By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — City officials have determined that an opening on the School Committee will be offered to Robert Vogler because his vote tally was the highest of the defeated candidates and exceeded 20 percent of the voter turnout for School Committee in the 2011 election.
City Clerk Christine Touma-Conway said last Tuesday the city would follow that interpretation in advising the School Committee on filling an unexpired term created by the resignation of Mark Graziano on May 7.
But, a review of The Eagle-Tribune archives found a resignation from the School Committee was averted in 2009 when the members involved were informed that the intended successor could not automatically be appointed because he did not earn 20 percent of the total votes cast, a much larger number that eliminated every person who stood in the 2009 election and in the 2011 election, including Vogler.
Touma-Conway last Tuesday said officials in 2009 decided to count people, instead of total votes cast, because “it could be mathematically impossible to meet otherwise.”
“If you look at it from the 8,981 people who voted, each got six votes,” she said. “If you carry that out, you have a potential of 53,886 votes. With 23,030 blanks and 30,856 votes cast, 20 percent of that is 6,171. Nobody got even close to that. We had people in the 4,000s. That’s weird because we’re stetting a standard higher (for appointment) than what it took to get elected.”
On Nov. 3, 2009, committee member Kenneth Henrick placed sixth out of eight candidates, narrowly retaining his seat and beating fellow incumbent George Kazanjian by five votes, according to the tally from election night.
Henrick, 70 at the time, suggested he may resign, thinking the younger Kazanjian would be next in line for the committee.
However, Kazanjian was told at the time he would not automatically get the seat because he did not win 20 percent of the total votes cast.
“Because of the way the charter is written, you have to have 20 percent of the votes cast,” Kazanjian said Thursday. “None of the participants in the election I was in, or now, have 20 percent. It’s really an impossible task.”
Because Kazanjian did not meet the 20 percent threshold, the School Committee could have appointed any of the city’s eligible voters who could muster a majority of the remaining committee. Kazanjian won 11.8 percent of 29,453 total votes cast in 2009, but 40.7 percent of the 8,563 voters who turned out, meaning he would have been eligible for an automatic appointment if the interpretation had been to use voter turnout rather than votes cast.
Henrick decided to remain on the committee. “As it turned out you couldn’t do that because the School Committee would have to appoint someone, and they had someone else in mind,” he said.
City Solicitor Peter McQuillan reviewed the charter in 2009 to determine who could be offered a vacant seat. The solicitor’s office said last Wednesday they had no written opinion on file from that case. McQuillan did not return a message seeking comment.
In the 2011 election, Vogler lost re-election and had the highest vote tally of the defeated candidates. His share of the 30,856 votes cast was 11.5 percent, according to city figures. However, using voters instead of votes cast, Vogler received 39.5 percent of the 8,981 voters who participated in that election.
Touma-Conway said the seat Graziano vacated would be offered to Vogler. City officials are determining whether appointing Vogler to the committee would count as his third consecutive term and bar him from running for a full term this fall, as he has said he wants to do.
Officials reviewed resignations from 30 to 40 years ago to determine what was done then. “We found some old situations in the ’70s and ’80s, and they treated it the same way,” Touma-Conway said.
The last School Committee resignation was in 1984, she said. Anthony Copani stepped down from the committee then.
The charter specifies how to fill the vacancy of a School Committee member: “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.”
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