January 26, 2021

An appeal challenging a resolution of a board of a library truncating the term of office of a member of the board sustained by the Commissioner of Education

Following the election of a candidate [Petitioner] seeking a five-year term as a member of the board of a library [Board] the Board determined that the Petitioner “was not qualified to hold the position of [t]rustee” and certified her opponent ... as the winner of the five-year term." Petitioner challenged the Board's action in an appeal to the Commissioner of Education pursuant to Education Law §310.

Interim Commissioner Betty A. Rosa sustained Petitioner’s appeal and ordered, among other things, that the Board “appoint petitioner to fill the seat on the board of trustees for which she was the successful candidate in the April 2, 2019 election.”*

The Board subsequently passed a resolution [Resolution] appointing Petitioner "to the vacant [t]rustee seat" ... until the next [l]ibrary election ... at which time an election [would] be conducted for the remainder of the term for the aforesaid [t]rustee position."

Petitioner appealed the Board's action, contending:

1. The Resolution was arbitrary and capricious insofar as it appointed her to the position of trustee only until the April 2020 election; and  

2. Pursuant to the Commissioner’s order in her earlier appeal she was entitled to be appointed for the full five-year term. 

The Board, in rebuttal, argued, among other things, that Petitioner has failed to establish that the resolution was arbitrary, capricious, or in violation of law.

Initially addressing a number of procedural issues raised by the Board, the Commissioner rejected the Board's assertion that:

 [1] Petitioner’s appeal “should have been filed as an application to reopen instead of a new petition” and 

[2] Petitioner’s request that the Commissioner “clarify” the prior decision amounts to a request to reopen such decision and, therefore, this appeal is improper because {Petitioner] did not apply for reopening within 30 days of the date of the decision,"

The Commissioner said that Petitioner "does not seek to reopen the Commissioner’s Decision No. 17,785" but appeals the Board's Resolution and declined to dismiss the appeal on that basis.

As to the Board's assertion that Petitioner failed to name a necessary party - a potential candidate for election to the Board -- the Commissioner observed that "A party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such."

Here, however, the Commissioner explained that an intention of a possible candidate to run for Petitioner’s seat in a future election "is inherently speculative and does not secure an actual, existing right in such seat," citing Appeal of Kennelly, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,137.

Turning to the merits of Petitioner's appeal, the Commissioner held that Petitioner  had "established that [the Board's] resolution is arbitrary and capricious and that [Petitioner] is entitled to the relief requested," noting that Decision No. 17,785 "unambiguously concluded that [Petitioner] was eligible to serve on [the Board] and had been the successful candidate for a five-year term in the [relevant] election." 

Based on the plain language of that decision, the Commissioner held that there was no basis to conclude that Petitioner is entitled to anything less than the full five-year term to which she was elected. Rejecting other arguments advanced by the Board in support of its position, the Commissioner concluded that Petitioner was entitled to a five-year term on the Board ending June 30, 2024.

Referencing Education Law §226[4], the Commissioner advised the Board that "any future noncompliance with this decision or the prior decision may constitute a neglect of duty or a refusal to carry into effect the educational purposes of the [library]."

* See 59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,785.

Click here to access the text of the Commissioner's decision.

 

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