Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini is asking for public input on his proposal for a city charter change to clearly define how to fill a vacant city council or school committee seat.
Fiorentini’s latest e-newsletter, released Wednesday afternoon, asks recipients to use an online survey to say if they agree vacancies should be filled automatically by “a viable runner up.” He points to Methuen’s city charter, which defines “a viable runner up as one who received 30 percent or more of the vote in the most recent election.” The survey comes one week after Shaun P. Toohey was appointed back to the school committee to fill the remaining two years for a seat vacated last month by City Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua. WHAV first reported Fiorentini’s charter change suggestion Feb. 1.
“The city of Haverhill just went through a long and very contentious process of filling a vacant seat on the school committee. Under our charter, vacant school committee seats are filled by a joint meeting of the city council and the school committee,” Fiorentini said. “Should a viable runner up automatically get the vacant position, or should the remaining members of the city council and school committee be able to pick whoever they want?”
Toohey was appointed Feb. 2 to the vacant school committee seat in an 8 to 7 vote over former School Committeeman Raymond J. Sierpina. Lurking behind the scenes during last week’s vote, some now speculate, was whether opponents of Superintendent of Schools James F. Scully could secure enough school committee votes to oust him.
“Historically, whenever the vacant seat has been filled, it has been filled by the runner up from the most recent election, usually without any fanfare or much debate,” Fiorentini added. Toohey was runner-up in last November’s school committee race, finishing fourth for three available seats. Sierpina was next runner-up from the 2013 election when Bevilacqua was re-elected to the school committee.