Westminster, Massachusetts outrage over proposed tobacco sales ban fuels talk of recall

Westminster, Massachusetts Board of Health

Westminster, Massachusetts -- In the aftermath of an emotional public hearing on the town's proposed tobacco-sales ban, some residents were discussing the possibility of recalling the Board of Health members who proposed the new policy.

If the residents did want to recall the Board of Health, Town Clerk Denise MacAloney said they would only be able to recall two of its members. Since 1995, the town has had a bylaw providing for recall elections, but the bylaw states that an elected official with six months or less left in his or her term is not eligible for recall.

"(Board of Health chair) Andrea Crete's term is up on April 28, so she wouldn't be eligible," MacAloney explained.

If Westminster residents wanted to petition for a recall of the other two board members, Ed Simoncini and Peter Munro, they would need to submit an affidavit to the Town Clerk's Office, signed by 25 registered voters and stating the individuals to be recalled and the grounds for recall.

Once these were submitted and certified by the town clerk, residents would need 800 signatures on a petition within 20 days to trigger a recall election. The officials up for recall have the option to resign, and if they do not resign within five days, the Board of Selectmen sets a date for a recall election.

"It's a very lengthy process, as far as time is concerned," MacAloney said.

The three members of the Board of Health could not be reached for comment regarding a potential recall following Wednesday night's events.

Brian Vincent, who owns Vincent's Country Store and estimates tobacco products make up 5 to 6 percent of his sales, said at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that a recall had "been brought up," but "nothing was set in stone."

On Wednesday night, hundreds of residents made clear their opposition to banning all tobacco sales in town. At a scheduled public hearing on the issue, the crowd grew so disruptive that Crete closed the hearing after only 23 minutes. Protests grew louder after the hearing was shut down, and the board members were escorted out of the building by Westminster police.

Police Chief Sam Albert said Thursday he and his officers were anticipating an unruly crowd going into the event.

"Oh yes, I knew this would happen just from the pulse of the community," Albert said. "People talking at coffee shops, at ball games, at events."

Albert assigned four officers and himself to work inside the Westminster Elementary School cafeteria, where the hearing was held. He also asked for state troopers to be in the area if needed.

"We were very prepared," he said. "We had an adequate amount of help."

While there were no arrests, summons, or citations issued during the meeting, police did escort one disruptive man out of the building.

Albert estimated there were between 550 and 600 attendees in total at the hearing, even though the cafeteria's capacity is just 440. About a hundred people were in the hallway outside the cafeteria, he explained, and when police moved away from the doors to monitor the crowd, people in the hallway came into the room.

There were at least a hundred people in attendance that were not Westminster residents, Albert added, but the majority of the crowd was made up of emotional locals.

"There are really outraged people," he said. "It's more about taking away their choice, taking away their freedom, the feeling that government is taking over."