SOMERS, N.Y. - The Somers Board of Education hit several distracting technical bumps in the road during a virtual organization meeting during which it swore in newly reelected trustees Dr. Lindsay Portnoy and MaryRose Joseph.

It also returned Portnoy to the president’s post and picked trustee Heidi Cambareri as vice president.

However, two of the seven board members—Ifay Chang and Joseph Marra—couldn’t connect via video on Zoom during the vote on president and vice president. 

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Joseph nominated Portnoy, saying, “She’s shown how she’s really put in time and effort into the position this past year.”

Portnoy had been instrumental in several changes, namely the formation of the policy and communications committees, Joseph said.

“She’s invited the community in to share their viewpoints. She’s really about transparency among the board itself, so I think it would be great for her to continue this for another year at least,” she added.

Trustee Michael D’Anna seconded the motion. There were no other nominees and the vote to reinstate Portnoy as president was unanimous.

The board then moved on to the vote for vice president.

Trustee Chadwick Olsen nominated D’Anna, who was the vice president this past year. Joseph nominated Cambareri. Because the selection was contested, the two hopefuls were asked to talk about why they wanted the post.

Cambareri said that she was finishing the second year of her three-year term and felt she still had more to give.

“I kind of feel that I’m just getting going, but I’m excited about the work we’ve done this past year, getting committees established and improving communications,” she said.

Cambareri said she’d “like to take a bigger leadership role on the board to help us continue to do the work that we’re doing.”

She added that she’s going to be in the “fortunate position” of having more time this coming year to commit to the board.

“I’d like to get familiar with what comes with the president’s role and being able to support Lindsay in her work. I guess that’s the big thing. I’m trying to do a lot more with communication, to listening to what the community needs.”

Cambareri said she felt “really passionate” about her role in the district and hoped to serve on the board “for a while longer.”

On his own behalf, however, D’Anna said he has consistently kept an eye out for more community outreach.

“And, boy, did we in the last six months give us a lot of opportunities to connect with the community, between Bus P, COVID, distance learning, the budget cycle, which normally brings out people as well...And, from my perspective, I think there are areas where we connected with the community and I’ve heard…where we can improve.” (The ellipses indicate where his voice temporarily cut out.)

“It’s been challenging. It’s been difficult. But I think Lindsay and I make a good team,” he said.

However, D’Anna said, he thought either he or Cambareri “could do a good job of supporting the good work that Lindsay has done over the past 12 months…and into the next 12 months as well.”

Olsen voted for D’Anna. D’Anna voted for himself.

Saying, “I’d like to vote for two people, if possible,” Portnoy cast her ballot for Cambareri. Joseph also picked Cambareri and Cambareri voted for herself.

The final tally was three votes for Cambareri and two for D’Anna.

Chang and Marra, who were later able to get into the meeting but had internet issues during the vote, were unable to voice their choices because of a poor connection. 

According to District Clerk Nancy Corrado, their votes could only be legally tallied if their voices could be heard and their faces seen on screen. Voting by texting on the phone doesn’t count, they were told.

Portnoy asked Corrado Tuesday, July 7, if that was indeed the situation.

“Sorry, but I double-checked with our attorneys this morning,” she said.

Chang and Marra both expressed frustration about the situation when their voices were able to be heard. In light of the fact that the state has extended Zoom meetings for another several weeks, the board and schools Superintendent Dr. Raymond Blanch promised to reach out to legal counsel for advice on what could be done to mitigate the effect of future technical snafus. 

The school board’s next meeting is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11.

Cable outage 

The night before the Board of Education meeting, a large tree fell in the Lewisboro hamlet of Goldens Bridge, taking out both power and fiber optic lines.

While New York State Electric & Gas was able to get the power back on relatively quickly, it took several days for the cable company to completely restore internet to all of Somers and North Salem. Other towns were also affected. About 8,000 customers in total were left hanging, according to North Salem Supervisor Warren J. Lucas.

The outage spurred a discussion in Somers about the importance of internet access, especially now that, because of COVID-19, many people are working from home and municipalities, civic organizations, and school boards need online services to function.

The school board’s annual organizational meeting is when the board makes new appointments, including personnel such as internal auditors and the district’s attorney, designates depositories (banks) for district operations and chooses media outlets for required announcements.