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May 22, 2013

Solicitor: Vogler next in line for vacant School Committee seat

METHUEN — Former School Committee member and current candidate Robert Vogler today officially will be asked to fill an unexpired term on the committee after an opinion by the city solicitor determined he meets the charter’s qualifications, city officials said.

Mayor Stephen Zanni last night read the opinion, written by solicitor Peter McQuillan and dated May 17, at a special School Committee meeting that reasoned Vogler met the charter’s 20-percent vote threshold and that his filling the remainder of Mark Graziano’s term would not preclude him from running for a full term this fall.

“We will inform Bob Vogler, who was next in line. Tina Conway, the city clerk, will call him tomorrow,” Zanni said last night. Vogler’s term will begin May 28, which is the next scheduled School Committee meeting, the mayor said.

McQuillan’s opinion interpreted a phrase in the city charter specifying how a vacant seat is filled – “... who received at least 20 percent of the total votes cast...” – to mean ballots cast, rather than total votes. Each voter casts six votes for School Committee, one for each seat up for election.

The reason for that interpretation is that no candidate for School Committee in 2011, even those who won seats, came close to 20 percent of the 30,856 total votes cast, according to the opinion.

“Obviously if one applies the 20-percent rule against the total votes cast, none of the defeated candidates would meet the threshold number required for eligibility to fill this vacancy,” McQuillan wrote. “This is not a viable solution to the matter at hand and would defeat the purpose of the Charter. A more reasonable approach would be to interpret the term ‘votes’ to mean ‘ballots.’”

As the basis for his opinion, McQuillan cited a 1912 state case, as well as a Methuen city solicitor opinion from 1984. That year, then-School Committee member Anthony Copani resigned from the committee. City Clerk Christine Touma-Conway has said that vacancy was filled by interpreting votes to mean ballots.

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