For the next eight months, the recent Marblehead School Committee seat that resident Emily Barron vacated will remain empty until the 2023 municipal election.
The School Committee made the call on a split vote among the four remaining members during a Tuesday evening meeting.
School Committee members Alison Taylor and Sarah Fox voted to keep the seat vacant, arguing the Marblehead voters should decide.
“It would be my recommendation at this time to leave the seat open, to be determined by the voters,” said Fox, who chairs the School Committee. “Papers would be available, as is typical, in March.”
She went on to note the four members meet the quorum threshold required under state law.
“So at this point, that is my recommendation: Is to let the voters decide who fills that seat,” Fox said. “To go on as a four person committee.”
The pair’s colleagues, Meagan Taylor and Sarah Gold, took the opposite opinion, arguing that there’s too much work not only to be done but also coming down the pipeline. Town Meeting in May is likely to take up a permanent Proposition 2 1/2 override.
Barron, who had a remaining year on a three-year term, kept herself busy. She did yoemen’s work, leaving behind what Meagen Taylor characterized as “a big gap in terms of our responsibilities.”
“She was on the policy subcommittee. She’s on the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee. She’s our METCO liaison. She did a lot,” she said. “We need that fifth person to help us with that work. I think also, because we’re talking about a potential budget ask again.”
Gold opened her for-stance with frank arguments. She pointed out the four-member School Committee in its current iteration does not always reach the same conclusion on matters.
“We should fill the seat to be totally honest,” Gold said. “We clearly have some differing perspectives on this [School Committee], and I would be very much worried that we could see too many pieces of the puzzle result into two-two votes.”
She added, “That could really hamper moving forward on things.”
Her “differing perspectives” and tied-votes point was proven only a couple minutes later on two occasions. The first: The decision not to fill the Barron vacancy. The second when the same voting bloc, with Fox and Alison Taylor on one side and Gold and Meagan Taylor on the other, defeated Gold’s motion to elevate Meagen Taylor to vice chair, a position Barron formerly carried out.
In the lead up to the latter vote, Fox said a vice chair is unnecessary.
“In the event that I’m not here,” she said, “it automatically defers to the secretary to run the meeting.” Alison Taylor is secretary.
At the top of Tuesday’s meeting Fox pointed out precedent where officials left vacancies untouched: Susie Pratt, a former School Committee member, resigned in early December of 2017. The remaining four members then kept her seat vacant until an early May election, leaving the seat effectively vacant for five months. With the town having since changed municipal elections to mid June, the Barron vacancy will remain unfilled for nearly eight months.
“On the Select Board side, the late [Select Board member] Judy Jacobi passed away, I believe about a month into her term,” said Fox. “The Select Board chose to leave that seat open until the following election.”
An affirmative vote to fill the vacancy would have resulted in the School Committee and the Marblehead Select Board putting out a call to Marblehead residents interested in the Barron vacancy. The nine officials would have then convened a public meeting, during which they would’ve interviewed candidates and selected one all in a single night (depending on the number of candidates) to fill the year-long term until the June election.
Barron filed her resignation with Marblehead Town Clerk Robin Michaud on Thursday, “citing a decision not to implement a solution that would have allowed her to continue her professional work and serve as an elected official under state ethics rules.”
The public meeting, meanwhile, culminated in agreement among the four members. All backed Meagan Taylor’s motion for a public statement that condemns what she described as civil debate turned public attacks on elected officials.
“I do think it goes too far once it becomes a public attack on someone’s character, their reputation, their profession, their livelihood,” said Meagan Taylor. “Unfortunately, I think this attack culture has become a pattern of behavior over time.”
She added, “We’ve kind of seen that culminate with the recent resignation.”