Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The District 6 plot thickens

Update to correct party tally: There are six unaffiliated, four Republican and two Democratic applicants. I've been labeling E. Thomas Bowers a Democrat, based on his Facebook page describing his political views as "Progressive Democrats" (tried to look up his registration, but "E" doesn't work for the online search). Yesterday political consultant Lawrence Shaheen, who was Tim Morgan's campaign manager, tweeted that Bowers was a registered Republican. We were both wrong: Bowers told me this morning that he was a Democrat until President Obama supported the Bush tax cuts, at which point he switched to unaffiliated.

There weren't a lot of shocking statements when the 12 applicants for the vacant District 6 school board seat spoke Tuesday.  But the fact that newly elected board Chair Ericka Ellis-Stewart and Vice Chair Mary McCray wrote up questions for the candidates without consulting their colleagues  --  and that those questions included nothing specific about District 6  --  may fuel speculation that suburban Republicans Tim Morgan and Rhonda Lennon will find themselves on the sidelines of the selection.

Lennon confronted Ellis-Stewart about that at the end of the meeting,  urging applicants to email her to tell her what they consider the top issues for the south suburban district and how those differ from the issues for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as a whole.  Morgan,  whose at-large election created the two-year vacancy,  stayed quiet at the meeting but said afterward he'd also have liked to ask about district specifics.  McCray, a District 6 resident elected at large,  asked that all board members get copies of applicants' answers.

Most of the speculation has swirled around Wilhelmenia Rembert,  one of two Democratic applicants  (the other is the Rev. Amelia Stinson-Wesley; read all applications here).  Rembert was appointed to an at-large seat on the school board in 1998, elected countywide in 1999 and defeated in 2003.  She was then elected to an at-large commissioners' seat in 2004 and defeated in 2006. She chaired the school board and was vice chair of the county commissioners.  She's a longtime resident of south suburban Charlotte  --  she lives just inside I-485 -- but it's far from clear that her own district would elect her,  given its tendency to choose Republicans.  However, Democrats hold five of the eight board seats that will be voting on the appointment.

Morgan,  who spent a good bit of the campaign reminding people that he would not get to hand-pick his successor,  said Tuesday that  "I have a favorite,"  but wouldn't name that person.  My guess,  confirmed by someone who probably knows,  is David Knoble.  Like Morgan,  Knoble is a Republican with ties to the homebuilding industry and a history of Boy Scout leadership.  He talked about some of the same issues Morgan does,  such as refining the current plan to "incentivize teachers" and saving money on transportation and school cafeterias.  And he's got kids in a suburban school,  Community House Middle.

A question that could arise is whether the newly elected at-large members will recuse themselves from voting on people who contributed to their campaigns.  Ellis-Stewart got donations from Rembert and Republican applicant Bolyn McClung,  and Morgan got a donation from McClung.  McCray said none of the applicants donated to or volunteered in her campaign.

Two applicants,  Angelica Castaneda-Noorbakhsh and Aida Bertsch,  told the board they could be a voice for the growing Hispanic minority.  Both are unaffiliated voters from Colombia.  So far the CMS board has not had a Latino member.

Most applicants talked about their passion for public education,  their experience in business and/or civic life,  and the importance of hiring a good superintendent, spending wisely,  supporting teachers and building community trust and involvement.  There's always at least one applicant who uses the process to  tweak the noses of the school board,  and Larry Bumgarner filled that role Tuesday.  He opened his 10-minute question-and-answer period by asking how he could get his parking validated,  then told the members he didn't want to emulate them,  urged them to "take the blinders off, folks,"  and riffed on the "crappy cars" that many teachers drive.

There's bound to be a whole lot of phone-calling, emailing and horse-trading going on between now and 4 p.m. Thursday,  when the board reconvenes to make a choice. Public comments won't be allowed at that meeting,  but constituents are free to offer their views to the board (contact information here).

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