standing Westerly school bus

WESTERLY — Residents interested in serving on the School Committee for about two years to fill a vacancy should get in touch with the Town Council.

The council decided Monday by consensus to seek letters of interest from prospective candidates to fill a vacancy on the seven-member committee. The vacancy was created by the death of Patricia Panciera, who was elected to a second term on the committee in November. Panciera, a Democrat, died last month as a result of a stroke she suffered in October.

Council President Christopher Duhamel said he had contacted Diana Serra to gauge her interest in filling the vacancy. Serra was one of four candidates who ran for three positions on the committee in November. Serra said, in a note that Duhamel read aloud, that she was not interested because of current and future job-related duties and other obligations.

In January the School Committee voted 4-0 with two abstentions to ask the council to offer the position to Serra and to arrange for a special election to fill the vacancy in the event she declined. The approach suggested by the School Committee is similar to the one approved by voters in November for how to handle vacancies on the Town Council. Under that system, vacancies would be offered to the top three runners-up in the last general election. If none of the runners-up accept and it is less than one year since the last general election, a special election would be conducted to fill the vacancy.

Councilor Brian McCuin said the charter clearly makes the council responsible for filling vacancies on the School Committee. "I don't see where the confusion is. It tells us we appoint," he said.

Councilor Suzanne Giorno said she agreed with McCuin. "Although we appreciate what [the School Committee] was trying to do, we have to be very careful when we look at the language involved ... the way the council is replaced is not the same as the School Committee," Giorno said.

Giorno and Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. both said they had received a lot of questions and comments from residents about the process for filling the vacancy.

Town Attorney William Conley, when asked whether there was any doubt that the decision to fill vacancies on the School Committee was to be made by the council, offered a simple answer. "No," he said.

Cooke said Duhamel's inquiry to Serra was a gesture of consideration, not a signal of how the council is required to proceed. "It was kind of Chris Duhamel to ask but he certainly couldn't offer. It would be up to the seven of us," Cooke said.

Duhamel said he anticipated that the council would conduct interviews with potential candidates to fill the vacancy in two weeks.

Candidates should send a letter of interest to the Town Clerk no later than Feb. 20 at 4:30 p.m. Letters can be sent to: dgiordano@westerlyri.gov or by regular mail to: Donna Giordano, Town Clerk, Westerly Town Hall, 45 Broad St., Westerly, RI 02891

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com

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