The Rising Sun Board of Town Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a charter amendment giving residents the right to ask for the recall of an elected official.
When the town commissioners censured Mayor Robert Fisher last month, it was nothing more than a public scolding.
The Act of Censure, voted on unanimously, came with no penalty to the mayor for what the board called his failure to follow a gag order forbidding public discussion of the town’s water and sewer struggles. With passage of Resolution 2012-13, the penalty could now mean expulsion from office.
The recall process can begin against a mayor or town commissioner who has been officially censured by that board by submitting a petition signed by at least 20 percent of qualified registered voters in Rising Sun.
Commissioner Stephen Naughton called it “a positive step.”
“My concern was that anyone could go around with a petition and recall any official if they had an agenda,” Naughton said. “This was written … with checks and balances. We, by ourselves, can’t remove someone from this board. It’s predicated by the censure and the follow up is with the residents.”
Fisher characterized the move as part of a continuing effort to discredit him.
“You have tried valiantly to get rid of me,” Fisher said. “I don’t understand why everyone is all against me.”
With Fisher maintaining he had a right as a citizen to attend closed door meetings on the water and sewer projects, and Naughton insisting he did not, Calvin Bonenberger, town administrator, tried to introduce civility.
“We need to get this situation under control. This item is not a personal conflict. This is a legal issue and legally people are saying, ‘Please Dear God, don’t make these people pay,’” Bonenberger said. If the town loses a pending $21 million lawsuit brought by a developer, town residents would pay the judgment without help from insurance. That breaks down to about $22,000 per resident.
Residents also called for a truce. Tom Mullaney said the “cynicism and hostility” has to stop.
“You people have to start acting like adults,” Mullaney said. “There’s no business that’s going to come to a town after seeing the way this town acts.”
Keith Campbell urged the board to take its cue from a town meeting he attended in another state.
“People were shaking hands … it was friendly and they get things accomplished there,” Campbell said. “You guys have an agenda, Mr. Fisher has an agenda. Since Day 1, it’s been resolution after resolution. Why can’t we have a meeting without a resolution?”
Caitlyn Grubb said she was upset at the behavior of the entire board.
“I see people are on their phones, not paying attention. Mr. Mayor it seems like you don’t care … what the residents of this town are feeling or thinking,” Grubb said. “It’s been very upsetting.”
Shelly Leishear got emotional as she told Fisher her petition drive seeking his resignation was a way to get him to either step down, or to reflect on his actions and change. She added if the lawsuit were lost, her family would suffer.
“I’m begging you. This is not a game for the people of Rising Sun,” she said. “I’m a human being. I’m a town resident. Should the lawsuit be lost I could potentially lose my house.”
“I can cry too,” Fisher replied.