Wilhelmenia Rembert's $150 campaign donation to school board Chair Ericka Ellis-Stewart may have torpedoed Rembert's hopes of being appointed to the board.
Rembert, an at-large board member from 1998-2003 and former board chair, was by far the biggest name among the 12 applicants for the District 6 seat filled today. Rumors had been buzzing for weeks that the board's Democratic majority wanted to add her to the roster.
Going into this afternoon's meeting, word was that the eight members were split between Rembert and David Knoble. But if Ellis-Stewart had recused herself from voting for Rembert, Rembert likely would have fallen short.
There's no law or policy against appointing a campaign donor, and I don't recall that the question has come up in the four previous appointments I've covered. But suburban Republicans Rhonda Lennon and Tim Morgan were arguing that appointing a donor would undermine public trust in the board. Morgan had announced he would not vote to appoint Bolyn McClung, a Pineville Republican who donated to him, Ellis-Stewart and former board Chair Eric Davis.
Before Tuesday's meeting, McClung gave Ellis-Stewart a letter withdrawing his application for the seat, saying he became convinced that voting for donors would taint the process (Bolyn, if you're reading, I'd love for you to post the statement). Ellis-Stewart opened the meeting by reading McClung's letter and saying "while that is allowable, I will say for me personally that does not represent that our votes can be bought."
"I would like to support Dr. Rembert," Ellis-Stewart told the school board, but said she was swayed by the community service and focus on children demonstrated by the Rev. Amelia Stinson-Wesley, who got the votes of the five Democrats after negotiating that went to the wire. The move blindsided south suburban Republicans who had been taking aim at Rembert's political record. They were skeptical of the Democrats' assertion that the choice had nothing to do with the fact that Stinson-Wesley was the only other Democratic applicant.
Stinson-Wesley, a relative newcomer to Mecklenburg County, is neither a politician nor a party activist. She's been more focused on overseas work on violence against women and children, but says her "mommy friends" in Pineville urged her to apply for the vacant seat. She said even she was surprised to get the nod. Making her pitch to the board Tuesday, she had acknowledged the skills and experience other applicants brought to the board and noted that she might not be the best qualified among them -- a remark that was generating some smirking commentary among opponents afterward.
Stinson-Wesley now steps into the public spotlight as CMS tackles such tough issues as a budget and a superintendent search. She does it knowing some of her most prominent new constituents, including Morgan, are openly skeptical of her ability to represent them.
"It is what it is. I am who I am," she said.
Her time spent working in war zones of southeast Asia may just prove to be her best preparation for this job.