City Council begins rebuilding school board

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Franklin’s city council appointed three new school board members and reappointed former board members Dr. Andrea Hall-Leonard and Bob Holt at their regular scheduled council meeting on Monday.

Hall-Leonard, the board’s former chairwoman, will represent ward three and Holt will once again represent ward six. Joining them will be Rebecca Jester for ward one, Amy Phillips for ward two, and Ron Rusnak for the at-large position. All appointees except for Holt were approved unanimously, with Councilman Greg McLemore being absent for the first half of the meeting. Councilwoman Mary Hilliard was the dissenting vote for Holt.

“If you’re going to appoint one or two [previous members] then you might as well appoint all who wanted to come back,” Hilliard said. “It’s nothing against Mr. Holt.”

Hilliard added that she voted in favor of reappointing Hall-Leonard despite the grilling the former chairwoman endured at council’s Oct. 26 meeting because she presented her case well during the closed-session interviews conducted last week.

Two residents of Franklin spoke in support of Hall-Leonard during citizens’ time. LeAnna Leonard, Hall-Leonard’s daughter, who graduated from Franklin High School in 2016 and is currently a freshman at William and Mary studying anthropology, spoke of Hall-Leonard’s role in helping her to participate in college preparatory programs during high school. Riste Hall-Blowe, a Virginia Union college senior, spoke of Hall-Leonard’s influence on her childhood and adult life and how she plans to follow in Hall-Leonard’s footsteps as a speech language pathologist. Several residents also stood in support of Hall-Leonard during citizen’s time.

No nominations were made during the Nov. 28 public hearing for ward four and Jeanette Austin, another former board member and the sole nominee for ward five, was rejected 4-2, with Councilors Linwood Johnson and Hilliard voting in her favor and McLemore absent. City Attorney H. Taylor Williams IV will re-advertise the two remaining vacant positions and council will hold another public hearing to accept nominations on Jan. 9, 2017 during its regular scheduled meeting at 7 p.m.

The new board plans to have its first called meeting on Dec. 19. All appointees must be sworn into office by the Southampton County Clerk of Court, Rick Francis, prior to attending the meeting.

City council also voted to pass budget amendment 2017-06 unanimously, which transfers $340,000 from the city’s Electric Department budget for full-time wages and benefits to contractual services by River City Construction. The city has been unable to fill vacancies in its Electric Department with qualified personnel and is currently using contractual services for its electrical services operations in lieu of full staffing.

The final item on council’s agenda for the night was a recommendation by City Manager Randy Martin to repeal City Ordinance 2-61-B2, which established the city’s parks and recreation advisory board, and to rescind the board’s bylaws, which passed 6-1 with McLemore as the dissenting vote.

Martin’s recommendation comes as a result of ongoing discrepancies between what the city’s ordinance mandates for the composition of the advisory board versus what is specified in the board’s bylaws. The city’s ordinance specifies that there are to be two representatives from each ward and three at large, for a total of 15 members. The committee’s bylaws specify one member at large, one representative of each of the city’s six wards, and eight other members representing various agencies, two of which would be student representatives from Franklin’s high school and middle school.

According to Martin, the last time the advisory board met, only three or four members were attending regularly, so no action requiring a quorum could be taken. He suggested the best way for council to proceed was to do away with both the board and its bylaws so council could start again with a clean slate.

Councilman McLemore disagreed and voiced his concerns that the city’s parks and recreational amenities were not being maintained.

“I hope this isn’t another attempt to put off doing something,” he said. “We have tennis nets on the ground, cracks in the pavement, none of these things are being addressed. Considering the limited things our children have to do in Franklin, one of the things we have to do is ensure there is a functioning parks and recreation department.”

Martin countered that the city still maintains a full-time parks and recreation staff and said that the city continues to do maintenance on its parks and recreational facilities. “I do believe they’re safe,” Martin said.

Prior to taking a vote on the issue, Councilman Benny Burgess asked what the council’s next step would be following the repeal, and McLemore suggested a better solution might be to adjust the ordinance’s required number of members rather than repealing or rescinding anything.

City council’s next regular scheduled meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. in city hall.