Groton school board member resigns amid meeting absences

Groton — Citing an inability to fulfill the obligation to which he was elected, Gary Baker has resigned from the Board of Education, halfway through his four-year term.

Meeting minutes show that between regular Board of Education, special Board of Education and Committee of the Whole meetings, Baker was absent from 16 of the last 17 meetings, a timeframe from June 26 to Nov. 27.

In a letter to Town Clerk Betsy Moukawsher, Baker wrote, "Please accept this as my letter of resignation from the Groton Board of Education. Due to personal circumstance I can no longer fulfill my obligation to the Board. I feel the Board should have representatives who can participate 100% and I cannot do that. This takes effect immediately."

Baker's letter was dated Nov. 28, and Moukawsher confirmed that her office received it Monday.

The Day learned of Baker's resignation upon calling him on Tuesday evening to inquire about his meeting attendance. In this conversation, he talked about his resignation but declined to say why he had missed so many meetings.

Baker said he started thinking about resigning over the summer but was "really trying to wait to see if I could continue to participate." He added that it was when he attended the Nov. 13 Committee of the Whole meeting that "it really dawned on me, really hit me, that I can't participate regularly."

Baker said he has thoroughly enjoyed his time on the board and that it's been an honor. Asked if he would consider running again if circumstances change, he said that "would absolutely be a possibility" and he "would certainly not rule that out."

Along with sending in his resignation letter to the town clerk, Baker alerted Board of Education Chairwoman Kim Shepardson Watson and Superintendent Michael Graner of his resignation.

Graner said on Wednesday he hasn't really talked to anyone about the resignation except Watson, and Watson said she was going to wait until she got official word from the town clerk and the Republican Party before discussing it with the board.

Graner said the Republican Party leadership in Groton will recommend someone to fill the seat. Moukawsher clarified of board members, "They don't have to take a recommendation from the [Republican] Town Committee. It's entirely up to the board who they choose, as long as it's a party of the vacant seat."

Per state statute and the town charter, a Board of Education vacancy must be filled with someone from the same political party as the outgoing member, and Baker is a Republican.

Moukawsher said the board can fill the vacancy at any time.

Jay Weitlauf, whose term on the Board of Education expired on Dec. 5, after he lost his bid for re-election last month, told The Day that Groton Republican Town Committee Chairman Dean Antipas "asked if I'd like to be considered, and I did indicate that I would like to be appointed to fill out his term."

Weitlauf commented that since he has served on the board for the past two years, he'd "be able to hit the ground running, and with the new schools coming on and everything, I think it's important for someone to have that perspective of where we've been and where we're going."

Gary Baker is director of convention sales and services at Mohegan Sun, and both Graner and Watson praised the business acumen he brought to the board.

Graner said he has provided level-headed advice in a calm, collected voice, especially in dealing with budgetary matters. Watson feels Baker offered keen insight and was good at cutting to the chase.

"I'm hoping for him that this gives him the energy and the time that he needs to do for his work and for his family," Watson said. She added, "It's holding that tension between allowing someone to work through whatever they need to work through, but also knowing that there is a responsibility that we have."

The Day reviewed minutes from the 36 regular Board of Education meetings, special Board of Education meetings and Committee of the Whole meetings in 2017. It found that Baker's attendance record this year was 38.89 percent.

That is down from an attendance record of 73.33 percent in 2016.

The attendance records of the other board members this year are as follows: Andrea Ackerman, 100; Watson, 97.22; Katrina Fitzgerald, 94.44 percent; Weitlauf, 86.11 percent; Lee White, 86.11 percent; Rosemary Robertson, 77.78 percent; Gretchen Newsome, 77.78 percent, and Rita Volkmann, 77.78 percent.

e.moser@theday.com

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