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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Newton elections director suspended over petition count

NEWTON

Mayor David B. Cohen put the city’s election chief on paid administrative leave following a miscount of signatures that had shown petitioners short the number necessary to force aldermen to reconsider a key vote on the Newton North High School project.

The mayor acknowledged that city employees overseen by Peter Karg, executive secretary of the Election Commission, miscounted the signatures on the petitions.

“This is a very serious mistake,” Cohen said.

Cohen’s move came a day after an independent count of votes by Boston Globe West indicated that organizers of the campaign had obtained the needed signatures. The Globe found organizers had obtained at least 3,214 certified signatures – 522 more than the 2,692 needed to put the question to a ballot. The Globe’s count came from photocopies of petitions notarized by City Clerk David Olson.

Karg could not be reached for comment. Cohen named Peter Koutoujian, the former city clerk in Waltham and father of the sitting Democratic state representative Peter Koutoujian, as Karg's interim replacement.

Cohen said the Election Commission – a four-member board that certifies the signature count -- would hold a hearing this Thursday at 5 p.m. in City Hall to reconsider the original findings.

The petition campaign started after aldermen approved a site plan for the school project last month. The plan, which places the school in its current location between Lowell Ave. and Walnut Street, has been criticized for its price tag -- estimated at between $140 million and $165 million -- and Cohen’s financing plan to pay for it.

If the petition is certified, aldermen would have to rescind their vote on the site plan or the matter would go before the voters in a referendum.

-- Connie Paige

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