BOA appointment process under scrutiny

On May 1, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Harry Kane

Alderman appointments could come to an end if enough Somerville residents have their say.

Proposed legislation to amend the alderman’s “vacant seat tradition” could mean a change in the Somerville Charter. The “vacant seat” policy is currently used to appoint a new board member after an alderman retires early, with less than a year left of service.

Typically, an alderman is elected to the position and serves out his or her full term. In certain scenarios, when an alderman is unwell or is no longer able to serve the residents of their ward effectively, a special election is held. However, an exception to that rule allows a retiring alderman to appoint a replacement if he or she is stepping down from office with less than a year of service left.

Two aldermen have recently stepped down, and have appointed new members to relieve them. This has caused some Somerville residents to voice their criticism of the system. The Board of Alderman has recognized that changes need to be made in the process.

Over the course of the past 65 years, seven resignations have not triggered a special election, but have resulted in appointments. Five of those have occurred since 1994, and two within the last year alone.

Alderman-At-Large William A. White Jr. and fellow board members have approved a petition to discuss an amendment of the Somerville Charter regarding the filling of vacant seats of aldermen with less than one year of their term remaining. This item has been sent to the Legislative Matters Committee for discussion.

“The process has to change,” said Alderman At-Large Dennis M. Sullivan. “Nobody owns their seat. You serve at the pleasure of the electorate.”

Ward 4 Alderman Tony Lafuente feels the voters have a fundamental right to choose the aldermen. “We need to come up with a system that is fair.”

Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah L. Gewirtz’s has concerns. “What I’d like to see us do,” said Alderman Gewirtz, “is move to a system where the Board of Aldermen can of course take the recommendation of the leaving, exiting alderman, but where the community has some say in the process as well.”

Gewirtz doesn’t have a prescribed idea of how the system should work, but she does think that the “process needs to be much more transparent.”

After Alderman Roche stepped down, Gewirtz proposed a rules change. Recently Alderman O’Donovan retired and “picked who he would like to see come after him,” she said.

“Courtney O’Keefe is a very active person in the community. She clearly cares about Ward 5,” said Gewirtz, about former Alderman O’Donovan’s appointed replacement. “My intention is to support her, but at the same time I feel like Alderman Lafuente, in that I don’t want to be doing this again.”

“I know there are many people that are concerned about this and are concerned about our process,” she said. “They’re concerned about their voice…in a democracy. We elect people in this country.”

Some possible solutions might include “an elected official, such as someone from the School Committee” or “an appointed non-elected official who promises not to run for that seat in the next election,” wrote Ward 3 resident Lynn Weissman. This appointment process is “non-democratic” in nature, Weissman also wrote.

Chair of the Progressive Democrats of Somerville, Katie Wallace said, “What I’m most concerned about is aldermen running for office, winning their elections, and then leaving before their term is up.

According to Wallace, the appointment by the successors “sets people up to be incumbents when they have not run for office.”

“I’m wondering what hardships they are experiencing, that they cannot fulfill their term which the voters elected them for,” said Wallace.


9 Responses to “BOA appointment process under scrutiny”

  1. John says:

    “I’m wondering what hardships they are experiencing, that they cannot fulfill their term which the voters elected them for,” said Wallace.

    That is absolutely none of your business. If an elected official can’t serve their people-they should resign at their will.

  2. Josh says:

    Ward 5 has seen the bulk of the appointments mentioned in the article. Joe Macaluso appointed Stan Koty who appointed Sean O’Donovan who appointed Courtney O’Keefe. I have no problem with Miss O’Keefe, however, as a Ward 5 resident I am unhappy that the appointment process does not include any ‘vetting’ of the appointee. Where is her resume? What does she do for a living? These are some of the questions that residents deserve to have answered when someone is appointed. I think that when there is less than 1 year left of an Alderman’s term, an at-large Alderman should be appointed to look over the ward. The at-large Alderman can represent the ward’s residents, and respond to questions or complaints. This avoids entirely what has come to resemble a convenient way to put someone you are aligned with into a seat making them an incumbent.

  3. A. Moore says:

    People do not take their responsability seriously. They worked and got elected to that job and then leave without fulfilling their obligations. Shows you their real charactor. Then just hand the elected job to anyone they want? It’s very sad.

  4. amen says:

    this has changed from a solution to a sudden need to retire, into a tactical move to get your person in there with no contest. they don’t even give a reason anymore. haven’t heard anything that someone couldn’t wait out the few months left.

  5. Hi Josh,

    You can see my resume here: and I’m always available to chat via email or phone should you have anymore questions.

    Courtney O’Keefe
    Ward 5 Alderman

  6. Anne says:

    amen, I totally agree. Noone would argue that there are circumstances that would necessitate stepping down before your term is over. But the frequency, especially of late, leads you to believe that it is indeed a tactic employed to continue the seat with someone you have handpicked. Serve your term, handpick the next candidate, and work tirelessly to get that person elected. I live in Ward 5 and still know absolutely nothing about Courtney O’Keefe. Had she run a campaign for the office I would at least have an opportunity to speak with her, and learn a little more about her.

  7. John says:

    Anne: I would email Courtney and get to know her if you do not want to wait until she knocks doors on your street. She is very personable and responds quickly. She will be getting my vote in November and after you meet her I guarantee she will get yours.

  8. A.Moore says:

    A little after the fact now John, now that she is in. It’s really not about Courtney if she is good or bad as much as the process. One can slide by us with little complaint but with 3 it just put things over the edge. The job should never be handed to someone running for that office. Again, not about Courtney. Personally I don’t know if this helps her or not when she does run. Some people are turned off by this, others it won’t matter. The board now has to make new rules so this does not get out of hand again. Too many are complaining about how this went for the last 3 people.

  9. SomerHome says:

    A little digging show that the actual reasons for each of the early departures have little to do with the stated reasons. For example, Bill Roche’s deal with the mayor sets him up to pull over a million bucks in retirement funds from the city, if he lives out his life expectancy. Sweet.

    And Courtney, could you please explain to the readers why you deleted your jobs at St. Ann’s and Mellon from your resume? They represent a substantial part of your work life.

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