By Douglas Moser
---- — 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.
In 2011, Vogler received 3,550 votes, or 11.5 percent of the total votes cast. But he won 39.5 percent of the 8,981 ballots cast for School Committee.
The School Committee candidate with the most votes, Deborah Quinn with 4,426 votes, only received 14.3 percent of the total votes cast.
McQuillan’s opinion also stated that filling out Graziano’s term would not count as a full term relative to the term limits set out in the charter, which restricts School Committee members to three consecutive terms. It was unclear whether that appointment would count as a full term and bar Vogler from seeking a full term this fall.
Vogler served for two terms before losing his seat in the 2011 election.
Yesterday afternoon, before Zanni read the opinion at the meeting, Vogler said he had not been notified of any decisions and had not been invited to the meeting. He said he did not plan to attend. Instead he planned to spend the evening at Taste of Methuen.
“Like I said, whatever will be will be,” he said.
The specific language the charter uses outlining how to fill the vacancy of a School Committee member is, “The School Committee shall elect as acting School Committeeman whichever of the defeated candidates for election to the School Committee who received the highest number of votes at the last regular City election immediately preceding the date the vacancy is declared to exist and who received at least 20 percent of the total votes cast for the office at such election, and who remains eligible and willing to serve. There being no such person, the School Committee shall choose from among the voters an acting School Committeeman to serve the balance of the unexpired term.”
Graziano, a Methuen native who was in his first term, resigned May 7 after he purchased a home in Salem, N.H.
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