Mathers picked for School Committee vacancy

At a joint meeting Monday evening, the Select Board and School Committee appointed Thomas Mathers to serve out the remainder of former Vice Chair Emily Barron’s term on the committee following Barron’s resignation in October.

Mathers was the only one of the six candidates interviewed Monday to earn a majority of the votes on a second round of voting after officials were split after one round.

He received votes from School Committee Chair Sarah Fox, committee member Alison Taylor, Select Board members Alexa Singer and Erin Noonan, as well as Select Board Chair Moses Grader, who cast the deciding vote.

Paul Baker earned the second most votes with three, while Select Board member Jim Nye cast a lone vote for Raymond Hansen in both rounds of voting.

Each member of the Select Board and the School Committee was given the chance to ask one question to each of the candidates, a suggestion some members worked around by asking multi-part questions.

Questions focused on the candidate’s perspective on the operational override for the school district that failed in the town’s annual election last year, how they would get up to speed with the committee’s operations, their familiarity with the budget process, what they saw the role of the school committee as in regards to the superintendent, and their approach to team building.

During his interview, Mathers said he had no interest in running for a term on the committee but said he believed he would be able to hit the ground running due to his experience as a former member of the Masconomet Regional School Committee, where he served for three years, including on the policy and finance subcommittees.

“Understanding your role as a school committee member is really important,” he said. “You’re here to hire and fire the superintendent and evaluate their performance. You’re here to approve a formulated budget and you’re here to really provide governance on policy formation and implementation. It’s not your role to develop a curriculum. It’s not your role to hire and fire teachers. It’s your role to provide the best governance for all students and stakeholders in town.”

Mathers also stressed his status as an objective observer of the committee, noting that he did not know any of the current members and had not been following their actions closely. He said he had “no institutional bias” and “no fixed view” of the town’s schools or administration.

“I don’t know anyone at the school district. My kids are 27 and 25, they did not go to school in Marblehead,” he said. ”

Mathers currently serves as the CEO of Allievex Corporation, a company he founded that develops “novel therapies for the treatment of rare pediatric neurodegenerative diseases.”

He has spent decades working in biotech after serving in the U.S. Army. A graduate of West Point, Mathers is a licensed commercial rotary wing pilot.

Fox, in voting for Mathers, cited his prior experience on a School Committee as well as her desire to leave the fate of the permanent position up to town voters.

Grader said he was impressed with Mathers’ “deep understanding” of the School Committee dynamic and viewed him as a “fresh outside voice.”

“He’s got a very strong personality, but also he’s very, very team-oriented and, you know, so that really is what convinced me,” said Grader, who asked each candidate about their team-building approach. “I found his honest answers really refreshing.”

Grader said he asked candidates about team-building in particular because of his belief that the fifth member of the committee would have a chance to help build a team dynamic.

“Sometimes we forget that we’re all engaged in a common cause, and that it’s sometimes difficult to see that,” he said. “All committees have their issues, their personality differences, and there’s a unique opportunity with this temporary position for someone to come in and really, you know, help build the team and Tom Mathers is a guy who’s been doing it for a very long time.”

In a brief interview following the meeting, Mathers said his lack of interest in the full three-year term on the committee stemmed from being “extraordinarily committed,” a result of serving on a number of corporate and federal boards as well as on the board of a research foundation.

“For me, allocation of time long term is important,” he said.

He said he hoped to provide “competence” to the position while giving the town the opportunity to elect someone to the committee who is “really invested, can serve the time, put the energy, and get up to speed on the issues.”

“That’s my hope for the town,” he said.

The vacancy was originally slated to be filled in December, but the joint meeting had to be delayed pending the availability of all nine members, as Grader said he wanted to avoid the possibility of a split vote.

The committee had initially opted, by a vote of 2-2, not to fill the vacancy, but Grader, citing Massachusetts General Law Chapter 41 Section 11 moved ahead with opening the position to applicants.

That law states “if a vacancy occurs in any town office, other than the office of selectman, town clerk, treasurer, collector of taxes or auditor, the selectmen shall in writing appoint a person to fill such vacancy.”

The vacancy initially drew eleven applications, with five people withdrawing from consideration for unspecified reasons.

Barron, a residential designer, resigned from the committee after a conflict of interest with her professional work came to light when she appeared before the Zoning Board of Appeals in August on behalf of a client. She subsequently learned that her professional work created a potential conflict of interest with her School Committee service.

Barron said she immediately reached out to the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, at which point she learned that the only way for her to continue to serve on the committee was for the ethics laws regarding School Committee members to be changed.

Barron said she consulted with the Ethics Commission and the town to craft and identify a possible solution involving redesignating School Committee members as special employees rather than regular employees. Special employees are allowed to appear before other boards and committees in town in a professional capacity, she said, while regular employees are not.

The School Committee opted not to vote on changing the designation for members, pending the appointment of a fifth member.