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Franklin’s city council, school board appear in court

  • Judge Richard McNamara discusses the injunction filed by the Franklin School Board at the Merrimack County Superior Court on Friday afternoon, July 26, 2013. The injunction was to stop the Franklin City Council from holding a public meeting on this coming Monday night to discuss the removal of SAU 18 chairperson Kathleen Russo and school board chair Ray Yonaitis. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Judge Richard McNamara discusses the injunction filed by the Franklin School Board at the Merrimack County Superior Court on Friday afternoon, July 26, 2013. The injunction was to stop the Franklin City Council from holding a public meeting on this coming Monday night to discuss the removal of SAU 18 chairperson Kathleen Russo and school board chair Ray Yonaitis.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • A small crowd, including former Franklin football coach Greg Husband, center, filed into the seats at the Merrimack County Superior Court to listen to the hearing about an injunction filed by the Franklin School Board on Friday, July 26, 2013. The injunction was to stop the Franklin City Council from holding a public meeting on Monday night to discuss the removal of SAU 18 chairperson Kathy Russo and school board chair Ray Yonaitis. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    A small crowd, including former Franklin football coach Greg Husband, center, filed into the seats at the Merrimack County Superior Court to listen to the hearing about an injunction filed by the Franklin School Board on Friday, July 26, 2013. The injunction was to stop the Franklin City Council from holding a public meeting on Monday night to discuss the removal of SAU 18 chairperson Kathy Russo and school board chair Ray Yonaitis.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • SAU 18 school board chair Kathleen Russo, right, talks with the Keriann Roman, the attorney representing the Franklin School Board following a hearing on an injunction on Friday afternoon, July 26, 2013.  The Franklin School Board filed an injunction at the Merrimack County Superior Court to stop the Franklin City Council from holding a public meeting to discuss the removal of SAU 18 chairperson Kathy Russo and school board chair Ray Yonaitis. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    SAU 18 school board chair Kathleen Russo, right, talks with the Keriann Roman, the attorney representing the Franklin School Board following a hearing on an injunction on Friday afternoon, July 26, 2013. The Franklin School Board filed an injunction at the Merrimack County Superior Court to stop the Franklin City Council from holding a public meeting to discuss the removal of SAU 18 chairperson Kathy Russo and school board chair Ray Yonaitis.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Judge Richard McNamara discusses the injunction filed by the Franklin School Board at the Merrimack County Superior Court on Friday afternoon, July 26, 2013. The injunction was to stop the Franklin City Council from holding a public meeting on this coming Monday night to discuss the removal of SAU 18 chairperson Kathleen Russo and school board chair Ray Yonaitis. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • A small crowd, including former Franklin football coach Greg Husband, center, filed into the seats at the Merrimack County Superior Court to listen to the hearing about an injunction filed by the Franklin School Board on Friday, July 26, 2013. The injunction was to stop the Franklin City Council from holding a public meeting on Monday night to discuss the removal of SAU 18 chairperson Kathy Russo and school board chair Ray Yonaitis. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • SAU 18 school board chair Kathleen Russo, right, talks with the Keriann Roman, the attorney representing the Franklin School Board following a hearing on an injunction on Friday afternoon, July 26, 2013.  The Franklin School Board filed an injunction at the Merrimack County Superior Court to stop the Franklin City Council from holding a public meeting to discuss the removal of SAU 18 chairperson Kathy Russo and school board chair Ray Yonaitis. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Attorneys for Franklin’s city council and school district made their cases in Merrimack Superior Court yesterday on both sides of a lawsuit over whether the council can hold a hearing on citizen petitions to oust two school board members.

Judge Richard McNamara did not issue a decision by the close of court yesterday. The hearing on the petitions is scheduled for Monday night, and Mayor Ken Merrifield said some type of community meeting to air grievances will occur regardless of whether a formal council meeting is allowed.

The lawsuit centers on two petitions to the city council, each with 100 signatures, calling for the removal of school board members Ray Yonaitis and Kathleen Russo. The petitions stemmed from unhappiness over the firing of football coach Greg Husband, among other issues. Once it received the petitions, the council voted to schedule a hearing, following rules laid out in the city’s administrative code for the removal of municipal officers. In a 5-3 vote July 17, the school board decided to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction that would prevent the council from holding the hearing, as well as a judgment stating the council has no authority to remove board members.

In court yesterday, Paul Fitzgerald, the council’s attorney, asked McNamara to dismiss the case because simply holding a hearing does not mean removal proceedings have begun. Under the city code, the council would have to vote to begin removal proceedings after the hearing, he said.

“The city council can have a public hearing on anything they want,” Fitzgerald said.

But Keriann Roman, attorney for the district, focused on whether the council has the authority to remove school board members. State law lists two reasons for the removal of school board members, which include budgetary violations and breaking confidentiality. In this case, state law trumps the city code, she said.

McNamara acknowledged that the laws governing when board members can be removed is unclear.

“In this case, public interest is in favor of the law being followed, but I’m not sure what the law is,” he said.

McNamara also pressed Roman to prove how her clients would be harmed by the public hearing. Public officials are often subject to negative comments by members of the community, he said. The school board would be harmed as a whole, she answered, because the hearing would undermine the board’s independence.

Franklin’s city code is not very specific about removal proceedings, McNamara said. The code states any member of the council, or citizen petitioners, can request removal of a municipal officer. A hearing must be held, in public or in private, and the council then votes on removal.

“If in fact the city council does have the right to remove school board members, isn’t it odd that no procedure for removal is spelled out?” McNamara asked.

It would set a dangerous precedent if the council was given the authority to remove board members, Roman said.

If the case is dismissed, Roman requested the school district be allowed to return to court if the council attempted to remove Yonaitis and Russo. Fitzgerald said he thinks the district would have standing to make that case only after a removal vote was taken.

If the judge allows the hearing to proceed, it will be held Monday at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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