May 5, 2010 10:29:00 AM
Tim Pratt -
After months of controversy, the Starkville Board of Aldermen appointed a local pastor Tuesday to fill the vacant seat on the Starkville School District board of trustees.
Aldermen voted 4-0, with one abstention and two recusals, to appoint Lee E. Brand Jr. to fill the school board seat left vacant when Dr. Walter Taylor retired in March. Brand, 30, is pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Highway 182 West.
During the public comment portion of the aldermen meeting, Brand supporter Margaret Jordan delivered 381 letters of support to the board from citizens, teachers and business owners. She also carried a Brand endorsement from seven local churches.
After the meeting, Brand said he was thrilled with the board''s actions and the community''s support.
"I''m just really glad and grateful that the Board of Aldermen saw the will of the community in this," Brand said.
Aldermen interviewed Brand and the remaining two candidates, Dr. Ericka Akins and Dr. Raj Shaunak, during their meeting Tuesday and voted shortly thereafter. During his interview, Brand said he hopes to repair fractured relationships between the school board and the community, exacerbated in recent months by the SSD''s decision to implement a dress code beginning this fall. The decision drew a public outcry.
"I think if we''re going to maximize the potential of our district, we''re going to have to be able to connect our schools to the community, because we''re in a great community," Brand said. "We have great resources, but I don''t know if we''re tapping into those as much as we can."
Brand graduated from Mississippi State University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Sciences, and earned his Master of Divinity degree from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn., in 2008.
Brand is now enrolled in the Doctor of Philosophy program at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, majoring in Practical Theology with a dual minor in Theology and New Testament Studies.
As pastor, Brand oversees a Bethel Missionary Baptist Church program which allows students in the SSD and the Oktibbeha County School District to receive free tutoring in a number of subjects. The tutorial assistance is provided by teachers, retired teachers and MSU students. The program is expanding to include a seven-station computer lab for students who participate this fall.
Brand did not apply for the open school board seat when it initially was advertised this winter. The board ultimately appointed Susan Tomlinson to fill the open seat, but Mayor Parker Wiseman vetoed Tomlinson''s selection and the board re-advertised the position last month.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk questioned Brand on why he applied to fill the vacant seat in April, but didn''t apply when the position was advertised this winter. She asked the same question of Akins and Shaunak.
"Quite frankly, many people in the community asked and, with that in mind, their asking and, quite frankly, my prayer over the matter, I submitted," Brand replied.
Prior to Brand''s appointment Tuesday, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver made a motion to appoint Akins to the school board, but it died due to a lack of a second.
Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker then made a motion to appoint Brand and was joined in support by Carver, Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins. Sistrunk abstained, saying she didn''t feel as though she had enough time to consider each candidate carefully before the vote.
Alderman Jeremiah Dumas, of Ward 5, and Alderman Henry Vaughn Sr., of Ward 7, recused themselves from the interview and appointment process because they both have immediate family members who work in the SSD, and were advised by the state Ethics Commission to withdrawal from the proceedings to avoid any appearance of impropriety.