Proposed Sharonov charter amendment fails

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Sebastian Sharonov on July 6, 2021. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, N.H. – A proposal to put a 90-day maximum timeframe between Aldermanic vacancies and special elections to replace those vacancies into the city’s charter was shot down by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) on Tuesday night, but it appears that a policy may be coming close to the proposed charter amendment could be coming anyway.

The proposal, brought forward by Alderman Sebastian Sharonov (Ward 6) would also eliminate primaries for special elections in addition to the 90-day requirement.

Sharonov cited the low voter turnout in the primary of his special election win earlier this year as a reason to eliminate the primary, noting the low turnout in such primaries waste taxpayer and candidate money and unduly delay the replacement of outgoing Aldermen.

He also noted the lack of direct Aldermanic representation for constituents in Ward 6 and Ward 8 this year and decried the lack of consistency between the two special elections, with Ward 6 holding a primary and Ward 8 skipping it for a winner-take-all special election this fall.

Criticism from the board followed comments from Manchester City Clerk Matt Normand. While Normand said his department would organize an election whenever the BMA asks, special meetings of the BMA to schedule election dates, filing periods and printing of ballots all that time.

Additionally, if the vacancy occurs slightly beyond 90 days from the election, voters could be required to head to the polls multiple weeks or even days in a row.

Normand also noted that elections in one ward are approximately $5,000 and citywide elections cost at least $50,000.

Alderman Anthony Sapienza (Ward 5) noted Normand’s comments as the reason for changing his viewpoint on matter, also seeing the differing procedures for the Ward 6 and Ward 8 special elections not as inconsistency but as learning lessons for future elections.

Alderman Bill Barry (Ward 10) cited Normand’s comments and the fact that he has not gotten any feedback from constituents on this matter as a reason to oppose the amendment.

“Why would we want to change something that isn’t broken?” said Barry.

Alderman Barbara Shaw (Ward 9) agreed with Sharonov’s concern regarding the lack of Aldermanic representation for wards and consistency in special election procedure.

At-Large Aldermen Dan O’Neill and Joseph Kelly Levasseur disagreed with Barry’s report, stating they have received several comments on this topic and additionally agreed with Shaw and Sharonov’s comment regarding lack of representation, echoing comments from other members of the board that as at-large Aldermen, they represented each ward specifically in tandem with the individual ward Aldermen.

A vote to advance the charter amendment failed, 4-7. Sharonov was joined by Shaw, Levasseur and Ross Terrio (Ward 7) in supporting the measure. It was opposed by Sapienza, Barry, O’Neil, Kevin Cavanaugh (Ward 1), Will Stewart (Ward 2), Pat Long (Ward 3), and Normand Gamache (Ward 11).

Jim Roy (Ward 4) and Keith Hirschmann (Ward 12) were absent.

After that vote, a vote to send the concept to the BMA Committee on Administration to develop into a policy was approved unanimously by voice vote.

On Wednesday, Sharonov released a statement sharing his frustration with the vote’s outcome.

“It is unfortunate that the majority on the Board decided to shut down a common sense, non-partisan proposal to improve representation in Manchester just to deny a freshman Alderman a win in an election year. It is more obvious than it has ever been before that, for the majority of Board, politics comes before the people. Although the details of my proposal will go to Administration Committee to create policy, it is not satisfactory enough because the Board still has the authority and broad discretion over how and when to call special elections. I will be looking at alternate ways to force this issue on the ballot and present it to the voters for approval,” he said.

Sharonov said he would also bring the matter to the Manchester Charter Commission once it reconvenes after this fall’s elections.