As soon as Walter Wilcoxen resigned his seat on the Sag Harbor Board of Education, it became clear there would not just be a fight over his replacement, but the method over how that replacement would be found.
The school board has before it three options. It can leave the seat vacant until the next election, it can hold a special election to fill the seat for a year or it can appoint a member of the community to serve for a year until the next regularly scheduled ballot.
It is our opinion that the board should opt for the final option and appoint an interested member of the community. There are several reasons for our recommendation.
First, leaving the seat vacant is, frankly, not a viable option. The board has an odd number of members as a prevention against tie votes, and a year of split votes and deadlocks is the last thing this board needs right now.
Filling the seat through an election is also less than feasible, primarily because it would cost the district close to $8,000. Since the board is working with a state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, spending precious resources on a special election would be wasteful. An election would also make it easy for demagoguery to trump reasonable discussion of the issues, something that would push the board further into the political abyss.
Allowing the board to appoint its newest member would both save the district money and promote a much-needed spirit of cooperation amongst board members. This can be an opportunity for the members to find one candidate who they all agree would be a positive addition to their ranks. As of press time, seven candidates had expressed interest in the seat. If the board cannot find a single candidate out of seven that everyone considers viable, then the board’s problems run much deeper than a vacant seat.
If they choose to go the appointment route, the board can help increase public trust in a body that often appears divided. And considering Wilcoxen left claiming the board was incapable of finding common ground, this would be a good opportunity to prove him wrong.
Importantly, this is an opportunity for the board to prove to the public they can reach a consensus. Honestly, there are seven candidates who have expressed an interest in serving on the board; we have to believe the remaining six members can agree on one of them. If not, how can we presume they are capable of selecting a superintendent to guide the district in the near future.
While we have no formal opinion on who the board should select, the ideal candidate would be someone who can act as a sort-of peacemaker for a body that is often publicly divided. During the recent discussions over the YARD program, for example, the conversation frequently became heated — with accusations flying from one end of the table to another. That’s not a productive way to make decisions.
The new board member should be forceful, but removed from the politics that have plagued the board lately. At a time when many members of the public may be concerned about the implications of having new administrators in both the superintendent and business manager positions, this new board member must be someone the public can trust instinctively.
We believe that this board can come together and choose someone to fill Wilcoxen’s seat who fits this description. They must. They will be better off for it, and the district will not be hindered by the cost that would come with an election.