At its Jan. 3 meeting, the Oconee County Board of Education is scheduled to swear in two members, bringing to an end a year that saw one board member resign, the board announce and then abandon a plan to replace the member, and voters toss out an incumbent.
Mark Thomas will join the Board at that meeting as Post 2 member after handily defeating both incumbent Post 2 Board member Mack Guest in the July Republican primary and Democrat Carter Strickland in the November general election.
Kim Argo, who ran unopposed in both the Republican primary and in the general election in November, also is scheduled to be sworn in for a second four-year term. She holds Post 3.
The two will join Wayne Bagley, chosen by the Board on Oct. 4 to replace Post 5 Board member Tom Breedlove, who resigned on May 10 after he decided to move out of the state to take a new job.
The terms of Board Chairman David Weeks, Post 4 member Mike Hunter and Bagley will expire in 2012. The terms for Argo and Thomas run until 2014.
On May 19, the Board announced it would turn to the four candidates who had filed for the Post 2 and 3 positions to find a replacement for the Post 5 vacancy.
That meant that Argo and Guest, along with Weeks and Hunter, were inviting Argo and Guest, along with Thomas and Strickland, to ask to be considered to replace Breedlove.
In the end, only Strickland said he was interested, and the Board decided on June 14 that it would pass Strickland over and seek applicants from the general public.
Bagley was chosen from 17 applicants after the Board shortened the list to three on Aug. 9 and interviewed those finalists on Sept. 2. Bagley was sworn in on Oct. 11, or a week after his selection.
In a conversation with me on Nov. 2, Weeks said the board had learned from the experience of selecting the Post 5 replacement.
“I know we have taken some heat on the process we went through,” he said. “I think in the end it did work out the way it was supposed to work out.”
Weeks said if he could go back to May 10, he would propose opening up the process “right off the bat.” But he said it was easy to second guess the decision and he didn’t want to do that.
Weeks said he didn’t think there would be any long-term consequences of the decision process and he is very pleased with the selection of Bagley.
The official selection of Bagley on Oct. 4 came after the Board voted to go into executive session at the end of its regular meeting, which started at 4:30 p.m.
According to the official minutes of the meeting, that was at 5:22 p.m. The Board returned from executive session at 5:33 and announced the selection of Bagley.
“I know that 11 minutes does seem like it was already predetermined,” Weeks said in our conversation. But he said that was not the case.
The Board had discussed the three candidates following their interviews on Sept. 2, Weeks said.
According to the official minutes of that meeting, the Board spent a little less than an hour and a half in executive session after the Sept. 2 interviews.
“At that time,” Weeks said, “We didn’t have a consensus.”
Weeks told me he encouraged the Board members to talk one-on-one with the candidates on their own, and that he had talked with Townsend by telephone and had lunch with Bagley and Burnette.
Weeks said he also encouraged the Board members to exchange information and ideas, though not in groups of three, since that would violate the state’s open meetings laws.
Weeks said the Board did not discuss the three candidates in meetings held on Sept. 13 and 20, because Guest missed the first of those meetings and Weeks missed the second.
So the next discussion of the full board about the three finalists was on Oct. 4, he said.
“When we got there, everybody said Wayne Bagley was their choice,” Weeks said.
Superintendent John A. Jackson attended the two executive sessions where the three finalists were discussed, according to Weeks, but he did not express his opinion, and the Board did not ask.
“He didn’t play any role whatsoever,” Weeks said.
No reporters for the papers were present when the Board came out of executive session on Oct. 4 and announced Bagley’s selection, and none of the papers mentioned the small amount of time the Board needed to select Bagley at that meeting in the stories they wrote about the meeting.
The Athens Banner-Herald had a story in its Oct. 5 edition about Bagley’s selection, and The Oconee Enterprise and The Oconee Leader had stories in their Oct. 7 editions.
Oct. 4 was a Monday, and that is the final day for copy for the Leader. The Enterprise normally includes in its Thursday editions stories from meetings on Tuesday nights.
Reporter Kathy Russo from the Enterprise was present at the Oct. 4 meeting but left when the Board went into executive session.
Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Brook Whitmire sent a press release immediately after the meeting to the three newspapers, according to the response to an open records request I filed with the school office on Oct. 17.
The meeting ended at 5:35 p.m., and the news releases were sent at 5:46 and 5:47.
Superintendent Jackson handed me a copy of that news release about that same time.
The news release contained a lengthy quote from Weeks explaining the selection of Bagley and noting his credentials.
The Enterprise used the quote in its story, written by Russo, while Ryan Blackburn from the Banner-Herald used a part of the quote. Reporter Katie Tavernier did not use the quote in her story in the Leader.
According to an email message I received on Oct. 18 from Deborah Epps, administrative assistant to Superintendent Jackson, Jackson called Tavernier after the meeting because Epps had told Tavernier earlier in the day that she did not expect an announcement of a selection at the meeting.
Tavernier quoted Jackson praising Bagley rather then Weeks in her story.
The Jan. 3 work session where Argo and Thomas are scheduled to be sworn in starts at 5 p.m. at the school system’s administrative offices, 34 School street in Watkinsville.
Mr. Breedlove resigned shortly after qualifying for elections ended, thus putting the filling of his position in the hands of something other than an election.
The confusion concerning filling that spot is illustrative and unsurprising.
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