Sound Familiar?

The Tale of a School Board that didn't listen!

By: Pat Hunter

Did you ever hear the story about the Elizabethton School Board and how some board members were voted out of office by the residents of the community? Elizabethton citizens requested accountability but school board members didn't listen.

According to newspaper reports, "In Nov. 2003, school board members met twice hundreds of miles away at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville to interview and hire Roper, then a school official from Roanoke, Ala. News media attorneys said the meeting appeared to violate the state's Sunshine Law requiring governmental bodies to meet in public and announce their meetings in advance."

The Elizabethton School Board chose to exclude community participation, does that sound familiar? The Board was determined to hire their candidate while citizens were shut out of the selection process. Long story short, voters voiced their disapproval at the ballot box by recalling two members of the Elizabethton School Board. The vote was a decisive victory for citizens.

Some school boards opt for an open process in selecting a director of schools while others do not. Knox County's School Board has embarked on an open and transparent process with community input, public forums and surveys.

Disappointingly, the Loudon County Board of Education (BOE) chose another approach right out of the Mayor Arpís Secrecy Handbook! Loudon County's BOE chose not to hold an important school business meeting, locally. Instead, the BOE met with paid consultant Wayne Qualls to discuss the school director's search at a mountain retreat. The retreat was held over 50 miles away, making it very difficult for the public to attend. The junket was paid for with taxpayers monies, an estimated $5,900. That taxpayer money could have bought almost 5 HVAC units to provide heating and cooling for our students and teachers! The press was not present to report about the meeting. Some have questioned, did the BOE give adequate public notice of such meeting, in compliance of the Open Meetings Act- Sunshine Law?

At the Feb. 14th BOE meeting, it took all of 44 seconds for Chairman Bobby Johnson, Jr., to make his comments about requesting the adoption of Wayne Qualls recommendations, which Johnson said was discussed at the retreat. The BOE voted unanimously to adopt the packet information provided by Qualls. D-6 Steve Harrelson was absent for the vote but his name appeared on the list of attendees at the retreat.

Citizen participation is an important component in a Democratic process. Excluding public participation and silencing the public's voice adds to mistrust. The absence of trust may cause citizens to question the many aspects and decisions made by officials. Trust, once lost, is very hard to regain.

Loudon County residents will have an opportunity to voice their approval or disapproval of BOE  members, actions and voting record, at the ballot box. Up for re-election are BOE members for the following districts: District 1 Seat A and B, Loudon; District 3 Greenback, one seat ; District 5 Seats A and B, Eaton-Browder, and District 7 Tellico Village and Piney, one seat.