At their regular meeting on July 13, the BH-BL Board of Education will consider a proposal by Board President David Versocki to appoint recently retired board member Patrick Ziegler to fill the remaining 10 months of a three-year board term vacated by veteran member John Blowers. After 17 years, Blowers resigned from the board in June 2022 after moving out of the district.
According to BH-BL Board Policy 2110 and NYS Public Officers Law, the school board is obligated to fill an unexpected vacancy within 90 days—either by appointment or special election. (If this obligation is not met, the Capital Region BOCES District Superintendent is authorized to fill the vacancy for the district.)
Versocki, along with the other board members, have received many emails and phone calls over the past several weeks regarding the vacant seat. All emails received individually were shared among board members. Within the emails, a number of residents requested that the candidate who finished third in the May 2022 vote be appointed to fill the vacancy. Numerous other residents shared their viewpoint that if there had been three seats open at the election the results would likely have been different. Most of those individuals also urged the board to conduct a special election rather than appoint the third place candidate.
As part of the process, the board has researched the logistics and cost of holding a special election for a short-term vacancy. District officials estimate that a special election will cost between $25,000 and $30,000. Based upon voting machine availability and statutory timelines, the election could be held sometime in the fall. Any eligible resident would be able to run and must adhere to the same requirements necessary to run for a full term board seat. The elected candidate would fill the vacant seat until May 2023 but would need to run again and win re-election next spring to continue in the seat.
After reviewing all of the residents’ feedback, cost analysis, and guidance from the district’s counsel, Versocki is proposing the board appoint Patrick Ziegler to fill the short-term vacancy. Zielger has indicated his willingness to take on the interim appointment if approved by the full board.
“We know there isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution,” says Versocki. “We do, however, feel that appointing a veteran board member to carry out the remainder of a colleague’s term is a very practical decision that addresses the many concerns raised by residents.”
Ziegler, who just completed his sixth year on the board, is well qualified to fill the position. He has been elected twice by the community, undergone school board member training, and also has a vast knowledge of board governance. If his appointment is approved, Ziegler would take office immediately and the term would run until the next regularly scheduled school board election on May 16, 2023. After that election, the non-incumbent candidate with the highest number of votes would take office immediately and serve out the remainder of the 2022-23 school year (2 months) and then a full three-year term.
Along with emails regarding how best to fill the vacant seat, the board also received questions regarding the timing and reasons for the vacancy. Last school year, there had been executive session discussions with school attorneys regarding options to address consecutive board meeting absences, but the board was unsure at the time of election that this would lead to a vacancy.
“We didn’t know John would be leaving the board until he informed us all in late May and made the public announcement at the June 1 meeting,” says Versocki. “John has given 17 years as a board member to BH-BL and played an integral role in so many decisions impacting our district. We know this decision was very personal and difficult for him, and we wish him well on his future endeavors.”
The board will offer residents an opportunity to express their thoughts on this proposal and will discuss the issue among themselves in public session prior to a vote. The Annual Reorganizational meeting will begin at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, July 13, followed by the regular meeting later in the evening. Both meetings will be broadcast on the district’s YouTube channel. A link will be posted on the district website the day of the meeting.