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In replacing Evans, listen to the voters

Buffalo School Board Member Vivian Evans thumbed her nose at her East District constituents for months when she insisted that she could serve them from Maryland.

The remaining board members shouldn't do the same when picking Evans' replacement. In fact, if they're smart, they'll avoid mimicking the worst habits of the Common Council.

Evans finally resigned last week, effective Jan. 5, belatedly doing the right thing after first trying everything else to hang on to the seat despite taking a job in another state.

The suspicion is that she clung to the seat and a 370-mile lifeline out of fear of tipping the balance of power on a board that can sometimes factionalize.

It's also not hard to believe that some of the remaining board members will have that in mind when picking Evans' replacement -- the will of the voters be damned.

The city already went through a similar scenario at the start of the year when Brian Davis traded his Council chair for a courtroom seat and a guilty plea to election law violations that forced him to resign.

Democratic committee members voted for the Rev. Darius Pridgen to fill the unexpired term. But the Council majority -- motivated more by internal politics than devotion to democracy -- selected college professor Curtis Haynes, a worthy choice but not who residents wanted.

The Council majority was concerned that Pridgen might align too closely with Mayor Byron Brown, a political foe. The will of the people turned out to be so much poppycock when stacked against political considerations.

Voters got their say in November, and democracy delayed turned out not to be democracy denied. But the Council's chicanery still was a slap at residents.

School Board members should not make the same mistake, although not all of them have always been thrilled with Superintendent James Williams' policies and there was speculation that Evans hung on to try ensure a supportive majority.

How much will that be a factor when the board picks her replacement?

"I don't think any questions will surface along those lines," board President Ralph Hernandez said of the interview process. Instead, he said, it will focus on topics such as familiarity with the district budget.

But like the charade that passes for a Supreme Court selection process, unaddressed considerations may be more important than those that get publicly aired.

When pressed, Hernandez acknowledged reality.

"It could be a factor," he said. "I just wish it wouldn't be, and I certainly won't treat it that way."

The most obvious replacement is Buffalo State College assistant professor Theresa Harris-Tigg, who nearly upset the incumbent in May, losing by a scant 15 votes.

She has proven her commitment by running. She has proven her qualifications by standing out in candidate forums. And she has proven her public support by outpolling all other challengers.

Why wouldn't the board choose her?

"I don't see any [reason]," Hernandez said, adding that he was speaking only for himself.

Harris-Tigg applied for the seat back in August, when Evans first left town and the opening appeared imminent. She said she is applying again now that the seat is being formally vacated, "just to make sure."

Absent some disqualifying revelation, she has earned the spot -- no matter how she might line up in the board's internal politics.

This being Buffalo, what should happen may not. But it would be nice, this once, if politicians listened to the voters.

e-mail: rwatson@buffnews.com

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