Court rules Alosa keeps seat on I-L School Board
July 15, 2009
CENTER HARBOR — A court decision handed down late last week confirms the Inter-Lakes School Board's appointment of Rebecca Alosa, after the Center Harbor Board of Selectmen took them to court over the appointment procedure.
To fill the vacancy left by Center Harbor representative Anthony Candage, who resigned in March, the board voted on candidates Alosa and Diane Drenkhahn to fill in the final year of Candage's term. When the board tied 3-3, a coin flip determined Alosa as the winner.
The legality of that coin flip is what had the Center Harbor Board of Selectmen taking the Inter-Lakes School Board to court.
At the hearing, Center Harbor Town Counsel Doug Hill argued that the school board had bypassed the selectmen's prerogative to choose the board member, according to the circumstances laid down in RSA 671:33. The RSA reads, "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."
"Our position is that the board can't waive that statute," said Hill at the hearing. "Under that RSA, it should be passed to the selectmen to make that decision. Whether a coin flip equates to a majority vote, we respectfully disagree. The 3-3 vote is not a majority, and the coin is not another voting member. The process should follow the procedure."
The court disagreed with the coin flip procedure as a way for the school board to come to a majority vote.
"First, the school board claims that the selectmen only obtain the authority to appoint a member to the school board to fill an unexpired term when the school board itself is unable to complete the task," wrote Belknap Superior Court Justice Kenneth McHugh in the court's declaratory judgment. "Thus, the board argues that establishing a procedure which first called for majority vote but thereafter called for a coin toss was appropriate. Frankly, that position is not as meritorious as the board's second position, and therefore the Court will not comment on it further."
The second vote made by the school board in June, confirming Alosa's appointment, was deemed to have more merit by the court, since there is no time limit in the RSA for the board to come to a decision.
"In summary, the Court finds and rules that because a school board is not required to appoint a member for a vacant seat within a prescribed period of time, a reasonable time is permitted," wrote McHugh. "While a majority vote was required, the fact that that vote came approximately two months after the hearing on the appointment is not unreasonable. The Court rejects the plaintiff's argument that once a majority vote was not immediately obtained, the school board lost the jurisdiction to fill the vacant seat. Therefore, irrespective of whether or not Rebecca Alosa was properly appointed to the school board on April 14, she clearly was properly appointed as a result of the vote of the school board taken on June 24. Accordingly, she is permitted to remain seated as a member of that board until the March 2010 election."
School Board Chair Jack Carty said of the court's ruling that he felt the decision was a fair one.
"The court says there was no time deadline for the appointment, so the school board had the authority with the second vote," said Carty. "It's pretty simple."
Center Harbor Selectman Chair Charley Hanson also agreed with the ruling, and said he was pleased with the outcome.
"We're pleased, we got what we were looking for," said Hanson. "The court confirmed the Center Harbor appointment was legal, and we can move on."
Alosa came forward to address the court at the hearing, calling the matter a "breakdown in communication" between the Center Harbor Board of Selectmen and the Inter-Lakes School Board. She voiced a hope that this issue would not discourage others from volunteering to serve on their school board.