Smithfield: Democracy Denied by Thirty Six Minutes
In a special election set for November 13, Smithfield voters will have the opportunity to answer the question:
“Should Stephen G. Tocco be recalled and removed from the office of Town Councilman for the Town of Smithfield under the Recall Provision as set forth in Article IX of the Charter of the Town of Smithfield?”
Over 3,000 Smithfield residents signed the petition, which set in motion the effort to remove Smithfield Town Council President Stephen G.Tocco. But if Smithfield votes Councilman Tocco out of office on November 13, the choosing of his replacement has been taken out of the voters’ hands and placed within the exclusive purview of the Smithfield Town Council.
In a serious blow to the democratic (small “d”) process, the Smithfield Town Clerk and Chairman of the Board of Canvassers missed a critical filing deadline with the Secretary of State by thirty six minutes — or possibly by just six minutes:
[Town Clerk Diane] Ady said later that someone at Town Hall had called [Secretary of State Ralph] Mollis’s office to ask when the office closed. The answer was 4:30 p.m., she recounted. She and the canvassers assumed that the deadline was 4:30, but it actually was 4 p.m.
With this missed deadline, the recall election will take place less than a year prior to the next election. Smithfield’s Town Charter dictates, then, that the selection of the replacement councilor falls to the Town Council and that he or she must be of the same party affiliation (Democrat, in this case) as the recalled councilor.
To review. Smithfield officials fail beforehand to correctly ascertain the deadline for the required certification and signatures to reach the Secretary of State. No valid reason has been offered afterwards for the missed deadline. And most telling, on the fateful day of September 14, the Chair of the Smithfield Board of Canvassers, Pasquel Matteo, did not sign the requisite document until 4:10 p.m., leaving only nineteen minutes for the trip from Smithfield to the Office of Secretary of State in Providence. (During rush hour.)
How very Rhode Island that a “miscalculation” should default to the detriment of Smithfield voters.
(The interesting case for Councilman Tocco’s recall is here.)