A group of angry residents in Randolph is vowing to hold rallies and attend biweekly selectmen meetings until board member Maureen Kenney steps down. It is also launching a recall petition so, if Kenney refuses, she could be voted out of office this spring.
Kenney has been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks to Superintendent of Schools Richard Silverman during closed-door contract negotiations in October.
She resigned from the School Committee on Nov. 9 and issued a public letter of apology, but has remained on the Board of Selectmen.
Kenney's critics say her mistake is too grave for a simple apology to suffice. They decided last week to begin the recall signature drive right after the holidays, and will "probably submit the first affidavits right after the first of the year," said David Harris, president of the Randolph Fair Practices Association, a civil rights group.
"We want to organize thoroughly so we're sure we can complete our mission," he said.
Kenney's critics say the town cannot move forward and address the pressing financial and educational issues it faces until Kenney disappears from public life.
Kenney maintains that her words, spoken during contract negotiations with Silverman, were in jest. During a discussion on bereavement leave, Silverman said she asked: "Don't you Jews plant them in 24 hours?" She also commented on his lack of the "side curls" worn by some Jewish men, he said. She has not denied saying those words.
As the controversy has grown, at least a handful of residents is speaking out in her defense.
Parent Christine Anderson vowed to start a support movement for Kenney that will work to block the recall. She said she had voted for Kenney and stands by her. "She's a good person," said Anderson, who accused the town of being "full of hate."
Sheila Swanwick, a close friend of Kenney, said the incident is being used by Silverman to negotiate a better contract.
"He got a really bad review from the School Committee, but now the heat's on her and he'll probably get the contract he wants," Swanwick said. Neither Silverman nor his lawyer could be reached for response.
But thus far, Kenney's critics are being the most vocal. They held a rally Monday at Town Hall prior to the selectmen's meeting, and then spent an hour inside, during the public comment period, telling Kenney and her colleagues that she could no longer be an effective leader in town. The small selectmen's room accommodated about 60 residents. About 50 more listened from the two doorways.
"This is not a lynch mob," said resident Jack Smolokoff, not a regular attendee of selectmen's meetings but someone who was deeply upset by Kenney's remarks. "We are Randolph. . . . The people here don't think Maureen Kenney can speak for them."
Linda Larson-Schwartz, a member of the committee to recall Kenney, expressed outrage. "Her remarks reflect everything Randolph does not stand for," she said.
Kenney, during a phone interview prior to the meeting, referred to her remarks as "quips" she made to Silverman. In public, Kenney read a statement, again apologizing to the town. But as residents urged her to withdraw, she sat silent, appearing upset by the comments.
The drive to recall Kenney from office will slowly move forward. The first step, according to recall committee member Suzanne Williams, requires submitting 500 voter signatures on an affidavit to the town clerk, stating the reason for the recall.
"I think we already have the signatures," Williams said. "But for the second round, we'll need 3,600 signatures, and we'll only have 21 days to gather them. We'll try to get a couple of hundred people first to circulate petitions."
Once that second round of signatures is submitted, the Board of Registrars has two weeks to certify them. Kenney would be formally asked if she chooses to resign.
If she doesn't, an election would be scheduled. Due to restrictions within the recall provision, the recall election would probably coincide with the annual town election, which will take place on April 1, Howard said.
"It's a long process for the town to go through, so she should just resign," Williams said. Randolph adopted the recall provision in 1993, but it has never been used.
One selectman, William Alexopoulos, joined Kenney's crowd of critics Monday and asked her to step down of her own volition. "I think the comments you made were insensitive and inappropriate, and I think you really compromised the integrity of the board," he publicly told Kenney. "You've got to do the right thing."
Gene Avrus, a Town Meeting representative, said Kenney was elected last spring on promises of effective leadership. "She can't bring that now," Avrus said.
Patti DeRosa, a longtime resident who runs diversity workshops professionally, said Kenney had shown "a pattern of insensitive comments." She urged Kenney to resign and "earn back the public trust."
Christine Wallgren can be reached at CLWallgren@aol.com.