Recently elected councilor ineligible to serve

11 years ago

By Natalie De La Garza
Staff Writer

    CARIBOU — Despite a landslide victory in the Nov. 5 election, well-known educator and volunteer Carol Pierson will not be serving out the one-year term on the City Council that she was elected to.
    Pierson received 776 votes (the highest number of votes received out of all six candidates running) but is ineligible to serve because she did not pay her 2012 property taxes by Dec. 31 of last year — though she has since paid all $3,478 of the owed taxes.

    The city’s charter — section 2.01b of it — states that “Only qualified voters of the City, who are current for all annual personal and real property taxes due to the city on or before Dec. 31 of the previous year, shall be eligible to hold the office of Councilor.”
    Simply put, “Carol didn’t have all of her taxes paid, therefore she doesn’t meet the eligibility requirements in the City Charter,” explained City Manager Austin Bleess.
    This matter has caused some confusion around town, particularly with folks asking what comes next.
    For now, as Bleess explained, councilor Joan Theriault will continue serving in the same seat she was appointed to on Oct. 9 of 2012.
    Come January, when Theriault is sworn in to the three-year term she was elected to on Nov. 5, a vacancy will be created on the board for the one-year term.
    Bleess said that the councilors will then have 30 days to appoint someone to the vacancy, and that appointed official will serve in that one-year term until the community votes in an elected official on the next ballot.
    Pierson and two other candidates — Shane McDougall and Norma Milton — were vying for two one-year positions on the council; given Pierson’s ineligibility, some have question if Milton would be become a default victor of the election.
    “(Pierson) was elected, but she doesn’t meet the eligibility requirement to hold office; (Milton) was not elected,” Bleess explained, also expressing that the town obtained a legal opinion on the matter to ensure that the city’s actions are in compliance with the charter.
    The history behind the seat Pierson was elected to dates back to September of 2012, when former councilor Bryan Thompson vacated his seat on the board — the same seat Pierson was elected to.
    Due to the way the dates aligned that fall, there wasn’t enough time for Thompson’s replacement to be elected in November of 2012; instead, current councilor Joan Theriault was appointed on Oct. 9 of 2012 to fill the seat until an elected replacement could be obtained.
    With Pierson being that newly-elected replacement, she would have (theoretically) been sworn into office during last night’s city council meeting and immediately assumed her place amongst the councilors. The city charter does not permit that to happen, however, because Pierson’s taxes were not paid by Dec. 31 of 2012.
    Had Pierson won a three-year term, however, she would have been sworn in during the first meeting of January 2014; so long as her taxes were paid by Dec. 31 of this year, nothing in the charter would have prohibited her from a term starting in 2014.
    But that’s not the only variable from Nov. 5 that could have led to a different outcome.
    The Election Day ballot in Caribou gave voters the option of amending the charter to remove its stipulation that city councilors must be current on their city taxes. That proposed amendment failed with only 435 in favor of it, 671 opposed.
    Approximately 1,100 people voted in Caribou on Nov. 5; with 776 voters in favor of Pierson and 671 opposed to amending the charter, some voted for Pierson while rejecting the amendment that would have allowed her to serve on council.
    Though running into an unforeseen election glitch this year, Pierson intends to run for the council again in the future, “And you can bet my taxes will be paid by Dec. 31 this year,” she said, adding that on-time taxes were her intent all along.
    Pierson — and city officials alike — became aware of the eligibility situation only a handful of days before the election took place; Pierson described that it was brought to the attention of the city clerk that that Pierson’s name was in the annual report book for unpaid taxes for the end of December, 2012.
    “The (annual report) just came out, which is why this information just came out,” Pierson explained.
    Though she’s unable to serve at this point in time, winning by a landslide has truly touched Pierson.
    “I felt humbled — I felt very appreciated, and loved,” she said with a warm smile. When asked how she’s been able to maintain so positive about the situation, Pierson said that it’s because she’s had a lot of hard things to deal with in life.
    “It makes you appreciate the things that are just little glitches and aren’t life shattering,” she said.
    As Pierson does plan to run again for the council, she’s hoping that Caribou’s community members will vote for her once more.
    “I’ve learned a lot from this process — one may never do too much research,” she said.