SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland City Council on Nov. 13 have chosen Mary House to fill a vacant seat on the school board, pending confirmation at its next meeting, held Monday after The Current’s deadline.

Following a two-hour interview session with six applicants at last week’s workshop, the five councilors present voiced a preference for House, 41, of Elderberry Drive. If confirmed, House will serve until November 2013, when a special election will be conducted to fill the final year on a three-year term vacated by Jeffrey Selser.

Selser resigned his at-large seat 10 months into his term to accept a coaching job at Mahoney Middle School. South Portland’s city charter gives councilors the power to appoint an interim to fill vacant school board seats until the next regular election. According to City Clerk Susan Mooney, an election could not be held this year because Selser’s Sept. 7 resignation did not leave enough time for candidate petitioning and absentee balloting before the Nov. 6.

The other applicants to replace Jeffrey Selser on the school board, along with House, were former school board chairman Ralph Baxter Jr., retired S.D. Warren research chemist Roger Allen, Southern Maine Community College’s Director of Student Life Tiffanie Bentley, Delhaize America supply chain manager Pam Koonz Canarie and Jeffrey McDonald, a sales manager at Welch Signage in Scarborough.

Monday’s Council meeting took place after deadline for this week’s holiday issue of The Current. The results of the vote on House’s nomination can be found at keepmecurrent.com.

House, a project manager at Woodard & Curran, a Portland-based civil engineering firm, appeared to rise to the top based on her background in the sciences. The city refused to release resumes and letters of intent submitted by the applicants. However, House’s profile on the professional networking site, LinkedIn, states her 15 years at Woodard & Curran is backed by a master’s degree in environmental science and engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bowdoin College.

“Right now we are really moving forward on science and math,” said Councilor Maxine Beecher, herself a former school board member. “I thought Mary House brought the pieces I felt are needed as additions to the board.”

House has two children in the South Portland school system, both enrolled at Dyer Elementary. After her nomination, House said she had considered running for the open District 4 seat on the school board, but that she “did not find out about it in time” to gather signatures for ballot access.

Because that race drew no candidates, the incumbent, James Gilboy, who had previously announced his intent to retire, staged a write-in campaign. Of 14,484 ballots cast in the general election, 1,124 included a write-in for the District 4 race. However, voter choices were dispersed enough Gilboy prevailed with just 74 votes. The other top vote-getters were Alan McIntire (with 12 votes) and Jacob Viola (six votes), along with legislative candidate Kevin Battle and longtime school board gadfly Albert DiMillo Jr. (with five votes each).

Following the question-and-answer period with applicants, Mayor Patti Smith called for a brief intermission to allow councilors to “review their notes” from the session. During this time, which lasted about five minutes, the council broke into a sidebar discussion that was not audible to anyone present, or captured on any recording device, possibly a violation of Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. In “Maine’s ‘Right to Know’ Law: An Introduction and Guide,” attorneys Jonathan Piper and Sigmund Schutz note that the general public must have “full access to public proceedings.”

The day after the meeting, Councilor Jerry Jalbert explained that Smith asked each councilor to list their top two selections for the school board position.

“I didn’t know were going to do that,” said Jalbert, “but there wasn’t even a debate once it was evident that Mary House was the only person on the short list for all five councilors.”

“We on the council are all concerned about our students doing well in science and math, but she [House] also spoke about a well-rounded education in the arts,” said Jalbert. “I looked at the whole picture and saw a person who had a lot of experience in meetings with engineering firms and making presentations to colleges and universities. She also talked about community outreach and how, maybe, it’s sort of an oversight on occasion, but, speaking just for myself, she seemed to find it important more than any other candidate.”

Smith said the councilors absent from the interview workshop, Rosemarie De Angelis and Tom Blake, would review video from the meeting in time for the Nov. 19 appointment vote. However, she sounded a confident note of the eventual outcome, even if the two councilors absent from the interview session should swing the final vote in another direction.

“Based on what I have heard, you really can’t make a bad choice,” she said.

“Every single person [who applied] would make a wonderful contribution to the Board of Education, there’s not question at all, at all,” said Beecher. “I certainly hope all will continue to stay involved with the city.”

“I heard things that absolutely blew me away from everybody, everybody had something to say that I hadn’t thought of,” said Councilor Tom Coward. “The thought that crossed my mind is, look, maybe what we ought to time-share this and give everyone two months and that will get us through the year.”

Mary House


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