Council erred with ’06 motions

Published 8:13 am Friday, June 5, 2009

FRANKLIN—The City Council erred when it tapped two school board members to fill vacancies in 2006, appointing one to an extra year and another to an extra two years.

Because of the mix-up, five seats on the seven-member school board are up for appointment this year — and probably will be again in 2012.

In the past, school board members have served staggered three-year terms, with no more than three seats expiring in a single year.

Although the 2-2-3 expiration pattern is customary and not mandatory, the city’s charter was amended in 1997 to give the City Council the power to appoint one or more school board members to three-year terms and the power to fill vacancies on the school board for any unexpired term.

The charter does not, however, give the council the power to convert an unexpired term to a new three-year term, which apparently happened twice in 2006.

According to City Attorney Taylor Williams, the city received permission from the state General Assembly to amend its charter in 1997, thereby expanding the number of members on the school board from five to seven.

“The charter amendment in 1997 actually did away with the specific language (from 1982) that provided for the three-year rotation and created new language that was supposed to probably provide the same result,” Williams said Wednesday.

“Look at the language today,” Williams added. “There is no requirement that there be any kind of regular rotation; that language was deleted.”

The current situation began to develop on May 8, 2006, when the City Council held a public hearing to take nominations for four open seats on the school board.

The seats for Wards 4 and 6 were up for appointment because those three-year terms were scheduled to expire on June 30, 2006. But two additional seats, for Wards 1 and 2, were also up for appointment because the school board members from those wards had resigned before their terms expired. The Ward 1 term was scheduled to end on June 30, 2008, and the Ward 2 term on June 30, 2007.

Two weeks later, on May 22, 2006, the City Council held another public hearing, this one for the school board’s at-large seat expiring on June 30, 2006.

On Sept. 11, 2006, the City Council appointed Mona Murphy, Bill Scarboro and Richard Thomas to the school board representing Wards 4 and 6 and the at-large seat, respectively. They began three-year terms that officially started on Sept. 12, 2006, and are set to expire on June 30, 2009.

But the city also appointed Robert Meredith to an identical three-year term for the Ward 2 seat, essentially giving him an extra two years on the school board since the unexpired portion of his term was to end on June 30, 2007.

Also on Sept. 11, Will Councill was nominated for the vacant Ward 1 school board seat. According to a letter from the city dated Sept. 20 of that year, Councill was appointed during a City Council meeting on Sept. 18. He was given a three-year term beginning Sept. 12, 2006, and running until June 30, 2009.

However, since Councill’s term was for an unexpired seat, the city charter called for his term to end on June 30, 2008. Instead, Councill, though he would later resign, was given an extra year on the school board.

“If the (motions to appoint Meredith and Councill) had been to fill the unexpired terms, we would still be on the 2-2-3 track,” Williams said.

The city attorney added that he had written a confidential, attorney-client memorandum to the City Council and included it in council members’ agenda package for Monday’s meeting.

“It probably will be the topic of discussion,” Williams said.

Nominations for the five seats on the school board will be accepted at a public hearing during the council’s meeting at 7 p.m. Monday. Nominations will only be accepted during the public hearing.

Several City Council members said Thursday that they didn’t like having to appoint five members at once and would like to return to a 2-2-3 rotation.

“You could potentially have complete turnover of the board at one time, which would leave you with no experience,” said Ward 2 Councilman Benny Burgess. “That would be a hindrance to the board. It takes awhile on any board, especially a school board, to understand the flow and financing.”

Burgess added, “It’s very important that we get back to a 2-2-3 (rotation) as soon as we can work that process.”

Ward 5 Councilwoman Mary Hilliard said: “I think it was a good idea (having a 2-2-3 rotation), but being that we’re in this situation, there’s nothing we can do about it now.” She declined to discuss possible remedies to the situation because she had not discussed the matter with her fellow City Council members.

Ward 1 Councilman Barry Cheatham said that although he wasn’t on the City Council when there was a 2-2-3 rotation for the school board, “I can say that almost any board I have been on has had an arrangement similar to that. It just works out better not to potentially change this many at once.”

Cheatham added that he thought the city would eventually return to a 2-2-3 rotation.

“I do see us going back to a system like that,” Cheatham said. “It needs to be determined what route we take to get there.”

Williams confirmed that one possible method to return to a 2-2-3 rotation would be to petition the General Assembly for another amendment to the city’s charter. The new amendment would permit the City Council to appoint school board members to either one- or two-year terms, with the goal of returning the city to a 2-2-3 rotation.

But Williams said it is too late to get that amendment enacted for the 2009 appointments, since the General Assembly is not in session. The city has also advertised through legal notices that the terms for all five school board seats currently up for appointment expire on June 30, 2012.

Those two factors likely mean the City Council will be faced with the same dilemma — appointing five school board members — again in 2012.