Loudon County School Board: Business as usual

Scott Newman, chairman of the Loudon County School Board and Gary Ubben, vice-chairman
listen to discussions at the Sept. 9 meeting. Both will keep their offices in the coming year.

Vicky Newman News Herald
For now, at least, operations of Loudon County School Board will continue much the same as in the previous year. Scott Newman will continue to serve as chairman and Gary Ubben will continue as vice chairman.

Wayne Honeycutt will remain director of schools through the end of his contract in June 2011. A motion by Ubben, seconded by Larry Tate, to extend the contract until 2012, and accept Honeycutt's five year plan for the district, failed.

Board members voting "no" were Van Shaver, Lisa Russell, Craig Simon, Bobby Johnson Jr. and Newman. Those voting in favor were Leroy Tate, Bill Marcus and Ubben. William Jenkins abstained.

Board actions on those matters came in the wake of allegations that some board members possibly had violated Tennessee open meetings laws, and amidst rumors of a district-wide shake-up, dissent and denials.

The director's contract was the first agenda item, after citizen's addressed the board with their concerns.

Ubben, who had headed the director's evaluation committee, said he had been notified through phone calls from multiple sources that several actions had been planned and were lined up for the meeting.

They included: The director's contract would not be renewed, and a middle school administrator within the school district would be appointed to the post. Ubben, who is vice chairman, said he also had heard that Newman would be voted in as chairman again, rather than the vice chairman being advanced, as has been the board's tradition.

Ubben noted that actions would require only a five-member vote to pass, because of the fact that one board post is vacant. If the rumored actions took place, Ubben said he would have serious concerns about Tennessee Open Meetings law violations.

The statement by Ubben echoed concerns voiced earlier in the meeting by Pat Hunter, an advocate for transparency in government. Hunter, a citizen who attends school board meetings and keeps abreast of board business, had noted that when the director's evaluation committee had met in March, and some board members had commented that Honeycutt's contract likely would not be renewed.
Hunter complained that minutes had not been kept of that meeting, a fact that she said was a violation of open meetings law, and added that the director should not have been expected to keep minutes for his own evaluation.

Discussions ensued when election of officers was addressed. Shaver, calling Ubben's list of items "prophetic," made a motion to name Newman chairman for another year, and Lisa Russell, vice chairman. "I have no hesitation doing that, whatsoever," Shaver said. Jenkins seconded the motion.

Marcus said he did not understand why Newman did not recuse himself from the nomination, as advancing the vice chairman was the traditional practice. Newman responded, "Mr. Marcus, you called me on the cell phone and made the same accusations Mr. Ubben did. I don't understand this stuff. There is so much turmoil and backbiting, so much 'he said, she said'  on this board..." Marcus said, "If that's going on now, it's been going on while you're chair..."
Newman said, "I don't want to brag on myself, but I feel I've done a good job as chair. It's up to six people."

Honeycutt said the school board attorney had researched that matter, finding Attorney General's opinions and case law on what constitutes a majority at the time of a vote. The research is clear, he said, that because the board has a vacant seat, five would be a majority at present.

Newman said he felt nominations would be more appropriate, as the board handled election of officers in the past, but Shaver said the motion was on the floor and needed to be addressed.

On role call, the motion failed, with Ubben, Tate And Marcus voting "no," Shaver, Russell and Newman voting "yes," and Johnson and Simon abstaining.
Tate then made a motion to keep Newman as chairman and Ubben as vice chair.

Those voting "yes" were Shaver, Johnson, Tate, Simon, Russell and Newman. "No" votes included Marcus, Ubben and Jenkins.

The school board honored retiring board members Steve Harrelson and Larry Proaps with plaques, although neither was present.

After the meeting, Newman and Shaver denied that any discussions or deliberations about board officers or Honeycutt's contract had taken place outside the meeting.