Depending on your point of view, the appointment of Jerald McQueeney to the South Portland School Board was probably either a routine municipal decision or a successful hijacking of the Board of Education.
McQueeney is one of several city residents who expressed interest in filling the board vacancy created in District 3 by the death of Michael Eastman. Because no one opposed Eastman on the Nov. 3 ballot, it was left to the City Council, in compliance with the City Charter, to appoint an interim replacement. Councilors unanimously approved what was presented by Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin as the School Board’s “request” for McQueeney’s appointment.
The problem is the School Board never requested the appointment of McQueeney or anyone else. There was no vetting or questioning of applicants by the board, and no formal, public vote or recommendation.
However, there were private telephone calls between Godin and School Board members to gain support for her selection of McQueeney. School Board members allowed the superintendent to usurp their authority. And they ignored the public’s right to know.
When city councilors voted on Nov. 16, with no discussion and a surprising level of disinterest, they effectively allowed the superintendent of schools to hand-pick her superior and potentially add an ally to the School Board.
Regardless of McQueeney’s qualifications, there’s no doubt critics of the School Department will see only conspiracy and ulterior motive – especially after they hear about McQueeney’s sympathy for the “vote no, too low” school budget crowd in Cape Elizabeth, where he previously lived.
And who can blame them? Would city councilors have allowed the city manager, their employee, to pick an interim councilor? Of course not. So why was the school chief allowed to decide who will hold an otherwise-elected seat on the Board of Education? The superintendent of schools should play no role in deciding who sits on the board that oversees her department, sets her salary and reviews her performance.
So was McQueeney’s appointment routine or a hijacking? Unfortunately, it appears, it was both.
We’re not judging McQueeney, who may prove to be well-qualified for the School Board. But School Board members abrogated their responsibility and empowered Godin, who misled city councilors, who rubber-stamped McQueeney’s appointment without the slightest investigation of his qualifications or the qualifications of two other candidates.
South Portland residents deserve better from their elected officials and superintendent of schools, and they deserve apologies from Godin, the board and the council. And to prevent future hijackings of the process, the City Charter should be amended to require special elections, not appointments, when vacant elected offices are filled.