EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 29, 2014

Windham voter board cancellation questioned

Meeting cancellation prompts candidacy

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — WINDHAM — A member of the town board that oversees the voter checklist has asked state officials to investigate the chairman’s cancellation of a meeting.

At issue is whether state law was violated.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen LaBonte, who handles election law complaints for the state, said there is no investigation at this point.

LaBonte said he told a Windham voter who raised the issue she could file a formal complaint with the state, but that has not happened.

Eileen Mashimo, a member of the supervisors of the checklist, said she will do so within days.

“At this point, considering what happened, I have no choice,” Mashimo said yesterday.

The meeting cancellation, meanwhile, has led to a candidacy for the town board by David Bates, a former state representative who served as chairman of the House Election Law Committee while in the Legislature.

The chairman of the supervisors, Robert Skinner, refused to talk about the matter yesterday.

“I’m not commenting about that,” Skinner said.

He denied state officials were looking into the board’s actions, demanded to know how a reporter had heard about the issue, repeated his refusal to comment, then hung up the phone.

Town Administrator David Sullivan said it had been brought to his attention, but it involved the board, not his office.

Charles Russo, who sits on the board with Skinner and Mashimo, said Skinner contacted him before the meeting last Tuesday to say he was cancelling.

“The chairman said he was cancelling because of the bad weather that was ensuing,” Russo said.

The board was planning to meet because it was the last day people could register to vote for Town Meeting, he said.

“You can’t reschedule it,” Russo said.

Mashimo shares Russo’s opinion.

She said she told Skinner he couldn’t cancel under state law.

“The statute is clear,” Mashimo said. “He said, ‘I don’t care, we’re not having the meeting.’”

Skinner told her he was concerned about getting in an accident, Mashimo said. When she offered to come pick him up, Skinner refused, she said.

Skinner’s daughter, Pamela, who lives with him, was attending a meeting of town Republicans that night across the street, Mashimo said.

Skinner also refused to give Mashimo a key to get into Town Hall, she said.

She said Skinner told her the board would meet the next morning. But then he didn’t show up at the scheduled time, Mashimo said.

“I was very upset,” she said.

Skinner has seen her twice at Town Hall since then and screamed at her, she said.

“He was out of control and out of line,” she said.

Russo acknowledged he disagreed with Skinner’s decision to cancel the meeting.

There was light snowfall that night in Windham, but cars were still traveling on town roads.

“I didn’t have a key to Town Hall,” Russo said.

Skinner’s seat is up for re-election for a six-year term. He had not filed as of yesterday morning.

Mashimo said Skinner told her he would be running.

Bates has filed and said he did so because of the cancellation of the meeting.

Bates said Mashimo told him she disagreed with the meeting cancellation.

“The two other supervisors wanted to meet,” Bates said.

Bates maintains state law required the meeting, does not allow for a cancellation, but does let the board extend hours for such a session.

For Bates, the issue launched his campaign.

“I wasn’t thinking about running,” he said. “It was the cancellation of the meeting that was a catalyst.”

Bates maintains the supervisors play an important role in town government.

“Protecting the integrity of our elections is fundamental,” he said.

Bates, who oversaw election laws while in the House, describes the supervisors of the checklist as the first line of defense against voter fraud.

“I’m pretty familiar with their responsibilities and the importance of the position,” Bates said.

He also expressed concern that state certification of the New Hampshire presidential primary results was delayed two years ago as officials awaited information from the supervisors.