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Cancel the illegal one-year Board of Education special election!

The Advocate brings word of the Stamford Republican Town Committee’s latest adventures in filling the seats guaranteed to non-Democrats pursuant to the state’s minority party representation rules.

This November, there are four incumbent Board of Education members running for re-election: three Democrats; and one Republican, Becky Hamman, who was elected earlier this year by the Board of Representatives to fill the vacancy created when Frank Cerasoli moved from the Board of Education to the Board of Finance.

The Board of Education has nine total seats, with three, three-year staggered terms. So, three of these races are for three-year terms, and one race is for a one-year term, to fill out the remaining year of the term for which Cerasoli was elected, which runs from 2018 through 2021.

However, all four candidates are running for full, three-year terms, including Hamman, who was nominated for a three-year term, instead of a one-year term. And no party-endorsed or petitioning candidates are running for the one-year term, creating a very odd-looking ballot showing no candidates at all to fill the one-year seat.

In the Advocate, Stamford’s Corporation Counsel, Kathy Emmett, correctly observes that only three Board of Education candidates can win three-year terms, and that the fourth-place vote-getter is not relegated to the one-year seat, but rather will not elected at all. She further correctly notes that six members of the Board of Education may be Democrats, meaning that, assuming all three Democrats outpoll Hamman, Hamman will not be elected to the Board of Education.

[She incorrectly states that the one-year seat may become vacant when newly elected Board members are inaugurated on December 1st. State law provides that elected Board members serve “until their successors are elected and have qualified.” CGS § 9-187. If no votes are cast for the one-year term, therefore, Hamman would remain in her seat until the next election, with her successor not having been elected, and the Board of Representatives would not be tasked with filling a vacancy.]

However, this is all academic, because Hamman doesn’t need to run for re-election in the first place.

The reasoning is fairly straightforward. The city charter explains when special elections are held subsequent to when Board of Education members—like Hamman—are elected by the Board of Representatives. In short, they can be held only in odd-numbered years. Section C1-80-2 of the charter explains:

(a) If an elected official shall die, resign, be removed, or cease to be a resident of the district from which elected, or become disqualified to hold office, such office shall become vacant.

(b) Whenever a vacancy occurs in any elective office and no specific provision for filling such vacancy is made in this Charter, the Board of Representatives shall, within sixty (60) days following the vacancy, elect a successor to fill such vacancy until December first following the next biennial election.

(c) When the Board of Representatives has elected a successor to fill a vacancy in the office of Mayor, on the Board of Representatives, on the Board of Finance or on the Board of Education as set forth above in Sec. C1-80-2(b), then and in that event, a vacancy election shall be held at the next biennial election. Any political party may nominate one candidate for each vacancy for membership on said Board or in the office of the Mayor. No voter may vote for more than one candidate to fill such vacancy in the applicable Board or in the office of the Mayor. The candidate receiving the highest number of votes shall be elected as a member of the applicable Board for the balance of the term which was vacated, or in the case of the Mayor or the Board of Representatives, until the next biennial election.

In Stamford, biennial election are held in odd-numbered years. In fact, the only even-numbered year municipal elections which can be held in Stamford are Board of Education elections for regular three-year terms. Accordingly, the purported special election for the one-year Board of Education seat is illegal, and should be cancelled.

In contrast to the alleged special one-year Board of Education election, Cerasoli, elected to the Board of Finance by the Board of Representatives just before Hamman, is not running in a special election this year; he is entitled to remain in his seat through the 2021 election. Board of Representative special elections similarly are held only on odd-numbered years.

Corporation counsel has been asked to provide an opinion on whether the purported one-year Board of Education is illegal and should be cancelled; I understand she is out of the office until Wednesday, but hopefully will respond soon. Unless Emmett disagrees, or I’ve overlooked something, she should produce an opinion directing the Town Clerk, Lyda Ruijter, to cancel the election. So Becky stays on the Board of Education for one more year, and the incumbent Democrats can each be elected to three year terms. And any nascent write-in campaigns for the one-year seat may want to hold off on their campaigning and fundraising efforts, as such efforts will likely be for naught.