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[Desktop only]* Stamford cancels the unlawful one-year special Board of Education election

Two Fridays ago, I explained that the one-year special election for the Board of Education was unlawful and should be cancelled, because the city charter allows for special municipal elections only on odd-numbered years.

Last Friday, Corporation Counsel Kathy Emmett released a legal opinion agreeing with my conclusion, and cancelling the election. Specifically, the opinion states:

There is no ambiguity in the Charter – C1-80-2 expressly states that vacancy elections for the Board of Education are held at biennial elections. Therefore, it is our opinion that the inclusion on the 2020, non-biennial year, ballot of a vacancy election for a seat on the Board of Education is incorrect, and that there can be no valid vacancy election until the 2021 biennial election.

Accordingly, Becky Hamman, who replaced Frank Cerasoli in February 2019, is entitled to remain on the Board of Education through December 1, 2021, and may also continue her current candidacy for a three-year position on the Board.

While almost certainly academic, if she prevails, the Board of Representatives would elect her successor, who could be of any party, given that Frank Cerasoli was elected in 2018 as a petitioning candidate, and not as a Republican. (Also academic, but interesting, is the application of Sec. C1-80-3—which requires successors filling vacancies to be “chosen from the political party, if any, which nominated his predecessor”—to successors of successors. Put differently, which political party, if any, “nominated” Becky Hamman?)

Stephanie O’Shea, who resigned as an alternate on the Democratic City Committee to become unaffiliated and run as a registered write-in candidate for the one-year Board of Education seat, has indicated she intends to continue her write-in candidacy. But, even assuming Emmett’s opinion is incorrect, given that the election has been cancelled, at best, in all likelihood, a court finding that Hamman unlawfully retained the seat after the November election would declare the seat unoccupied and allow the Board of Representatives to fill the seat in accordance with Sec. C1-80-2 of the charter.

So, O’Shea won’t be able to be elected to the Board of Education this year. But even if she could be, she wouldn’t take Hamman’s place, but rather the place of the lowest vote-getting Democrat of the three that are running for three-year terms.

Section 9-167a of the Connecticut General Statutes sets forth the state’s minority representation rules, which provide, among other things, that our nine-member Board of Education can have no more than six Democrats at any time. It further explains, in subsection (g) that:

For the purposes of this section, a person shall be deemed to be a member of the political party on whose enrollment list his name appears on the date of his appointment to, or of his nomination as a candidate for election to, any office specified in subsection (a) of this section, provided any person who has applied for erasure or transfer of his name from an enrollment list shall be considered a member of the party from whose list he has so applied for erasure or transfer for a period of three months from the date of the filing of such application . . .

For purposes of minority representation, O’Shea would still be counted as a Democrat on November 3, notwithstanding her recent change from Democrat to unaffiliated. Further, subsection (d) explains that partial terms are filled before full terms for purposes of applying minority representation rules, meaning O’Shea would take the place of another Democrat, and Hamman would be entitled to a three-year seat.

(If in the legislature, I would seek to change subsection (d) to state the opposite—i.e., filling full terms before partial terms—as gamesmanship can arise on placing candidates under the current structure.)

In the end, I’m glad that the city got it right, and that no election will be run for the purported one-year Board of Education seat. To avoid these issues in the future, we should change the process by which municipal elections are placed on the ballot. Specifically, I’d like to see the charter amended to require input from Corporation Counsel to the Town Clerk, explaining which elections Corporation Counsel believes should be included. The next charter commission—required each ten years under Sec. C1-40-5 of the Charter—will be convened in late 2021, at which this amendment could be proposed, and at which I’d hope to participate.

*Our web hosting platform updated their blogging software, rendering these articles unreadable on mobile, and it exceeds my technological capabilities to fix this problem.