, Salem, MA

January 27, 2014

Letter: Charter member offers alternate interpretation of law

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

The new mayor was quoted by your paper as saying that the city charter requires 20 percent of the city’s registered voters to overturn a measure through a ballot question (“‘No’ vote on Brimbal faces high bar,” Jan. 16). 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.”

This interpretation from the mayor and his city solicitor is flat-out wrong in my opinion as a member of the Charter Commission.

Here is what the charter states: “If a majority of the voters on the question is in the affirmative, the measure shall be deemed to be effective forthwith, unless a later date is specified in such measure; provided, however, that no such measure shall be deemed to be adopted if fewer than twenty percent of the total number of voters have voted to adopt the measure proposed under the initiative or to rescind the measure protested by the referendum.”

What this means is to have an official vote, 20 percent of the registered voters must come to the polls and cast a vote for the election results to be considered official. For example, in Beverly we have about 25,000 voters so 5,000 would be required to cast a vote. The charter does not say 20 percent or 5,000 voters need to vote “No” for this measure to pass. The 20 percent refers to registered voters to come out to the polls for a special election and is a very high hurdle for sure. Just as getting the required signatures to ask council for a revote was established as a hurdle, it wasn’t meant to prevent voters from having a say.

I was a member of the Charter Commission and do recall this area having discussion. If the mayor’s interpretation was correct, then the citizens would have no chance to push back and question the wisdom of the people they elected to represent and protect them.

In addition, the one polling place also hinders the rights of the voters. During any election, we have six polling places. The reason is to make it easy for people to vote in their own neighborhoods. The fact the city solicitor didn’t know about the requirement is another example of the former administration just railroading the public. So they have to request the benevolent governor to give permission for one polling place, which violates the voters’ rights. If they were wrong on voting place, why should we believe they are right on their interpretation of the charter?

I am asking Mayor Cahill to get a legal opinion outside of our city solicitor to avoid denying the voters he works for the right to overturn a former mayor and council opinion. No new mayor needs to start his new administration with one or more lawsuits, which was the hallmark legacy of the former mayor.

Jim Modugno