Members of the Clinton City Board of Education spent nearly five hours and cost the district more than $1,000 in attorney fees Monday night when tasked with electing a chairperson for the new year.
As the first item of business, members were asked to elect the board’s new chair and vice-chair, which is consistent with board policy 2200.
That policy instructs the board to elect a chairperson and vice-chairperson to serve for a term of one year or until his or her successor is elected and qualified by taking the oath of office. An organizational meeting for the election and qualification of officers is to be held at the first scheduled July meeting.
When board attorney Adam Mitchell called for nominations, Jason Walters nominated Georgina Zeng and Mike Lanier nominated Carol Worley. Members continued to have a split vote, with Walters, Zeng and Dr. Stuart Blount casting votes for Zeng and Lanier, Worley and Dr. Linda Brunson casting votes for Worley.
Mitchell continued calling for a vote, and after nearly 20 votes that all ended in a tie, the board decided to continue with the other business of the meeting with Dr. Stewart interim superintendent, presiding over the meeting.
“This is one of the challenges of having an even number of members on a board,” Mitchell noted about the votes continuing to end in a 3-3 split, without an odd member to break the tie.
Once the board handled all regular business items, they entered into closed session to discuss personnel. That closed session lasted approximately 15 minutes, and board members returned to electing a chair at 8:32 p.m.
General statute sets no limitation on the number of times a board can vote, but does allow for the board to adjourn without electing a new chairperson and the current chairperson remaining in that capacity until the new vote carries.
“We need to elect our leadership,” Blount advised the board when fellow board member Brunson asked how long everyone was willing to stay. “The board is obligated to stay here until we elect a chair and a vice-chair.”
Worley, who was the current chair, made a motion to adjourn, seconded by Brunson, but failed when the vote for the adjournment ended in a tie.
Over the course of the next 45 minutes, the board continued to take votes and enter into recess after three votes were taken. This process continued until the board had taken more than 50 votes, all ending with the same result, a 3-3 tie.
Mitchell, who advised the board of their option to vote by written ballot, encouraged members to initiate and continue dialogue between each other until a compromise could be made.
Following one of the many breaks in the meeting, at 9:20 p.m., Lanier addressed the board about his commitment to seeing Worley remain chairperson for the board.
“I nominated Carol Worley because our district is already in a big state of change,” Lanier stated. “We are currently looking for a superintendent, we have positions open at the central office and the high school. I personally don’t feel this is yet another time to make another change. I don’t see the need to add something else unnecessarily. We should continue with the leadership we have.”
The board continued to vote and take a recess for the next 30 minutes, before the attorney again asked the board to consider talking about options and coming to an agreement.
“We are not making any progress,” Mitchell said. “I would encourage you all to move forward so we can do the business of the school system.”
Following the board’s 74th vote, at 10:10 p.m., Brunson once again initiated a compromise.
“Let’s do this and do it right,” Brunson encouraged fellow board members. “We can do this with order and professionally. All six of us are adults and we should be able to come to an agreement that is best for the students.”
Zeng, who served as the board’s chairperson two years ago, expressed her concerns with the board being divided over the last year.
“A board needs to work together,” Zeng noted. “We don’t need animosity. Our board has been divided for a while.”
Worley, who has served as the chairperson for the last year, defended her leadership role.
“I tried to do what I could to unify this board,” she stated.
Blount, who has now sat on both sides of the table having served previously as the school systems’ superintendent, urged the board to consider pulling together and making a decision.
“Doing what is right as a board member means not doing things in secrecy, not micro-managing and doing it with collaboration and professionalism,” Blount explained.
On the heels of Zeng and Worley’s discussion, which he said looked personal, Blount asked the board to reflect upon their past leadership skills before making a decision about the next chairperson.
“The time is for change,” Blount said. “My concern is if there is anybody with pants big enough to make that change.”
Following Blount’s pleas to the board to not only do what was in the best interest of the 3,100 students in Clinton City Schools, but for the board members to set their personal issues aside and work together for a common goal, the six members began discussing what compromises they were willing to make.
Nearly one hour later, at 11:20 p.m., Worley nominated Brunson to serve as chair. The final vote was unanimous.
Mitchell then asked for nominations for vice-chair. Zeng nominated Blount and Worley nominated Walters. In a 4-2 split, Walters will fill the final leadership role on the board.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.