The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board has decided to appoint a replacement for former member Lori Goins Clark rather than going through an application process.
Tuesday’s 5-3 vote on the matter came amid controversy over a racially insensitive text that Clark sent to the former interim superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, Kenneth Simington. Clark resigned from the board Aug. 29, citing personal and family reasons. She has said that she apologized profusely for a “personal and relational” mistake, which she said some people have misunderstood.
Before the vote, the school system’s attorney, Dionne Jenkins, told board members that it was up to them, according to North Carolina law and the board’s bylaws, as to what type of process they use to fill the vacant District 2 seat.
But she said state law does require that “this process must be conducted pursuant to the open-meetings laws. That means that discussions, consideration of applicants, et cetera, et cetera, must be done in open session.”
In recent years, Jenkins said, the board has either appointed someone to the board or accepted applications.
In the application process, applications were submitted to the school attorney’s office for an initial review, then provided to board members who ranked the applicants and sent their recommendations to the school attorney’s office.
“Those recommendations were used to compile the overall top three candidates who were invited in for an interview,” Jenkins said.
Board members then voted by ballot for their choice.
With the current vacancy, Clark’s replacement has to be a Republican as she was and must meet the standard requirements for holding elective office.
Jenkins added that if the person chosen doesn’t live in District 2, which encompasses most of Forsyth County, that person would not be eligible to run for election to the seat when term ends in 2022.
Board members’ comments
In dramatic comments at times on Tuesday, board members shared their reasons for wanting to appoint the new board member or to accept applications from candidates.
Lida Calvert-Hayes, who was appointed to the board in 2015 to fill an empty seat, then ran for the seat and was elected to the board in 2018, has gone through both processes.
“I was reminded a lot of times about being appointed by members on the board because I had not gone through the election process, so I was determined to run in the next election,” Calvert-Hayes said.
In an interview, she said she voted in favor of the appointment process because “I think as a Democrat or as a Republican you know who has really been involved in situations. You know who you feel like will do the very best job, so why not go ahead and bring those people to the table?”
Board vice chairwoman Barbara Burke and members Deanna Kaplan and Leah Crowley voted against using the appointment process.
“I am in favor of the application process because it is the most transparent process,” Burke said during the meeting. “It is the most democratic way that we can show the community that we want to be transparent. In the light of where we are right now, with the lack of transparency, that should be the No. 1 reason that we focus on doing it in a more transparent way.”
She said board members need to ask questions and thoroughly vet the candidates.
“The only way that we can hold the next board member accountable is to ask questions and find out where they stand on different positions,” Burke said. “If we don’t know where they stand, then we will all be surprised when they sit up here and vote.” She said she is in favor of raising her hand to make the choice as well as saying who she supports and why.
In addition to Calvert-Hayes, board Chairwoman Malishai Woodbury and members Elisabeth Motsinger, Dana Caudill Jones and Andrea Bramer also voted for the appointment process.
Motsinger said she has been on the board for three different board-member replacements so far.
“The application process is long,” Motsinger said. “We’re talking about six weeks without a board member. An application process has not actually led to a more open and transparent process. For the most part, I could have told you who the votes were going to be for before any application ever came across a desk.”
She said she wants to get the new board member in place as quickly as possible.
“I’d prefer somebody who actually understands the work of a board because it seems to take quite a while before people really get a sense of what our work is and is not. And I want us to be as functional and complete as soon as possible,” Motsinger said.
Jones said she has been on the board during two replacements and agrees with some of Motsinger’s comments about the application process.
“At the end of the day, it’s still an appointment, whether it’s an appointment after an application process or it’s an appointment after just discussion,” Jones said. “Going through both processes, there may not be questions that are back-and-forth, but it’s still an open discussion and forum and debate between board members of pros and cons and things like that around names that are thrown out.”
Woodbury said the only way people are going to get who they want in the vacant seat is in 2023 after an election is held.
“That is an honest civic assessment,” Woodbury said.
“This process is not perfect.
“What I would suggest for any of you that don’t like it, go to the state rep and tell them, ‘We don’t like the way that process is by which the school board has to select a vacant position.’”
She added that with just eight current board members, there could be a tie on a particular motion.
Crowley said whether there are eight or nine members on the board, five votes are still needed for a majority.
“So I don’t see that as a reason to move this process along,” she said of appointing a new member.
She said her concern is getting the best possible candidate.
“To me, if we’re only going with the ones we know of or someone who used to be up here, we’re not doing our job of finding the best candidate possible out there,” Crowley said. “You can only do that through an application process.”
The public speaks
Several people offered their opinions during the public-comment periods.
“One thing that this board discussed when they started out this year as a board was transparency,” Alfred Harvey said. “I believe that you should be transparent when you choose this next board member. I think that you should really check this person out.”
Harvey said somebody called him and told him the board had already settled on the new member. He asked board members to stand up and be the “agents of change” they were elected to be, to not select someone “and it’s already a done deal.”
“I think, when you start looking at someone to put on the board, we need a fresh face, a fresh set of ideas,” Harvey said. “We don’t need anybody from the old regime coming back.”
Allen Daniel said he has let them all know he wants to be the new face on the board.
“I don’t think you have the nerve to put me on the board,” Daniel said.
Jennifer Bryan said that the midterm selection of a new board member is an opportunity for the board to be transparent in filling the vacant seat.
“Please consider accepting applications versus making an appointment,” Bryan said. “An application process would set the board up for success in finding the most effective replacement with current board personalities in order to reach the goals you established for our school system.”
The board is expected make the appointment at its next meeting on Sept. 24.