Process for election date change called into question

by Geoff Fox

Hancock officials aren’t sure if their approval of changes to the town’s election rules relating to the timing of the election were fully put into effect.

In 2019, town officials agreed to move their municipal elections from January to April. Now they’re not sure if the changes stuck.

Brian Kane, attorney for the Town of Hancock reads over some of the town’s ordinances during a workshop for town officials.

With enough time before the town’s municipal election and not wanting future candidates to challenge the process taken to move the town’s election date from January to April, town officials and attorney took a look at how the process was completed in 2019.

In January 2019, the town held three meetings – a special town meeting on January 2, a public hearing the following night on January 3, and the regular town meeting January 9.

In the first meeting, officials began discussions focusing on moving the election date and the public hearing was the first reading.

The question raised during a workshop last Wednesday, September 2, was if the process for the resolution was followed with the notification.

Mayor Ralph Salvagno said the resolution was done during a change in town managers.

When things started moving on the resolution, David Smith announced his resignation at the January 9 town meeting and the search began for a new town manager.

At the meeting, the mayor referenced emails from January 19, 2019 that were exchanged between Smith and the town’s attorney Brian Kane where Smith informed Kane about the first hearing and the resolution being passed, but still obligated to have a second public hearing, which never occurred.

Salvagno said it was his understanding all that’s happened is there’s a delay in the second public hearing.

The mayor wondered if the year between the January 2019 meeting and September 2, 2020 was going to be problematic.

If it would be problematic, Salvagno said the remedy could be to announce a public hearing for October with the change being effective in December.

“That’s the way it could happen,” he said.

A public hearing has to be advertised for 21 days prior to it actually happening.

Only one public hearing is required, however that 21-day notice still has to be observed.

Kane said officials would have to go back to the minutes of the January 9, 2019 town meeting to figure out what Smith actually did.

According to those minutes, which can be found on the town’s website, prior to the meeting, Smith had a public hearing for a proposed charter change.

Salvagno noted the hearing in those minutes, but said nothing was done during the February 2019 town meeting.

Kane said Smith could have been confusing the 21-day advance notice of the public hearing and the post passage 40-day hearing for people to comment.

Kane said with the passage of the resolution, the resolution has to “sit” for 45 days after passing and it takes effect on the 50th day.

What the town would have to do, Kane said, would give 21 days notice for the public hearing and adopt the resolution at a future town meeting, and then “sit on it” for 40 days until it’s effective.

In all, there would have to be a minimum of 65 days for the process to be done properly.

Councilmen Tim Boyer and Leo Murray both noted the original passage had already been reported by the media, however it wouldn’t matter as new action would have to be taken.

“The reality is it will take a new vote,” Salvagno said.

Town Manager Joe Gilbert said they would have to count backwards from the October town meeting to start advertising the public hearing for that meeting. That would be September 23 for the first advertisement.

If the town were to reintroduce the resolution and pass it at the October 14 town meeting, Kane said he believes the resolution would take effect the first week of December.

“Frankly, you could just reintroduce it this month,” he said. Kane added officials could also bring up it was originally in January 2019.

Once the resolution is passed, a fair statement is published and posted at Town Hall. That has to be done for 40 days. If there are no objections, on the 50th day it becomes effective and the election is moved from January to April.