Tisbury town administrator disputes voter fraud accusations

— File photo by Susan Safford

Tisbury’s board of registrars said town administrator John Bugbee committed perjury and fraud when he claimed Tisbury residency in order to register to vote at the same time that he claimed residency in Fall River. The charges were contained in a letter delivered to the selectmen’s office Tuesday.

The letter, dated March 23 and signed by board chairman Catherine Mayhew, said that a Tisbury voter the letter did not identify by name filed a complaint that asked the registrars to examine Mr. Bugbee’s qualifications to vote.

The board wrote, “On March 6, 2012, Mr. Bugbee appeared to vote at the Tisbury polling place. At that time, he signed, under the penalties of perjury, an affidavit claiming current and continuous residence at 36 Franklin Street in Tisbury. He also offered a fraudulent document as proof of his residence in Tisbury at 36 Franklin Street.”


The complaint was filed by Tisbury resident Eugene P. DeCosta in a letter to the registrars dated March 14. “I am challenging his right to vote in Tisbury, as he has been on the ineligible list voter list since buying a home in Fall River,” Mr. DeCosta wrote. “However, he continues to list his residence as 36 Franklin Street, Tisbury.

“This is not an example of honesty to the taxpayers or respect to the residents of our town that is expected or required out of our town employees.”

In their letter to the selectmen, the board said that the complaint provided information that Mr. Bugbee purchased a condominium in Fall River and declared it as his residence and homestead in March 2007, under the Homestead Act, which provides some legal protection from creditors in the event of bankruptcy and can only be used for an individual’s primary residence.

The board told selectmen that at this time Mr. Bugbee was not registered to vote in Fall River, nor had he provided an address change to the town clerk. “However, when he failed to return a 2011 town census form, his name was put on the inactive voter’s list,” the board said.

The registrars met on March 21 and voted to send the selectmen a letter. Ms. Mayhew and the other registrars, Alden Besse and Ann Call, town clerk Marion Mudge and her assistant Joann Jernegan attended, as did Mr. DeCosta. Ms. Mudge said she sent Mr. Bugbee a copy of the meeting notice she posted on March 15. Mr. Bugbee did not attend.

Residency challenged

In a summary of the issues at the March 21 meeting attended by The Times, Ms. Mudge said Mr. DeCosta provided copies of an assessor’s record of Mr. Bugbee’s Fall River condominium purchase on March 13, 2007, and a declaration of residence and homestead at that property signed by Mr. Bugbee on that same day.

Ms. Mudge confirmed that Mr. Bugbee did not notify the town of any change of address and remained on the voter rolls in Tisbury. She said that in accordance with state election rules, since he was on the inactive list, when he came to vote in the primary elections on March 6, she asked him to sign an affirmation of current and continuous residence in Tisbury and to provide identification as proof of residence.

Mr. DeCosta told the board that about a year ago he spoke with the owner of the Franklin Street property Mr. Bugbee listed as his residence and was told Mr. Bugbee has not lived there for at least three years.

Mr. Bugbee’s claim of Tisbury residency at the polls on March 6 was the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” Mr. DeCosta added.

“We’ve got to put a stop to this,” he said. “To me this is perjury, and he’s perjured himself at least twice here, and that’s why I brought it to the board.”

However, on March 16, the day after Ms. Mudge received Mr. DeCosta’s letter, she said she was notified that Mr. Bugbee was registered to vote in Fall River. Since he was no longer a voter in Tisbury, Ms. Mudge said she sent an email to Michelle Tassinari, director and legal counsel of the state’s Elections Division,to ask whether the board had any further jurisdiction in the matter.

“It would seem to me that since he’s already been removed from the voting list, there is no further action you can take,” Ms. Tassinari replied in an email to Ms. Mudge. “It appears that the complainant might be looking to show that the voter had committed a crime, but that’s something beyond what the Registrars can determine and would have to refer to the local DA’s [District Attorney’s] office – which the complainant can do too.”

The next step

Ms. Mudge said if the registrars wanted to pursue the matter further, they would need the selectmen’s permission to seek advice from town counsel.

“There is no penalty from us for someone who makes a statement that is not true, other than taking them off the voting list?” Ms. Mayhew asked.

“Not that we can impose; it would be a court matter,” Ms. Mudge said.

During the board’s discussion, Mr. Besse questioned whether Mr. Bugbee would be qualified as a non-resident to continue to serve on town boards. Ms. Mudge said Mr. Bugbee only serves on appointed boards, which do not require members to be Tisbury residents. Mr. Bugbee’s employment contract does not require him to live in Tisbury, either.

“The only thing that I would like to say is that I’m very disappointed in somebody that is a town employee that would do something like this, and it’s too bad that we don’t have the authority to do more,” Ms. Call said.

“I must admit I don’t like the fact that he made the affidavit,” Ms. Mayhew said. “It’s not only inappropriate, it goes beyond that. And I think that as a board, I would like to see us make a complaint to the board of selectmen that we find that improper and we question his integrity if he’s going to make that kind of statement.”

Mr. Bugbee responds

Asked for a comment, Mr. Bugbee responded with an email on Tuesday.

“Up until a week ago I had thought that I was registered to vote in the correct location,” he said. “My driver’s license has a Vineyard Haven address and my mail is delivered to a P.O. Box here in Vineyard Haven. Add to this the fact that I go to any one of three places at night, I had thought that these would be the determining factors when dictating where one votes.

“On March 15, 2012 I received notice that a local resident had sent a letter to the Board of Registrars challenging my residency,” Mr. Bugbee further explained. “I was surprised and confused to see this letter as I had thought that I had been voting in the correct location. Upon further investigation, including a discussion with the Town Clerk, I learned that I was wrong and that I needed to be registered in another Town.

“I also learned that I had signed an affidavit confirming actual residency rather than what I thought was a voter eligibility form,” he said. “Following this conversation I took immediate steps to correct the issue and registered in the correct Town the same day.

“As someone who prides himself as being honest, straightforward and hard-working, I am extremely upset for making this mistake,” Mr. Bugbee said. “I had thought I was voting in the correct location. I had thought I was signing a voter eligibility form and obviously I was wrong. I did take immediate action to resolve the matter and I fully apologize for my mistake. I take full responsibility for not knowing the election laws as well I should have.”