Thursday, August 26, 2021

No Decision Made On How Odom Will Be Replaced As Chair On Oconee County School Board, Vice Chair Says

***No Promise Process Will Allow Open Applications***

Conversations among Oconee County Board of Education members are ongoing regarding the procedures for replacing Board Chair Tom Odom when he steps down on Sept. 1, according to Board Vice Chair Kim Argo.

Argo on Tuesday, said, however, that “the process and time line are not available at this time” for the decision.

Argo would not say if the Board will be deciding to replace Odom with one of the existing Board members and then replace that Board member or replacing Odom with someone not currently on the Board.

She also would not say if the procedures will be discussed at the next public Board meeting on Sept. 13.

She did say earlier that the Board will appoint a new chair during this calendar year.

Special legislation passed in 1964 allows the Oconee County Board of Education to appoint its members rather than hold an election, even though three years and four months remain on Odom’s term.

The last time the Board replaced a chair was in 2000, when three years remained on the late Tommy Warren’s term, and the Board chose Christine Franklin, then vice chair of the Board, to move to the chair position.

Turnover on the Board of Education has been common even in recent years, and the Board most often has opened up the process for applications from the public, but that has not always been the case and the special legislation gives the Board a free hand in setting the procedures it follows.

2000 Turnover

Oconee County School Board members are elected for one of five posts, though the posts all are at large, rather then designated for a district in the county.

Argo, Parrish, Branch 8/9/2021

Post 1 is designated as Board Chair, so the person who runs for that position also is running to chair the Board.

In 2000, Chuck Horton, currently a member of the Board of Commissioners, decided not to seek re-election for Post 1 on the School Board. 

Tommy Warren, who had been interim superintendent, ran for and was elected to Post 1.

Warren became ill and died in November of 2001, his first year in office.

Replacement Needed

As Warren’s illness progressed, the Board decided to elect a vice chair, according to Christine Franklin, who had been appointed to the Board to fill an unexpired term for Post 3 in 1999. She was elected to that Post in 2000 with Warren.

“Up until that time,” Franklin said in a telephone conversation on Thursday evening, “there had never been a vice chair on our Board.”

The other three members selected Franklin to be vice chair.

When Warren passed away, “The four remaining members of the School Board decided how they were going to replace Tommy as chair,” Franklin said.

“My understanding was that the chair would be replaced from within by the four remaining members,” she added.

The other members of the Board “essentially asked me if I would take over as chair,” she said.

The Board then accepted applications to replace Franklin for Post 3, she said, ultimately appointing Tom Hudson to that post.

Procedures Changed

Hudson did not seek election in 2004, and David Weeks was elected to Post 3.

When Franklin decided not to seek re-election in 2008, Weeks gave up Post 3 and ran for and was elected Post 1 Board Chair.

In May of 2010, Post 5 Board Member Tom Breedlove resigned when he moved out of the state.

Initially, the Board tried to replace him by offering the position to someone who had sought election to the Board.

Argo was on the Board at that time, having been elected in 2008, and she agreed to the offer.

Citizens objected, and the Board decided to open up the position for applications.

Seventeen persons applied.

The Board ultimately interviewed three applicants in public and selected Wayne Bagley to fill Post 5.

Replacement For Post 4

Weeks stepped down in 2012, and Tom Odom defeated then Board Member Mike Hunter for Post 1.

Bagley. following his appointment in 2010, was elected to Post 5 in 2012 and 2016, stepping down at the end of his term in 2020.

Branch And Odom 8/9/2021

Michael Ransom was elected to the Board for Post 5 last November.

Michael Burnette, one of the two unsuccessful finalists when Bagley was selected in 2010, ran successfully for Post 4 in 2012.

When Burnette resigned in December of 2013, the Board opened up the application process and received eight applications.

Again three finalists were interviewed in public, and Tim Burgess was selected.

Burgess was elected in 2016 and 2020.

Replacement For Post 2

Mark Thomas, currently serving on the Board of Commissioners, defeated incumbent Mack Guest in 2010 for Post 2 on the Board of Education.

When Thomas stepped down to run for the Board of Commissioners in early 2016, the Board announced the opening and received two applications.

The Board interviewed both in an open meeting on June 6 of that year and appointed Amy Parrish to fill the term.

Parrish was elected in 2018.

Post 2 held by Parrish and Post 3 held by Argo are up for re-election in 2022.

All five members of the School Board are Republicans.

Special Relationship

Oconee County School Superintendent Jason Branch, in his testimonial to Odom on Aug. 9, said the relationship between a superintendent and the chair of the Board of Education is a special one.

“The Board Chair and superintendent relationship, I think, is one that has to be experienced to be completely understood,” he said.

“I just appreciate the respect, love and care that you've shown for our school system, for me personally, and for my family over the years,” he said. “I think you're a model for the nation.”

While Odom’s announcement at the Board meeting was the first public disclosure of his decision, it was not a surprise to the Board.

Argo and Parrish read from written statements.

Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, communication director for Oconee County Schools, presented Odom with a plaque on behalf of the system.

Argo, in her email exchanges with me, has given no indication how much planning has been done for Odom’s replacement or how much advance knowledge the Board and Branch had of the decision.

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