Alamance-Burlington school board members will discuss later this month what process they will use to fill the impending vacancy created by veteran school board member Patsy Simpson, who announced this week her intention to resign in May, approximately 18 months prior to the scheduled expiration of her term. [See related story, this edition.]
State law requires school board members who are elected on a nonpartisan basis – such as the Alamance-Burlington school board – to select someone to serve out the remainder of a departing board member’s term. (For those school board members who run in partisan elections in a handful of North Carolina counties, the vacancy must be filled within 30 days by the executive committee for the departing member’s political party, under North Carolina’s school board elections law.)
ABSS school board members can take no action to select someone to serve out the remainder of Simpson’s term before her resignation takes effect, under the state’s school board election law.
They do, however, have some leeway with deciding which process they will use to select someone to serve the remainder of Simpson’s term, until the next school board election in November 2024.
While the board may discuss its procedures prior to Simpson’s departure, under state law there may be no decision on a replacement until there is actually a vacancy – i.e., until after the effective date of Simpson’s resignation.
School board members have two options for filling the vacancy, according to an analysis by Robert Joyce, an expert in elections law with the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Under the first option, a board member can make a motion – in an open meeting, after there is a vacancy – to have a specific person fill the former member’s vacant seat. If the motion receives a majority of votes, that person fills the vacancy; but if the motion fails to receive a majority of votes, a new motion is required, Joyce writes.
Under the second option, called the “nomination-and-ballot method,” school board members could either nominate individuals they want to be considered for the seat, or they could solicit applications for the seat; again, however, this procedure requires that there is, in fact, a vacancy. Each member would subsequently vote, in an open meeting, for his or her preferred candidate, and the person who receives the most votes would be selected.
If no one person were to receive a majority of votes, then those with the fewest votes could be removed from consideration, and a new round of voting would begin in order to eventually whittle the list of candidates to the top vote-getters, based on Joyce’s interpretation of the statutes.
The board also must decide beforehand which process to follow, according to Joyce’s analysis.
While there is a provision under the state’s school board elections law that allows school board members to fill out their ballots secretly, the state’s Open Meetings Law requires that all board members must sign their ballots, and for their votes to be recorded in the meeting minutes. The state’s Open Meetings Law also requires the votes to be announced publicly, and the ballots are public records, Joyce explains in his analysis for the School of Government.
ABSS has two policies pertaining to vacancies on the school board. The first policy requires any vacancy to be filled by a person appointed by the remaining school board members. The second policy stipulates that any board member who resigns prior to the expiration of his/her term should give the board chairman a written notice of such resignation at least 30 days in advance of the effective date.
Board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves told the newspaper Wednesday that school board attorney Adam Mitchell, who is with the Tharrington Smith law firm in Raleigh, had advised her earlier in the day that the board can start soliciting candidates but cannot take action until Simpson actually vacates the seat.
“We don’t anticipate any action until at least after May 22, based on our attorney’s guidance,” Ellington-Graves told The Alamance News in a brief phone interview Wednesday afternoon.
Joyce had not responded to a request for further elaboration by press time Wednesday night.
Patsy Simpson announces intention to resign effective May 22: https://alamancenews.com/breaking-tues-p-m-school-board-member-announces-plan-to-step-down-in-may/