05/20/10 — Smith named to group to pick member

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Smith named to group to pick member

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 20, 2010 1:46 PM

Thelma Smith, the former chairman of the Wayne County Board of Education, has become the first announced appointee to a nonpartisan committee that will lead the search to find a replacement for District 2 school board member Shirley Sims.

County Commission Chairman Jack Best Wednesday afternoon said Ms. Smith will be on the committee commissioners authorized him to appoint Tuesday morning.

Other members will be determined in the near future, Best said. The committee will be charged with reviewing applications and making a recommendation to the board. Commissioners will make the actual appointment.

Applications are now being accepted from eligible Wayne County residents who live in District 2. Residency in a district is normally considered at least 30 days, Board of Elections Director Vickie Reed said.

District 2 stretches southward from the south side of a section of Ash Street and encompasses 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.

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.

People may send their resume and letter of intent to Marcia R. Wilson, Clerk to the Board, Wayne County, P.O. Box 227, Goldsboro, NC 27533-0227. Applications must be received no later than 5 p.m. on June 21. All applicants will be subject to a background screening.

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

Unlike other counties in the state, commissioners and not the school board fill vacant seats on the school board.

Dr. Ed Dunlap, executive director of the North Carolina School Boards Association, said Wednesday he is not aware of any counties, other than Wayne, in which that is the case.

It is a practice that should be ended, he said.

Wayne commissioners have exercised the appointment authority since the county and Goldsboro city school systems merged in 1991-92.

"I am not aware of any (other similar cases)," Dunlap said in a telephone interview. "It is just General Statutes that the Board of Education will fill its own vacancy if it is nonpartisan. If it is partisan, then the political party of the departing member fills it. I don't think that is good. I think that the local board of education should be the one to replace the vacating board member."

Wayne County School Board races are nonpartisan.

"I would encourage, if I were asked, the Wayne County Board of Education to ask in the long (legislative) session that the vacancies be filled by the school board itself."

Dunlap said it was too late to seek such local legislation in the short session. Also, the short session is being devoted to tweaking the state budget and not new legislation.

It is a practice that the school board would like to end, too, board Chairman Rick Pridgen said in an earlier interview.

Pridgen said he is familiar with the merger agreement that led to the appointment authority being vested with commissioners.

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.

While that arrangement might have worked then, its time has passed, Pridgen said. However, Best has said he thinks an outside board is probably better-suited to doing the job.

It will not be the first time commissioners have used the appointment power.

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.