Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Board chooses Thomas as chairman

It took more than 60 rounds of nominations and voting for the Unicoi County Board of Education to elect its chairman for the 2014-2015 school year. Tennessee Code Annotated requires the board to elect a chairman each year, Chuck Cagle, the board’s attorney said.
The process of electing a chairman began on Sept. 19 when the board – which is made up of Garland “Bubba” Evely, Cathy Thomas, Tyler Engle, Lisa White, Steve Willis and Dwight Bennett – nominated and voted on its members 20 times, but was unable to come to a consensus on who would serve as the chairman. Because of this impasse, the board opted to hold a special called meeting on Thursday, Sept. 26. The only item on the agenda at this meeting was the election of a board chairman.
Before the board took up the issue and officially called the Sept. 26 meeting to session, the floor was opened to audience members in attendance to give them an opportunity to address the board.
“In Unicoi County we have students that shine,” Lori Ann Wright, drama instructor at Unicoi County High School, said. “We need to put the focus back on our students. I ask you as a teacher and for my students to make a good, wise decision today. Elect a chairman and let Unicoi County represent the good work of our students and not anything negative with our school board.”
Lindsay Bowman, current president of the Unicoi County Education Association, told the board she had received calls from “a lot” of teachers who were concerned over the board’s inability to elect a chairman.
“We’re hoping that everything can be resolved tonight,” Bowman also told the board.
The signature of the chairman is required on the school system employees’ paychecks. Should a chairman not be elected on Sept. 26, it was possible that system employees would not be paid on time for the first October pay period.
After the time for audience members to address the board closed, Director of Schools Denise Brown called the meeting to order and began taking nominations for chairman. As had happened in the Sept. 19 meeting, Evely and Bennett were nominated for chairman during the first round of nominations. When the vote took place, Evely received three votes (from Engle, Willis and himself) and Bennett received three votes (from White, Thomas and himself). Neither man received the four votes required to become the board’s chairman.
Following this vote, Evely withdrew his name from consideration to be the chairman.
In the next round of nominations Engle and Bennett were nominated to be the board’s chairman. Engle received three votes (from Evely, Willis and himself). Bennett received three votes (from White, Thomas and himself). Again, neither was elected chairman.
Engle and White were then nominated. Again Engle received three votes (from Evely, Willis and himself) and White received three votes (from Thomas, Bennett and herself).
Cagle, who was listening to the meeting via speakerphone, then advised the board that it was their duty to elect a chairman.
Nominations were then made again. White nominated Bennett, Willis nominated Engle and Evely nominated Thomas, who declined to be nominated. The board then voted on Engle and Bennett which resulted in another 3-3 tie for each man.
The board then voted nine more times without electing a chairman before taking a brief recess.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we need to stay here until we elect a chairman,” Brown said. “This depends upon our teachers and it also depends upon all the bills that we have to pay. That’s all the comments that I will say. If we have to stay here until midnight to elect a chairman, we’ll stay until we elect a chairman.”
After reconvening, the board nominated members and voted to elect a chairman without success. Bennett continued to nominate White and White nominated Bennett, but neither would receive the required four votes needed to become chairman. Engle and Willis were also nominated by either Evely, Engle or Willis, but also did not receive the four votes needed to become chairman.
After several more rounds of nominations and voting, Evely asked Thomas to reconsider her decision to decline being nominated. Thomas agreed and was voted on against Bennett. Thomas received three “yes” votes (from Evely, Willis and Bennett). Bennett received three “yes” votes (from White, Thomas and himself).
Nominations and voting again continued for several more rounds. After the 33rd round, Brown asked Cagle for recommendations.
“You can open the floor to talk about this instead of voting over and over again,” he told the board. “I would remind the board that as you sit there tonight, there’s a payroll coming up, there are bills that need to be paid, there is no authorized signature on any of the accounts with the previous board chairman having not run for re-election. The business of the board is just about to grind to a halt unless we can get somebody elected as chairman.”
Following Cagle’s comments, Willis asked Evely, who has served 16 years on the school board, to consider being nominated to be the board’s chairman, which Evely agreed to do.
“First thing I want to do is to apologize to our students, our faculty and our administration for the stress this has caused everybody,” Willis said. “It is very unfortunate that we sit in this position tonight. The reason I have nominated Mr. Evely during last session, and I continue to nominate him tonight is he the most experienced member regarding the activities of the school board … He is well-qualified to serve everybody in this room and all of our students and faculty who are not here tonight. … I know everybody has differences of opinion, but it is time to put those aside and do what is best for our county and our kids.”
In response to Willis’ comments, Bennett, who was elected for his first term on the school board, said he believed he was “just as experienced” as Evely.
“I consider myself just as experienced,” Bennett said. “Not necessarily about the operations of the school board, but it’s all in the policy; you can read the policy to know what you need to do. I just came off the County Commission. I know how the county operates. I have been on the board in (the town of) Unicoi for 10 years, so experience, I think, is pretty well equal on that. …”
Evely and Bennett were then nominated. Again, Evely received three votes (from Engle, Willis and himself) and Bennett received three votes (from White, Thomas and himself).
Voting then continued for several more rounds before the board took another brief recess. After returning from this recess, the 43rd round of nominations and voting took place. White nominated Bennett and Evely nominated Thomas. Bennett received three votes (from White, Thomas and himself). Thomas received four votes (from White, Evely, Willis and Bennett – Engle voted “no” and Thomas abstained), making Thomas the board’s chairman.
Following the meeting, Thomas, who is serving her first term on the board, said she was “a little shocked” to be elected as the board’s chairman. When asked if she plans to address the obvious divisions between board members, Thomas said: “Absolutely. We have to keep in mind the best interest of the kids.”
She also said “nerves” led her to decline being nominated to be the chairman.
“I haven’t ever done anything like this,” she said. “This is my first time on a board at all, so I felt like I need a little bit of time just to get my feet wet and see how things worked.”
Brown said electing Thomas as the board chairman allowed the school system to move forward with paying bills and will be able to have the next payroll released on time.