Ex­tra-busy elec­tion cy­cle could await city

July 24 School Com­mit­tee ref­er­en­dum might lead to an­other race, more can­di­dates for vot­ers to con­sider

Woonsocket Call - - FRONT PAGE - By RUSS OLIVO ro­livo@woonsock­et­call.com

WOONSOCKET — It’s con­fus­ing enough keep­ing track of all the can­di­dates for elec­tive of­fice, but this sea­son a ref­er­en­dum ques­tion on restor­ing the School Com­mit­tee as an elec­tive body will de­mand even more at­ten­tion of vot­ers who want to make sure they show up at the bal­lot box on time – es­pe­cially if it’s ap­proved.

Can­di­dates for elec­tive of­fice, in­clud­ing state law­mak­ers, mayor and City Coun­cil, have al­ready filed for­mal pa­pers an­nounc­ing their in­ten­tions, set­ting up one cal­en­dar of events that cul­mi­nates in the gen­eral elec­tion on Nov. 6.

If ap­proved, how­ever, the ref­er­en­dum on the School Com­mit­tee, set for July 24, will es­tab­lish a dif­fer­ent track for can­di­dates for those seats – the first since 2011, be­fore vot­ers ap­proved a switch to the ex­ist­ing sys­tem of seat­ing mem­bers of the board by ap­point­ment.

The City Coun­cil ap­proved the ref­er­en­dum weeks ago af­ter re­peated at­tempts to fill all five seats on the School Com­mit­tee un­der the ex­ist­ing re­quire­ments of the City Char­ter failed. The by­laws cur­rently call for the chief ex­ec­u­tive to ap­point mem­bers of the panel, with the ap­proval of the City Coun­cil. But af­ter the two-year terms of School Com­mit­tee Vice Chair­man Don­ald Burke and Com­mit­tee­woman Su­san Pawlina ex­pired last year, Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and a ma­jor­ity of the City Coun­cil have been able to agree on fill­ing only one of them.

A ma­jor stick­ing point in­volved Burke’s suc­ces­sor. A vet­eran Mas­sachusetts ed­u­ca­tor, Burke en­joyed the sup­port of fel­low School Com­mit­tee mem­bers, par­ents and ad­min­is­tra­tors in the Woonsocket Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment, but when mem­bers of the City Coun­cil in­sisted that he be reap­pointed, Baldelli-Hunt re­fused, leav­ing the va­cancy in stale­mate.

Ul­ti­mately, the coun­cil re­sponded by calling for the July 24 ref­er­en­dum, in which vot­ers are be­ing asked to res­ur­rect the elec­tive sys­tem of choos­ing mem­bers that, just six years ago, in an ear­lier ref­er­en­dum, they chose to shoot down. At the time, mu­nic­i­pal fi­nances were in chaos and a state Bud­get Com­mis­sion was in place to pre­vent the city from laps­ing

into bank­ruptcy – a sit­u­a­tion that was blamed on a lack of fis­cal over­sight in the WED.

The switch made Woonsocket the only other city in the state, be­sides Prov­i­dence, with a wholly ap­pointive school com­mit­tee. North Smith­field op­er­ates with a hy­brid, in­clud­ing five elected mem­bers, and two ap­pointees, one selected by the town man­ager, the other by the Town Coun­cil.

The ques­tion now be­fore vot­ers is this:

“Shall the City of Woonsocket Home Rule Char­ter, Chap­ter XIV, en­ti­tled, ‘De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion,’ be amended to pro­vide for a five-per­son school com­mit­tee of which mem­bers are to be elected by the qual­i­fied elec­tors of the City for a term of two years, or un­til a suc­ces­sor is duly ap­pointed?”

If vot­ers re­ject the propo­si­tion, the rest of the elec­tion cy­cle will play out in routine fash­ion. As­sum­ing all the declarants suc­cess­fully re­turn nom­i­na­tion pa­pers – the bal­lot isn’t due to be cer­ti­fied un­til late next week – there will be a three-way pri­mary to peel off one of the con­tenders for mayor be­fore the gen­eral elec­tion in Novem­ber. Busi­ness­man Al­bert Beau­par­lant and Al­bert G. Brien, a for­mer state law­maker and City Coun­cil pres­i­dent, have both taken out pa­pers to challenge Baldelli-Hunt, who is seek­ing her third term.

Four­teen can­di­dates for City Coun­cil have also taken out pa­pers, in­clud­ing most of the in­cum­bents. There are also sev­eral con­tested races for state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and state sen­a­tor in dis­tricts that cover Woonsocket.

If the ref­er­en­dum is ap­proved, how­ever, the re­sult will make for a very busy se­quence of events at the polls that will re­quire much more voter par­tic­i­pa­tion than usual. Any­one think­ing of run­ning for School Com­mit­tee will have to stay on his or her toes as well.

While all the other gen­eral elec­tion can­di­dates are al­ready in the queue, the in­take process will have to be­gin all over again to kick-start the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of can­di­dates for School Com­mit­tee. First – just as ev­ery­one else seek­ing pub­lic of­fice must – they’ll have to file dec­la­ra­tion pa­pers.

Board of Can­vassers Man­ager Estelle Cor­riveau says that un­der leg­is­la­tion ap­proved by the City Coun­cil, two days have been set aside for prospec­tive can­di­dates to do so – Aug. 22-23.

The Board of Can­vassers is sched­uled to meet on July 16 to cer­tify the bal­lot for all the other can­di­dates – too soon to ac­com­mo­date prospec­tive school can­di­dates should the ref­er­en­dum pass. School board hope­fuls will have to col­lect sig­na­tures for nom­i­na­tion pa­pers and be cer­ti­fied later.

With five po­ten­tial va­can­cies, up to 10 can­di­dates could be cer­ti­fied for School Com­mit­tee with­out a pri­mary. But what hap­pens if there are more? That means the city will have to hold a free­stand­ing pri­mary to whit­tle down the field. If nec­es­sary, the pri­mary for school of­fi­cials will be held on Oct. 2 – al­most three weeks af­ter an ex­pected pri­mary for mayor, on Sept. 13.

Cog­nizant of the chal­lenges the packed elec­tion cy­cle might pose, the City Coun­cil ap­proved a stepped-up cam­paign of me­dia ad­ver­tis­ing for the ref­er­en­dum to make sure vot­ers are up to speed. The coun­cil or­dered a series of ad­ver­tise­ments be­gin­ning three weeks prior to the ref­er­en­dum in all the usual lo­cales, in­clud­ing The Call, the Val­ley Breeze and ra­dio sta­tions WOON and WNRI, ac­cord­ing to Cor­riveau.

It isn’t un­til af­ter the pos­si­ble Oc­to­ber pri­mary that the two elec­tion tracks dove­tail again for all the can­di­dates, in­clud­ing those look­ing to land a spot on the School Com­mit­tee. Though Sec­re­tary of State Nel­lie Gor­bea is calling it a “spe­cial” elec­tion for the can­di­dates for School Com­mit­tee, they will ap­pear on the same gen­eral elec­tion bal­lot as all oth­ers, on Nov. 6 – as­sum­ing the ref­er­en­dum passes on July 24.

Po­ten­tially, that means vot­ers could go to the polls four times be­tween July 24 and Elec­tion Day – twice the usual num­ber of vis­its in a stan­dard elec­tion year with a pri­mary.

Cor­riveau said all of the city’ s polling places – that’s a dozen – will be open for ref­er­en­dum. Each time the city opens the polls, it costs about $16,500 for hir­ing tem­po­rary work­ers to staff the lo­ca­tions.

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