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February 5, 2013

City balking at school security petition

GLOUCESTER — When Amanda Kesterson, a Gloucester mother of three, began collecting signatures on her petition for a hearing on adding armed security guards to Gloucester’s schools, she wanted to make sure city councilors would hear those individuals who signed on.

So she collected 240 signatures, mostly by email and through social networking.

But, city officials are calling those so-called electronic signatures inadequate, saying the city only accepts handwritten signatures. The city’s General Council Suzanne P. Egan cited the Secretary of State’s election division that requires handwritten signatures, saying Gloucester follows those guidelines.

Gloucester’s law on petitions makes no mention of the words “electronic signatures.”

“I would recommend that the city follow the same procedures that the Secretary of State’s Election Division follows,” Egan said.

Plus, Egan said, if the city were to begin accepting electronic signatures as valid, city officials would need to create a set of guidelines for verifying the new signature type.

Because the city could not accept the petition as is, Kesterson submitted the petition to discuss adding an armed security guard to each of Gloucester’s schools with one hand-written signature — her own ‚ and has begun gathering other handwritten signatures.

“It’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of people that agree with me,” Kesterson said. “It’s unfortunate that their signatures weren’t accepted when they wanted to be on that petition.”

According to the city’s charter, the City Council is required to hold a public hearing on a topic if 150 voters petition for that hearing. But, if even one voter signs a petition, that petition for a hearing gets passed along to the city council, and the council can decide on whether to hold a hearing.

Kesterson, along with her employer Orlando & Associates, a Gloucester law firm, sent a memorandum of law to the city Monday, pointing to a state law that allows electronic signatures on business and commerce transactions. Egan, however, countered saying that particular law exists for commercial entities only.

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