A recall petition is an important democratic tool, a way for voters to remove local politicians who have proven themselves indifferent, incompetent, or worse. But it isn’t a tool to be used lightly. And as a looming Aug. 2 recall election in Chelmsford suggests, some recall efforts seem motivated more by private grudges than by the greater good.
Businessman Roland Van Liew, who is angry about zoning variances that the town granted for an office building, wants to recall four town selectmen whom he claims are corrupt. The volunteer selectmen and their local supporters say the charges are false, and maintain that past allegations by Van Liew against elected officials haven’t borne out. But Van Liew spent $90,000 - channeled from his company - to hire signature-takers, pay political consultants, and send out direct-mail pieces to prompt a recall. That expenditure is his right. But it hardly demonstrates a groundswell of grass-roots fervor for his cause.
Especially since Chelmsford has a regularly scheduled election for selectmen next spring, the recall vote is a drain on town resources. It will cost the town nearly $20,000 - and, should it succeed, will trigger another $20,000 election for new selectmen.
The voters of Chelmsford still have the ultimate say about whether their selectmen should go. But voters should exercise the same level of cautious judgment when they’re considering recall petitions in the first place.