, Salem, MA

May 9, 2013

Our view: Choosing another selectman in Danvers

The Salem News

---- — Danvers voters elected two well-respected candidates Tuesday night to serve as their selectmen.

Retired judge David Mills and incumbent Selectman Dan Bennett each have a long record of public service, a reputation for integrity and the personal demeanor to deal respectfully with others. We wish both of them well.

Tonight the Board of Selectmen is scheduled to begin considering how to fill the remaining vacancy on the board, created by the resignation of Mike Powers in April. It was too late to get this seat on the ballot, so selectmen will have to choose someone to fill in until the next election. Selectman Bill Clark, the current chairman, had already suggested the board appoint whichever of the three candidates lost in Tuesday’s election.

In this case, that would be Keith Lucy, a three-term selectman who finished a distant third in the race.

We hope selectmen do not, however, take this easy way out.

There’s a good case to be made for choosing the runner-up in an election when an unexpected vacancy occurs. That person has made the effort to run a campaign and reach out to voters, has already been vetted in public, and has received the endorsement of a significant number of voters.

But when the losing candidate is an incumbent —someone whom voters deliberately turned out of office — the situation is different. As Selectman Gardner Trask has pointed out, in that case appointing the losing candidate seems to defy the will of the voters. And it has an air of cronyism, since it’s the loser’s former colleagues doing the appointing. If voters decided it was time for a change, then selectmen ought to respect that, barring some unforeseen circumstance.

If, for example, no qualified candidates apply to serve out Powers’ unfinished term, selectmen might need to reappoint the incumbent who lost the election — if, in fact, he is still interested in serving. But it’s hard to envision a scenario in which no one else is qualified to serve, and we would urge selectmen to weigh carefully the skills and perspective that a newcomer could bring to the board.