FRANKLIN — At a time when the mayor, the city council and the city’s two school board chairmen have had often-bitter exchanges on issues, including the recent departure of former football coach Greg Husband, a time for a temporary truce has been called.
That’s the hope, anyway, of Mayor Ken Merrifield and School Board Chairman Ray Yonaitis, who have agreed to what Merrifield calls “a meeting of minds” and what Yonaitis refers to as a “retreat.”
On July 17, school board members, councilors and Merrifield will hold a meeting that has been discussed for more than six months, but has been postponed several times.
The idea came from Yonaitis, who has been pushing for a public, face-to-face meeting aimed at tackling what all sides agree are personal issues between elected city officials that have led to conflicts between the board and council in the past several years.
In past months, Yonaitis and SAU 18 School Board Chair man Kathleen Russo have repeatedly accused the mayor and councilors of interfering in school board matters, saying the council has “bullied” the school board while trying to take control of school board issues and its budget.
Last week, Yonaitis cried foul when the council appointed a new board member without the board’s input. The new councilor, Chad Carey, has been among the most vocal critics of the board’s decision to let go of Husband, who was not rehired by the board after a state athletic council investigated alleged taunting by Husband’s players last fall and threatened the schools with sanctions.
Yonaitis and Russo said the council hired Carey knowing that he had an anti-school board agenda because of the Husband issue.
Merrifield said Husband was the only applicant for the board seat. He said the council has never needed board input in appointing new board members.
The meeting announcement also comes days after two petitions signed by 100 city residents calling on the council to remove Yonaitis and Russo from their elected offices because of alleged mishandling of Husband’s case. The council is seeking legal advice on how to deal with the petitions, Merrifield said.
Merrifield and Yonaitis say they hope the meeting will produce compromise and better understanding between city officials, and will end the bitterness that has existed for several years. The meeting will be held at Franklin Savings Bank from 4 to 7 p.m. on July 17. The public is invited,
“Much more unites us than divides us,” Merrifield said. “I am very encouraged that the two boards are taking this step with such enthusiasm.”
Yonaitis said he and city officials have worked out a format for the meeting that is acceptable to all parties.
“I have had hopes all along for better a relationship between the two elected bodies to promote positive education for the city’s children,” Yonaitis said.
“I still think that can happen. This can be accomplished as long as everyone leaves their personal vendettas at the door.”