CROYDON — Selectmen tried this week to discipline a town employee they accused of collecting petition signatures at the dump on town time, but backed off when the employee, Brenda Williams, pushed back.
“I didn’t confront these people for these signatures, they found me out,” Williams said.
Williams is a part-time employee at the town dump, and an advocate for a special town meeting to redo the March Town Meeting vote to get rid of Croydon’s one-man police department. Williams presented selectmen with more than 100 signatures last week, calling for a special town meeting.
On Wednesday night, Select Board Chair Gary Quimby said the board verified there were 75 registered voters on the petition, more than enough to legally trigger the town meeting.
Quimby and the rest of the board, Reagan Clark and Joe Marko, wanted to hold a non-public hearing with Williams in order to present her with a warning letter over the signature collections at the dump. Williams instead demanded a public hearing, and presented selectmen with witnesses who told the board they sought her out at her job, and that she was not actively collecting signatures at the dump.
In total, she collected eight signatures at the dump, she said.
Under questioning from resident Dominic Dimaggio, Quimby said there are no written policies for employees regarding collecting signatures, as there is no employee handbook.
Rather than push forward with the warning letter, Quimby said the board would taken the matter under advisement.
As for the special town meeting, Quimby said the board legally has 90 days to call that meeting now that it has verified there are enough signatures from registered voters. More details will be available after the board meets with legal counsel, he said.
“We’re going to cross the t’s and dot the i’s and make sure we do it correctly,” he said.
The board met in an unposted non-public session prior to Wednesday’s public meeting, in seeming violation of state open meeting laws.
Cathy Peschke, the selectman’s secretary, said it was a meeting for “legal reasons” — not one of the exemptions specified under state law for holding a non-public meeting.
Selectmen were also forced by resident Pat Dimaggio to correct misstatements in the minutes for last week’s meeting, including an assertion that all three selectmen said last week they had heard complaints about Williams getting signatures at the dump. Dimaggio pointed out that never happened during the meeting, and a resident had a video recording of the meeting for proof.
The crisis brewing in Croydon stems from a select board attempt at the annual March Town Meeting to eliminate the police department, staffed only by Chief Richard Lee, and go with a contract for police coverage from neighboring Newport. The Town Meeting vote was made as an amendment on the budget, and not presented as a separate warrant article vetted through prior public hearings. Lee and others called the vote illegal.
The special Town Meeting seeks to overturn that vote. Currently, there is no signed contract from Newport. If the March vote is allowed to stand, Lee will be required to leave his post at the end of June, whether or not a Newport contract is in place.