Charter Review Committee – School Committee appointments and vacancies

I’m still making my way through the November 9 meeting of the Charter Review Committee. In a previous post, I talked about their discussion of whether or not the Greenfield City Charter should allow the Mayor to chair the School Committee. In addition to that topic, their review of Article 4 of the Charter also addressed the appointment of School Committee members to subcommittees, as well as the filling of vacancies on the School Committee.

As the Charter stands, the School Committee Chair is responsible for the appointment of members to the subcommittees:

The School Committee chair shall appoint all members of all committees of the School Committee, whether special or standing.

The discussion of this clause revolved around whether the Charter should specify that the School Committee Chair has full discretion to make these appointments, or if they need to be approved by the rest of the School Committee. According to the School Committee’s procedure manual (an internal document),

The Committee chairperson, subject to approval by the Committee, will appoint the subcommittee chairperson and its members.

In other words, the School Committee’s internal procedures dictate that the full Committee approve the Chair’s appointments.

There was a bit of back-and-forth among the Charter Review Committee on whether the Charter should be more specific. They eventually landed on recommending either leaving the Charter as is in this regard, or adding language to the Charter that would specifically defer to the School Committee’s internal procedure manual.

The question of whether to recommend changes to the Charter regarding the filling of vacancies on the School Committee. Currently, the Charter says:

> Whenever a vacancy shall occur in the office of School Committee member, the vacancy shall be filled by the remaining members of the School Committee. Persons elected to fill a vacancy by the School Committee shall serve only until the next regular election at which time the vacancy shall be filled by the voters and the person chosen to fill such vacancy shall forthwith be sworn and shall serve for the remainder of the unexpired term of the vacated seat. Persons serving as School Committee members under this section shall not be entitled to have the words “candidate for re-election” printed against their names on the election ballot. In the event of an impasse, the president of the Town Council shall have a vote.

There is a bit of history here that plays into this discussion. A few years ago, a member of the School Committee resigned for personal reasons, and the School Committee Chair selected a replacement. When the School Committee voted on the Chair’s selection, they split 3-3 along what amounted to partisan lines. The President of the City Council then broke the tie in favor of the School Committee Chair’s selected candidate.

Monday’s discussion of this area of the Charter hit some of the same issues as the Mayor-as-Chair discussion: the risk of consolidation of power and the balance of power between the various elements of the city government. The Charter Review Committee also looked at whether it made sense to align this procedure in the School Committee with how the City Council fills vacancies in order to provide consistency. For the City Council, my understanding is that the President selects someone to fill a vacant seat, and then that person is seated unless the entire Council votes no.

The Charter Review Committee did not come to a definitive conclusion on this topic. The general direction seems to be that, rather than specifying the detailed process in the Charter, they want to suggest a general path for how the School Committee should get from the point of having a selected replacement, seating that replacement, and resolving any conflicts regarding approval of the replacement. Their next step here is to draft some language and return to this discussion at a subsequent meeting.

The remainder of Monday night’s meeting addressed Article 5 (“Finance & Fiscal Procedures”) of the City Charter, but I will leave that for a separate post.

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