Aldermen pick Tomlinson for school board

March 17, 2010 10:55:00 AM

Tim Pratt -


The Starkville Board of Aldermen Tuesday appointed a seasoned educator and volunteer to fill the vacant seat on the Starkville School District''s board of trustees, but not before city officials exchanged contentious words on the selection.  


Aldermen voted 5-2 to appoint Susan Tomlinson to fill the board of trustees seat vacated by Dr. Walter Taylor, who retired earlier this month. Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn voted against Tomlinson''s appointment.  


Prior to the vote, Perkins made a motion to appoint Dr. Walter Conley, former superintendent of the Oktibbeha County School District, to fill Taylor''s seat, but the motion failed when aldermen Ben Carver, Eric Parker, Richard Corey and Jeremiah Dumas voted against Conley''s appointment. Ward 2 Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk abstained from the vote on Conley.  


When Sistrunk nominated Tomlinson shortly thereafter, only Perkins and Vaughn voted against the appointment. Perkins cited Conley''s 20 years of experience as superintendent of the Oktibbeha County School District, his two years as assistant principal at Starkville High School, and the fact that Conley taught in the Starkville, Oktibbeha County and West Point school districts, as his reasons for the nomination.  


Neither Perkins nor Vaughn were pleased their fellow aldermen rejected Conley in favor of Tomlinson, who volunteered in the Starkville School District for 15 years, had two children pass through the SSD and another who is a current student, and has worked at Mississippi State University in the horticulture, floristry and agriculture fields.  


"I wish that we as a board could set the leadership and start moving this city forward by doing what I think is the right thing, and we need to, in my opinion, start to make decisions that reflect the best qualified applicants," Perkins said prior to the vote on Tomlinson. "We have a statement in our employment policy saying we want to have individuals who are the best, most qualified. If we can start doing that, we will see more progress, we can see more forward movement. If we start doing that, we will find a healthier situation, healthier relationships. I wish we could just start looking at the credentials to ensure that we make the right choices, the right decisions, about things that are going to be for the overall betterment (of the city) based on credentials." 


"I just want say to the citizens of Starkville and to the residents of the Starkville School District, we have an applicant who is best qualified, who is most qualified, a superintendent of 20 years, he''s retired, he''s available to get the job done, but, in my opinion, the board is fixing to vote in the affirmative for (Tomlinson) and it doesn''t matter what your qualifications are," he continued. "It doesn''t matter at all. This is a clear example that the qualifications do not matter." 


Vaughn also spoke out against Tomlinson in favor of Conley.  


"We''re here for the city of Starkville," Vaughn said. "That''s what we''re here for. That''s what our decision is supposed to be based on: the best qualified applicant. That''s what it''s supposed to be based on, but right now we see him, (yet) we are not making that decision." 


Vaughn went on to say he was "not impressed" with Tomlinson during the interview process. 


"How can you look over all this logic and wisdom?" Vaughn said of Conley. "How can we look over all this and vote the way we''re fixing to vote, and say we''re doing the right thing for the city of Starkville? How can we do that? How are we doing that for our constituents, the people that elected us and put us in these positions?" 


But Sistrunk defended her nomination of Tomlinson.  


"I will say that Ms. Tomlinson has a history of success in volunteer work and in building consensus among groups," Sistrunk said. "She has been an effective branch between lots of groups. She has a long, long commitment to the Starkville School District." 


Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas also felt Tomlinson was the best choice for the school board.  


"I do think credentials play an important part in this," Dumas said, then cited Tomlinson''s involvement in the school district and the community. Dumas also said he is "very confident" in Tomlinson''s ability to serve on the school board.  


After the meeting, Tomlinson said she was thrilled to be appointed for the five-year term. 


"I''m looking forward to it," she said. "I care about Starkville, I care about the kids and I care about the community. I will do my best to listen to input from my community and see how we can all come together to see how we can support Starkville and our public schools, raise our performance levels and make it the best education environment possible for our children to be successful." 


Tomlinson was unfazed by Perkins'' and Vaughn''s comments. 


"Well, everyone has their own opinion and all I can do is what I''ve been doing in 20 years working for the school district, and that is working the best I can," Tomlinson said. "I think I bring a fresh view to the school board and will work to help us all get along better and be successful."