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Appointment Saves Board Election Cost : Education: Runner-up is sworn in on the spot at a special meeting. He’ll fill vacancy left by school board member who resigned.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A loser by a whisker in last month’s election, AJ Willmer now has a seat on the Beverly Hills school board anyway.

The Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education appointed Willmer late last week to fill a vacancy created by the unexpected resignation of Peggy Goldwyn, the incumbent who had edged Willmer by 22 votes on Nov. 5.

The other members of the board voted 4-0 to appoint Willmer after hearing testimony from more than 50 teachers and community activists at a special board meeting Dec. 12. Willmer, 37, a computer information systems consultant, received a standing ovation and was sworn in on the spot.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” he said later. “I’m very proud to live in Beverly Hills. It was the people at the forum who had not supported me or voted for me who pleased me the most. They respected the results of the voting process.”

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Willmer finished fourth last month in a field of 11 candidates competing for three open seats on the board.

The appointment saves the school district the cost of filling the vacancy with a special election, which district officials said would have cost $20,000 to $40,000. If enough people protest the appointment, however, they could force a special election to fill the seat.

It would take a petition signed by about 300 people, or 1.5% of the city’s registered voters, to force an election.

Goldwyn, the only incumbent to run for reelection, announced her resignation Dec. 4. She said initial meetings with the new board had prompted her to conclude that her experience would not be valued. Specifically, she objected to a decision to change the way board offices of president and vice president are rotated.

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Willmer called the district after he heard about the resignation.

“I told them I was still very interested,” he said, “that I had worked hard to be on the board and was still willing to exert the time and energy to be on the board.”

During the week after the resignation, teachers and activists bombarded the district with emotional, sometimes angry pleas to not waste money on an election.

“I was dismayed at the hysteria,” said board member Phillip Harris. “We’ve all striven to keep an open mind.”

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Willmer’s term will last two years. His seat will be up for election in November, 1993.

The appointment was the first decision made by the new board, which had been installed just two days earlier. Dana Tomarken, the only member from the old board whose seat was not up for election, was sworn in as president. Newcomers Richard Stone, Harris and Lillian Raffel, who was elected in a separate contest to fill a two-year term, were also installed. Tomarken, Stone and Harris were elected to four-year terms.

Willmer campaigned hard to stand out among the candidates in the weeks before the Nov. 5 election. He introduced himself to voters at their doorsteps and spent thousands of dollars on mailers and a campaign consultant.

One of Willmer’s special projects on the board, he said, will be to explore interactive computer technology as a teacher’s aid. Although implementing the idea would be years away, he said the district should plan for a time when information systems that combine video and audio will be an important classroom tool.

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Willmer--his initials stand for Anthony John, but he said he has gone by AJ all his life--is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His two daughters attend Horace Mann Elementary School, where he has served as a classroom volunteer and an active PTA and site council member. He has also served as a delegate to the district’s PTA Council.


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