School board appointment contested in Center Harbor
May 27, 2009
CENTER HARBOR — The Center Harbor Board of Selectmen is raising questions about the appointment of a member of their town to the Inter-Lakes School Board, wondering whether the action was appropriate.
The board recently began looking into the appointment of Center Harbor resident Rebecca Alosa to the School Board, and questioning its legality.
"We can certainly understand why they (the Inter-Lakes School Board) might think they can appoint," said Selectman Charley Hanson of Center Harbor. "The vote should be decided by a convention of selectmen from the boards in the school district."
Former Center Harbor School Board member Anthony Candage resigned in March, leaving a seat on the board open after the March elections. Two potential candidates for appointment came forward - Rebecca Alosa and Diane Drenkhahn, both of Center Harbor.
Superintendent Phil McCormack told the board that, according to state statutes, they may fill the position in any manner they choose - "submitting ads to the paper looking for letters of intent, conduct interviews, recruit" - so long as the board made a good faith effort to get the effort moving.
After some debate at previous meetings, the board settled on the method of interviewing both before a roll call vote, followed by a coin toss, if the vote was split between the remaining six board members. The board ended up with a split vote between Alosa and Drenkhahn.
Alosa called heads on the coin toss. Though Carty's flip landed the coin on the floor, the board judged it a "good flip" and Alosa won. She was immediately sworn in and took her place on the board that evening.
Later that month, however, according to the Center Harbor selectmen's meeting minutes, the board began to discuss "an issue" with the appointment of Alosa to the school board. Selectman Richard Drenkhahn recused himself from these discussions in public session, as he is the husband of the other candidate.
The board had questions on two issues - whether the method of appointment was completely legal, and whether the appointee needs to be a voting member of their town, rather than the district. Alosa was registered to vote in Meredith, not Center Harbor, at the time of her appointment, though Meredith is part of the Inter-Lakes School District, and Alosa has since become a Center Harbor voter.
Hanson quoted RSA 671:33 as the reason behind the board's questioning of the appointment method. The statute reads, "Vacancies among members of cooperative or area school planning committees shall be filled by the moderator for the unexpired term. The school board shall fill vacancies occurring on the school board and in all other district offices for which no other method of filling a vacancy is provided. Appointees of the school board shall serve until the next district election when the voters of the district shall elect a replacement for the unexpired term. In the case of a vacancy of the entire membership of the school board, or if the remaining members are unable, by majority vote, to agree upon an appointment, the selectmen of the town or towns involved shall appoint members by majority vote in convention."
Since the board was unable to come to a majority vote, Hansen said the board contends that the Inter-Lakes School Board should have come to the boards of selectmen in Meredith, Center Harbor, and Sandwich.
"Our concern as the Town of Center Harbor is, if a decision is made by the appointee that is contentious, could someone call them on this question?" asked Hanson. "We think our interpretation is sound."
According to the minutes, the board asked town attorney Doug Hill to look into the matter. Hill reported to Hanson that he had spoken with Inter-Lakes School Board Chair Jack Carty, and said that the school board is standing behind their process.
"We sent letters to the school board, and they responded, saying that the process was appropriate," said Hanson. "We are going to pursue this to the next level, getting a declaratory judgment. We need a decision from a judge - it really does come down to a difference of opinion on interpretation of the law."
McCormack said that both boards would be acting "on the advice of attorney." He did note that "any person had to be a registered voter in the district," and said that Alosa was a voter in the district at the time of her appointment.
"It may take a while to sort this out," said Carty. "The board's position is that we did everything legally with an open process, and took two board meetings to determine how to do it before the appointment. Only after the fact did the Center Harbor Board of Selectmen have some problems with it."
Though the matter is currently being discussed "between our attorneys," Carty said relations between the school board and the Center Harbor Board of Selectmen are "cordial." As for a solution to the matter, he said the board was in a "wait and see mode."
"The procedure we adopted is legitimate for an election," said Carty. "With an absolute tie, you can have a coin flip or draw straws. The question is, for an appointment, was this kosher?"