Burnt Hills

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake taps former member to fill interim board vacancy

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BURNT HILLS – The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District Board of Education on Wednesday opted to appoint a recently retired member to temporarily fill a vacancy rather than appoint the third-place vote-getter in May’s election or hold a special election for the seat.

The decision made at Wednesday’s meeting went against the wishes of about a dozen residents who attended the meeting to express their hope that the vacancy would be filled by Emily Walsh, a parents’ rights candidate who finished third in May’s election.

In a 5-1 vote, with board member Don Marshall dissenting, the board appointed Patrick Ziegler to fill the remaining 10 months of a three-year board term vacated by longtime member John Blowers. Ziegler’s second term on the board ended last month. He did not seek re-election. Ziegler, a conservative voice on the board, will be in the role through the next regular election in May, which will fill the seat for a full three-year term.

“We had a third-place person in our voting who should really have the opportunity to sit in this spot,” said Tom Bird, who finished seventh in May’s election. He was one of four residents to publicly state Walsh should be considered. “You know [Ziegler] was ready to call it quits, and to me it feels like this was just a seat filler for 10 months.”

The board decided against holding a special election because it was deemed too costly to fill a short-term vacancy, said board member David Versocki, who was the board president up until Wednesday’s reorganizational meeting and who presented the proposal to appoint Ziegler. District officials estimated that a special election would cost between $25,000 and $30,000, Versocki said.

Versocki also said a special election would greatly delay filling the seat because it wouldn’t be held until September, in part to allow time for interested candidates to file the necessary paperwork.

“We know there isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution,” Versocki said in a July 9 statement posted on the district’s website. “We do, however, feel that appointing a veteran board member to carry out the remainder of a colleague’s term is a very practical decision that addresses the many concerns raised by residents.”

Blowers resigned from the board in June 2022 after moving out of the district. He had served on the board since 2006. On Wednesday, Blowers told the board his decision to leave the district coincided with the finalizing of his divorce.

“The board is comprised of humans who have life changes,” Blowers said before supporting the board’s decision to appoint Ziegler.

Many residents hoped the board would appoint Walsh, a leader of the group BHBL United For Choice, who campaigned heavily on the notion that parents need to be more involved in discussions of what goes on inside schools. Politically, she is aligned with Ziegler.

Among other issues addressed at a May 12 school board candidate forum, Walsh said she was concerned about how schools teach sexual education and said she believes parents should have the right to opt into having their students learn such curriculum rather than opt out. She also said her son has developed a lazy eye from wearing masks during the pandemic.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Walsh said she was disappointed with the board’s decision: “This was expected. I do think Patrick [Ziegler] will continue to do a great job. He has my support, just like I had his support during my running. I wish him luck, and I hope that the new sitting board members will listen to the community.”

Walsh said she hasn’t yet decided if she will run for the board seat in the spring.

Walsh finished third in the May 17 school board election, which saw eight candidates vying for two seats. Walsh earned 565 votes, with the winners Jennifer Longtin and David Mitchell receiving 1,569 votes and 1,528 votes, respectively. Longtin was elected to her fourth term and Mitchell was elected to his first term.

Across the Capital Region, parents’ rights candidates were largely unsuccessful in May’s school board elections.

Versocki said many residents have been writing and calling to express their opinions on filling the interim vacancy.

“A number of residents requested that the candidate who finished third in the May 2022 vote be appointed to fill the vacancy,” reads the July 9 statement. “Numerous other residents shared their viewpoint that if there had been three seats open at the election the results would likely have been different. Most of those individuals also urged the board to conduct a special election rather than appoint the third place candidate.”

During the meeting, some residents accused the board of knowing prior to the May 17 election that Blowers was leaving the area and would therefore be vacating his seat.

Versocki and other board members denied this claim, but the statement posted on the district’s website ahead of Wednesday’s meeting acknowledged the board held executive session discussions last year regarding Blowers’ consecutive meeting absences. However, the board was not sure at the time of the election that the absences would ultimately lead to a vacancy, Versocki said.

“We didn’t know John [Blowers] would be leaving the board until he informed us all in late May and made the public announcement at the June 1 meeting,” Versocki said in the statement. He reiterated this at Wednesday’s meeting. “John has given 17 years as a board member to BH-BL and played an integral role in so many decisions impacting our district. We know this decision was very personal and difficult for him, and we wish him well on his future endeavors.”

Blowers shared some of the personal details with The Gazette on Thursday. He said the timing of his divorce, which he said was finalized shortly after the election, was entirely coincidental. Blowers, who is now engaged, resides in Latham. 

Blowers said the events leading to his separation and divorce, coupled with a demanding job as vice president of operations at an engineering consulting firm that he has since left, required much of his attention last year. That resulted in several board meeting absences between August and December of last year. He said he didn’t share any of the personal details with members of the board until he was ready to submit his resignation.   

“It’s seven people who come through from very different walks of life,” Blowers said. “I don’t see the other members of the board away from the board table.” 

Blowers said he recognized that the timing of his resignation was unfortunate, and underestimated the amount of controversy that would arise. 

“The last thing I want to do is put the district in a difficult spot,” said Blowers, a 1983 BH-BL graduate, who himself first came to the board via an appointment after a previous board member left for personal reasons.   

The board’s policy and New York State Public Officers Law obligate the board to fill an unexpected vacancy within 90 days — either by appointment or special election. If this obligation is not met, the Capital Region BOCES District Superintendent is authorized to fill the vacancy, according to the district.

Ziegler has been a resident of the district for more than 15 years, and he served as the Ballston town supervisor from 2014 to 2015 and as treasurer of the Saratoga County Water Authority from 2014 to 2016, according to his profile on the district’s website. Ziegler also helped form the Stop Common Core ballot line in 2014 while managing a regional office for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino and spent two years as the field representative for U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, according to Ziegler’s district profile.

Ziegler spent nearly 20 years in higher education finance and currently works as a market relationship manager for Wells Fargo. 

Board member Lakshmi Nagarajan supported the appointment of Ziegler, but she said the decision put the board between a rock and a hard place since a special election would be costly and slow but ultimately took the decision directly out of the hands of the public.

“I think whatever decision we make is going to be the wrong decision,” said Nagarajan, who also said she understood the public’s skepticism about the timing of the resignation, even if that skepticism wasn’t based in fact. “The timing of everything makes it look like someone’s actions were premeditated and calculated, and it’s disappointing that that is the tenor of the election.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

Categories: News, Saratoga County

One Comment

Glenn Cyphers

It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the board chose to ignore the results of the last election. They have shown their dedication to the teacher union on multiple occassions and this is simply more of the same.

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