Voters in Freedom overwhelmingly decided on Tuesday to keep their town government the way it is, with an effort to recall two of the town’s three selectmen failing by a roughly 3-to-1 count.
Steve Bennett, who faced recall along with Selectman Ron Price, said Wednesday morning that he is hoping that the vote, and the high off-year voter turnout, will allow the board of selectmen to return to business as usual.
“The people of Freedom came out to support us,” he said. “I feel very fortunate that the majority of people feel that way.”
According to Town Clerk Cindy Abbott, 64 residents cast ballots to recall Bennett, but 184 voted to keep him in office and one ballot was voided. For Price, 66 residents voted to recall him while 183 voted to keep him as selectman.
In an ordinary off-year election, with only the school budget referendum to decide, Freedom sees fewer than 44 voters, she said. This year’s turnout of close to half of the 577 registered voters, was very high.
Abbott said that the recall and questions about what would happen if voters did decide to throw Bennett and Price out of office have kept town officials busy lately.
“It took a lot of planning,” she said, adding that it “kind of shut down” the rest of the town’s work.
Those in favor of recalling the selectmen listed several reasons for doing so, with a top reason being the poor conditions of the town’s roads during this spring’s mud season. One road had to be closed for a period of time this spring while it was impassable, and some residents said the closure posed an unacceptable public safety risk.
Other reasons included a general feeling that Price’s son, Travis Price, should not be the director of the town’s public works department and that the small town does not need its own public works department. Earlier this year, 53 of the town’s roughly 700 residents signed a petition accusing Bennett of repeated violations of the select board code of ethics and abuse of the office of selectmen. Fifty-one people signed a petition accusing Ron Price of violating the code of ethics, continued conflict of interest regarding town business decisions and actions, and abuse of the office of selectmen.
The town’s third selectman, Brian Jones, was not singled out for recall.
One resident who wanted both Bennett and Ron Price to be recalled said that in addition to the road problems and hiring Travis Price, he felt that town officials generally make poor decisions with taxpayer funds. In May, Bob Kanzler told the BDN he also did not agree with the way that the town took out a lease to purchase an excavator and the fact that residents voted last year at a special town meeting to spend $38,000 to purchase a derelict property in the middle of town.
“They spend, spend, spend on our tax dollars,” he said. “Our money is not being spent wisely on what it needs to be spent on.”
Even as town officials look forward to getting on with municipal business, now that they know that the selectmen will stay in office, they will address at least one of the cited problems. On Wednesday, June 19, there will be a special town meeting to discuss how much money to spend on the Mitchell Road, one of the roads that poses the worst issues during mud season.
Still, Bennett expressed relief that the election was behind him.
“Small-town politics — it’s a rough game sometimes,” he said. “Everything is personal. You’ve got to just try to keep your head up.”