Manchester City Charter Does Not Require a Special Election to Fill School Board Vacancies

Manchester City Hall (photo: Jon C. Hopwood, all rights reserved)

MANCHESTER, NH — The Manchester City Charter does not require a special election to fill vacancies on the Board of the School Committee, unlike in the case of vacancies on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA).

Under the City Charter approved by voters in 1996, the BMA is granted the power to fill a School Board vacancy until the next election.

The City Charter Commissioners thought so little of the School Board that they dedicated all of one-third of one page to it in the City Charter.

On the issue of vacancies, City Charter Section 2:05 (as amended by the electorate in 2015) holds that:

(a.) Should a vacancy occur in the office of mayor, the aldermen shall elect a mayor, who shall serve until the next regularly scheduled election for the office of mayor, and until his successor is duly elected and qualified, pursuant to R.S.A. 45:6.

(b) Should a vacancy occur in the office of alderman, the remaining members shall call a special election in the ward in which the vacancy shall have occurred, to fill the vacancy.

(c.) Should a vacancy occur in the office of school committee-man, the board of aldermen shall fill the vacancy until an election is held.

The offices of mayor and “school Committee-man” are alike, in that the aldermen fill a vacancy until the next scheduled election for the office. Neither office, under the City Charter, requires a vote of the electorate in order to be filled, the vote of the aldermen being sufficient.

Under the Charter, aldermen are the supreme arbiters of the governance of the municipality of Manchester, New Hampshire. They are the Board of Directors, and the mayor is the chief executive officer.

Board of the School Committee members are an afterthought.

The importance of the School Board has grown in prominence in the last 20 years, but the City Charter predates that period, having been ratified by the people in 1996. Yet, the issue of filling school board vacancies was addressed by the proposed amendments of the 2020 School Commission, which were considered by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The City Charter spells out how vacancies in the Offices of Mayor, Alderman and BOSC are filled

Aldermen Give Thumbs Down to Independent School Board

Earlier this year, the Republicans on the BMA such as Alderman at Large Joe Kelly Levasseur were instrumental in voting down the School Charter Amendments that would have made the Board of the School Committee independent of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The BMA rejected putting the proposed amendments before the voters.

With that vote, the BMA decided that it was NOT THE DUTY OF VOTERS to decide the fate of the School Board. It was a declaration of the supremacy of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen over the Board of the School Committee.

The City Charter established that the School Board is inferior to the BMA, and it was the reason the School Charter Commission was convened, in order to balance that constitutional imbalance.

The most important aspect of the BOSC’s inferiority has to due with spending money: Only the BMA can override the tax cap when it comes to setting a budget.

Indeed, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen deems the School Board inferior to the BMA by at least one-half, in the statute setting the remuneration of Board members: Aldermen are paid $4,000 per annum, whilst School Committee members are granted an annual stipend of $2,000.

The proposed School Charter amendments were the first targeted attempt to address the filing of a School Board vacancy. If the amendments had been passed, the School Board would have the power to fill vacancies.

The Ward Alderman Fills School Board Vacancies

The 2020–21 Board of Mayor and Aldermen gets its picture taken (pic: Jon C. Hopwood)

The vote of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to terminate the School Charter amendments also terminated any means to fill a School Board vacancy other than that set out by the Charter: That the vacancy is filled by the BMA without recourse to special election, and the appointed School Board member serves until the next election, which will be the primary election in September 2023.

Numerous times, the BMA has asserted that it is the right of the alderman from the Ward in which the vacancy occurred to fill an empty seat on the School Board. The most recent case was when Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann momianted Carlos Gonzalez to the BOSC.

That the School Board is subordinate to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen under the City Charter was affirmed when the BMA voted down the School Charter amendments.

The BMA also asserted de facto that where the School Board is concerned, democracy is circumscribed.

When it came to putting the issue of School Board independence to the people for a ratifying vote, the BMA asserted that the independence of the School Board was not an issue to be determined by direct democracy.

The way Joe Kelly Levasseur and the Little Levasseurs and other adermen saw it, an independent School Board would be a violation of the City Charter. They declared themselves supreme over the School Board.

And indeed, when it comes to the issue of direct democracy, as regards filling vacancies, the City Charter backs them up, as was already addressed in this article.

Under the City Charter, the filling an aldermanic vacancy is a situation of such seriousness, a special election is required. The filling of a vacancy on the School Board does not: It is an issue to be handled by the BMA, not the voters.

This the world that Levasseur and the Little Levasseurs and other adermen defined when the mantle of democracy unto themselves and ceremoniously garbage-canned the School Board amendments. They can’t have it both ways although as politicians, some of them will try.

They made their bed, now it is their time to lie in it.

That’s democracy! The democracy they helped give us here in the Queen City.

I am a writer who lives in New Hampshire

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Jon Hopwood

Jon Hopwood

I am a writer who lives in New Hampshire

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