Ruling: Preceding election was last November

Published in the March 18, 2016 edition

MELROSE — Jaime McAllister-Grande of Tappan Street will attend her first regular meeting as a member of the School Committee Tuesday following a ruling last week that won’t sit well with a portion of the city’s electorate.
After Carrie Kourkoumelis decided she had had enough and quit the school board — calling for Supt. of Schools Cyndy Taymore to resign along the way — City Solicitor Robert Van Campen decided on March 10 that the city should only go back to the 2015 election to find Kourkoumelis’ replacement. This ruling was met with dismay by failed School Committee hopeful Jason Kraunelis, who felt the city should have gone back to the election where Kourkoumelis was reelected, in 2013.
Not surprisingly, Kraunelis was a candidate in 2013.
In the City Charter, provisions are made for filling these types of vacancies.
Van Campen wrote, “As prescribed by Section 4-6(a) of the Melrose City Charter, [i]f a vacancy shall occur in the office of school committee member, (the next part of the sentence is underlined) the vacancy shall be filled in descending order of votes received by the candidate for he office of school committee member at the preceding city election who received the highest number of votes without being elected, (end underline) provided such person remains eligible and willing to serve and provided such person received votes equal to at least 30 percent of the vote total received by the person receiving the highest number of votes for the office of school committee member at that election.
“It is worth noting that the vacancy language above speaks generally to the office of school committee member. It is not specific to any individual school committee member, nor does it require that vacancies be filled from among those candidates who were on the ballot during the same city election at which the resigning member was elected….Given this, the clear and unambiguous terminology used in Section 4-6(a) dictates that the results of the November 2015 city election, which is the preceding city election to the current vacancy, are the election results to be utilized in filling the current vacancy.”
In November 2015, McAllister-Grande finished just out of the running, the fourth candidate running for three open seats on the School Committee. She finished with 3,181 votes, just 159 votes behind third place finisher Lizbeth DeSelm.
Van Campen’s decision did not sit well with Kraunelis, who had demanded to be appointed to replace Kourkoumelis.
After the decision, Kraunelis wrote:
“First, I would like to thank the many people who have reached out in support of me regarding the recent vacancy on the school committee. I also want to thank Carrie Kourkoumelis for her years of service to the Melrose Public Schools. Carrie and I both ran in the 2013 race for School Committee where she won election to a four year term. Upon the announcement of her resignation last week, I reviewed the city’s Charter.
“When I read the headline under SECTION 46: FILLING OF VACANCIES which reads, ‘Runner Up to Succeed to Office,’ I interpreted “preceding election” to refer to the election in which Carrie and I both ran, thus making me the next qualified runner up.
“Early Wednesday morning (March 9), I went to City Hall to see what I needed to do to be sworn in. I went to see the mayor who was not yet in. I was pretty excited so it was not too long before I returned. The mayor was still not in, but his secretary took my contact information and said that either the mayor or the city solicitor would get back to me.
“Before long, I learned … that our city solicitor had a different interpretation of the Charter, and that the city was planning to swear in someone else. I had to act fast and put something in writing stating that I believed I was the one who should fill the vacancy. I quickly fired off a letter to let them know I was serious and was committed to pursuing legal options to secure the seat.
“After that, I again learned … that the city planned to swear in Jaime McAllister-Grande who ran in the 2015 election. While I wish Jamie luck filling this role, I still believe I should be the one to fill the seat (How can she be the ‘Runner Up’ when she didn’t run in the same election as Carrie?), but I do not plan to pursue this further.
“I reached out to the Secretary of State’s Office who oversees elections. I requested they provide an unbiased opinion regarding the intention of the Charter. Unfortunately, they declined. The result is that the decision on how to interpret the Charter is left to the mayor through his appointed city solicitor. My only option, if I disagree, is to sue the city.
“When I ran for School Committee in 2013, it was to help provide opportunities that enhance our student’s educational experience and help each of them reach their full potential. I hoped to improve curriculum and technology, and to provide an encouraging atmosphere for our students. These are still my goals, and I have been working hard as a volunteer these past few years to achieve them even if it is not through an elected position on the School Committee. I have been an active member of the Middle School PTO where I serve as the Chair of the Grants Committee and as a fundraising coordinator. Our Committee has awarded grants to promote cultural awareness, robotics, antibullying and the use of technology among both staff and students.
“Again, I want to thank all of those who have reached out and offered me encouragement for standing up for myself. I want to assure you that I will continue to support the Melrose students and community and to stand up for what is right,” Kraunelis concluded.