Citizens Launch Recall Effort To Remove Bridges From Select Board
Jason Graziadei •
Family members of current and former Nantucket firefighters have initiated the process of formally recalling Select Board chair Jason Bridges in an effort to remove him from office, as the fallout from the fire chief search process continues.
Alleging that Bridges “does not take concerns about public safety seriously” and citing his responses - or lack thereof - to questions and concerns surrounding the selection of Nantucket’s new fire chief, the group is seeking to utilize a process outlined in the town code to remove Bridges from the Select Board.
A formal affidavit is now being circulated around the island by the group that specifically alleges Bridges did not inform the public about the 15-day disapproval period for new Nantucket fire chief Michael Cranson. That period begins when the town manager informs the board of their selection of the new chief, and gives the board 15 days to formally disapprove of the choice. The group has asserted that Nantucket firefighter Joe Townsend asked Bridges about the 15-day period in early August, but Bridges told Townsend he had not received the documentation even though the period had already begun.
“Jason Bridges is being recalled for neglect of his duties arising from his failure to notify the public when a 15-day time period began and ended for the Select Board to act for approving or disapproving the appointment of a fire chief,” the affidavit reads. “We the undersigned voters of the Town of Nantucket believe that Select Board Chair Bridges’ actions and/or inactions during the 15-day disapproval period outlined above establishes his failure to perform his duties on the Select Board.”
While there is no formal requirement for Bridges to notify the public of the 15-day period, the group behind the recall petition believes Bridges should have done so given the situation. There was a controversial appointment that voters wanted to weigh-in on, they said, and notification should have been given while there was still time to change the minds of those on the Select Board.
The recall effort is being spear-headed by the following people: Ayesha Barber; Jacquie Buckley; Johanna Townsend; Jamie Zompa; Alli Mitchell ; Sally Barber; Jamie Nass; Leah Davis; Lynn and Bob Bates; Liz Shannon and Mike O’Neil; Kimberley D. Olney; and Jackie and Les Fey. That group has signed on to a letter that the Current published today along with this story. The letter reads, in part:
“We - the literal and figurative family of many long time Nantucket Firefighters - are initiating this recall because we believe something needs to change,” the group wrote. “Our husbands, wives and family are not safe in the hands of people who can not bring themselves to tell the truth or listen to the very real concerns of Nantucket’s firefighters. Our children are not safe with public safety professionals who don’t know if their trucks are even going to work when they head out on a call. And frankly, our entire community is not safe when the members of our Fire Department are sharing very real, very legitimate concerns with a Select Board who seems to have turned the volume down whenever the Fire Department begins to speak.”
Bridges, who is just eight months from the end of his second term on the Select Board, said Tuesday he was not aware of the recall effort, and had not seen the affidavit that is being circulated. Regardless, Bridges said he has been telling those close to him for months that he would not seek reelection to a third term in the next annual town election in May 2023.
“That’s a lot of effort to get rid of someone who will be gone in eight months,” Bridges said. “I’m not running again because of family, and I think two terms is enough for me. I’m unfamiliar with the (recall) process, so I guess we’ll go through it. If there’s a process for this, we’ll respect the process. I have not heard of a recall vote, but if the majority of the people want to go down that road, I’m happy to step away. This is a volunteer role that I feel strongly about and put my time towards to give back to the community. It takes time away from family and other things in your life, but it’s completely worth it. Even when you’re trying to make the best decisions for the community, if the community feels like it’s my time to not be in that position, I will respect that.”
Bridges lamented the rhetoric and what he described as personal attacks on members of the Select Board and town administration due to a fire chief search process that ended with an internal candidate - Deputy Chief Sean Mitchell - being passed over for Michael Cranson, the former fire chief of Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
“When I think about if something happened to me, I would think twice about calling for help now,” Bridges said. “I would call a friend because I don't know if I would be helped. That comes from being told, 'I hope your house doesn't catch on fire.’ I’ve never thought about my family’s safety or my safety in my 20 years here. I don’t think someone is coming to hurt me, but I've never had these thoughts before these past two weeks. It's tough. I welcome all the criticism that comes my way on the Select Board. I knew signing up for it there would be tough days and tough weeks. People call you a coward and pathetic, and that’s part of it. It’s usually less at the local level compared to state and national politics. It wasn’t until last Thursday that I started getting trolled on social media. I had to turn notifications off, it was unfortunate. I understand that’s the world we live in now, but I’ve never seen it here.”
The process to recall any elected official is outlined in the Nantucket town code, and it is a high bar with multiple steps to move it forward:
- To start the recall process, 200 registered voters must first file an affidavit with the Town Clerk identifying the name of the person they are seeking to remove from office and stating the specific grounds for the recall. This is where the group attempting to recall Bridges is at this point.
- Within 10 days, the Town Clerk must certify the signatures and then deliver upon request to any of the certified voters a blank recall petition form naming such voter.
- Those seeking to recall the elected official must have those recall petitions signed by at least 20 percent of Nantucket’s registered voters within 21 days after the certification date. Nantucket currently has 9,396 registered voters, so a recall petition would require the signatures of 1,879 people. The Town Clerk then has 14 days to certify the signatures to determine if they are sufficient for the petition to move forward.
- If the number of signatures is determined to be sufficient, the Town Clerk will submit the petition to the Select Board, which will provide written notice to the elected officer being recalled. If that person does not resign within seven days, the Select Board is required to order a recall election to be held during the next annual town election.
- The next annual town election would feature a vote on the recall of the elected official, as well as a separate vote on their replacement.
In the case of Bridges, whose term is up in 2023, the recall petition - if successful - would coincide with the end of his current term. Those behind the recall effort acknowledged that timeline, but felt strongly that it was also about sending a message to those in town government overseeing the fire department and the search process.
Among the group spearheading the recall petition are Allyson Mitchell and Ayesha Barber, who have teamed up on several occasions in the past to advocate regarding PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals,” and on a grassroots effort to make masks for the community at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mitchell, who is married to current Nantucket Fire Department Deputy Chief Sean Mitchell, and Barber, who is married to NFD Capt. Nate Barber, emphasized that the recall is not just about the fire chief search process and the decision to pass over Sean Mitchell for an off-island candidate.
“Frankly, our concerns go well beyond who Nantucket’s next fire chief is,” they said along with the other co-signers of the petition. “We feel obligated to point out that the troubles plaguing the Fire Department will likely not be solved just by a new chief.”
Nantucket Town Clerk Nancy Holmes said she was aware of people asking questions about the recall process, but said she had not yet received any paperwork or the affidavit.