Friday, February 20, 2015

Democracy Delayed

From left:  Sylvia Cuomo, Susan Lowenstein, Sandra Burgess Town Clerk, Joyce Crouch

The Amherst Board of Registrars failed to come to a decision concerning the complaint filed by long-time Amherst Town Meeting members Vince O'connor and Mary Wentworth regarding what appears to be fraudulent signatures on the nomination papers of School Committee candidate Phoebe Hazzard.



Ms. Hazzard had taken out her papers at 3:30 on the deadline day and brought them back an hour-and-a-quarter later with 65 signatures, seven of which were thrown out, leaving 58 certified.

For town wide office such as School Committee, 50 signatures of duly registered voters are required.

Red check means good, N means not registered, S means can't identify signature

The Town Clerk did point out that neither she nor the Board of Registrars are handwriting experts and they are legally bound by the notion of "apparent conformity":  If the registered voter's name matches the address then they have to certify the name, even if it's printed or looks like the same handwriting as the previous surname that also resides in the same household.



After 1.5 hours of sometimes testy testimony the Board decided to meet again on Tuesday to decide whether they will accept the challenge to the signatures and then ascertain if there is any merit to the challenge.




The Town Clerk was adamant that the Town Attorney ruled the challenge was handed in past the "two working day" deadline (by 35 minutes), and therefor the Board of Registrars would be setting a bad precedent by accepting the challenge.

 Vince O'Connor and Mary Wentworth present to the Board of Registrars

O'Connor and Wentworth argued the Town Clerks office was closed to the general public for a half day within that 48 hour deadline, therefor they should have had more time to file their complaint.



O'Connor repeatedly stated he wished for this matter to be handled locally by this board rather than becoming a criminal matter with the DA or an appeal in Northampton Hampshire Superior Court.  To which Board member Susan Lowenstein responded she did not like the words "fraud and criminal intent."



Saying he did not even know candidate Phoebe Hazzard, O'Connor stated he was in the Town Clerk's office when Hazzard first took out her nomination papers and still there when she returned them.  Wentworth added, "To old hands like us, it was a red flag."

Observer Rich Morse, a former prosecutor, said the board "Should not delegate this out to the town attorney.  The fundamental issue here is was there fair access over that two day period to make observations and judgements about the signatures?"

No matter what the Board of Registrars decides on Tuesday, at this point, in a town that reveres grass roots democracy, the campaign process has been tainted.



Town Clerk Handout

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

How is it physically possible to get 59 signatures of supporters in less than 2 hours?

Definitely appears to be fraud. It should go to court.

Anonymous said...

This is for an unopposed seat. Typical Amherst. Want to know why we have high taxes? 1.5 hours of how many people's time wasted today? They filed late, case closed.

Anonymous said...

Easy, if all the signers were at the same location. They have different addresses, but that doesn't mean that's the location where they signed the petition. They could have been solicited on the street corner like lots of petitions.

Anonymous said...

Under state statute (950 CMR 55)
"Registrars must certify a name even if:
.....
it is alleged that a voter's signature was forged or obtained by fraud."
(55.03(2))

http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/lawlib/900-999cmr/950cmr55.pdf

Anonymous said...

MGL, Chapter 53, Section 7, "Every voter signing a nomination paper shall sign in person as registered or substantially as registered, and shall state the address where he or she is currently registered, but any voter who is prevented by physical disability from writing may authorize some person to write his or her name and residence in his or her presence."

Only voters with a physical disability that prevents them from signing can have someone sign nomination papers on their behalf, & that voter must still be present.

Anonymous said...

It seems a lot of this tempest could have been avoided if Mr O'Brien hadn't pulled out so unexpectedly and so very late into the process...what was with that? Spite? or did a medical issue really and suddenly cropped up at exactly the same time as the deadline? Ugg!

Chris Hoffmann said...

I assume if you waited until the last minute to pick up your papers you'd have already worked out who you were going to ask to sign and figured out how to blitz them either by yourself or by giving some of your nomination papers to others to help. Two hours is plenty of time to get 59 friends to sign for you.

If this were "real" fraud, meaning people's names were added without their consent, I think we'd have heard by now. If it's "technical" fraud -- e.g. someone signing for their spouse who would have signed but wasn't there -- we may never know.

In any case, I think it's clear that the complainants missed the legal deadline to challenge the papers.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how motivated a group of individuals can get when faced with the specter of a political candidate like Ms. Douangmany running our school system.

Anonymous said...

"technical" fraud is still fraud. It is disappointing to see that employees of the ARPS central office & their families included among the questionable signatures.

Anonymous said...

anon 3:41,
school committees don't run our school system, far from it. school committees' role is limited to that defined in the MGL: to hire/evaluate the superintendent, to set district policy, and to vote on the school budget.

Anonymous said...

Can you hear that sucking sound....

It's the value of your homes being sucked away.

Clearer and clearer it will become to anyone moving to Amherst.

The school reputation is a shell of its former existence.

Vera, Shabazz, and Trevor will help Maria accelerate the downward spiral I suspect.

Good times ahead. That's if your kids are out of the school system.

Lawrence O'Brien said...

Anonymous 3:30's comment about my withdrawal from the election contributing to this situation is nonsensical because, if I had stayed in the race, there would be three candidates running and Mr. O'Connor and Ms. Wentworth would still have filed their challenge to Ms. Hazzard's nomination papers.

Nevertheless, Anon 3:30's statement does indicate that I must set aside my desire for family privacy in order to stop rumor-mongering and ad-hominem attacks that have been so pervasively present in my time on the school committee.

Approximately ten days ago, my siblings and I placed my mother in hospice care for reasons that will remain personal. The number of people who knew about this before I withdrew could be counted with the fingers on one hand, and none of them were school staff or people involved in any campaign in the current town election. Once we chose hospice care, I realized that I would rather devote all of my free time being with her than running for re-election. Campaigning is quite time consuming, so I once again applaud the two candidates who have stepped forward to serve in these open seats because they will be asked to put public service ahead of family over the next three years.

Best regards,

Lawrence O'Brien

Anonymous said...

February 20, 2015 at 3:30 PM, you're blaming the victim here. O'Brien's issue is legitimate and you're being an ass.

Anonymous said...

They want the rules to be strictly enforced for others but bent for them. As an Amherst tax payer I will be very upset if they take the town to court over this and the town has to spend my tax dollars defending it. These people need to get a friggin life.

Anonymous said...

Spite.

Anonymous said...

can't keep blaming Shabazz forever (though no doubt some will). His time on the School Committee is almost done.

Anonymous said...

Would you expect anything else from the town. This is a town of NIMBY, entitlement, favoritism, special interest, cheating, brick walls, no leadership, committees for everything and anything including when to pull a teabag out of a teacup, and socialistic government. It's been the laughing stock of the state for some time now. Why change a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:06 pm

You forget to mention that "laughing stock of the state"'s bond rating.

Oh, that's right. That doesn't fit your argument.

Anonymous said...

The essence of Amherst 2015 can be seen in that picture of Vince and Wentworth. Miserly, sad people eeking out the faintest joy of making someone elses' lives miserable. The highlighter out on the table, the air of paperwork and pettiness, the hopelessly unfashionable Abe Lincoln beard.

I got your cream o' the crop, right here said...

What-a-FK-ING-dump.


EOM.


-Squeaky Squeaks

p.s. LOL!

Anonymous said...

Why not just ask the signers if they did write their signatures?

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon 6:59 pm

Just what do you look like?

Are you red carpet material?

Let the beautiful anonymous poster cast the first stone.

Anonymous said...

Sure Amherst has a high bond rating. Why? Its because of their "do as I say, and not as I do" policy. No low income multi family housing, no homeless, no shelters, just people who like to act like they are saving the planet until someone wants to put it in their backyard.

Anonymous said...

Those two look like they are right out of a Grant Wood painting.

Anonymous said...

No. I'm bald and middle-aged. But at least I don't look like an asshole in 21st century frames, Columbia sweater vest and a ridiculous beard. Also, I don't make peoples' lives hell by waging NIMBY arguments.

Anonymous said...

Lawrence O'Brien, it's sad that you have to be distracted by pettiness at this difficult time. Please know many of us appreciate the work you and other School Committee members have done, despite such negativity and opposition at every turn. Thank you for your service, and best wishes to your family.

Anonymous said...

The irony of people questioning possible violations of rules who are insisting on being given special treatment because they didn't follow the rules...is rich.

Did they show up during the time the office was closed and try to file?

NO.



If the town sets a precedent by allowing this challenge even though filed after the deadline, it will open up a floodgate of people also expecting extensions and special treatment.

It will be a nightmare.

Rules are rules.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. Thank you for stating this so well. Let them take it to court. I am sure the court will throw it out. They had all day Wednesday and 4 hours on Thursday to study and scrutinize 58 signatures. That's 12 hours to look at 29 signatures each. That's about 25 minutes per signature. That's not enough time? Really? The Board of Registrars needs to stand firm on this one and deny the complaint because it was filed late.

Anonymous said...

From today's Gazette:
"If the registrars agree to accept the objection, despite the missed deadline, they would be able to examine each of the signatures on the forms against ones that the town clerk has from when residents register to vote."

It would be interesting to see how many of the signatures don't match to be sure.

Also in the Gazette article, O'Connor has indicated that if the registars don't hear his complaint, that "he and Wentworth intend to file a complaint with the Northwestern district attorney’s office that would begin a process in which state police conduct an investigation into the signatures on the forms."

Is this really the best use of DA and state police resources?

Larry Kelley said...

Rules are rules.

I would assume you can file a criminal complaint at most anytime after the fact.

And the DA probably doesn't mind taking on a case that can be used to send a message.

Anonymous said...

Rules are rules. You are absolutely right Larry. And O'Conner and Wentworth missed the deadline and the rules should not be bent for them. Let them take it to court. I hope their shenanigans delays the election and the start of town meeting. I hope they cause lots of cost and disruption for the town and get lots of people angry in the process. Maybe people will stop voting for them and stop listening to them.

Larry Kelley said...

I don't think a criminal investigation by the DA or an appeal in Hampshire Superior Court would delay the election.

Although if either found wrongdoing then the election results could possibly be overturned.

The interesting thing is the Board of Registrars does have the power to "summon" people to a hearing.

If someone then lies under oath about who signed what, it takes on a whole new dimension.

President Clinton was impeached for lying under oath.

Anonymous said...

Did Vince or Mary say anything at the time the papers were submitted?
What about when they asked to review them (or requested copies)?

Seems the town clerk would've had some inkling that there was an issue.
With a small town (TD Bank) way of doing things at town hall (closed- but open if you need us)- It must be difficult to stick to rigid procedures!

Larry Kelley said...

I was there with Vince when she submitted the papers and he seemed a little surprised, but you couldn't then ask the Town Clerk to review them as they had to check signatures.

Anonymous said...

Who gives a fuck!!!

Anonymous said...

It appears only 22 signatures are required--not 50?
See bottom of last sheet.

Larry Kelley said...

Not sure what you are talking about but I can assure you it's 50 signatures.

That's another thing that Vince and Mary found suspicious. She only took out 3 sheets two hours before deadline so at the most she could only have 2 other people helping her get signatures.

It's a lot less daunting when you have a dozen or more nomination papers and you have 12 friends out getting 4 or 5 signatures per sheet.

Anonymous said...

Can someone clear up this deadline issue. If the Clerks office is opened a day and a half, that does not seem like 48 hours to me. If people handed in papers on a Friday there would be no 48 hour period, right.

What is the difference between a weekend and being open half a day. I don't think it is fair to count a half day as a whole day. What if the office was opened late due to snow for two days, only being opened each afternoon. Is that 48 hours after 2 days or not.

It seems reasonable to me that Vince and Mary should be heard. For what it is worth they drive me rather crazy too, but I don't see where they are off base on the half day issue.

More important if there is voter fraud that really can not stand. Would you want a known criminal with clear video evidence serve on your police force? Only the criminal was never charged because the statute of limitations ran out before the video surfaced.

If the signatures are forged then chuck the name off of the ballot, please.

Anonymous said...

Town Hall was closed for snow the day before nomination papers were due. What if Ms Hazzard had planned to pick up her papers that day but could not. So she lost a day to get signatures. With Vince ' s reasoning the date to hand in papers should be extended. How many days was town hall closed due to snow? We should extend the deadline by that many days.

Anonymous said...

I have always felt Larry O'Brien did an admirable job. Our best wishes are with him at this sad time for his family.

Anonymous said...

I am Anon@1:20pm

Anonymous said...

No harm, no foul.
This is an uncontested election
Please move on.

Anonymous said...

If Anon 9:23 AM's attitude prevails and maybe it does in town, perhaps we should dispense with the signature gathering entirely.

Just come in and submit your name and leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

O'Conner and Wentworth make Amherst a miserable place to live. They make everyone as miserable as them.

Anonymous said...

If school committee wasn't just an opportunity for disgruntled citizens to fog horn their cause and they had some real power, then I wouldn't feel so bad for the poor people who offer their time. Ms. Hazzard has walked into a hornet's nest by offering her free time to be a public servant.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the candidate in question, why doesn't she explain who collected her signatures and what happened here. She is running for an office and needs to be open and upfront.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:53,

That's a great idea, but I think we can all see from the signatures that something less than honest happened. Given the press this is getting, and the actual fines associated with fraud, I am guessing the candidate is already having second thoughts about running the first place.

If nothing else at least we are getting a taste for how this candidate will conduct themselves in the future. Which is code for vote for a better write in candidate.

Anonymous said...

Look at the 3 Stender signatures. Kimberly Stender is a school employee and she works in the superintendent's office. She is the the Community, Partnerships, and Volunteers Coordinator for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools. The three Stender signatures look very similar and they look nothing like these signatures from Kimberly and Mark Stender's public land record found in the Hampshire County Registry of Deeds.

http://www.masslandrecords.com/Hampshire/ImageViewerEx.aspx

Anonymous said...

Hazzard should drop out because this community doesn't deserve her.

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone who was collecting signatures on Hazzard's behalf stopped by the ARPS central office building, not Hazzard herself.

Still it is interesting how quiet she has been on this whole issue. One might wonder too: might she be having second thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Who in their right mind wouldn't be having second thoughts? This community sucks the life out of anyone who aspires to do anything other than complain. This drama over an open, uncontested seat on a school board. We should be real proud of ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:03:
One of the Stender signatures is for Kim Stender's son who attends Brandeis University. Was he actually in Amherst the day the signatures were collected?

Anonymous said...

Vince and Mary were publicly shamed at the meeting. I'll admit to schadenfreude over how the committee treated them. Doing this to a citizen wanting to serve the community was a disgraceful act.

Case closed....we can guess the DA would treat them in a similar manner. They should go volunteer at a soup kitchen or do something productive with all that time and energy.