Groton Republicans recommend Weitlauf to fill vacant Board of Education seat

Groton — Tasked with recommending an appointment for a vacant Board of Education seat, the Republican Party in Groton had two candidates: one with experience on the board, and a would-be newcomer who received more votes in the election a month ago.

The board went with the former, meeting on Wednesday evening and voting to recommend Jay Weitlauf to fill the seat that became vacant after Gary Baker sent in his resignation last week.

Jenn White, who sent a letter expressing interest in the seat, has some qualms.

"The man has experience," Dean Antipas, chairman of the Groton Republican Town Committee, said of the decision. He added of the board, "Jay's somebody that they know and respect and want to continue to work with. Jenn's an unknown quantity."

The Board of Education is scheduled to discuss — and possibly act on — the appointment at a special meeting on Monday, to be held at 5:45 p.m. in the central office.

The vacancy arose with the resignation of Baker, who felt he was unable to fulfill the commitment to which he was elected. Baker, who was halfway through a four-year term, was absent from 16 of the last 17 full-committee meetings.

The Board of Education is required to appoint a Republican, since that is Baker's party.

In the election on Nov. 7, Weitlauf and White were the two who lost in a race involving six candidates for four seats. Weitlauf received 2,072 votes and White received 2,249. The vote totals for each of the other four candidates ranged from 2,316 to 2,748.

"Among the people who didn't make it, what does a difference in votes mean? Who knows," Antipas said in a phone conversation on Thursday. "People who aren't elected aren't elected for all sorts of reasons."

He added that he wishes there were two openings, and that if there is another opening, "I think Jenn is certainly in the running."

Later on Thursday, White sent an email to The Day expressing her view that although the RTC was not obligated to give her the recommendation, she figured with the next highest vote, the committee would have adhered to the public's choice.

"The election was recent, not years ago, so the public vote should still be relevant," White wrote. She added, "It's a shame when the people's wishes are ignored. It's almost off (sic) they planned the resignation timing."

Asked for comment on Friday, Antipas said in an email, "I can state unequivocally that at no time was Gary Baker's resignation timed or otherwise coordinated. His reasons and his timing were his own."

In a follow-up phone conversation, White said she wishes Weitlauf well but wishes someone from the Republican Party leadership had the "proper courtesy" of giving her a call.

Both White and Weitlauf expressed their interest in the seat before Baker sent his official letter of resignation to the town clerk's office, considering Baker had notified Antipas beforehand.

Weitlauf said Friday that he is not aware of all the factors that go into the Republican Town Committee's selection process for vacancies but that he appreciates their vote of confidence.

Echoing comments Weitlauf made to The Day before the RTC vote, Superintendent Michael Graner said that with the building projects and conversion of the middle schools to intradistrict magnet schools, he and board Chairwoman Kim Shepardson Watson "thought that continuity of board members would be extremely important."

Watson described Weitlauf as "such a valued member" and noted that the town charter doesn't require an appointment to be of the next highest vote-getter.

"Really, this is just a vacancy that happened, and it just so happens that it happened during an election time," Watson said. She added, "Since my tenure on the board, we have always taken in large consideration who the party recommends."

e.moser@theday.com

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