May 25, 2022

Chester Selectmen Learn Town Meeting Vote Required to Fill Region 4 Board Vacancies

CHESTER— The board of selectmen decided Tuesday that a town meeting vote is required to fill the town’s two vacancies on the Region 4 Board of Education.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan, at his first meeting of the board since assuming the top job on Nov. 22, said he had learned Monday that a town meeting vote would be needed to fill the two vacancies on the regional school board. Chester selectmen, along with the boards of selectmen in the other district towns of Deep River and Essex, had been operating on the assumption that vacancies on the Region 4 board could be filled with appointments by the board of selectmen. “This is a new wrinkle in this process,” Meehan said.

Meehan said he was advised of a state statute that requires vacancies on regional school boards to be filled through a town meeting vote, even though the Region 4 towns have 1950s ordinances that call for an appointment of the board of selectmen to fill vacancies. Town meeting votes have been used to fill vacancies on the board of other regional school districts in the area, including Region 17 (Haddam-Killingworth) and Region 13 (Durham-Middlefield). Meehan said Town Attorney John Bennet had advised that the state statute on the vacancy process would supersede any local town ordinance.

Chester has two vacancies on the Region 4 board in seats that were held by Republicans. Richard Strauss, the board’s treasurer, resigned in October, while board vice-chairwoman Pamela Christman resigned effective Tuesday. Meehan said three residents have expressed interest in serving on the school board, including Mario Gioco, an accountant and chairman of the zoning board of appeals who has been recommended for one of the vacancies by the Chester Republican Town Committee.

The board agreed to schedule a town meeting to vote on filling the vacancies, and made no recommendations of candidates at Tuesday’s meeting. Meehan said he would schedule the town meeting as soon as possible, probably before the end of the month. Nominations would be made from the floor of the town meeting, with the winning candidates serving on the Region 4 board through the next town election in 2013.

The board also appointed a new member of the planning and zoning commission while offering support to a possible post-election switch among Republicans on the commission.

There were four residents interested in filling the vacancy created by the recent resignation of long-time member Janet Good, a Democrat. The interested residents include current commission alternate Henry Krempel, a Democrat, former Republican member Melvin Seifert, who failed to win election in the Nov. 8 town election after serving as an appointed member of the commission, former member Steve Tiezzi, and Patricia Bisacky, an unsuccessful candidate for the commission in last month’s election on the Chester Common Ground Party line.

Meehan said he favored appointing Krempel for the vacancy, following an informal tradition of appointing an active alternate when a regular member seat is opened up by a resignation. Seifert asked to be considered for the appointment, contending his background as a lawyer had been helpful to the panel over the past year.

After Democratic Selectman Larry Sypher indicated he also favored Krempel for the appointment, newly elected Republican member Doreen Joslow made an unusual offer. Joslow had won election to a two-year vacancy term on the commission in the Nov. 8 vote, defeating long-time commission chairman Michael Joplin, a Democrat, in the major upset of the 2011 election.

Joslow said she would be willing to resign her regular member seat, possibly stepping in to an alternate position, if the board of selectmen would agree to appoint Seifert to fill the two-year vacancy seat she won on Nov. 8. Joslow said she believes Seifert would bring valuable experience in filling a regular member seat on the panel.

Meehan and Sypher said they would be willing to support a possible switch of the two Republicans. Krempel’s appointment leaves two alternate openings on the commission, along with the regular member opening that could be created if Joslow resigns the seat.

In other business, the board reappointed Bennet as town attorney for the 2011-2013 term. The appointment comes despite a pending increase in the firm’s fee, from the current $140 per hour to $175 per hour next July.