Franklin City Council discusses school board appointments

Published 2:40 pm Saturday, February 15, 2014

FRANKLIN—In an effort to encourage more citizens to step up for the schools, the Franklin City Council has started talking appointments for the Franklin City Public School Board.

This year, wards one and three will be up for contention. In Ward 1, Will Councill can ask to be selected again. In Ward 3, Johnetta Nichols has served her allotted three three-year terms and cannot serve again. If Councill decides to be nominated again, it would be his second three-year term.

To increase visibility, the city will run advertisements longer than required. The city will also host a combined ward meeting in March or April to help answer questions regarding school board pay and requirements for those who serve. It will also host a second public forum, the first on April 28 and the second on May 12. Nominations will be accepted at both meetings.

Individuals can be nominated by people in the community, or they can nominate themselves. Interested individuals have to be Franklin residents and registered to vote in the ward they are choosing to represent.

Typically, city attorney Taylor Williams said, council will run the required ads, host the nomination and then interview specific candidates, though the latter is not required by law.

While the requirements are not hefty to be nominated, council will have expectations for perspective school board members.

“In doing our interviews and trying to find an ideal candidate, we ought to define what we are looking for,” said Ward 2 councilor Benny Burgess. “We need a measuring stick to weigh against candidates.

“Now, not everyone will be a perfect candidate, but we ought to have some idea for what we are looking for.”

Ward 3 councilor Greg McLemore agreed with that, and one of his criteria is for candidates to have – or have had – children in the city schools.

“That way, they will at least be familiar with the system,” he said.

“What if there is a retired superintendent in the district,” Ward 1 councilor Barry Cheatham countered. “Is that person not qualified because he or she has no children in the system?”

“Point well taken,” McLemore admitted, though he did still think standards were important.

“I don’t think it is wrong for us to have things we would like to see in a candidate, because if we don’t set standards as city leaders, how can you hold them accountable if they don’t meet the standards?” he asked. “We need ways ensure through the appointment process some degree of accountability for what we put on school board.”

City Manager Randy Martin said that a goal such as having a candidate with children in the system was a good basis, but he wanted to remind council to be flexible with its criteria.

“It could be a student who graduated from the system, but he is not married yet,” said Martin. “He could have a degree in the educational field, but does not have any children yet.”

Williams also reminded council to keep diversity of the board at the top of the list.

“You might be looking for someone with financial experience to contribute to the budget,” he said. “You might want someone with management experience, to help manage the board.

“You might want someone who is more artsy, with a background in music and arts, to bring that type of perspective to the table.”

Cheatham agreed that a diverse board is more effective.

“Boards don’t work well if it is the same type of person across it,” he said. “You have to have some people with different ideas.”

Martin said the biggest thing was to get people involved.

“So far, we’ve only had one candidate interested in each position, at least since I’ve been here,” he said. “That’s very limiting.”

Ward 5 Councilor Mary Hilliard said she’d like to make sure citizens are involved with setting up the criteria.

“Citizens need more input,” she said. “We need to set up a public hearing to receive views from citizens.”

Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn agreed, and invited the public to either the ward meeting or the public hearings.

McLemore was also concerned about the lateness of the nomination process, due to the fact that school board terms begin in July, giving a potential new school board nominee limited time to take in a school board meeting.

While they didn’t move up the public forums for nomination, Johnson-Ashburn asked members of the public to start going to school board meetings in February if interested in serving.

The discussion included talking about moving to an elected school board and perhaps making all of the spots at large, both brought up by McLemore.

Moving to an elected school board would require changing the charter, which would have to be started by either Delegate Roslyn Tyler or Rick Morris, or preferably both, said Williams. If the process started now, said Martin, it would be at least 2016 before the change would be effective.

Removing the ward system was quickly dropped, but McLemore was concerned about a councilor’s ward being represented by someone that councilor would endorse. He said that he didn’t feel like he had any accountability with Nichols, since he voted against her.

Williams said that a councilor could endorse a candidate, but it couldn’t be made a requirement, since everyone on council gets an equal vote. After being asked, he even added that a councilor could step down and nominate a candidate.

Burgess said that endorsing a candidate was a valid point, but he did have concerns about it.

“If I go out and select a representative to be my school board representative, but then three other people are nominated that I don’t know about,” he said. “One of the other candidates may be stronger than the one I’ve already selected, but then I’m already committed because I gave my word to candidate A.”

McLemore said he understood what Burgess was saying, but added that all he was looking for was a higher degree of accountability from council to school board.

“We keep saying there is nothing we can do about the school board,” McLemore said. “The citizens are not happy about that, and we are the ones they elected to serve their interests.”

In October, a school board expert lawyer from Richmond came in and informed the public that council is limited in what it can do to the school board. Council can approve the budget for the schools and appoint, but that it was tough to remove a board member once appointed.

“This was a good session,” said Hilliard as they adjourned after a two-hour discussion. “It was not a waste of time. It needed to be talked about.”