February 19, 2014 10:22:45 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
The 10-year school board career of Starkville School District Board of Trustees President Eddie Myles came to an end when aldermen, led by Ward 2 representative Lisa Wynn, killed his attempt at a third term and appointed Juliette Weaver-Reese to his expiring seat.
After it became apparent he would not be reappointed, Myles left the meeting to lead the in-progress school board meeting, the last such gathering he would chair this term. Weaver-Reese assumes Myles' seat March 3, a day before the month's first school board meeting.
It is unknown who will chair the board in Myles' absence. Weaver-Reese's appointment lasts through March 2019.
Tuesday's appointment -- specifically, how the board handled the matter -- became a flashpoint of dissent from public commenters and contention at the board table. Myles missed a deadline to submit his letter of intent for reappointment to the school board, but his name was added back to the mix once he notified the city of his desire.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman issued a directive Monday amending Tuesday's agenda to include interviews for both Myles and Weaver-Reese. The incoming school board member submitted a letter of intent by the deadline stated in city advertising.
Aldermen could have continued with the interviews, Wiseman said, since the deadline was "administrative housekeeping" and not part of state statute.
"Theoretically, a board doesn't have to advertise for that position at all. The board can come into a meeting and make that appointment," he said. "Furthermore, the board did not place a deadline for submissions in its order to advertise for the opening. On Feb. 3, when the board made an order for the vacancy, it was silent on there being any deadline.
"My practice has always been as those letters come in -- even if they come in on the day of the board meeting -- they go before the board," Wiseman added. "I believe it is the prerogative of this board to hear the candidates."
After Ward 6 Alderman Henry Vaughn said a missed deadline affected a previous appointment -- in that instance, Wiseman said, the person holding an expiring seat announced his or her intention to continue serving after aldermen had already named a successor -- Wynn asked the mayor if he would have afforded Weaver-Reese the same opportunity to submit a late statement of intent.
"Without a doubt," Wiseman said.
"You know what? I don't believe you," countered Wynn, drawing gasps from the near capacity board room.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver backed Myles' reappointment due to the ongoing Starkville-Oktibbeha County consolidation efforts. He supported Ward 3 Alderman David Little's motion to at least interview Weaver-Reese, but the matter was defeated by the trio who struck both interviews: Wynn, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn.
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard recused themselves from all discussions and votes pertaining to the appointment since both have immediate family members working in the school district.
Vaughn's daughter is also an employee of SSD, but he did not recuse himself from any of the proceedings.
"Who in here has ever missed a deadline?" asked Carver. "The reason I support Eddie Myles is ... we're in the middle of the consolidation process, and I think we need to stay with the (school board continuity). Speaking truthfully, I think everybody in here at some point in your life has missed a deadline. This can be a one-time exception in the consolidation.
"I think everyone knows this will be a 3-2 vote," Carver added. "There's no reason to fight this."
Numerous public commenters lambasted the board for its decision to strike both candidates interviews, including Ward 3 resident Anne Strickland, who said the board's action appeared to be "a done deal" and diminished her confidence in city leaders.
"The biggest issue of our entire generation is school consolidation. Nothing else you talk about tonight will even remotely touch that in significance. The biggest impact you can have on school consolidation is with who sits on the school board," Starkville resident Brother Rogers said. "The way you have gone about that decision is shameful. It's embarrassing to be a citizen and know that we're not even going to interview the people who are being considered for the school board, and, because of technicality, we're not even going to hear from somebody who has 10 years of experience and has been integrally involved in the consolidation process."
Wiseman gaveled down applause following Rogers' statement and asked that the public maintain decorum.
"Our city has many boards, and it's crazy that people can come and complain about the school board, yet we'll appoint people to planning and zoning. Guess what? They don't show up, and all we see is their name," Wynn countered. "This is nothing new tonight. The only thing is it's a different title, and it's called 'school board.'
"For legal purposes I did not vote for Weaver-Reese to be heard tonight. She will be invited back at the next meeting, and we will be able to ... introduce her to the public," Wynn added. "Sometimes as board members we have to make decisions behind the scenes that some of you may not understand, and they are quite difficult. Tonight was one of those."
Despite Wynn repeatedly saying Weaver-Reese would speak at a future board meeting, the incoming school board member took to the podium and promised to be a voice for both city and county residents during consolidation efforts.
She acknowledged the tension in public comments about her appointment: "I put myself out there to say regardless of what you had to say tonight, I'm going to serve in the best of my abilities."
"I don't think that there's really any better time to be coming on because of consolidation. I don't want to come in and cause controversy; I want to give new insight as a parent and as having personal ties to the community," Weaver-Reese said after the meeting. "I respect Eddie Myles. He's a great person. This had nothing to do with anything other than my interest in serving."
The outgoing school board member told aldermen he understood how administrative processes can sometimes impact governing bodies. Myles also thanked the public for continued support across his 10-year school board career.
"It's always been my dream to actually see the county consolidated with the city. The time is now. I wouldn't have mind to be on the board just to see it," he told aldermen during public comments.
"Everyone has a season to make a difference, (and) I believe I did," Myles tweeted after the school board meeting. "To God be the glory."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch