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Clifton-Fine Central elects sixth board member


CANTON — The Clifton-Fine Central School District board named a sixth member Monday night, but neither of two other candidates — including a former board member defeated in the last election — received enough votes for appointment to the board.

“The fear that we had as a board is that people will have a perception that the new board was not willing to work with previous board members,” President Jeremy E. Thompson said. “That wasn’t a factor. Unfortunately, it’s probably going to be perceived that way.”

The board unanimously appointed Alicia Ross, a teacher at Harrisville Central School, to the board. She was sworn in immediately.

But board members could not come up with four votes to appoint either Robert P. Tebo III, a former incumbent, or Sarah Come, a newcomer, to join them.

Mr. Tebo said he was surprised he was not appointed, as he has more budgetary experience than those on the board, especially since only a few months remain before the seat comes up for re-election in May.

“It doesn’t feel like anything but personal. It feels like they’re being vindictive. I attend all the meetings. I try to stay up on all the things,” Mr. Tebo said. “It’s not two sides. You’re there for the school. I always made decisions on how I believe. I think they should set aside past conflicts.”

The district had a controversial year during which there were a number of changes among the top leadership and on the school board. High School Principal Susan O. Shene, at one point the interim superintendent, and Brian S. Buchanan, then the interim high school principal, were terminated from their interim jobs. Beverly L. Ouderkirk became interim superintendent pending the start of Regina C. Yeo as superintendent.

Eight candidates ran for three seats on the board, with newcomers Christopher L. Westbrook, Robert E. Lachut and Christopher E. Cooper elected. Voters did not re-elect Michelle L. Durham, Richard W. Hitchman or Mr. Tebo, who came in fourth. Later, board members Mary L. Fraser and Daniel E. Kerr II resigned, leaving the seven-member board with five people.

“We needed to make sure we had a quorum,” Mr. Thompson said.

The board asked for interested candidates to contact the district and interviewed them during public session Monday. They discussed the candidates in executive session before a public vote.

The vote for Mr. Tebo was 3-2, with Mr. Cooper and Mr. Thompson in opposition. Ms. Come received two favorable votes from Mr. Cooper and Mr. Lachut.

“It wasn’t, obviously, just one thing. Individual board members had some knowledge of some of the candidates,” Mr. Thompson said. “We tried to be as transparent as we could, but we’re still always going to be questioned on why.”

Mr. Cooper said he would have preferred a special election over board appointments for the vacancies. He voted against Mr. Tebo based on the past election.

“He was an incumbent voted out of a position,” Mr. Cooper said. “I perceived what happened to be a message from voters that they didn’t want those three incumbents.”

Mr. Thompson said he was not sure what would happen with the remaining vacancy.

“I cannot rule out the possibility of filling that vacancy by some other form,” he said. “I truly have no idea what direction we’re going to go.”

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