Published in the May 10, 2016 edition.


WAKEFIELD — There will be a Special Election on Tuesday, July 19, to fill the remainder of Betsy Sheeran’s term on the Board of Selectmen.

The Board of Selectmen voted last night to call the Special Election after former Selectman Phyllis Hull collected more than the required 200 signatures required. Hull was defeated in her bid for re-election to the Board of Selectmen in a five-way race for three seats in the April 26 Town Election. Incumbent chairman Ann McGonigle Santos won re-election and challengers Peter May and Tony Longo also won seats. The other candidate was Daniel Benjamin.

Sheeran resigned as selectman with one year left on her term after she successfully ran for the position of Town Clerk in the Town Election.

Hull appeared before the board last night to make the formal request for a Special Election.

“It is my opinion that the town is best served by a fully completed board,” Hull said. “Therefore I obtained the signatures within days of the town election.”

Hull said she understood that there was a minimum period required to allow for candidates to pull nomination papers, collect signatures and have their papers certified.

“I am requesting that the Board of Selectmen schedule the election for as soon as possible after that minimum period has passed,” Hull added. She said that in her view the town’s business was too important to risk the possibility of tie votes on the current six-member board.

Town Counsel Thomas Mullen said that the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office has advised the town that a Special Election date could not be set any sooner than 64 days from the date that the selectmen vote to call such an election. This is to allow for sufficient time for circulation and certification of nomination papers, printing of ballots and other legal requirements, Mullen explained.

Mullen said that in his legal opinion, the selectmen had little choice but to call a Special Election “as soon as reasonably practicable” after being so petitioned by 200 voters. He said that in his opinion if the legislature had intended to grant the selectmen the discretion to delay scheduling the election, it would have explicitly said so in the law. He added that the very idea that that the law allows 200 voters to petition for a Special Election suggests that the the law was not intended to grant the selectmen discretion to delay such an election.

“I would say that the selectmen must call a Special Election as soon as reasonably practicable, which would push us into mid-July,” Mullen said.

Selectman Paul DiNocco argued that if Hull were to withdraw her request the town could hold the Special Election less than two months later at the same time as the State Primary Election and save the $15,000 cost of a separate election.

DiNocco appealed to Hull to consider waiting until September.

“I will not wait, Hull said. “I do not want to wait until September.”

New selectman Tony Longo echoed DiNocco’s sentiments. He pointed out that voter turnout in the April 26 Town Election was low — only about 15 percent and would likely fall well short of that mark if an election were held in July.

“I don’t see it in the best interests of the town,” Longo said, asking Hull to withdraw her request.

“I’ve already told you I will not withdraw,” Hull replied.

Anticipating Hull’s request, Dan Benjamin addressed the board at the start of last night’s meeting during public participation. He finished fourth in the race for selectmen in the recent Town Election.

“I have serious reservations about the wisdom of Mrs. Hull’s petition calling for a Special Election to fill the vacancy,” Benjamin told the board.

He said that it was his understanding that without Hull’s petition the current six member board could leave the seat vacant until Sheeran’s term expires in April 2017.

Benjamin argued that there were no urgent matters before the board that could not be handled by the current six members.

“If the Supreme Court of the United States can function with a vacancy, I’m confident the Wakefield Board of Selectmen can do likewise,” Benjamin said.

He also called on Hull to withdraw her petition.

Chairman Ann Santos said that under the Town Charter, the board’s options were limited.

“Phyllis took advantage of what the Charter allows her to do,” Santos said. “I cannot fault her on that.”

Santos said that the 64-day period would put the Special Election on July 12, but she suggested pushing it to July 19 because on the earlier date people who take vacations around the July 4 holiday may still be away.

The board’s vote to schedule the Special Election on July 19 was unanimous.