Mattituck agrees to keep board seat vacant

Mattituck school board members tackle the issue of filling a board vacancy last Thursday. From left: president Gerard Diffley, William Gatz, Janique Nine and Douglas Cooper.

The Mattituck school board will operate a member shy for the next year.

Although at least four people apparently expressed interest in the vacancy created by the July 1 resignation of former vice president Debra Cahill, the board voted 4-2 last Thursday night to leave the seat open.

Earlier that night, the board voted 5-1 against member Douglas Cooper’s resolution that a special election be held.

Board members seemed surprised at the 4-2 vote in favor of leaving the post vacant.

Since the last board meeting July 15, at least four people had expressed interest in the position, including Barbara Taylor, Rob DiGregorio and former school board members Joan Ferris and Lynne Krauza, who lost her seat in May’s election.

President Gerard Diffley said that at least one other person had also expressed interest in the position but had not committed to run.

Prior to deciding to leave the seat empty, the board was divided over the best method of selecting a candidate. Several members said that they were uncomfortable making a decision when they didn’t know all the candidates. Mr. Cooper was adamant that an election would be the only democratic way.

“It’s the American way,” he said, but board member Janique Nine countered, “It’s a waste of money.”

Board members estimated that a special election could cost between $4,000 and $6,000. With the time constraints involved in gathering petitions and giving public notice, an election would be unlikely before late September or possibly October. The new member would only serve through June 2011.

“Democracy is not cheap. I believe it is the right of the public to choose,” said Mr. Cooper, who ultimately cast the only vote in favor of a special election.

Before voting to keep the seat open, board members debated for some time methods they might use to appoint a candidate. Some members thought it would be best to appoint a minority candidate, in the hopes of eliminating what some members said was a common criticism of lack of diversity in the district.

“It’s about leading by example. We have to broaden our horizons in this district,” said Ms. Nine. “There’s so much more to it than hiring people of diverse backgrounds. The population of children is becoming more diverse.”

“Do we want someone to sit on the board just because they’re diversified?” countered board member Jeff Smith. “I don’t want to appoint someone just because of who they are.”

“Racism is what you’re putting forth,” said Mr. Cooper, adding that he would not vote for anyone solely on the basis of race.

Mr. Diffley said it’s important the district remain conscious of its reputation for a lack of diversity.

“I’ll use the board of a large corporation for an example,” he said. “When you see eight Anglo-Saxon males, that’s a problem. … We’ve been sensitized by the community for the lack of diversity in our district.”

The ultimate vote to leave the seat vacant won with the support of Mr. Cooper, Ms. Nine, Mr. Diffley and William Gatz, who just began his term in the seat Ms. Krauza had held. Two weeks ago the board rejected a call to appoint Ms. Krauza to the open seat.

Mr. Diffley said he would seek a legal opinion on whether the board could appoint someone later if the members change their mind.

The board made its decisions under the watchful eye of a half-dozen community members.

Susan Kensey said that she thought the decision to leave the seat vacant was fine, but she wished board members had posted signs at the school advertising that they were looking for members. She added that she was uncomfortable with the informal nature of the selection process the board had considered.

“Teachers go through a more rigorous interview schedule,” she said.

“Several of the candidates happen to be women. I hope those who were thinking of making a commitment do so in the future,” said Lynn Summers, who has lived in Mattituck for 42 years. Five of the six current board members are men.

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