TOWNSEND -- More than a year after residents began seeking her removal, Selectman Cindy King no longer faces recall after the state's highest court ruled in her favor Monday.

In a one-paragraph order, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld a June 2017 ruling from a single justice of the Appeals Court that blocked the recall from taking place because the allegations in the recall petitions did not match specific reasons for which Townsend officials can be removed.

A full opinion had not yet been released as of Monday afternoon, but the order effectively prevents the recall effort from proceeding.

King said she was "thrilled" with the decision and hopes the case sets a statewide precedent of interpreting recall legislation strictly.

"You want legitimate reasons to recall your public officials," King said. "You don't want it to be on a whim. There should be guidelines that are clear and legal and protect the voters."

Joe Shank, a leader of the recall movement, said he "absolutely accept(s) the highest court's decision" and hopes to focus on making changes to the town's laws.

"If our bylaws are written so stringent that we cannot recall people, we'll have to work on getting the charter updated," Shank said. "We just move forward."

He endorsed Wayne Miller in the selectman race at the April 23 election. Shank said he believes town employees -- whom he declined to name -- should resign if Townsend is to move forward.


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"My personal opinion, if the people that are in town hall, if certain people don't leave, there will never be healing in the community," Shank said.

King said she will serve out the remaining one year of her term as selectman even as she runs for state representative in the September Democratic primary. She acknowledged that the recall effort was a "concern" to her bid for the 1st Middlesex District.

If she wins the November general election, King said she would remain selectman until April 2019, when her term expires. (State law allows individuals to serve in both town- and state-level elected offices simultaneously.)

King said she is "not against" those who sought the recall against her and hopes to work together.

"I want to move forward with their concerns taken seriously by the board," she said.

The recall effort started last February amid municipal investigation into the police department that recall supporters viewed as selectmen overstepping their roles.

Recalls in Townsend are governed by a 1995 special act, which describes four categories of sufficient grounds: lack of fitness, corruption, neglect of duties and misfeasance. Each category is followed by a parenthetical description -- for instance, "conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude, conviction of bribery, or extortion" for corruption.

King and Selectman Gordon Clark, who was also the target of a recall effort, challenged the recall in court, arguing that the allegations made in the petitions did not match the grounds in the recall act. The case hinged on the syntax of that act: attorneys for the selectmen argued that parenthetical phrases offered binding limits, while attorneys for the recallers countered that the phrases were mere examples that could be interpreted more broadly.

The recall was initially blocked in June 2017 just days before the election was set to take place. In the ensuing months, the case made its way through the legal system, at times flipping in favor of a recall taking place.

A full panel of the state Appeals Court ruled in March that a recall should be allowed, but King appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court. That court heard arguments on Friday and ruled in King's favor Monday.

Clark's term expires at the April 23 town elections, and he is not seeking re-election. Miller will compete against John Hussey for the open selectman's seat.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.