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Claremont Fills School Board; Heated Discussion Amongst Members

Claremont — Andrew O’Hearne, a Claremont police officer and Democratic state rep, was chosen to replace Kristin Kenniston on the School Board in a 5-1 vote Wednesday night after a heated discussion that lasted more than an hour.

Board members Richard Madigan and Becky Ferland switched their votes from an earlier 3-3 tie and voted with Brian Rapp, John Napsey and Chairman Richard Seaman. Only board vice chairman Robert Picard supported the other candidate, Paul LaCasse.

Before the discussion began on filling the vacancy of Kenniston, who resigned in May for work-related reasons, Picard set a contentious tone by criticizing Rapp for several things, including missing more than 30 percent of the meetings in a year. He also said Rapp was wrong to contact the superintendent and ask a legal question on how a board member is appointed if the board cannot break the 3-3 deadlock.

But Picard’s main gripe was an interview Rapp gave to the Eagle Times in which he characterized LaCasse’s voting record when he was a Republican legislator as anti-education and anti-children. He said it was politically motivated because Rapp is active in Democratic state politics.

Picard said board policy prohibits members from speaking for the board to the media, something Rapp said is wrong. He said he was only speaking in his capacity on the board, not for the entire board, and defended his comments in the interview. As an elected official, Rapp said it is his role to point out what he believes is an inconsistency in LaCasse’s record and his desire to be on the school board.

“I would not be doing my job if I ignored the record and acted like it didn’t happen,” Rapp said. “Someone’s public record is not a hit job. People deserve to know about it.”

Picard again charged that Rapp can’t speak for the board, which Rapp denied doing and declared he has every right to give his opinion to the media.

“No you don’t,” said Picard.

“You cannot shut up an elected official,” Rapp shot back. “My role as a school board member does not end here.”

When the board got down to discussing who to appoint — O’Hearne or LaCasse — strong opinions were expressed for both candidates. When the board voted 3-3 at an earlier meeting, word went out to solicit the opinions of voters. Each board member provided some of what they were told and it was clear the majority, although a very small percentage of voters, favored O’Hearne.

But Ferland was not convinced. She worried that O’Hearne, like Rapp, a firefighter, may have to miss meetings because of his profession.

“If both needed to be somewhere, it would be detrimental to the board,” Ferland said.

A motion to appoint O’Hearne ended in a 3-3 tie and Chairman Seaman said he did not want to give the responsibility of appointing the new member to the City Council, which by law would be the next step.

“This isn’t their job and I would like to have further conversation,” Seaman said.

Rapp and Seaman continued with more criticism of LaCasse’s Concord voting record, including support for private school vouchers, ending state aid to education and repealing parts of the anti-bullying law.

“I cannot get by his position as a state legislator,” Seaman said. “It is not at all consistent with the strategy of this board.”

But Picard said LaCasse was demonstrating fiscal responsibility when he voted spending cuts at a time when the state was facing a large budget deficit. He also said LaCasse gave better and more accurate answers to board questions about his views on education.

When Napsey said he supported O’Hearne because he would be willing to work as a team on the board, Picard said they would be appointing a “good little foot soldier” who agrees with everything the board says.

Madigan then made the motion to appoint O’Hearne and it passed.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at poglclmt@gmail.com.