Sunday, March 3, 2024

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If they don’t want to fill a school board seat (at all), just say so

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We don’t have an especially strong feeling about whether the school board should appoint someone to fill the seat left vacant by longtime member Patsy Simpson’s move to Virginia earlier this year. State law seems to anticipate it, and that’s what the school board’s attorneys keep telling them; and the school system’s own “policy” says a replacement will be appointed.

But we can see plenty of good practical reasons on both sides of the question.

In at least one municipal case – Haw River’s town council comes to mind – the council was divided 2-2 about who to appoint to fill a vacancy, so they ended up just leaving the fifth seat vacant until the next election.

Nothing wrong with that. (Although, again, not sure that flexibility extends to school boards.)

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In other cases, boards have often appointed the runner-up from the most previous election to fill the remainder of the term.

Most recently, Mebane’s city council took that path in appointing Katie Burkholder (the runner-up in 2021 municipal elections) to a seat in 2022 after longtime council member Patty Philipps moved to the coast.

We suspect that’s the real rub among school board members who haven’t wanted to start the process of filling the current vacancy on the ABSS board.  Seneca Rogers, the runner-up in 2022 (and 2020, by the way), is considerably more liberal than the three members who were elected in 2022, and those three probably don’t want to have to justify “skipping over” him to name someone else.

Other boards haven’t minding “skipping” the runner up.  Poor Celo Faucette was the victim of that mindset (twice) when he was considered to fill a vacancy on the Burlington city council after the 2005 and 2007 city council races in which he was the runner-up in both years.

Faucette finally won in his own right in 2009 and won re-election in 2013; then he lost a mayoral challenge to then-mayor Ian Baltutis in 2017, but he’s trying for a comeback this fall for a regular council seat again.

More recently, in Gibsonville, the aldermen there skipped over Irene Fanelli last year, who had been the runner-up (by two votes) in the most recent municipal election in 2021.  But when a second vacancy occurred earlier this year, aldermen did tap her for the second opening.

Gibsonville, by the way, skipped over Fanelli in 2021 to appoint the fourth-place finisher, Paul Dean, something we suspect school board members might want to do – by appointing Avery Wagoner, who was the fifth place finisher in 2022 and struck us as a reasonable candidate who might make a good board member.

All this is by way of background.

But the real point is that the three school board members who don’t seem to want to proceed toward filling the vacancy – board vice chairman Ryan Bowden and newly-elected members Dr. Charles Parker and Chuck Marsh – just need to be above-board is saying so, if, in fact, that’s their position.

If they want to keep it vacant until November 2024, just admit it.

Instead, the idea peddled this week was, in essence, that school board members cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. “We’ve got to focus on mold (only)” was the gist of the rationale in wanting to avoid (on two back-to-back 3-3 deadlocked votes) starting an application process for those who might seek appointment to the school board seat.

Donna Westbrooks, typically a relatively quiet, subdued member of the board, may have offered the most insight, “We can multitask,” she said.

One would hope so, but we’re not entirely sure.

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