05/19/10 — Commission seeks options to fill slot on school board

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Commission seeks options to fill slot on school board

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 19, 2010 1:46 PM

The task of recommending a replacement for longtime Wayne County Board of Education member Shirley F. Sims, who resigned last week, will fall to a committee to be appointed by county commission Chairman Jack Best.

Commissioners gave Best that authority Tuesday morning after he told them he wanted their blessing to appoint a nonpartisan committee to head the search for someone to fill the remainder of Ms. Sims' term. Best provided no fuller explanation of how he envisioned the process would work or how long it might take.

Commissioners are the final authority on who will be appointed -- a holdover from the early days of the agreement that paved the way for the merger of the Goldsboro city and county school boards in the early 1990s.

It is something the school board wants to change, but for the time being will just have to "deal" with, Board of Education Chairman Rick Pridgen said.

Asked after the meeting if it was time for commissioners to return that authority to the school board, Best said "no." Best said he thinks an outside board is probably better-suited to do the job.

It will not be the first time commissioners have used the appointment power they assumed following the merger of the county and Goldsboro city school systems in 1991-92.

In April 1997, then-commission Chairman D.J. Pelt called a special session to name a replacement for Carl Maples following his resignation from the school board.

Maples represented northern Wayne County's District 1. Candidates were identified and Pelt called for the special session so candidate could state their qualifications and the commissioners could ask questions.

Ms. Sims, who became the first minority female Board of Education chairman in 2006, will leave office July 1. She was first elected to the board in 1992 and her current term runs through 2012.

School board races are nonpartisan.

Ms. Sims represents District 2, which runs from the south side of a section Ash Street southward encompassing Dudley and that section of Mount Olive east of the railroad tracks. It was created as a minority district when the voting districts were created in the late 1980s.

The person commissioners appoint to the seat must reside in District 2.

Ms. Sims had decided to move to a retirement community near Garner, but had planned to complete her board responsibilities at least through the current school year. However, her home sold quicker than anticipated, prompting her decision to step down.

Best was reticent to answer questions following Tuesday's meeting concerning the committee.

He said the committee would be appointed within 10 days and a decision reached within 90 days. He said he would announce the members when they are appointed.

The meetings will be open to the public. However, Best said he did not want to embarrass people by giving out their names just in case they are not selected.

Best asked commissioners to authorize him to form a committee "to bring forth recommendations." Commissioner Steve Keen made the motion to grant that approval.

Commissioner J.D. Evans questioned, "for the sake of legality," if there were any problems handling the issue in such a manner.

County attorney Borden Parker said if a motion were made and approved then there would be no problem.

"The Board of Commissioners will make the final determination," Best said. "The only thing the committee will bring back is a recommendation."

"I am familiar with the merger agreement and at the time it was done it was a good thing," Pridgen said.

When the merger occurred there were seven county school board members and seven city members. The concern was that if a member died or stepped down that it could affect the balance if the remaining members were to name a replacement, he said.

"We are past all of that now," Pridgen said. "We have six districts and an at-large. I think we are the only county in North Carolina like this (where commissioners make the appointments)."

Pridgen said the school board has been talking for some time about approaching the General Assembly for a local bill that would restore the appointment authority to the school board.

But as for now "we have to deal with it," he said.

"Jack has called and talked about it and maybe putting someone from the school board on it," Pridgen said. "I think that is great, and I appreciate him giving that consideration."

Pridgen said he did not know who would be appointed to the committee or how many members it would have.

Pridgen noted that Ms. Sims represents a large district. While originally created as a minority district, Pridgen is more concerned that the appointee has the interest of all the county's students at heart.

"Mrs. Sims has done a good job representing her district, and I think they will keep that in mind whoever is selected," he said.

Thelma Smith, former school board chairman, has agreed to serve on the search committee, which will announce application procedures by Thursday.