FAIRHAVEN – After heated discussion from an overflow crowd, selectmen voted Monday night to set Sept. 9 for a new election in the controversy-ridden Board of Health race.
The debate focused on whether the election should be expedited or include more contests. Almost 70 residents attended, with those gathered spilling out from the banquet room where the meeting was held.
According to the selectmen, the Sept. 9 election date is the earliest possible for a new election while still allowing time for new candidates in the race to take out nomination papers.
However, members of the newly formed group Friends of Fairhaven Wind asked that the selectmen “not rush,” and advocated for a new election in every elected office on the April 1 ballot, not just the health board.
“We need to slow down a bit,” said Gregory Bettencourt, of the Friends of Fairhaven Wind. “There are people very upset in town over the election. I trusted my town fathers and my town clerk to hold a good election and I’ve been let down – that stands for every race.”
Group founder Daniel Freitas said Friends was particularly disheartened by news last week that a ballot from the April 1 town election had been discovered during the special senate primary on April 30. The ballot was not part of a recount, and was also not disclosed during a court hearing about the Board of Health race.
“Who knows that in a closet someplace there’s not like 400 other ballots we don’t know about?” he asked. “This election was just handled badly.”
Members of Windwise, which opposes the Fairhaven turbines, disputed those concerns, asking for a new election to be held as soon as legally possible.
“Right now more than ever, we need a sitting Board of Health with the authority to act and the confidence of the people of Fairhaven that they were duly elected,” Curt Devlin said.
Attorney Ann DeNardis, who represented challenger John Wethington in the Board of Health race, noted that Superior Court Judge Robert Kane had only ordered a new election in the Board of Health race.
Selectmen Chairman Charlie Murphy said Town Counsel Thomas Crotty had only advised the board to set a date for a Board of Health election. He added that does not prevent another court case that could result in a ruling for new elections all around.
Murphy also expressed concerns about the extra ballot, which he said he only learned about after being questioned by The Standard-Times.
“If we are the town fathers then we are not being communicated with either,” he said. “Do I have concerns about town counsel? Absolutely. Why do you have town counsel if we are not going to have all the facts?”
He said the board has already begun accepting proposals for town counsel as part of a periodic review. Crotty was not present at Monday’s meeting.
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