KENNEBUNK – Even as challenges to petitions to recall Regional School Unit 21 School Board member Timothy Stentiford have been made, the attorney representing the board has filed a preliminary injunction and for an injunction and judgment against the town of Kennebunk. Arundel and Kennebunkport, both members of the school district, are listed as parties to the civil complaint.

The filing at York County Superior Court for the preliminary injunction asks that the town and those acting under its direction be restrained from ordering a recall election or further proceeding with the recall process.

It was unclear at Tuesday’s Post print deadline when the preliminary injunction would be heard.

Petitioners, led by resident Norman Archer, delivered recall petitions naming Stentiford and RSU 21 board chair Arthur LeBlanc to town hall on Friday, Dec. 31. On Jan. 6, the town released the result: those seeking to oust LeBlanc gathered 664 valid signatures of registered Kennebunk voters – one short of the 665 required. There were 668 valid signatures – three more than required – on the petition to recall Stentiford, whose term expires in June.

Challenges to the Stentiford petitions were due by 4:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Town Clerk Merton Brown estimated he had received three challenges of all 668 signatures on the petitions to recall Stentiford, for a total of more than 2,000.

“They’re all challenges, even though they’re duplicates,” he said.

There were also challenges of individual signatures by eight people.

Brown said many of the challenges were to the extended time by which the petitions were to be filed. Petitions were originally due by 4:30 p.m. Dec. 30, but those leading the recall charge challenged that date. Brown said he consulted Town Attorney Natalie Burns, who instructed him to extend the deadline to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 31.

Among the challenges were several by a group called the Upstanders, including the challenge of individual signatures of people they believe no longer live in Kennebunk; by those whose names they believe were written by others, and all of the signatures presented on Dec 31. They note that one individual signed a petition after allegedly being presented a handout that spoke about increasing teacher pay.

The Upstanders has also challenged what they described as a false affidavit presented by the pro-recall group led by Archer that triggered the petition gathering, including an assertion that Stentiford mismanaged spending – even though he was not a member of the RSU 21 Finance Committee.

Brown said he received no challenges from Archer.

“The petitioners have retained an attorney to challenge the deadline, and that we are not able to challenge any of the petition signatures for LeBlanc,” said Archer, who has led the recall initiative.

The school district issued a news release on Monday, announcing the filing for an injunction.

“We do not take this step lightly,” wrote Vice Chair Loreta McDonnell on behalf of the board. “Based on legal review of the information set forth by those spearheading the recall and the recall process itself, we are troubled by three issues.”

McDonnell said statements made in the affidavits used to secure the necessary signatures are “provably false, unsupported, and subjective; therefore, those who signed the recall petition were misled about what they were signing.”

She said the 10-page legal opinion filed by attorney Russell Pierce states that Kennebunk’s charter cannot legally be applied because board members are elected by their town of residence, but serve the entire regional school unit.

“A single, local government cannot apply its own recall provisions to a regional school board that represents three different municipalities — in this case, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel,” the news release states. “This injunction will provide clarity on how any future recall initiatives in Maine regional school units would be conducted. The RSU 21 Board stands in support of Mr. LeBlanc, Mr. Stentiford, and their elected rights to their complete terms serving all students of the three towns of Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.”

The news release goes on to say that the RSU 21 board “fully supports voters’ rights to recall government officials under appropriate and legally defined terms.”

“The school board was specifically designed by the state Legislature to govern RSU 21 with 12 members acting as a single body, and this plan was approved by the state in 2009, when RSU 21 was formed,” McDonnell wrote on the school board’s behalf.

According to the filing for a temporary injunction, the town of Kennebunk would not suffer legitimate harm, but would be able to avoid significant time, staff resources and taxpayer expense that would be required to conduct a town-wide recall election. It alleged that the harm to RSU 21, communities and public-school students is significant, “when it is considered that public service work is disrupted by a small and divisive faction of petitioners in only one of the three represented municipalities.”

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