, Salem, MA

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January 16, 2014

'No' vote on Brimbal faces high bar

20 percent of city's registered voters must vote against rezoning

BEVERLY — A simple majority won’t be enough for the “no” vote in next month’s special election.

Mayor Mike Cahill said yesterday that the city charter requires 20 percent of the city’s registered voters to overturn a measure through a ballot question.

That means more than 5,000 people will have to vote “no” on Feb. 8 to defeat a rezoning measure that would allow a shopping center to be built on Brimbal Avenue with a special permit from the Planning Board.

It also means that the “no” vote could lose even if more people vote “no” than “yes.”

“It’s clear as you read the city charter,” Cahill said. “They need to meet two thresholds: a majority of voters and at least 20 percent of registered voters.”

In response to a question from City Clerk Kathleen Connolly, then-City Solicitor Roy Gelineau concluded in a Dec. 30 opinion that the 20 percent threshold applies in the case of a citizen referendum election that is trying to rescind a measure passed by the City Council or School Committee.

The question on the Feb. 8 ballot asks voters if they approve of the Brimbal Avenue rezoning measure adopted by the City Council. A “yes” vote affirms the rezoning, and a “no” vote defeats it.

The rule creates a high bar for advocates of a “no” vote. As of yesterday, the city had 25,518 registered voters, according to Connolly. Twenty percent of that number is 5,103.

Last November’s city election drew 10,413 total voters, or 41 percent. The September preliminary drew 5,213, or 20 percent.

Dan DeAngelis of the North Beverly Neighborhood Association said he disagrees with the interpretation that the city charter requires the 20 percent threshold for referendum petitions such as the Brimbal Avenue one. He said the requirement applies to the section of the charter referring to citizen initiatives, which propose new measures, and not to citizen referendums, which seek to overturn measures.

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