Ocean City school board weighs options for replacing Madden

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OCEAN CITY — Although Pete Madden does not plan to officially resign his seat on the local school board until June 30, members of the Ocean City Board of Education decided how they plan to replace him at a Wednesday, May 28 meeting.

After deliberating the options, the board will appoint a new member to serve until January, 2016 at the July board meeting after interviewing potential candidates prior to the meeting.

The board voted 5 to 2, with board members Jacqueline McAllister and Tom Oves voting no.

Madden was elected to an at-large seat on City Council in the May 13 municipal election. Madden, who was sworn in for a second three-year term on the board in January, will have to resign from his seat on the school board prior to being sworn in as a member of City Council on July 1.

The issue posed a conundrum because of a change in state law effective Jan. 1 of this year. According to board solicitor Michael Stanton, if the new member was appointed prior to the third Monday in July, which is July 21, the new member would serve until January of 2015. They would serve a total of six months, and only four months before having to run for re-election in November. If the new member was appointed after July 21, they would serve until January, 2016, giving them 18 months to serve, and 16 months before having to run for re-election.

Stanton said appointing earlier gave the public more say in the selection as the seat would be up for re-election sooner, but six months was barely enough time for the new member to get acclimated to serving on the board.

“The advantage to having someone serve longer is that it takes a while for a board member to learn everything, what all is involved,” he said. “It’s a lot more complicated than people think and there is a learning curve. If they have to run in January, that doesn’t give them much time.

“If you pick before July 21 that person won’t have much time. “The other side is that you let the people decide.”

“You are elected to do what you think is best. You will have a more productive member if you give them more time.”

The issue took a new twist when Stanton disclosed that only Ocean City board members could vote, leaving the two Upper Township board members who serve as voting representatives on the Ocean City board – Bill Holmes and Kim Breckley – with no say in the matter.

“The position is voted on by Ocean City members only,” Stanton advised, adding that he had discussed the issue with Upper Township Solicitor Will Donio.

There are three voting representatives on the 12-member Ocean City board; Upper Township’s Jill Casaccio was absent. Due to enabling legislation passed many years ago, sending districts in a sending-receiving relationship are represented on the sending district’s board.  

A few years ago, the same issue flared when Upper Township representatives were not permitted to vote for board president and vice-president due to an interpretation of state law. In the past, Upper Township’s Pat Forsstrom served as the board vice-president.

Upper members were not happy that they were then told that they could not vote at the reorganization meeting, but Stanton maintained that state law was clear.

Upper’s nine-member school board selects three representatives to serve on an annual basis at their reorganization meeting.

In this case, Stanton said that Ocean City voters had sent Madden to the board, and therefore it should be Ocean City representatives only who decide how he should be replaced.

Board member Jon Batistini, who was elected to a three-year term on the board last November, was puzzled.

“So people from Upper don’t get to vote?” he asked.

“Apparently not,” said Breckley. “It seems like when there is an important happening we are not allowed in.”

Stanton reminded Breckley that she had been sitting at the board table numerous times as similar voting issues arose over the years.

“I have given the same opinion and you have been sitting here,” he said.

After dubbing the 18-months versus six months issue an “interesting dilemma” Batistini stalled when it was his turn to vote. 

“Did the Phillies play today?”  he asked, after being called upon first in the role-call vote.

“It’s a hard decision,” he said, hesitating before stating that he would vote yes.

McAllister was emphatic; some boards are appointed and others, like Ocean City, are elected so she was opting for a six-month place-keeper.

“Because we have an elected board I feel very strongly that we should let the people decide,” she said. “I understand the benefits of having someone be able to serve longer, but we’re not appointed. We’re elected by the people.” 

Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said the board would begin advertising for the position within the next two weeks. There would be an application process and potential candidates will be interviewed by the board prior to the July 23 meeting. The board will select a new member at that meeting.

The goal, she said, is to have a new member in place for the August meeting. 

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