Update: City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer on Thursday afternoon told OIB he agrees with the legal interpretation shared by Judge Lopez. “I have the utmost respect for Judge Lopez,” said Meyer. “I generally concur with her interpretation of the statute and will set forth a formal opinion within the next few days.” That opinion, he said, will be shared with the Office of the Connecticut Secretary of the State in which he’ll advise that John Weldon’s school board seat should appear on the November ballot to fill out the term ending 2019.
Original story. The city faces uncharted territory this election cycle in the number of Board of Education seats up for grabs because of a vacancy Mayor Joe Ganim filled following the resignation of Republican Kevin McSpirit who was replaced by John Weldon. With party endorsements weeks away, elections officials are uncertain if five, the traditional number this cycle, or six seats are up this November. OIB is awaiting an opinion from the City Attorney’s Office. Meanwhile, we reached out to retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez who was gracious to share her take on this with insight and sense of humor. It’s an engaging read.
We have to start with the election of Kevin McSpirit to a four-year term in 2015.
When he resigned, Chapter 15 section 1 (d) of the City Charter, was the controlling authority.
That section states that “if a vacancy arises for any reason in the membership of the Board of Education, the remaining members shall elect a new member for the balance of the term vacated. The person so elected shall be a resident and elector and a member of the same political party as the member vacating such office.”
Because McSpirit’s resignation occurred during the (Dennis) Bradley-led boycott, no meeting was held and no replacement was chosen by the Board. For this we have to thank the Republican party, which endorsed the Bradley-Ganim boycott and prevented the Board from filling the vacancy.
Because the Board did not fill the vacancy, the City Attorney cited Section 7-107 of the General Statutes as authority for a mayoral appointment. As you pointed out, the statute reads, “Except as otherwise provided by law, if any vacancy occurs on any town board or commission, and such board or commission has power by law to fill such vacancy but fails to do so within 30 days after it occurs, the Board of Selectman or Chief Executive of such town, may appoint a qualified person to fill such vacancy until the next municipal election.”
Because the Mayor utilized this statute to appoint Mr. Weldon, to the McSpirit vacancy, the appointment can only last ’til the next municipal election, in this case, November 2017.
This is consistent with section 10-219 of the General Statutes, which provides, “if a vacancy occurs in the office of any member of the local board of education, unless otherwise provided by charter or special act, such vacancy shall be filled by the remaining members of said board, until the next regular town election, at which election a successor shall be elected for the unexpired portion of the term, the official ballot specifying the vacancy to be filled.”
It could be argued, that our Charter provision would supersede this statute, had the Board of Education voted to fill the vacancy. However, because Mayor Ganim, and presumably his legal team, relied on section 7-107, the seat is only filled until the November election.
Our election laws provide for the filling of an unexpired term. In section 9-167a(d) of the General Statutes, this scenario is clearly spelled out, “If the unexpired portion of a term is to be filled at the same time as a full term, the unexpired term shall be deemed to be filled before the full term, for purposes of applying this section. At such time as the minority representation provisions of this section become applicable to any board, commission, committee or body, any vacancy thereafter occurring which is to be filled by appointment shall be filled by the appointment of a member of the same political party as that of the vacating member.”
Therefore, the two-year term remaining from the “McSpirit” seat will be filled first.
There are currently three Democrats who are not up for re-election:
1. Ben Walker,
2. Maria Pereira, and
3. Dennis Bradley
Assuming a Democrat wins the two-year seat, this will mean that Democrats can win, no more than two (2) of the remaining four (4) year seats, because no more than 6 members of the Board can be members of a single political party. This would mean that all three members nominated on the Republican line would automatically win because only two Democrats can be elected to four-year terms, unless the Working Families nominates a slate and those candidates once again, out-poll Ganim’s (as my husband would say) wholly owned Republican subsidiary.
Because of this scenario, Driveway Mark Anastasi (associate city attorney) may contort himself into a pretzel in order to say that Weldon does not have to stand for election because his term does not expire until 2019.
I hope this is helpful to you as you work diligently to keep your readers informed and outfox those ‘say what you are told’ members of our $5.5 million a year city attorney’s office.