Richard Hyatt: Before the school board was elected

July 24, 2012 

People that yearn for a return to the thrilling days of yesteryear when members of the Muscogee County School Board were appointed and not elected had better be careful what they wish for.

Most of them are talking about the aristocratic boards of the 1950s and 1960s that could just as well have met in the ballroom of The Country Club of Columbus. Seats were held by top-drawer bankers, bottling company executives, snack food manufacturers, lawyers, a bridge builder and a man whose family made ice cream.

We rhapsodize about the days when we had a board with a pedigree, a board that had good manners, a board that didn't bully each other and a board that did everything the superintendent told it to do.

We're also talking about a board that was predominantly white and male and overseeing a segregated school system.

Observers ignore the fact that the makeup and sheer size of the panel had changed dramatically by the time the community demanded an elected school board nearly 20 years ago.

The chaos and three-ring atmosphere of today's meetings rivals the monthly pandemonium of the final appointed board in 1993. Meetings then extended into the wee hours of the morning because there were 15 members demanding to be seen and heard.

Board members were appointed by a grand jury and the board in turn hired the superintendent. It was a long way from the boardroom to the people. Citizens grew disenchanted with a board whose members lived in a cluster around the corner of Edgewood Road and Sue Mack Drive and a board that public perception said had no interest in things south of Macon Road.

To silence critics, the board was expanded to 15 with more black members -- including a black board president -- and more representation from the southside.

There were good people on that board but getting a consensus was out of the question.

The leadership of that 1993 board was Dan Doleman Jr., president; Robert Ebert, first vice president, and Nancy Rinn, second vice president.

The remainder of the board was Addie Cunningham, Craig Davis, Ed Deaton, David Ebron, Russell Funk, Peggy Hinson, Sally Lasseter, John McEachern, Linda Parker, Merryll Penson, Linda Resch and John Wells.

It was the end of an era, for a 1992 Constitutional Amendment had mandated that the state's 180 school systems were to be managed and controlled by elected boards.

That led to Muscogee County's first elected board in 1994, headed by chairwoman Mary Sue Polleys, who was elected citywide. As today there were nine members.

The 1992 Constitutional Amendment means there is no going back. Elected boards are here to stay -- warts and all.

That leads to a trivia question.

Who was on the final appointed school board, the first elected board and the current panel?

The answer is John Wells.

Richard Hyatt, an independent correspondent, is also found at

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