Filling Rooney’s seat before 2018 would require a special election

As most of you know by now, Selectman John Rooney stepped down on Monday night. When I posted the news earlier this week, I promised to find out if his seat could be filled in the upcoming election. The answer is, it can’t.

The candidates running for the board filed papers for the two seats that expire in 2020. For Rooney’s third seat (which expires in 2019) to be on the ballot, Selectmen would have had to vote far enough in advance to allow residents notice to pull and file papers.*

And in case you are wondering – selectmen can’t simply appoint the third place candidate. Under state statutes, voters have to fill the seat.

Selectmen have yet to discuss how to proceed. Town Administrator Mark Purple tells me that they will discuss it a future meeting. (That won’t be their April 10th meeting, which is really just proper notice given in case more than two selectmen attend the Advisory Committee’s meeting on Town Meeting Articles.) 

Leaving the seat vacant until the 2018 annual election is an option. Otherwise, a special election will have to be called. According to Town Clerk Jim Hegarty, an election could be set into motion prior to the annual election.

Hegarty forecast the earliest possible date at this point as mid-June, prior to schools getting out for the summer. (His example was an April 11th vote for a June 15th election. Obviously, the longer it takes for the board to meet, the less likely an election prior to summer break is. As of today, the last day of school is scheduled to be June 22nd.)

If an election was held in June the cycles would overlap. Hegarty offered that candidates for the annual election would be able to pull papers for Rooney’s seat. If they won, there would still be time to withdraw from the special election ballot. 

At the time of his resignation, Rooney stated:

since I’ve already made my decision to step down, it only makes sense, given the upcoming election cycle for me to do so immediately.

After learning that a special election is required, I followed up with Rooney. He clarified that what he meant by “it makes sense” was:

It seems logical to me that if there are three seats open at the time of the election, and there are at least three candidates running for those seats, it only makes common sense, unless common sense is not the standard, that the top three vote getters occupy those seats.

It is worth noting that in the scheme of things, a board of five selectmen is new. When Rooney first joined the board in 2010, he was one of three members.

The first election expanding the board to five people took place in May 2014. 2013 Town Meeting and Town Election voters approved expanding the board to five members.

At the time it was debated, with concerns there may not be enough candidates to fill the board. For this May’s election, there are currently five candidates for two seats.

*Editor’s Note: I discovered a similar situation in the Town of Littleton back in 2014, when a selectman resigned mid-March, prior to their May election. Referring to state statutes, their Town Administrator publicly posted about the required timeline for adding a seat to the ballot.

Based on that, I believe the decision to add Rooney’s seat to the ballot would had to have been approved prior to his initial March 9th decision to step down. So, I don’t think his delay in making the choice official had any impact on the situation.

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