By Christine Sampson
The Sag Harbor School Board has opted to appoint a new board member to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Tommy John Schiavoni, has set a deadline for candidates to submit letters of interest and has decided to depart from a previous practice of interviewing potential appointees in executive sessions before appointing someone, opting instead for public interviews.
The board passed resolutions to formalize those decisions during its business meeting on Monday, although it has yet to decide exactly how it will vet candidates publicly.
“We have made a decision about big picture process. We’ll see how many people who are actually interested,” board president Diana Kolhoff said Monday.
The resignation of Mr. Schiavoni, who was originally appointed in 2014 to fill a vacant seat and was then elected in the following general election, was effective Tuesday.
The board voted 6-to-1, with board member Stephanie Bitis casting the lone “no” vote, to fill the seat by appointment rather than leave the seat vacant or hold a special election. The board previously determined that a special election could cost the district as much as $12,000 to choose a member who would then serve about two months before the next regular election would take place.
Board member Alex Kriegsman, who previously opposed appointing someone, said he had changed his mind. “I think some good points have been made,” he said. “We could have an issue with having a quorum. It strikes me as not a great way for a public body to operate.”
The board then unanimously decided to make it a public process as opposed to a closed-session process, which was how a board vacancy was filled in 2014. Interviews with candidates were conducted privately with the full board, before a board vote was held in public to appoint a new member.
“One of the things I’ve heard in the community is appointing someone could be walking on treacherous ground and you don’t want it to be secretive,” Ms. Bitis said. “…I don’t think the board should select a candidate to sit for the rest of Tommy John’s term behind closed doors. I think there would be a bad perception.”
Debate ensued over whether interviews would be held individually or in groups; whether interviews would be held at a board work session or in a larger “meet the candidates” style forum similar to those held during regular elections; or in some other to-be-determined format. Advance publishing of interview questions was also discussed, but tabled. Further discussion on the interview process was expected at a special meeting on Wednesday night after press time.
The school board also set a deadline of Sunday, January 7, 2018, to receive letters of interest from potential appointees, and said letters may be submitted via email or postal mail. The board also determined it will make the actual appointment during its January 22 meeting.
Board member Susan Lamontagne said she was reluctant to vote “yes” on opting to appoint a board member because she preferred to elect someone. She suggested if the board had to appoint someone, it should tap the person who got the next-highest number of votes in the last school board election. That individual was Sandi Kruel, who had previously served four full terms as a board member.
“These are positions people run for and the community should elect,” Ms. Lamontagne said. “It’s just a principle thing for me. That said, to spend the money for such a short period of time … I think it makes no sense to be spending that money. If you want something really quick, [appoint] the next person who was on the ballot.”
Board member Chris Tice, who earlier in the meeting said she was “confident we could get a really good candidate from the community who could help us through the next election,” offered a general suggestion.
“If there are previous board members who want to apply, I think that would be great because they could hit the ground running,” board member Chris Tice said.
Ms. Kolhoff had kind words as a send-off for Mr. Schiavoni, who she said is “moving on to bigger and better things” after being elected to the Southampton Town Council.
“It has been an absolute pleasure serving with you,” she said. “Thank you for your service.”