WHITMAN — A joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and the remaining Whitman School Committee members was held on Tuesday, June 15 at which they discussed naming a substitute member for the balance of the school year.
The town has 30 days to make a decision on a replacement member. Committee member Dan Cullity’s resignation is effective June 30.
“Basically it’s among us to make a decision,” said Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski, noting that he, School Committee Chairman Christopher Howard, Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman and Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak held a preliminary discussion via Zoom last week.
Three people have already stepped forward to express interest in serving, they and any other interested residents are being asked to submit a letter of interest via to Heineman email [email@example.com] and résumé by June 29 for interviews at a Tuesday, July 6 meeting. Selectmen expect to make a decision at that time, after all names are placed in nomination with votes cast until one reaches the required six-vote majority.
Much of the discussion centered on the question of how candidates are chosen, Kowalski said, noting that while the regional agreement makes clear who makes the decision, but not how.
Kowalski said town counsel has provided the opinion that a majority of those entitled to choose is needed, but if some members do not attend the voting meeting, town counsel opined a majority attending and not having a conflict of interest would be needed.
School Committee member Steve Bois said because there are 10 votes to be cast, a solid decision needed be made now to decide the issue.
“We’re going to have to be solid on the ground rules,” he said.
Committee members concurred with the town counsel’s opinion on the vote threshold, but member Dawn Byers expressed concern with the potential of people being absent.
Kowalski agreed, saying it might be preferred that all members of the two board commit to attend, to know that six votes will decide it.
The procedure was initially intended to nominated people one at a time until one garners six votes.
“There will be no ranked-choice voting,” Kowalski said.
But Selectman Dan Salvucci and Bois advocated a roster of all candidates to be voted on at one time. Kowalski indicated town counsel did not recommend that, but that is the route the panels settled on, although Town Counsel’s letter to Selectmen reinforced Kowalski’s explanation.
“I recommend treating this like a standard board action,” town counsel’s letter read, advocating nominations of one person at a time.
Selectman Brian Bezanson disagreed with the opinion because it does not seem transparent.
“This does not appear to be a transparent process, and I believe we need to have all nominations come before us and if there is a second [nominee] I think everyone should be considered,” Bezanson said, noting that while he appreciated the town attorney’s work, he disagreed. “This appearance of the way this is done smacks of a backroom deal to me — that somebody’s predetermined that they’re going to get this spot.”
Kowalski vigorously disagreed.
“There’s something to what you say, but it has noting to do with backroom deals and transparency,” Kowalski said. “We’re in a room right now, discussing a process, and I don’t know how much more open you can be. … I think we’re being quite transparent.”
School Committee member Christopher Scriven said the letter needed to clarified in terms of process.
Salvucci suggested all names be put in nomination for a vote, as had been done with a DPW vacancy. Selectman Justin Evans agreed, noting that it may take more than one round of votes, as has happed with a recent Library Trustees vote, as well.