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Riverhead school board may wait until election to fill vacancy

Riverhead school board vacant seat

It appears the Riverhead Board of Education is sticking with six members for now.

The school board accepted Lori Hulse’s resignation at Tuesday’s meeting and discussed its options to fill the vacancy, which includes: holding a special election, appointing someone, or keeping the seat vacant until the next election in May.

School board president Sue Koukounas and vice president Amelia Lantz said they believe filling the position now four months away from the annual election is cutting it too close.

“Leaving it up to a vote is the fairest thing to do,” Ms. Lantz said.

School board member Greg Meyer said although he doesn’t have an issue with leaving the seat vacant until the election, he asked Superintendent Nancy Carney to get a legal opinion for the district’s attorneys.

“I just want to make sure we’re doing things the correct way,” he said.

The school board took no action Tuesday and is expected to continue weighing its options.

The last time the school board was in this predicament was in 2011 after Angela DeVito resigned.

Ms. Lantz said school board member Ann Cotten-DeGrasse had interviewed potential candidates at the time and the board agreed to appoint former member William Hsiang because of his experience. He didn’t seek re-election the following year when Ms. DeVito’s term expired.

During last May’s school board election, five candidates ran for two seats, with school board watchdog and Polish Town resident Laurie Downs receiving the third most votes.

Ms. Downs said after Tuesday’s meeting that she believes school boards should appoint runners-up instead of appointing others to fill vacancies.

“Even when Angela left, I didn’t think they should have picked someone,” she said. “I’ve always believed the next person in line should be who the people wanted.”

When asked if she’s interested in serving if the board decides to appoint someone, Ms. Downs said: “If they don’t want me, they don’t have to take me. There’s always election time.”

Ms. Hulse, who was elected as a Riverhead Town Justice in November, had told the News-Review she would like to continue serving on the school board but that determination would ultimately be made by the New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics, which recently found the arrangement would be a conflict of interest.

When reached for comment after Tuesday’s meeting, Ms. Hulse said she would like to serve as a volunteer community liaison on school board committees.

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Photo: From left, Riverhead school board president Sue Koukounas, vice president Amelia Lantz and member Christopher Dorr at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)