeping commercial development moratorium at a special town meeting in June. The ban was drafted by selectmen as a less-politically-loaded alternative to the wind-specific petition, which was filed by Steve Bennett, a neighbor and vocal opponent of the three-turbine Beaver Ridge Wind development.
“A lot of people probably thought that would suffice,” said Bennett, speaking July 27.
Though wind energy development is prohibited under the commercial development moratorium, the wind-specific moratorium was added to the July 26 ballot because it came out of a citizen petition, according to Selectman Price.
Bennett said he found Tuesday’s vote “very discouraging.”
“The only way I can interpret this now is that the majority of the town wouldn’t mind more turbines going up with no regulation,” he said.
Bennett said the commercial development moratorium already in place wasn’t bad, but he expressed concern that if the town were to try to draft a catch-all ordinance it would not only be time consuming to write but any resulting ordinance would be vulnerable to challenges from groups or individuals opposed to certain parts of it.
In 2006, the town enacted a Commercial Development Review Ordinance, which was scrapped in 2008 to allow for the Beaver Ridge Wind development. In the process, Bennett said, the town lost its water extraction ordinance, noise ordinance and other protections.
“Seems like we’ve already been through that once,” he said. “Why do we want to do it again?”
A fifth question on the July 26 ballot reading “Shall the town accept donations at the Selectmen’s discretion and appropriate said donation for their intended purpose?” passed by a vote of 166-88.
Town Clerk Cynthia Abbott said the question was recommended by the town’s auditor, saying it would allow selectmen to legally handle donations made to the town.
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