Monday, June 14, 2010

Oconee County Board of Education Changes Course on Plans to Fill Vacancy

Thanks, but No Thanks

The Oconee County Board of Education, having invited Carter Strickland to apply for a vacancy on the board less than a month ago, passed him over tonight and decided instead to open up the process to other applicants.

Board Chairman David Weeks tonight proposed the change in procedures for filling the Post 5 position vacated when Tom Breedlove resigned on May 10, saying that he had gotten a lot of feedback indicating that the board was interfering with the election.

Strickland is running as a Democrat for Post 2 on the BOE and is unopposed in the July 20 primary.

At the called meeting on May 19, Weeks proposed that the four qualified candidates for Post 2 and Post 3 be invited to apply rather than open up the position to everyone in the community.

The other three board members accepted the proposal. That included Mack Guest, incumbent Post 2 commissioner and a Republican candidate for that position in the July 20 primary, and Kim Argo, incumbent Post 3 commissioner and a candidate for that position in the July 20 Republican primary.

Argo and Guest subsequently declined to apply for the Post 5 vacancy, as did Mark Thomas, who has qualified to run against Guest in the Republican primary.

Strickland alone said he would be willing to drop out of the race and accept the vacant slot.

Argo has no one running against her in the primary and, unless someone qualifies to run as an independent, will have no opposition in November.

Guest now has to get through the Republican primary and, if successful, in November get past Strickland and any independent who might qualify.

Strickland has been critical of the board, indicating dissatisfaction with it motivated him to launch his candidacy.

At the candidate forum organized by Russ Page and me last week, Strickland accused the board of “ineffective leadership” but said that characterization applied only to “some members of the board.”

Weeks said that the procedures the board put into place last month were chosen because of “extenuating circumstances” resulting from the fact the election was underway.

He said, however, that he had heard from people in the community who said the selection procedure actually “was hindering the election process.”

Weeks tonight thanked Struckland for applying, “But at this point, I think--I feel-- that we need to let the election process play out.”

In other action, the Board approved a $53.5 million budget without discussion. The budget had not been released to the public at the time of the meeting, which began at 5 p.m. at the school central offices in Watkinsville.

The board also agreed that the four members present would not accept the $1,800 each is entitled to as compensation for serving on the board this fiscal year.

The new board member or members will have to decide on compensation separately.

The board will accept applications for the Post 5 position from June 15 to July 15, interview applicants in early August, interview finalists in early September and make a decision in late September or early October, according to Weeks’ proposal, which was accepted unanimously.

Weeks said the board wants candidates to be concerned about the entire system, not just parts, to be team players, to be unafraid of controversy, to understand that the superintendent actually runs the schools, not the board, and to be willing to stay in communication with the other board members.

Guest, who was not able to attend the candidate forum last week, today sent me a copy of a statement he said he had asked board member Mike Hunter to read at the forum.

When I asked citizens present at the end of the half-hour session for BOE candidates if they wanted to ask another question or hear Hunter’s summary of the statement, no one asked to hear the statement.

In the statement Guest sent to me today, he said he was in Colorado at a business meeting with one of his largest clients at the time of the forum. Guest is the founder of LAD Logistics, which has warehouses, a logistics center and offices in Watkinsville.

He said that “Despite what some would have you believe, we are clearly on the right track.” He cited upgrades to technology, infrastructure, classrooms and athletic facilities in the system as examples.