By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer
Three Board of Education candidates including an incumbent are having their nominating petitions rejected because of a Rome school district error in listing the deadline for filing petitions.
The district had posted a deadline of Friday, April 27, but it should have been Wednesday, April 25, under state education law requiring small-city districts’ deadline at least 20 days before the public election, Superintendent Jeffrey P. Simons said today. The election for school board candidates is May 15.
While two candidates submitted petitions by Wednesday, the district’s deadline error affects three others who submitted petitions Friday: incumbent Jennifer Geiger of 207 W. Sycamore St.; Ken Metz of 6445 Wager Drive in Lee; and Karen Fontana of 6451 Emerald Circle in Lee. Up for election are three board seats, each for full 3-year terms.
The three affected candidates were being given a letter today from board member and school district clerk Christine Esposito stating that she is denying their petitions, said Simons; the move is up to the district clerk under state education law, which does "not give the board authority to act on this," he said. He said the district’s attorney also was to be present when the letters were presented to the candidates at the district office.
The district discovered the mistake Friday afternoon. As a result, the only names on the ballot would be nine-year incumbent Mary Davis of 404 S. George St. and challenger Lenny Giardino of 1305 Cedarbrook Drive, who filed petitions by the correct deadline.
"Unfortunately, I am required to reject any petitions filed after the deadline established by state law, regardless of the reason they were filed late. Accordingly, I must and hereby do reject your petition for candidacy...." said the letter by Esposito to the other three candidates. "The district sincerely regrets the mistake on its part that caused this problem."
The letter also said, "....as with any other qualified resident of the district, you may still run for the Board of Education seat by campaigning as a write-in candidate."
District officials are checking with the state Education Department to see if any solution could still allow the three candidates’ names to appear on the election ballot, said Simons. But he did not know if that would be permitted.
The three candidates conceivably could appeal to the state regarding their petitions’ denial, said Simons. But he did not know whether an appeal would lead to a decision in time for the May 15 election. Board President Patricia Riedel said "three people could be hurt who have done nothing wrong."
The petition deadline issue involves "a mistake made by the district...no fault of the current board or the candidates," Simons emphasized. It was "clearly our fault," he said, and "I accept responsibility on behalf of the district."
The district’s business office had publicized the April 27 deadline in its election notices based on a preliminary document last summer from the BOCES-affiliated Questar agency based in the Albany area, Simons explained. But he said an updated document was later issued listing the correct requirement. He emphasized "I can’t fault Questar BOCES," noting that district officials did not fully check into the deadline until Friday.
Simons said he has asked for assistance from Jacklin Starks, superintendent of Madison-Oneida BOCES which includes Rome among its component districts. Starks is in Albany this week, and will try to contact the state education commissioner or assistant commissioner, he said. The district is "seeking a solution to allow the names to be placed on the ballot," he commented.
Incumbent Geiger is nearing the end of her first full term on the board. The board has nine elected seats overall, and members are unpaid.