OLD LYME — At their meeting Wednesday evening, Jan. 4, the Region 18 Board of Education (BOE) found they had conflicting views on whom should be appointed to the last voting spot on the PK-8 Building Committee.
Twenty-three people had applied to join the committee and each BOE member had been given all the applications to review and score individually over the winter vacation. The Superintendent’s office had then analyzed the scores and produced both weighted and non-weighted summaries of the results.
There was a clear consensus on the top eight places but the ninth caused considerable discussion.
Prior to that conversation taking place, newly-elected board vice-chair Mary Powell St. Louis expressed concern that only four of the applicants were women and also that there was a “very heavy presence” of engineering and construction backgrounds in the male applicants. She said, “This has bothered me” and proposed that the application process should be opened up for another week in the hope of attracting more female applicants.
Board member Laura Dean-Frazier agreed with Powell St.Louis, saying she too wished there were more women. Dean-Frazier commented, “Diversity is an asset in any group,” but noted, “Women have a tendency to have too much on their plate … I just don’t think we’re going to get them. They’re just a little bit weary doing this type of commitment.”
Another board member, Martha Shoemaker, remarked that she felt the committee needed more women, “Because they have a different way of thinking.”
There was a general concern about the shortage of women applicants, but still little enthusiasm for extending the application period. Board treasurer Christopher Staab pointed out that the board had already been through the process of ranking the candidates and felt it should therefore stand by those results.
With eight committee members agreed, the conversation turned to the choice of the ninth. David Kelsey was the applicant that came in at ninth place on the weighted average ranking but when the non-weighted averages were considered, there was a four-way tie including Kelsey for the ninth spot. The three (other than Kelsey) included interior designer Cara Zimmermann.
Board member Anna James proposed switching Zimmermann for Kelsey since, apart from being female, Zimmerman had a wide range of relevant knowledge as well as experience in bidding processes. Fellow board member Jason Kemp supported James’s position saying Kelsey had been outspoken against the project but board chairman Steve Wilson gave a forceful endorsement of Kelsey saying, “He was not against the project at all costs … He started asking ‘What do we really need?’ … He really does his homework.” Wilson concluded firmly, “He [Kelsey] would be a better voting member.”
Referencing the fact that Andy Russell, who was one of the top eight applicants, and Kelsey are both members of the Old Lyme Board of Finance, James countered that she felt having two people, who are “affiliated,” was also not promoting “diversity of thought” on the committee. Wilson immediately challenged her use of the word “affiliated.”
Moving the discussion forward, the board first unanimously agreed to appoint 12 members to the committee with three of the 12 being alternates. This was to give the committee “structure” in board secretary Suzanne Thompson’s words.
Then BOE members voted on the ninth Building Committee member with all the members except Staab and Jennifer Miller supporting Zimmermann for that spot. Wilson said he did not need to vote as a majority in support of Zimmermann had already been established.
The board then unanimously supported the appointment of Ken Biega, Richard Conniff, John Hartman, Sara Hrinak, Andy Russell, Alan Sheiness, Powell St. Louis, and Wilson as voting members. In the same vote, Darren Favello, Thomas Kelo and Kelsey were appointed as alternates.
Finally, board members elected Wilson as chair of the committee and Powell St. Louis as vice chair.
On Thursday, when the names of those appointed to the Building Committee were posted on the Region 18 website, Kelsey’s name was missing. We asked Lyme-Old Lyme Superintendent of Schools Ian Neviaser why that was the case. He replied by email saying that Kelsey had, ” … notified Steve Wilson on Thursday morning that he was withdrawing his application.”