Joanne Giuffrida's departure from the city school board puts her fellow board members in a potentially contentious position.
Granted, the fractious board, which has brawled over the departure of former superintendent Cliff Janey and its own bylaws during the past year, has been a powder keg of conflicting personalities for some time now. But the prospect of naming an interim replacement for Giuffrida this year --- an election year during which four seats on the board are up for grabs --- could end the relative calm in inter-board relations that followed the hiring of new super Manny Rivera last winter.
The remaining board members have a set path to follow. According to board member Rob Brown, a lawyer, state law stipulates that in the event of a mid-term vacancy on Rochester's board, board members have 30 days to nominate and approve a candidate to fill the post. The nominee must be of the same political party as the departing commissioner of schools. Giuffrida, like the rest of the board, is a Democrat.
If a majority of the board (four members) votes to approve the nominee's interim appointment, he or she would serve until December 31. "If the vacancy is not filled by the board within the 30-day period --- that is to say, if there's a disagreement, for example, or if the board doesn't get around to it, or whatever --- then the president may appoint a person from same political party as the person who vacated the office," Brown says. The current board president is Shirley Thompson, who's also running for re-election this year.
Giuffrida, who's been hired as the city school district's human resources director, will leave her seat June 9.
It's still early in the process, but board member Jim Bowers, an ally of Giuffrida's during the board's recent battles, sees three options for filling Giuffrida's seat. One option is to appoint a candidate who's already running for one of the board's four open seats. At its May 17 convention, county Dems endorsed Malik Evans, David Perez, former board member Willa Powell, and Thompson.
When she announced her resignation May 14, Giuffrida endorsed Ibero Investors Corp. head Domingo Garcia for her seat, but Garcia did not garner the Dems' endorsement. Several other Democratic candidates are also vying to run on the Dem line this fall, making a primary likely.
Appointing a current candidate "has pitfalls in and of itself," Bowers says. "That would be a tacit endorsement of a candidate by a majority of the board," he says, and given the likelihood of a primary, that "could create friction on the board."
Though, as Brown suspects, most candidates will be interested in landing the interim position, serving on the embattled board may not be in their best interest come November. "I think there is a little bit of a dichotomy here," says Molly Clifford, chair of the Dems' county committee. "It can be either a good thing or a bad thing to be seen as an incumbent."
A second option would be to pick someone who isn't running this year. And Bowers believes the board could also decide not to fill the position. State education law does not specifically preclude that option.
Though he doesn't expect the nomination process to be divisive, Bowers says, "I would hope there would not be any undue stalling or delay [in the nominating process] in order to allow the president to make a default decision. If anything like that appeared, it would clearly reopen major wounds that, at the moment, are scabbed over."