Friday, July 02, 2010

Oconee County Board of Education Chairman Weeks Said New Board Member Can be a Critic

Idea Didn’t Float

The Oconee County Board of Education is willing to consider someone who is critical of the Board and critical of School Superintendent John Jackson when it evaluates candidates who apply for appointment as the Post 5 member, according to Board Chairman David Weeks.

The Board did not change its procedures for filling the vacant seat and reject Carter Strickland, the sole person who asked for the job under the original rules set up by the Board, because Strickland publicly criticized the Board and Jackson, Weeks said.

Weeks now says that the procedures he proposed to the Board for filling the Post 5 vacancy on May 19 should be seen as a kind of trial balloon.

Weeks said the public spoke out asking that the application process be opened to the public, and that is why the Board decided to abandon the procedures approved by the Board on May 19 and pass over Strickland at its June 14 meeting.

The fact that Strickland is a Democrat and all the Board members, including Weeks, were elected as Republicans had nothing to do with that decision, Weeks said.

I had asked Weeks to sit down and explain to me what the Board is looking for now that it has opened up the competition to anyone interested. At the June 14 meeting Weeks had listed five “qualities” that the Board will be looking for when it evaluates candidates.

We talked for about 45-minute on Thursday afternoon at Barberitos in Five Points in Athens. That is one of six local restaurants Weeks owns, including another Barberitos and a Mirko restaurant in Watkinsville and a Barberitos on Epps Bridge parkway.

I started by asking Weeks to explain each of the five qualities he listed at the June 14 meeting and which are on the Board of Education web site.

Weeks said many people misunderstand that the five Posts on the Oconee County Board of Education are not districts. The Board is looking for someone who is concerned about the entire system, not a particular school or part of the county, Weeks said.

The Board also wants someone who has a “team philosophy,” though Weeks said that did not mean that the person has to have the same opinions on issues as other Board members.

The ideal candidate will understand that she or he will have to make decisions that will not always be supported by everyone and has to be willing to “take heat” for those decisions, according to Weeks.

People also misunderstand that the Board of Education does not make decisions about appointments of principals or teachers or operation of the system, Weeks said. The Board works through the superintendent, Weeks said, and it is important that any new board member understand that.

Applicants must also be able to stay in communication with other board members, since the Board needs to be able to assemble and make decisions quickly, according to Weeks.

Post 5 BOE member Tom Breedlove resigned on May 10, and at the specially called meeting on May 19, Weeks, Post 2 incumbent Mack Guest, Post 3 member Kim Argo, and Post 4 member Mike Hunter agreed to invite the four candidates who had filed to run in the July 20 primary for the two open positions on the Board to apply for the Post 5 position instead.

That meant that Guest and Argo, along with Weeks and Hunter, were inviting Guest and Argo, along with Carter Strickland and Guest challenger Republican Mark Thomas, to apply for the Post 5 opening.

Ultimately, only Strickland, who filed as a Democrat to run against the winner of the Guest-Thomas contest, said he was interested in dropping out of the race and assuming the Post 5 opening.

At candidate forums held June 3 and June 9, Strickland criticized the Board and Superintendent Jackson.

At the June 3 forum, in response to a question posed to the candidates about Superintendent Jackson, Strickland said “if we can get rid of him without having to pay him, let’s get rid of him.”

At the June 9 meeting, again in responding to a question, Strickland accused the Board of “ineffective leadership,” though he said that criticism did not apply to all the Board members. He didn’t elaborate.

I asked Weeks how open the Board is to appointing someone who is critical of it, who is critical of Jackson, and who is a Democrat. I also asked him if Strickland’s comments or party had led the Board to reject him.

Weeks said the Board is willing to accept a critic and that Strickland was passed over because the public told the Board to open up the process, not because of what he said or his party affiliation.

At the time of our meeting, Weeks said, only three persons had applied for the Post 5 position. Weeks said he is hoping for about 10 times that number by the time the application window closes on July 15.

Screening will begin in August, with a Post 5 member being selected in late September or early October, according to the posted schedule.

Weeks told me Stuart McGarity, Gregory Zengo and Glenn Townsend had applied for the position. The Board of Education office was closed on Friday, so I could not confirm the list there.

I did talk with Glenn Townsend, 1030 Twin Oaks trail, and with Gregory Zengo, 1021 Oaklake trail, by telephone today, and each confirmed that he had applied. I was not able to reach McGarity.

During the interview, Weeks said he didn’t think the Post 5 position could have been filled through an election by the citizens even if Breedlove had resigned prior to the April 30 qualifying deadline for the July 20 primary.

Terrell Bentson, attorney for the Board, confirmed that in an email message sent to Weeks after our interview. Weeks forwarded the message to me.

According to Bentson, the Georgia Constitution, which defines the composition of the Oconee County Board of Education, stipulates that “Any vacancy occurring in the membership of the Board of Education of Oconee County, for any cause whatsoever, shall be filled by the majority vote of the remaining members of the Board of Education.”


The video of my interview with Weeks is on the Oconee County Observations channel of Vimeo. I edited out the front and back of the conversation, which had more to do with my difficulty in getting the camera set up correctly than with the Board of Education.