Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Two Independent Candidates For Oconee Board Of Education Focus On Transparency Of Board As Key Issue

***Speaking At Democratic Party Meeting***

The two Independent candidates seeking a spot on the Oconee County Board of Education leveled the same criticism at the current Board last week.

The Board of Education “is not doing business out in the open,” Melissa Eagling, a candidate for the open Post 3, said. The Board “is not giving community members the real opportunity to be heard and taking the voices and making decisions based on those things.”

“The main thing I’ve noticed is how the Board is not transparent at all,” said Ryan Repetske, candidate for Post 2 on the Board. “It is like the School Board is the great Oz. Everything happens behind the curtain. You don’t question what goes on.”

Eagling and Repetske were speaking to a gathering of Oconee County Democrats, meeting in-person at the Oconee Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville and remotely via Zoom.

The Democratic Party, which has not put up any candidates in the School Board race, invited the two Independents to speak at its September meeting.

Also on the program was Rep. William Boddie, the Democratic Party candidate for Georgia Labor Commissioner.

Boddie said he wanted to remake the Labor Department, which has struggled to handle the demands placed on it during the COVID pandemic.

Independent candidates Eagling and Repetske are scheduled to meet on Monday in a Republican Party sponsored debate with the two Republican candidates, Amy Parrish, seeking re-election to Post 2, and Ryan Hammock, seeking election to the open Post 3.

Eagling’s Self Introduction

“I was born here and raised here,” Eagling said in introducing herself. “I have four kids who are school age, three at Colham Ferry Elementary School.”

Eagling 9/15/2022

“I am very invested in this community. It is my home,” she continued. “It is important to me for how our schools are right now as well as the health of our entire community into the future. I am a passionate resident and parent.”

Eagling then turned to her family.

“This week, something really amazing happened to me that I wanted to share with you guys,” she said. “My youngest son is five years old, and he has a severe disability.”

“He took his first steps this week,” she continued. “I’m on cloud nine, for a long time. I’m really excited. It will carry me at least though November, right?”

Reason For Telling About Son

Eagling said she was telling about her son as a way of explaining how she first had contact with Oconee County Schools leadership.

“So I get to the Special Education Pre-School with my own son, who has a disability and the right to have an individualized education plan,” Eagling said. “And he is three, the legal age when you can enter a special education pre-school.”

Eagling said the process of creating an Individual Education Plan for her son was done incorrectly. The evaluations were not done before the plan was created, she said.

“Because I am a parent who has the education and resources to know what my son is entitled to, I spoke up,” she said. “I said ‘No’, these evaluations need to happen first. Because these services go in this document.”

“So my son gets what he is entitled to because I know to ask for it,” she said. “The child sitting next to him in his class does not. And that is how the system works. So these are my first interactions.”

“Then as time progresses, COVID happens, and I think as a general community we saw the way that the Board of Education in Oconee County handled that,” Eaglin said. “And there were major issues with transparency, and accessibility, and active solution-making.”

“I think that we all see what I have seen from the special education side,” she said. “We all see as a general community now, that the Board of Education is not responsive to community voices.”

“Is not doing business out in the open,” she continued. “Is not giving community members the real opportunity to be heard and taking the voices and making decisions based on those things.”

Changes Needed

Eagling said she wants “to have a much more open system where the community has an opportunity to be heard and for those voices actually to be considered in a substantive way.”

“I am in a place where I truly care about the county as a whole,” Eagling said. “I want all voices to have a place to be heard. Everyone.”

“There are many voices who have not had an opportunity to speak up,” she said. “So that includes people all the way across the political spectrum. I will say that I absolutely do not believe that politics belong on the School Board.”

“I am not attempting to push any agenda politically one way or the other on the School Board” she said. “If I had an agenda I would be very honest about it. There’s no agenda whatsoever.”

“The Board of Education conducts their business behind closed doors and doesn’t accept meaningful input from residents in the county,” Eagling said in response to a question from the audience.

“I want to address that,” she said. “I want there to be a system in place with our Board of Education that works and serves every single student and every single resident.”

Support For Teachers

One audience member asked Eagling how she felt about arming teachers.

Eagling At Democratic Meeting 9/15/2022

She said she has been involved in a number of discussions with teachers about this, and “the overwhelming sentiment of the teachers is absolutely not.”

“The teachers in this county, in our school system, are absolutely, 100 percent, our greatest asset,” Eagling said. “And if our Board of Education would listen to their voices, and hear their voices, that would be amazing.”

“My experience in the school system with my four children with teachers and the local administrators has been hands down just amazing across the board,” Eagling said. “I absolutely want to listen to what they need and what they want.”

“And with respect to being armed, what I am absolutely hearing is “No, no, no, we do no want that responsibility’,” she said.

Repetske’s Introduction

Both Eagling and Repetske began their comments by thanking the members of the Democratic Party who helped them get the 1,425 signatures of voters needed to be allowed to run as Independents.

Repetske 9/15/2022

“At least 25 percent of the people that helped gather signatures were involved with the Democratic Party,” Repetske said. “Everyone that helped was vital. It took so many signatures. That was crazy.”

Repetske, operations manager at Athens Neurological Associates, said he has lived in the Athens area for more than 30 years and in Oconee County for more than 20 of those years.

He said he attended elementary, middle, and high school in Oconee County schools.

“When I decided to start a family, it was important to me, I thought, Oconee County Schools great,” he said. “That’s where I want my kids to go to school. So we moved back here in 2010."

“My wife is a teacher in Oconee County Middle School. I have extended family that are teachers. So that is very important to me–to support teachers,” he said.

Deciding To Run

“The whole reason I ended up running was I just thought there was some kind of disruptive forces in the environment like running for School Board,” Repetske said.

“When I saw that I said if no one is going to run I’ll run,” he said. “I was kind of jokingly saying that to some friends.”

“And then the next thing I know there was a local parents group of concerned citizens and they say, all of a sudden, ‘We’re getting signatures for you”,” Repetske said. “I said, ‘Oh wow, let’s do this’,” he added.

“When I was presented with the opportunity to do it I was like, I’m not a very political person,” Repetske said. “This isn’t my thing. This isn’t my scene.”

“I’m clearly not as polished as many of the other candidates out there,” he said. “But it was important to me. The thing I liked most was getting to run as an Independent. Because I don’t really strongly identify with either party.”

“My wife, she identifies as fairly liberal,” Repetske said. “I don’t tell my wife what to do. And she doesn’t tell me--for the most part.”

Transparency Mentioned

“The main thing I’ve noticed is how the Board is not transparent at all,” Repetske said. “It is like the School Board is the great Oz. Everything happens behind the curtain. You don’t question what goes on.”

Repetske At Democratic Meeting 9/15/2022

“Oconee Schools are great,” Repetske said. “We want to keep them great. But I think you can engage the community more. Have more public forums. Better opportunities to speak.”

Repetske said he went to one of the meetings on the property tax increase.

“I saw citizens that were very concerned and go up and try to speak and they are standing in front of a wall that has a 3 minute timer going down the whole time,” Repetske said. “The Board looks completely disinterested.”

“And I was like, as an adult, I took my time to come to this meeting to give my opinion, and they are just sitting there, and they’re just waiting for this thing to go down,” he continued.

“The thing goes off and they’re like, ‘Next person’,” he said. “I know you can’t have a whole dialog about every time that happens. You have to draw the line somewhere. But there has to be a better way to do it than that.”

“I don’t want to turn Board meetings from one hour meetings into four hour meetings,” he said. “Or completely shake things up. Or be the totally disruptive force.”

“But I think there is a better way to do things,” he said. “And I’d really like a chance to have my say a little bit.”

Guns And Curriculum

“Guns, curriculum, where do you fall out on those issues?” a member of the audience asked.

“I’ve heard from teachers that they’re not comfortable with the idea of that,” Repetske said about arming teachers. “And I would definitely not want to put people in a position of using fire arms if they are not comfortable.”

“And I really don’t want my kids around them in that sort of environment, in a learning environment,” he said.

“I grew up with firearms and was taught how to handle them properly,” he continued. “But I think in the schools, if someone is not willing to handle them, I don’t think they should be forced to.”

“As far as curriculum, I don’t have a whole lot to say on that at this point,” Repetske said. “If there is a question about curriculum, please bring it in and express any concerns about it.”

“The same with books or anything else,” he added. “But I prefer to have more details on the questions, like, what, in fact, is the problem with it?”

Boddie On Labor Department

Boddie told the gathering that during the pandemic, people “could not get anyone on the phone from the Georgia Department of Labor. They couldn’t get responses, email responses replied to.”

Boddie 9/15/2022

“The voice mail box on the one line that was available with the Department of Labor was always busy. That became very problematic during the pandemic,” he said.

Boddie, an attorney, was first elected to 2016 and was minority whip when pandemic hit.

“As a state legislator, I was taking those phone calls, from constituents just not in my House District in South Fulton and Douglas County but across the state that wanted to know how to get in contact with the Department of Labor.”

“The doors were closed for almost two years,” he said. “So I’d like to change that as your next Georgia Labor Commissioner. I’m going to put Georgia workers first. I want to modernize the Department of Labor.”

Mark Butler, a Republican, has been Labor Commissioner since 2011. After the problems with the operation of the Labor Department during the pandemic, he announced he was not running for a fourth term. He cited family health issues.

Bruce Thompson, a state senator from Cartersville, northwest of Atlanta, is the Republican candidate.

“Trust is the foundation for any organization,” Thompson says on his web site. “The public’s trust for the Department of Labor is at an all-time low. This agency has been ‘at odds’ with the General Assembly and the Governor’s office for many years. Let’s fix this together.”

Career Centers

Boddie said that under Michael Thurmond, the Democratic Labor Commissioner who preceded Butler, the state had 83 career centers.

Now it has 43, he said.

“I want to make sure that any county that has 25,000 residents or more have a Career Center for the citizens of that county to utilize,” Boddie said.

Oconee County has 43,023 citizens, according to the most recent Census Bureau estimate.

“I want to make sure that we modernize and have a Department of Labor that’s accessible to all Georgians,” Boddie said.

Democratic Vote

“The Democratic ticket needs Oconee County Democrats to help us, to give your time, your talent, and your treasures to help get a historic Democratic ticket elected up and down the ballot here in the state of Georgia,” Boddie said.

“We elected a Democratic president in President Joe Biden back in 2020,” he said. “And we elected two U.S. Senators from Georgia back in January of last year giving the Senate the majority.”

“So let’s do it a third time,” he said.

“If we got 1,000 Democrats, or 2,000 Democrats, or how many thousand Democrats we got, or even hundreds of Democrats in Oconee County,” Boddie said. “We need every one of those Democrats to vote. Because that is going to help us to win statewide in the state of Georgia.”

“We have to get every vote outside metro Atlanta and outside of the historical Democratic counties,” he said.

“With this historic statewide Democratic ticket we’re going to where Democrats are to talk to Democrats across the state,” he said. “So thank you all for having me tonight.”

GOP Meeting, Video

The debate organized by the Oconee County Republican Party is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at the Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road, west of Butler’s Crossing.

WGAU Radio personality Tim Bryant is scheduled to moderate.

Registration is required.

The video below combines video recorded from my stationary camera at the meeting of the Oconee County Democrats on Sept. 15 in the Oconee Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville and clips from the Zoom session of that meeting.

Eagling and Repetske joined the meeting in person, while Boddie joined the meeting via Zoom.

The Zoom recording of Boddie in the video below replaces the recording from the camera in the room.

Eagling began her comments at 3:07 in the video.

Repetske began speaking at 19:21 in the video.

Boddie appears at 31:10 in the video.

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