EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 15, 2013

City still unclear on filling Graziano's seat

By Douglas Moser

---- — METHUEN — More than a week after a School Committee member resigned, officials are still unsure of exactly what the charter requires to happen next.

Former School Committee member Robert Vogler likely would be next in line for the committee seat vacated when former member Mark Graziano resigned last week, but Mayor Stephen Zanni said the staff is still trying to determine what it would mean for the upcoming election.

City officials reviewed the charter and dug back more than 30 years to find similar cases for an interpretation, Zanni and City Clerk Christine Touma-Conway said. Touma-Conway said they determined that the charter would require the School Committee to offer the seat to Vogler, who would be free to choose whether to accept.

But it is unclear whether accepting that seat would preclude Vogler from running for a full term in November, as he has indicated he wants to do.

“What was decided was it has to be 20 percent of the number of people voted, and the next person in line who got 20 percent of the people was Mr. Vogler,” Touma-Conway said yesterday.

Officials scrutinized one sentence in the charter that outlines how vacant seats are filled. The charter specified that the committee would appoint the defeated candidate from the most recent election with the most votes and “who received at least 20 percent of the total votes cast for the office....”

Touma-Conway said she was trying to determine whether that meant 20 percent of voters, who each get six votes for School Committee, or 20 percent of the total votes cast for School Committee, which in a six-person race could be difficult.

None of the eight candidates in the 2011 election received 20 percent of the total votes cast. The top vote getter, Deborah Quinn, received about 14.3 percent of the total votes cast, not counting blanks. “Nobody got even close to that (20 percent),” Touma-Conway said.

But each candidate easily topped 20 percent of the 8,981 voters who participated in that election.

Vogler served two terms before losing his seat in 2011 and intends to run for the committee this year, however. Zanni said officials are unsure, given how rarely such vacancies occur, whether an appointment to finish Graziano’s would count as a third consecutive term, which would bar Vogler from running.

“If that’s the case, he may not want it,” Zanni said.

Vogler said yesterday he had not heard of the decision.

“My philosophy is whatever will be will be. I’ll wait to hear,” Vogler said. “But I still intend to run for one more full term, and only one more.”

If Vogler is appointed, he would fill out the remainder of Graziano’s term, which will expire at the end of the year.

Vogler, a retired teacher, longtime member of the School Committee and a current member of the Building Committee overseeing the high school renovation project, lost his seat in 2011.

Graziano, a native of Methuen who just purchased a home in Salem, N.H., won his first term in 2011 as the third-highest vote getter. He resigned May 7 because his residency will change.

The School Committee has 21 days after the resignation to fill the vacant seat, according to the charter. Its next scheduled meeting is May 28, exactly three weeks after Graziano resigned.

But Zanni said he did not want to leave the School Committee with a vacant seat that long, and may call a special meeting to vote on an acting committee member after all the legal questions are settled.

Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.