Panel reshapes plan to fill board vacancies

NASHUA – An aldermanic committee on Monday approved an amendment to proposed legislation that would change the way vacancies are filled on elected city boards or commissions.

Instead of appointing people to fill vacancies on the Board of Aldermen, the Board of Education, the Board of Public Works and the Board of Fire Commissioners, special elections could be held in some cases, while in others the seat wouldn’t be filled until the next regular city election.

While the aldermanic Personnel/Administrative Affairs Committee voted 4-1 to endorse the amendment drafted by Ward 2 Alderman Richard Larose, it delayed action on the legislation as a whole until some points can be clarified by the city attorney’s office.

Under Larose’s amendment, vacancies on elected boards would be filled this way: If there are at least six months and one day remaining in the term of a vacated office, there would be special election held within 45 days after the vacancy occurs. But if such a vacancy occurs within six months or less of the next regularly scheduled city election, then the vacancy would be filled in that election, Larose said.

He drafted the measure in response to legislation filed by Ward 5 Alderman David Lozeau, who wanted to employ a method by which vacancies on elected city panels would be filled by the second-place finisher for the seat that is vacated.

Lozeau amended his measure to state that for the runner-up to be eligible to take over the vacant seat, the difference between the second-place finisher and the person elected would have to be less than 25 percent of the total votes cast.

He said he included that provision so that the person who takes over the seat would have come at least fairly close to winning the seat during voting.

If there was no one who received the required number of votes, the vacancy would be filled by a special election to be held within 90 days of the creation of the vacancy.

“The intent of legislation is so the board isn’t quite as stacked in favor of the people on the board,’’ Lozeau said, adding that he was concerned about “cronyism’’ in City Hall.

Lozeau’s legislation was widely criticized by Larose and other aldermen. “I do not feel that simply because a person runs for office and comes in as runner-up that the seat that issaid.

Aldermen Steve Bolton and Aldermanic President Brian McCarthy both said Lozeau’s proposal could disenfranchise people who vote for winners in city elections and don’t care to see the next highest vote-getters sitting on elected boards.

“It’s not representative democracy,’’ Bolton said.

They said they know of no democracy that uses such a method and McCarthy noted that if such a process were employed on the federal level in 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, George McGovern, not Gerald Ford, would have been sworn in as the country’s chief executive.

“In that case, an appointed nominee better exemplified the will of the people at the time,’’ McCarthy said.

If the committee approves the legislation, it will then be sent to the full Board of Aldermen for consideration.

Moreover, because the measure would change the city charter, residents would have to vote on it in the next municipal election.