Brice, Mazzaro to be named to open school board seats; how board voted is unclear

Brice, Mazzaro to be named to open school board seats; how board voted is unclear

Architect John Brice, a former school board president, and Vincent Mazzaro, chief operating officer for Samuel A. Ramirez & Co., will be appointed to two vacant Pelham Board of Education seats on Aug. 28 at 8:15 pm in the Pelham Middle School Library, the Pelham Public Schools said in a press release.

Brice and Mazzaro were selected by the school board after interviews with 11 candidates who applied for two seats made vacant when Dr. Christa Acampora and Tom Imperato resigned in July. Each term will run for the remainder of the year and will be up for regular election in May.

It’s unclear at this time how the school board is able to say Brice and Mazzaro will be approved without the board having violated the state Open Meetings Law by voting on the candidates in private.

A New York Supreme Court has ruled that “appointments to vacant elected positions can not be discussed or voted on in executive session,” said Kristin O’Neill, assistant director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.

In Gordon v. Village of Monticello, the Supreme Court in Sullivan County said the Open Meetings Law does not permit an executive session to be held to discuss filling a vacancy in an elective office. “Given the obvious importance of protecting the voter’s franchise, this section should be interpreted as applying only to employees of the municipality and not to appointments to fill the unexpired terms of elected officials,” according to a case summary on the Committee on Open Government’s website. The decision was affirmed at the appellate division.

“To be clear, no official vote has been taken and the formal appointments are anticipated to be made Tuesday night,” said spokesman Alex Wolff. “In keeping with past precedent, similar to our announcements about the middle school principal, superintendent, etc., we chose to announce the expected candidates prior to their appointments to be completely transparent with our community.”

While the comment covers an “official” vote in executive session, it doesn’t deal with how the board knows it will vote one way or the other ahead of time or the discussions that were held in executive session about candidates, both of which the court ruled are improper under the Open Meetings Law.

In the press release, School Board President Sue Bratone Childs said, “On behalf of the board, I am thrilled to welcome John and Vincent to their new roles. Both the number of applicants and their breadth of experience made the decision-making process very difficult and I would like to thank everyone who took the time to apply. The board extensively discussed the specific type of experience we need this year and unanimously felt that these two candidates will best complement the strengths of our current board members. We believe that John and Vincent add specific skills that will make us a stronger team as we begin implementation of the bond projects, develop a new strategic plan and continue our roles as fiduciaries of the district’s resources.”

Brice is a 32-year resident of Pelham and served on the board from 2001-2010, including four years as president. He has most recently served on the Bond Steering Committee, “where his professional expertise proved valuable during the pre-bond feasibility study,” the school district said. He has also served on the Pelham Manor Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board, as well as the Village of Pelham’s Architectural Review Board.

Mazzaro is a certified public accountant. “He has deep financial experience including a strong understanding of the issues surrounding municipal finance,” said the release. “Throughout his 24 years as a resident of Pelham, Mr. Mazzaro has been heavily involved in youth sports, was a member of the Town Recreation Commission and previously served as Treasurer for Friends of Pelham Sports, which spearheaded the fundraising effort to install a turf field at the Glover complex.”