Councilman Kenneth Kennedy cut to the chase Thursday night.
Along with himself, Segarra nominated four others to join the nine-member board for four-year terms. The city charter gives him that power under the strong mayor government developed under former Mayor Eddie Perez.
"It has become a matter of conscience," Segarra responded, pointing to the paramount role of education in the city.
Later, when asked if he had a board chairman in mind, the mayor drew some laughs: "Anyone else other than me, that's for sure!" Perez, who is appealing his felony corruption convictions, appointed himself board chairman during his tenure.
Segarra's other nominees to the board of education are Jose Colon-Rivas, the city's director of families, children, youth and recreation; Matthew Poland, CEO of the Hartford Public Library; lawyer Richard Wareing, a partner at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter; and Cherita McIntye, a director of executive learning and development at ESPN.
They sat alongside Segarra at a table facing the council, which plans to vote on their appointments at 7 p.m. Feb. 2. If confirmed, they would likely begin service immediately; the terms of the five current appointees on the board expire Tuesday.
Those appointed will join four elected members whose terms expire in 2013: Democrats Luis Rodriguez-Davila and Lori Hudson, and Robert Cotto Jr. and Elizabeth Brad Noel of the Working Families Party.
For the first hour of Thursday's lengthy hearing, Segarra defended his selections as those "who can not only work with the other board of education members, but also work with the administration and this council."
"We need to be innovative … but not lose track of the progress that has been started," Segarra said of the school system's ongoing reform efforts. "We can't make a U-turn; we can't make a side turn."
Councilman and board Chairman David MacDonald asked in a roundabout way if Segarra planned on micro-managing school administrators. MacDonald, whose board term expires in a few days, had some public disagreements with Segarra last year over the appointment of Superintendent Christina Kishimoto.
Kishimoto is away at a conference and did not attend the Q&A session.
Segarra said the board's role is to guide policy and not to "usurp" the responsibilities of principals or teachers.
McIntye highlighted her background in developing talent and said she believed the gaping achievement gap could be closed if "we create a culture of learning."
Colon-Rivas began his career in Hartford as a Bulkeley High School math teacher in the early 1990s and later was principal of Hartford Public High School during a crucial period of accreditation.
He said he supported school choice and "everyone should have the same opportunity."
"School choice is an opportunity for some and not for others," Colon-Rivas said, noting some parents' frustration over the quality of neighborhood schools.