Vote on Board of Education Chair Stymied by Tie Vote in Flashback to 2016

Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting at Central Middle School started out with a vote for new officers, starting with chair.

The current chair, Kathleen Stowe, a Democrat, explained her reasons for not seeking another term.

“After five years on the board, and three years in leadership it’s time for me to hand the reigns to others,” she said. “While I have been honored with the trust of the community and my colleagues I believe it is important to encourage new people to step forward. As an investor and an executive myself I believe a board should develop and sustain a strong team.”

A year ago, in 2021, at the annual elections, Christina Downey nominated Ms Stowe and Joe Kelly nominated himself.

“I’d like to nominate myself. I’ve not prepared a speech, but I’m a really nice guy,” he said at the time.

The board, which is comprised of 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats, avoided a tie vote when Republican Karen Kowalski crossed party lines and voted with Democrats.

For a nominee to become chair of the board requires 5 out of 8 votes. There is a statute that kicks the decision over to the Board of Selectmen if the Board of Education fails to elect a chair with five votes out of eight.

Today, the Board of Selectmen is comprised of two Republicans and one Democrat. Should the Selectmen choose a chair, presumably it would be a Republican.

As far as anyone can recall, this has happened only once, in 2016.

In 2016 the board had a tie vote at their Nov 17 meeting.

They had a second tie vote on Dec 1.

On December 8, 2016, they attempted a third time to pick a chair, and again had a tie vote.

The decision moved to the three-member Board of Selectmen, led at the time by Republican Peter Tesei, with Republican John Toner and Democrat Drew Marzullo.

The Board of Selectmen voted to pick Peter Sherr as chair.

Board of Education Chair Kathleen Stowe counted the ballots in a vote for a new chair. The nominees were Democrat Christina Downey and Republican Joe Kelly. Nov 16, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

And so on Wednesday night, with politics were on some people’s minds, the hope was to avoid a tie.

Just a week earlier there was a historic Democratic sweep of all three State Rep positions.

And, just hours before the BOE meeting, the lone Republican in the Greenwich Delegation, State Senator Ryan Fazio in the 36th district, learned he had retained his seat by just 98 votes after a recount.

Christina Downey vs Joe Kelly

Ms Stowe nominated Christina Downey. She said Downey’s three children all attended Greenwich Schools from K-12, and that she started volunteering in 1999 when her oldest child entered Greenwich Schools. She served on the Riverside PTA including as president, and on GHS PTA. She was also a PTA Council officer, serving as Treasurer.

“I always call Christina for advice when it comes to my own children,” Stowe said.

Ms Stowe said Ms Downey has served on nearly every committee on the board, including Negotiations and the chaired both the Budget and Policy & Governance committees.

Also, she currently serves on two building committees.

“That experience will be invaluable because a large focus this coming year will be the building of Central Middle School,” Stowe said.

She was also a member of the RTM where she served on the Education committee, and previously was on the board of the Junior League and the Riverside Association.

Ms Stowe joked that Ms Downey’s experience was so lengthy it might be time for a water break, before adding that Ms Downey has both an MBA and a law degree.

“Her understanding of policies and procedures will serve her well, as I hope the next chair of our board,” Ms Stowe added.

BOE members Christina Downey, Joe Kelly and Laura Kostin. Nov 16, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
BOE member Cody Kittle at the Nov 16, 2022 Board of Education meeting. Photo: Leslie Yager
BOE member Dr. Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony at the Nov 16, 2022 Board of Education meeting. Photo: Leslie Yager

From there, Republican Cody Kittle nominated Joe Kelly.

Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony seconded the nomination.

“Christina is great, so I don’t want this to be like, my nominee is better than yours,” Kittle joked. “I think Joe is a pillar of our community.”

“Why does this guy do all of this stuff, because so much of this is painful. And he’s very selfless.”

“Joe strikes me as someone who is kind of a maverick,” Kittle continued. “He is non-partisan in a good way. He is a team builder – a community oriented person. He’s a successful business person, and has a great sense of independence and an eye toward healthy governance. I think he’s really devoted to the town and the schools, and is someone who can be an effective leader for us all.”

Ms Stowe distributed blank pieces of paper and asked each member to include the word “chair” with their vote in anticipation of votes for other officers.

Ms Stowe collected the ballots and read each one aloud.

The four Democrats voted for Ms Downey. The four Republicans voted for Mr. Kelly, resulting in a tie vote.

“I guess my speech was for naught because I remain chair,” Ms Stowe said. “As a result we will not go to any of the next positions, because you do not do anything until you have a chair.”

Mr. Mercanti-Anthony asked if there could be a revote.

“In the spirit of bi-partisanship – because we know it’s 4-4 and this goes to First Selectman Camillo and I think we know where he’s going to lie, I’d like to call for a re-vote so we can reconsider in the hopes we can move forward as a board in electing a new chair.”

“I see no need to do that at this time,” Ms Stowe said. “We have 30 days.”

In 2016, following three tie votes for a BOE chair, the decision went to the Board of Selectmen. Pictured: Peter Sherr, selected by the Board of Selectmen as chair of the Board of Education in a historic vote at Town Hall, with Lauren Rabin. Dec, 22, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

See also:

Board of Selectmen Install Peter Sherr as Board of Ed Chair; Laura Erickson is Out Dec 22, 20216