Nowhere left to hide

Published 10:40 am Friday, July 4, 2014

Franklin’s city council, for whatever reason, has to this point made the collective decision to avoid taking a leadership role on the issue of public education. Quite frankly, despite all of the available information regarding the chaotic state of the city’s school board and central office staff, council has gone out of its way to not get involved. Last October, they invited an attorney from Richmond to come brief council and the community on what roles council could and could not play with regard to oversight of the school board.

Council members claimed it was so they would know what their boundaries were in dealing with the school board. But make no mistake, it was a duck-and-cover move designed to provide legal backing for a decision they had long since made.

Roger C. Wiley of Hefty & Wiley, P.C. said, “I was asked the hypothetical question, ‘Would council have the power to remove a member because of this perceived under-performance?’ The general answer is probably not.” He went on to add that in instances of malfeasance or the commission of a criminal act, the council would have the power to petition a circuit court to remove a school board member if a majority of council members voted to do so. But he didn’t tell the complete story.

Council’s reasons for petitioning the court to remove a school board member are not limited merely to malfeasance or a criminal act. In fact, the Code of Virginia states in section 24.2-233 that an appointed school board member can be removed “For neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.”

Anyone who has monitored the activities and decisions of the Franklin City School Board over the last year could easily conclude that neglect of duty and incompetence are not in short supply, especially with regard to the board’s leadership.

Now fast forward from last October to Tuesday night’s school board meeting, when one of the agenda items was for the school board to decide on its organizational structure for the upcoming year. Despite persistent rumblings that she was going to step aside, school board chair Edna King was nominated to remain in the position for another year, and she accepted. Returning board member Will Councill was nominated also, and a vote was taken. Three members — Sherita Ricks-Parker, Andrea Hall-Leonard and King — voted to keep King on as chair. Nancy Godwin, Dawna Walton and Councill voted to make a change. Because board member Jeanette Austin was absent the vote ended in a tie. Another vote will be taken at a called meeting this upcoming Tuesday.

Given the complete lack of effective leadership and outright incompetence displayed by King, not to mention the embarrassment she has caused the city by her performances in front of the state board of education in recent months, it is inconceivable that she be allowed to remain on the board let alone be reelected as chair. But unless Austin casts a surprising vote in favor of Councill or another member has a change of heart between now and Tuesday, that is exactly what will happen.

And it will finally be time for city council to step in.

The Code of Virginia, in section 24.2-234, states, “Any officer appointed to an office for a term established by law may be removed from office, under the provisions of 24.2-233, upon a petition filed with the circuit court in whose jurisdiction the officer resides signed by the person or a majority of the members of the authority who appointed him, if the appointing person or authority is not given the unqualified power of removal.”

In other words — and contrary to the cover temporarily provided city council by Mr. Wiley and the insistence of council leadership that there is nothing they can do — there is clearly a role that city council can play in reshaping Franklin’s broken school board. The ability to present a petition to the circuit court to remove King and, quite honestly, any that vote for her chairmanship, is at this point well within city council’s legal rights and one that they absolutely must exercise.

TONY CLARK is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is