Alamance-Burlington school board member Patsy Simpson, who had recently announced her intention to step down May 22, told board members this week that she would not step down until she can be assured of what questions and criteria will be used to determine who the remaining board members select for her replacement after she steps down.

She insisted that a “rubric” needed to be in place now – she wanted the school board to decide Tuesday afternoon what questions would be asked of applicants for the seat.

“I value my seat, I value my voice, and people are looking for what I bring to this board, and they want to make sure my replacement will have the same values,” Simpson said during the board’s latest work session.

“I am not vacating this seat until I get to know the criteria that this board has established,” Simpson said Tuesday. “This board has decided to exclude me from this process; you have

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not laid out what we’re looking for. Until such time as that is done, I am not going to give up my seat.” She told her fellow board members that she would remain on the board – and remain a resident of Alamance County – until there’s a satisfactory process for selecting her replacement.

Simpson had previously told The Alamance News that she and her husband were planning to move once he retired from the U.S. Postal Service and renovations were finished on a home they own in Virginia.

Simpson cast the lone vote against a subsequent motion by board member Dan Ingle to suspend all activities related to selecting her replacement.

The motion passed 5-1. Voting in favor were Ingle, chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves, and board members Ryan Bowden, Donna Westbrooks, and Charles Parker; Simpson was opposed; and board member Chuck Marsh was absent due to illness.

The board had voted 6-1 last week to accept letters of interest from prospective candidates from April 1 until June 1.

Simpson had opposed that approach as well, saying she didn’t agree with interviewing candidates.

Instead, that application process was scrapped altogether as a part of Ingle’s motion.

Simpson has voiced her support for appointing Seneca Rogers, who finished fourth out of six candidates for three open seats on the school board in the 2022 general election.

Simpson told her fellow board members Tuesday that community members had already spoken about what characteristics and values they think her replacement should have.
“We’ve received letters – at least I have,” Simpson said. “Some have said [the successor] should be the next in line [in the voting in the 2022 race]. We as a board have to acknowledge what is important, and until that takes place, I’m not moving from this seat.”

School board members heard from 10 speakers during the public comments period of their meeting last Monday night. Most had urged the board to appoint Rogers to serve the remaining portion of Simpson’s term, which expires in late 2024; and many said they feel the school board should mirror the diversity in Alamance County.

 

One letter of interest submitted late Tuesday afternoon
During a break at the work session, ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler told The Alamance News that no letters of interest had been submitted to the administration.

However, Rogers submitted a letter of interest, outlining his qualifications, late Tuesday afternoon – some 3½ hours after the board had voted to suspend all activities related to selecting a replacement for Simpson. (Rogers was not present at the work session.) ABSS subsequently furnished a copy of Rogers’ letter of interest to The Alamance News Wednesday morning.

A notice of the upcoming vacancy on the school board that had been posted on the school system’s website was removed immediately after the board voted Tuesday afternoon to suspend all activity, ABSS public information officer Les Atkins confirmed for the newspaper Wednesday morning.

School board attorney Adam Mitchell, who is with the Tharrington Smith law firm in Raleigh, had told the school board last week the remaining six board members could choose to accept applications or letters of interest, or they could simply vote to appoint someone to fill the vacancy after it occurs.

“The board cannot act until the vacancy officially exists,” Mitchell told the board last week.  He said other school boards have followed a “more robust process,” in which a vacancy is posted and applications are submitted by interested community members.  “Generally, the board will choose to interview candidates,” he said. And, he added, “There’s no part of this process, at all, that’s allowable [to be discussed] in closed session.”

During this week’s discussion about the process for selecting a replacement, Mitchell told the board, “The only legal criteria is that the person is a registered voter in Alamance County. I’ve not ever seen a board create a metric or rubric. Typically, the board accepts letters of interest; then, the board debates and discusses.”

 

Board chairman: Time to move on
Simpson’s insistence that the board develop a rubric drew an unusually prickly response Tuesday from school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves.

“I’m hearing if we don’t do what you’re asking for [you won’t step down],” the chairman said.

“Not me,” Simpson countered, “[it’s what] the public has asked for.” She suggested that the board develop criteria for prospective candidates, similar to what would be used to evaluate job applicants.

“It isn’t really accurate to characterize these applicants as potential employees,” Frayda Bluestein, an expert in public law and government, wrote in an analysis for the School of Government at UNC. “More directly, the open meetings law specifically says, ‘A public body may not consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, appointment, or removal of a member of the public body or another public body and may not consider or fill a vacancy among its own membership except in an open meeting.’”

Meanwhile, school board member Dr. Charles Parker floated another idea Tuesday afternoon that would seem to contravene Bluestein’s (and board attorney Mitchell’s) interpretation of that provision in the open meetings law.

Parker had suggested that the board create a Google document where board members could add potential questions to ask applicants at a board meeting once the previous June 1 deadline had passed.

Instead, Ellington-Graves said it was time for the board to move on to other matters of business that were on the meeting agenda Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t want to take up board time to discuss something that may or may not be,” she said.

The chairman told Simpson, “I think you’re looking for a defined role; and we’re looking for the best person.”

“I thought that we would say we would like to have someone that gives the board some diversity, who actually attends church and community functions in a part of the community that is not represented on this board,” Simpson responded. “That’s all I’m asking. Until that is done, I’m not comfortable, because I value this seat…I’m really not trying to tie you down; I’m trying to say how much I value having an impact on this board. There’s nothing wrong with creating a rubric, telling the public what you are looking for from those letters.”

A retired IRS agent, Simpson is the only black member of the otherwise all-white school board, whose members are ostensibly elected on a nonpartisan basis. She was elected to her fourth, four-year term in November 2020.

Pressed Tuesday about whether it is legally permissible for Simpson to participate in any part of selecting a successor, Mitchell told The Alamance News, “I believe it is legal for Ms. Simpson to participate in discussions about a process for filling a board vacancy while she is a board member. It is not legal for her to vote on who will fill the seat.”


Read the newspaper’s editorial views on Simpson’s “threat” not to resign unless board chooses her successor the way she wants: