06/16/11 — School board can appoint for itself

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School board can appoint for itself

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 16, 2011 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Education, for the first time in 20 years, has the authority to fill its own board vacancies -- a power it had surrendered to county commissioners in the 1991 agreement that merged the former county and city of Goldsboro school systems.

The bill recently signed into law returning that power to the school board comes less than a year after the appointment to the board of Len Henderson. It was the second time county commissioners had exercised that power. The first was in April 1997 when they named a replacement for Carl Maples following his resignation.

The school board is made up of six members elected from districts and one who is elected at-large.

The change in the plan specifies that if a district school board seat becomes vacant that it be filled by someone who resides in the district.

It also provides that prior to filling any vacancy the school board may seek recommendations from commissioners who would then have 30 days within which to respond.

The person appointed to fill a vacancy would serve until the next general election, at which time the person could file for the primary. If the vacancy is filled after the filing period for the next general election has passed, the member would serve until a person could be elected at the next following general election.

In either case, the person elected would take office on the first Monday in December after the general election in which he or she was elected. If the filing period or the next general election has passed, the member would serve until the second following general election when the vacancy will be filled by election if applicable.

School board Chairman Thelma Smith called passage of the bill "good news." The bill was introduced by state Reps. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, and Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir.

"We have been waiting to hear the good news," she said. "That is great. That is wonderful. We are definitely very pleased with it. You know, we were the only school district in the state that did not have that authority.

"We just feel like that the people we think would do a good job in helping us carry forth our mission should be people we feel would work well with the school board, not someone that someone else suggests. They may have the same intentions that we have for filling a position or criteria. They may or may not, but we don't feel like they have our best interest at heart if it was done by an outside source."

Mrs. Smith said that the school board had asked for the change prior to Henderson's appointment. However, the request wasn't in place early enough to be introduced in the General Assembly.

"It is not that we have anything against the persons who were appointed. We have done this twice since I have been on the board. We just thought that the choice should have been ours," she said. "I know I am very happy."

Mrs. Smith said allowing the school board to fill its own vacancies will work better than the process that had been used before.

Mrs. Smith, who at that time was school board vice chairman, was a member of the committee appointed last summer by then commission Chairman Jack Best.

Also on the committee were Jimmy Williams of Mount Olive, former superintendent of Wayne County Schools; Andy Anderson of Pikeville, senior member of the Wayne County commissioners; Jim Parker, a former school board member; Paul Smalley, a former Mount Olive town commissioner; Shirley Bond, a retired educator; and Robyn Wade, a radio announcer. Best was chairman.

"(The process) was really not the way that we thought it was going to go," she said. "We were told that we were going to have a select number of people to come in and to work together, lay people, whatever, some school board people. I didn't think we should have had anybody on that particular committee from either the school board or county commission since the final choice was going to lay with the county commissioners."

The process had turned political before it ended, she said.

"Even though we came up with names, but in the final analysis we didn't really have any choice," she said. "I don't know why the committee was formed in the first place because whatever we wanted to do, it didn't work out that way. It wound up in the hands of the county commissioners which is where, I guess, it was to be supposed to be anyway.

"They really didn't need us. I feel like it was a waste of my time to have all of those meetings when it was going to wind up in their hands. They could have just gone on and made the appointment, but I think their intentions were good."

She added that the school board should be able to control its own destiny.

"You know, people forget that we are elected officials as well. We have our own constituents that we have to answer to. We are elected officials and ought to have the authority to add to our board like other people do."

Henderson was appointed by county commissioners last July to fill the unexpired term of District 2 board member Shirley Sims who stepped down after she moved to Garner.

The committee charged with making recommendations accepted applications from people interested in the vacant seat and interviewed them in late July.

When the committee met to review the interviews Best hinted that people in the audience should leave so the discussion could be held without the public being present.

However, no one left and Best led the committee in a whispered discussion -- a discussion so low that even committee members appeared to have difficulty hearing what was said.

Instead of announcing their choices, Best had committee members write down their top two choices on small slips of paper. Members did sign their papers.

Commissioners during a special session on July 23 voted 5-2 to appoint Henderson.

Henderson and the two other nominees, Ven Faulk and Dr. Dwight Cannon, recommended by the committee were given five minutes to address the board.

District 2 Commissioner J.D. Evans made the motion to appoint Henderson, but Commissioner Andy Anderson offered a motion to amend Evans' motion and to appoint Faulk to the seat.

Anderson's motion failed 4-3. Steve Keen voted for Faulk. Best did not vote which under procedure was counted as a "yes."

The board then voted 5-2 to appoint Henderson. Commissioner Bud Gray did not vote which was counted as "yes" vote as well.