SEABROOK — The late winter storm set to hit today might be inconsequential compared to the post-election controversy swirling over how to fill the vacancy created when recently elected selectman’s candidate Eric Small declined to serve due to health issues.
On Thursday, two days after beating five others to win the seat, Small delivered a letter to Town Clerk Bonnie Fowler, saying he would not serve due to health concerns. Learning of the situation on Friday morning, selectmen met in non-public emergency session with town counsel to consider their options, since Small was scheduled to be sworn in at 5 that afternoon, according to Selectman Aboul Khan. Khan said on Friday that selectmen are legally allowed to meet in non-public session with their attorney without posting the meeting beforehand.
Khan said he and selectmen Ed Hess and Brendan Kelly, under the advice of Town Counsel Robert Ciandella, consulted Seabrook’s town charter to see how it recommends addressing vacancies in town offices. Although Kelly lost his bid for re-election, he was still officially a selectman until his replacement took the oath of office.
Under the Seabrook town charter, when a vacancy occurs in any town office, unless state law stipulates otherwise, the Board of Selectmen may appoint someone to fill the vacancy until the next election, “provided that whenever possible the selectmen shall appoint the runner-up of the previous election.” If there is no runner-up, the charter continues, “then the selectmen shall appoint an eligible person to serve,” but again, only until the next election.
According to the town clerk’s official tally, Small was the winner of last Tuesday’s town election with 327 votes, retired Seabrook teacher Raymond Smith was the runner-up with 279 votes, followed by candidates Maria Y. Brown with 176, Kelly with 152, Paula J. Wood with 92 and Paul Knowles with 59.