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Newton panel rejects challenge to Yeo's school candidacy

Posted by Leslie Anderson  August 16, 2011 01:40 PM

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A bid to declare Jonathan Yeo ineligible to run for School Committee from Ward 2 fell short Monday, as members of the Election Commission turned down the objections to his candidacy by a narrow 3-2 vote.

Yeo is currently serving as a member of the school board from Ward 4, a position he has held for over five years. But he is running for his fourth and final term from Ward 2, where he bought a home in December.

“I am very happy and heartened with this decision. I feel that this was a case of political harassment all along and they succeeded in creating a distraction in this race,” said Yeo after the decision.

“This was a case of harassment by my opponent’s supporters. It was a distraction, it is behind us now. Now we can focus on what is important, which is the race for School Committee and talking about the issues which effect Newton Public Schools, which are large.”

Yeo is running for the Ward 2 School Committee spot against Margaret Albright.

None of the objections was submitted by Albright, or included her signature. In an earlier interview, she said she would not pursue an objection against Yeo.

“I haven’t been involved in it at all. I’ve just been focusing on my campaign,” said Albright. “My issue is what is going on in my schools and that is where I am trying to focus.”

City solicitor Donnalyn Kahn and election commissioners Richard Lipof and Fay Cohen voted to reject the complaints. Voting in the minority were election commissioners John McDermott and Kenneth Hartford.

Yeo said he moved from Auburndale in Ward 4, where he lived for 15 years, to Newtonville in Ward 2, where he purchased a home in December. He said he moved so he could consolidate his family in a two-family home which will accommodate his elderly parents.

Yeo said he started paying Newton’s property tax in Ward 2 on Dec. 9 and sold his house on Jan. 30. Yeo said he began renovations on the new home after he purchased it, but did not move his family into the new home until June.

One of the complaints was filed by resident Peter Harrington, who has served as a member of the Board of Aldermen. His letter to Kenneth Hartford, chairman of the Newton Election Committee, had around three dozen signatures from Newton residents, including his own.

‘‘I think the decision was erroneous,’’ Harrington said after the decision. ‘‘I don’t think they fully understood the requirement that in order to reside at a place, a person must physically be there.”

He said, “I will talk to my clients, but I expect they will want to file an appeal and get the court to rule on it.”

Another complaint was filed by Janet Sterman, a former inspector, clerk and warden for the Ballot Committee. Sterman was also represented by Harrington.

Harrington that said because Yeo’s family were not sleeping and living in the home, they were not residents of Ward 2.

Yeo contested that he did consider himself a resident of the home, saying he visited the home every day, walked throughout the neighborhood, paid all of his bills and taxes in time, fixed the oil burner and shoveled the walk during the winter.

“I think those are fine cases, but they don’t apply to voting,” said Harrington in his opening statement. “I believe that the significant issue in this matter is did Jonathan Yeo live at 275 Lowell Avenue on March 7, 8, 9, 10, 11?”

“Mr. Yeo was a legal resident of the time that the legal documents came out on March 7. We contend that he was. That his intent was to become a legal resident of Ward 2 when he purchased the home on Lowell Ave,” said Dennis Newman, Yeo’s attorney in his opening statements. “In determining Mr. Yeo’s legal residence on March 7, the Commission must look at his intent at that date, not where he slept. But his intent.”

Yeo said in the hearing that he had been looking in Auburndale for about two years before he purchased the new home. “It was imperative that we find a two- family home and move my parents out of their situation. We do not have large funds to go and buy some fancy Retirement Center. This was the right thing for our family to do,” he said.

“I very much wanted to run for my fourth term and help lead the Newton School system for the next two years,” he said. “There was an intent for a long time that I was moving to Ward 2. There is no doubt about this.”

At one point, there was a heated exchange between Harrington and Claire Sokoloff, chairman of the School Committee.

Sokoloff, who is also running for her fourth term on the School Committee, said she had conversations with Yeo everyday to discuss both personal and work related issues.

“We didn’t have any doubts he was a resident of Ward 2,” said Sokoloff.

“You didn’t? So your definition of residency is one that a person doesn’t have to live in a place in order to be a resident?” asked Harrington.

“He was renovating it with the full intent of living in that home,’’ she responded.

“But his body was not there,” said Harrington.

“He was there everyday, Sokoloff said.

“Where you there with him?”

He told me everyday he was there. Are you trying to imply that he would tell me that he wasn’t there?”

Harrington later asked, “do you support Mr. Yeo in his candidacy?

Sokoloff responded, “Yes, do you?”

“No,” He replied.

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