South Portland City Council to interview six school candidates

SOUTH PORTLAND – South Portland city councilors have received six applications to a one-year appointment on the Board of Education and plans to conduct interviews in public within “the next couple of weeks.”

The applicants are: Jeffrey McDonald of Providence Avenue; Roger Allen of Mitchell Road; Ralph Baxter Jr. of Simmons Road; Pam Koonz Canarie of Sawyer Street; Mary House of Elderberry Drive; and Tiffanie Bentley of Morse Street.

The successful applicant will fill the at-large seat vacated Sept. 7 by Jeffrey Selser, who resigned to take a post coaching girls soccer at Mahoney Middle School. Selser was elected in November 2011 to a three-year term. The council appointee will serve until November 2013, at which time a special election will be held to fill the final year on his term. The timing of Selser’s resignation did not leave enough time to call a special election for voting on Nov. 6, when three other school board seats are up for grabs, because of the need for candidates to circulate and submit petitions in time for the city to get ballots printed 30-45 days in advance for absentee voting, as required by law.

At a City Council workshop Monday, at which councilors debated a process for selecting from among the wide field of candidates, Councilor Tom Blake found fault with the need to replace Selser at all.

“It’s unfortunate in my opinion that Jeff had to step down because he’s coaching one sport, for one season, of a middle school team,” he said. “To me that is insufficient reason to be ineligible. It’s ludicrous. At some point we may want to look at that.”

However, school board member Richard Matthews, speaking from the audience, said that while the council is free to look as long as it likes, reasons for booting Selser are unlikely to change.

“The reason Jeff Selser had to resign is state law, not a South Portland ordinance,” he said. “I agree the law should be more forgiving, but it is a state law and we don’t have an opportunity – it’s not like we didn’t want Jeff to stay on board; he was not able to.”

Councilors decided that they will interview all six applicants at a time and date to be determined. Mayor Patti Smith told councilors they will be notified of the particulars “sometime in the next couple of weeks.”

At that meeting, council interviews will take a form somewhat resembling a candidates’ debate. Each applicant will be given a three-minute opening statement, to be read from a written script, the council decided, so as not to put the initial speakers at a disadvantage to those who could react to what was said before they were called upon. The council will then pose six questions, enough that each applicant will have an opportunity to answer first and last. The interview session will conclude with one-minute closing statements by each applicant, followed by a council vote.

Some on the council declared it “odd” that the city should draw six applicants for Selser’s seat at the same time so few candidates emerge for regular school board elections.

Of the three open seats, incumbent directors Matthews and Tappen Fitzgerald are running unopposed in districts 3 and 5, respectively. James Gilboy had intended to retire from the board this year, but is now running a write-in campaign for his District 4 seat because no one else submitted nomination papers.

Selser held an at-large seat, but Councilor Jerry Jalbert speculated there may be more at play than a wider area of representation to explain expanded interest in the position.

“I suppose it may be possible that some people find it easier to stand for a council appointment then to go through the rigors of a public campaign,” he said in a telephone interview.

The city on Wednesday declined to provide copies of the applicant resumes circulated to council members and Monday’s workshop.

“The resumes will remain confidential,” said City Clerk Susan Mooney, in an email. “When a candidate is appointed, then that resume could be released. However, personal information would be redacted.”

The Current has filed a request for the resumes under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.