By Harry Kane
On Tuesday Jan. 22, at the Capuano Early Childhood Center, a public hearing, followed by an extensive interview process was held to choose a finalist among the three remaining candidates running for the Ward 1 School Committee member position.
In a vote of 5-3, the School Committee selected their newest member representing Ward 1: Benjamin Echevarria.
The other two applicants for the position were Steven Roix and Bonny Carroll.
Former Ward 1 School Committee member, Maureen Cuff Bastardi, had nominated Roix, after she became the Ward 1 Alderman.
But instead of the choosing Roix, the School Committee chose to hold a new open process, setting a precedent in the city of Somerville.
“The charter is silent; there are a lot of different logics for why you would choose one,” said Ward 6 School Committee Member and former chairman Paul Bockelman.
Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 School Committee member, said, primarily Chairwoman Mary Jo Rossetti has laid out the process.
“As the chair, it’s really been her decision since the New Year about the process,” said Niedergang. “This is a challenging thing to do because we had to make it up as we went along, and we had to do it all in public.”
Niedergang continued to explain how the group of eight school committee members came up with the process.
“We banged it around last Monday for over an hour,” he said.
And, last Tuesday the candidates were given an opportunity, in a public setting, to give speeches, indicating their qualifications.
Each candidate had ten minutes to explain why he or she are the best person for the position followed by questions from the school committee in the remaining time.
And on this Tuesday evening, each candidate had 20 minutes to highlight his or her perception and ideology pertaining to the position of Ward 1 School Committee member.
Originally there were ten candidates who were supposed to give statements at the open meeting last Tuesday, but one dropped out and another couldn’t make it. So, eight individuals from Ward 1 spoke to the public and the School Committee, giving a bit of insight into their lives and reasons for their desire to be the next Ward 1 School Committee member.
Like many of School Committee members, Niedergang had a long list of criterion, which was his basis for judging the effectiveness of the candidates.
In layman’s terms, Niedergang was looking for the type of “people skills that would make them approachable to parents and other residents of the ward.”
Niedergang went on to say, “You want someone in this position that can connect to all kinds of people.”
Between last week and this week, “there was no discussion by the School Committee about the candidates publicly,” said Niedergang, “and according to the open meeting law we are not allowed to have conversations with each other when not in public.”
They had previously, as a committee, decided they would allow up to 5 finalists to move on to the next round, says Charwoman Mary Jo Rossetti.
After the voting was complete last Tuesday, of the ten qualified candidates, 4 received votes enabling them to move to the next round: Steven Roix, Bonny Carroll, Benjamin Echevarria, and Yvette P. Verdieu.
Each of the candidates possessed a certain, je ne saia quoi that gave them the momentum they needed to get into the next round.
Verdieu withdrew her application but wanted to “express her gratitude for the committee and the community,” said Rossetti.
Melora Rush, president of the East Somerville Community School PTA read a statement during Tuesday’s hearing, which included certain criteria the candidates ought to possess. In that statement one of the criteria read, “Specifically, the ideal candidate will represent all of East Somerville, but must be able to connect fully with the 72 percent of families who are Latino.”
As it turns out, the candidate who was chosen was Latino.
New Ward 1 School Committee member Echevarria feels that communication is the most important element of the job.
He likes the idea of trying new events such as a coffee hour.
“Ward 1 is a little bit different than some of the other Wards in the fact that there is…a big diversity in the ward,” said Echevarria.
Because Echevarria is Latino, some residents such as Consuelo Perez from Ward 6 feel it may give him an advantage to work within Ward 1.
Echevarria went on to say that he would take a “crash course” and spend time reading and calling people to learn the necessary skills to do the job.
In the end, after a tie, and a second round of voting, Echevarria got the job.