Our View: A Process Failure


When a chairperson of a committee steps down in the middle of a term, the committee typically thanks them for their service and elects a new chair. That didn't happen when Nancy Scott announced she was stepping down as chair of the Monomoy Regional School Committee on Sept. 23. Instead, she simply stated, with no justification other than the move was agreed upon by herself and the superintendent, that at the next meeting, vice chair Meredith Henderson would become chairman. At the Oct. 7 meeting, the committee elected Jackie Zibrat-Long as the new vice chair.

This may seem like a pretty esoteric point, but the decision to simply allow the vice chair to become chairman, with no further action by the remaining committee members, resulted in the objection and ultimately the resignation of Chatham representative Joseph Auciello. There was no precedent for the way the situation was handled and no justification in either school committee policy or state law, he said. We agree. The only vague justification we could find is in “Robert's Rules of Order, Revised,” the standard for municipal meeting procedures which carries no legal authority. Robert's Rules reads, in part, that “in case of the illness or resignation or death of the president [or chair, in the case of town committees]...the first vice president [or vice chair] becomes president for the unexpired term, unless the rules specify how vacancies shall be filled.”

What elevates this situation beyond mere technicality is that it violates the regional school agreement and the committee's own policies, which do, in fact, specify a particular process for naming a chair. According to the agreement, the committee chair rotates annually between Harwich and Chatham. The vice chair must be from a different town than the chair. It takes a two-thirds vote to deviate from this sequence. The committee's official policies include the same language.

In June, Scott, who is from Chatham, took over as chair from Harwich member Tina Games. Henderson, who assumed the chair seemingly by fiat, is from Harwich. While this maintains the rotation, it ignored the language stipulating that the change be made annually. Essentially, Harwich will run the committee for two years, except for the three-month break between June and September.

This comes at a critical time for the committee, as it prepares to present changes to the regional agreement to select boards and town meetings in both towns. Most of the changes remove transition language from the original document. The most significant change, however, gives each town the responsibility for paying for the operating costs of its own elementary school. This essentially shifts about $600,000 from Harwich to Chatham. Are there ulterior motives in moving the chair position from Chatham to Harwich at this time? We doubt it, but the optics aren't good.

There's an easy solution: Vote in a new chair from Chatham. This would remove a cloud hanging over the committee and provide a clear path to moving forward with the necessary changes to the regional agreement.