190627ind LibraryFile

In this file photo, protestors pack into council chambers at Narragansett Town Hall to urge the Town Council to not cut funding for the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library on May 6. A petition to create a way for voters to recall elected officials in Narragansett, largely spurred by the controversy surrounding the library, has gained more than 1,000 signatures, a move that would allow it to be placed on the 2020 ballot.

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — A petition to create a way for voters to recall elected officials in Narragansett has gained more than 1,000 signatures, a move that would allow it to be placed on the 2020 ballot.

Supporters of a charter amendment creating the new voter recall mechanism announced last week that the town clerk’s office has received and the Board of Canvassers has approved 1,065 resident signatures.

The petition is one of several that grew out of anger library supporters over the Town Council’s move in January to sell the IGA/Belmont building property, rather than renovate it into a new town library.

Voters in 2016 approved up to $5.8 million in borrowing for the purposes of improving town library facilities, and the town bought the Belmont building in March 2018 for $2.8 million. The building is still owned by the town and has not been listed for sale.

The recall petition charter amendment, introduced in March by resident Winters B. Hames III, would allow voters to remove an official in elected office for at least six months by recall petition.

At least 25 percent of voters who cast ballots in the most recent general election before the petition is circulated would need to sign it and file it with the town clerk within 60 days.

The Board of Canvassers would then need to certify the petition and submit it to the council, which would set an election for a Tuesday not more than 75 days after canvassers certified it.

An exception to that deadline would be if any other town election were scheduled within 120 days, in which case the recall would be scheduled for that date.

“Voter recall is a common mechanism in town and city charters across Rhode Island and the country, and the residents of Narragansett deserve this critical tool to hold our Town Council members accountable,” Hames, chairman of the Narragansett Democratic Party, said.

Hames said Council President Matthew Mannix and councilors Jill Lawler and Richard Lema, who voted to sell the Belmont building, “simply refuse to follow the will of Narragansett voters” and allow the project to move forward. Councilors Patrick Murray and Jesse Pugh voted against selling the building.  

Mannix, Lawler and Lema have criticized the recall petition route, noting that special interest groups could use it as a tool to undo elections of candidates they disagree with. It also could be costly to the town and, Mannix said, subject the town to “perpetual campaigns” by candidates in the minority. He said a recall would be more appropriate for municipalities with four-year terms.

Hames also blasted the council majority’s decision to cut town aid to the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library by $441,000, or about 50 percent, in the recently adopted 2019-20 budget. Murray and Pugh did not vote for the cut.

“This is an affront to democracy, and it’s why we’ve collected so many resident signatures to place the recall charter amendment on the 2020 ballot, where I’m confident it will be approved,” Hames said.

Council opponents said they’ve also gathered enough signatures for two other petitions launched in late April to be placed on the 2020 ballot.

One by former Town Council President Susan Cicilline Buonanno would force the town to use the $5.8 million in bonds approved by voters in 2016 to renovate the Belmont building into a new library.

Another by Hames would amend the charter to change how the town sells real property. It would only allow the council to do so after approval of voters at a regular referendum.

Both garnered more than 1,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, supporters said.

“Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Friends of Narragansett Library and our many dedicated Love Your Library supporters, we have been able to gather the required signatures from town residents to place these important charter amendments on the 2020 ballot,” Nancy DeNuccio, President of the Love Your Library Coalition, said.

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