Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Oconee County BOE Selects Three Men with Long Ties to Community as Post 5 Finalists

Women, Critics Passed Over

In selecting its three finalists from among the 17 applicants for the open Post 5 position on the Oconee County Board of Education, the board chose three men with long ties to the community.

And the board rejected all three female applicants as well the only three who, in their applications, offered even mild criticism of the board and Oconee County schools.

The board also rejected the only applicant with a Ph.D., the only applicant with a medical degree and both candidates with law degrees.

The board also rejected the only applicant who had labeled himself a Democrat. That was when he ran unsuccessfully for the Post 5 slot less than two years ago.

Two of the three selected applicants have extensive business experience, while the third is a retired Oconee school teacher and administrator.

The four members of the board who made the decision include a businessman with experience in restaurant franchising, a businessman who operates a trucking company, a teacher and a staff member at the University of Georgia. All but the teacher are men.

Tom Breedlove, who resigned from the Post 5 slot in May, was a land planner who worked in development.

Breedlove and the other four board members were elected as Republicans.

These three finalists–Joseph Bagley, Michael Burnette and Glenn Townsend–will be interviewed by the board on at a meeting starting at 7 p.m. on Sept. 2. Board Chairman David Weeks told me in early July that he expected the board to makes it decision in late September or early October.

Seventeen Oconee County residents filled out an application form by the deadline on July 15.

The board released the names immediately, but it did not release the application forms. Those forms list name, educational and employment background, school and community activities, reasons for requesting appointment to the board, and length of residence in Oconee County.

Sixteen of the 17 appeared before the board on Aug. 2 and gave three-minute introductions of themselves. Applicant Alan Alexander, one of the two attorneys, could not attend, and Weeks read a statement from him. Most applicants summarized what they had put on the application form.

The board has put the application forms of the three selected applicants on the web for public review.

I requested and received the full set of applications. I summarized their responses in a spreadsheet.

The length of residence of the 17 applicants ranged from less than one year (Michael Brown, 9 months) to 33 years (selected applicant Burnette).

The applicant with the second longest tenure in the county was selected applicant Townsend with 26 years.

Among those selected, Bagley was a relative newcomer, with nine years of residence. But he attended high school in Commerce and did his undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia.

Bagley is vice president of development for Lassiter Properties, Inc. According to his application, he currently directs the development of two major retail centers for Lassiter. Based in Morrow, southeast of Atlanta, Lassiter owns and operates timberlands in the U.S.

Burnette, according to his application, has been a store manager for more than 20 years with Tires Plus and has been area manager for the company for the last eight years.

Townsend, who served as an assistant principal in the Oconee County school system from 1992 to 2008, is now retired. Prior to moving to the Oconee system, Townsend was an administrator and teacher in the Clarke County school system.

Townsend began his teaching career in Commerce, following a short stint as graduate assistant football coach at the University of Georgia.

Bagley said he has two children currently in the Oconee County school system, while Burnette and Townsend did not indicate if they have children in the schools. Burnette’s application was one of the briefest, consisting of less than 11 lines of hand-written comments to the three open-ended questions.

“My background in accounting and 20 years in the business field will be instrumental with current economic times,” Burnette wrote.

Bagley also wrote that his experience in business would be an asset and said that he and his wife “are proud to tell folks that our sons are part of the Oconee County School System, and I believe that this system is well on its way to maintain the status as one of the best systems in the country.”

Townsend said he is “knowledgeable of many school policies + procedures, and am familiar with many of the policies and procedures of the Oconee System.” He added: “I am a ‘team’ person, and would love to be able to contribute to the current B.O.E. and its decision making.”

Only three of the applicants even hinted at criticism of the current board or system.

Kirk Dunham, a financial adviser, wrote: “While I believe that our school system in Oconee County is very good, I also believe that there is room for improvement in several areas.”

Dunham did not elaborate, but he did list communication, measurement of performance and development of personnel as areas he would like to focus on if he were appointed.

William Rakosnik, who said he was in upper management, was even more circumspect, saying he believed in “consensus building and a team approach to problem solving.” He added: “I do not believe that excellent schools and a reasonable tax rate are mutually exclusive goals and will work toward achieving both.”

Franklin Shumake said “We need school board members who will look, listen, and learn what our parents, students, teachers, administrators, and community citizens want in our schools.” He added that “we need to go beyond personal agenda items and focus on what is best for the students in our schools.”

Shumake, a retired Oconee County school administrator, said the county needs school board members who can communication with and coordinate with leadership groups in the community, such as the county commissioners, city leaders, and civic and business leaders.

Of the three female applicants, two did not list current work outside the home. Roslyn Beckstead has been a teacher in the past, and DeeDee Gaines has worked in the health and wellness field.

Cindy Chapman currently is working as an office manager.

Michael Brown was the second attorneys who did not make the short list. (Alexander was the first.)

Gregory Zengo was the only physician on the list of 17 applicants. His practice is in Watkinsville.

Zengo had asked to be appointed to the board back in 2007, when Post 2 became vacant because of a resignation. Guest was appointed instead.

Richard Clark, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Connecticut and is on the public service faculty at the University of Georgia, also had applied for that opening.

Clark then filed as a Democrat to run against Breedlove in November of 2008. Breedlove had defeated Kyle Martin in the Republican primary for the Post 5 opening and defeated Clark in the general election.

During the Aug. 2 presentation to the board, Clark urged the board to seek diversity in making its selection and even said he would understand if he were passed over for someone with expertise in elementary or secondary education.

The other applicants were Britt Beaver, a teacher and coach, Mark Capobianco, a business owner, Gary Davis, a financial adviser, and Stuart McGarity, a financial representative.

The board opened the applications up to the general public after abandoning an earlier attempt to fill the slot from among the four persons who had filed to run for the two seats being contested in this year’s election cycle.

Chairman Weeks made that proposal to the board on May 19, and members Mack Guest, Kim Argo and Mike Hunter quickly accepted it.

Guess and Argo were two of the four persons who had qualified to run. The others were Mark Thomas and Carter Strickland. Thomas filed to challenge Guest for the Post 2 position as a Republican, while Strickland filed to challenge the winner of that contest as a Democrat.

Argo has filed to run for reelection to Post 3 as a Republican and received no opposition from her party or from the Democratic Party.

Strickland alone asked to be appointed to the Post 5 position, but the board rejected his application on June 14 and decided to seek candidates from the general public.

Weeks said at the time that the public had registered its complaint with the restrictions the board had placed on applicants.

Thomas defeated Guest in the July 20 Republican primary. Thomas and Strickland will face off in the November general election.

Guest is the owner of Lad Trucking in Watkinsville. Argo is a Walton County teacher. Hunter is on the staff of the School of Forestry at the University of Georgia. Weeks owns six local restaurants, including three in Oconee county.

Thomas is a contractor, and Strickland owns a media content management service company.

Strickland had been critical of the current board and of Superintendent John Jackson in two candidate forums in June.

I met with Board Chairman Weeks on July and asked him if Strickland’s party or his criticism of Jackson had been factors in rejecting his candidacy.

Weeks said these things had not been factors and that the board was open to applicants with points of view different from those of current members.