A newcomer to politics with expertise in accounting called for better money management on the Muscogee County School Board when he announced his candidacy and qualified Wednesday to run for the District 2 seat.
John F. Thomas, an IRS agent in Columbus, will face incumbent John Wells and Kar-Tunes owner John "Bart" Steed in the May 20 nonpartisan election. Early voting starts April 28.
"I want to conduct a top-to-bottom audit on everything: personnel, policies, finances, expenditures," Thomas, 59, said at the Burger King on Wynnton Road. "Since the school board is a taxpayer-funded body, people need to have some assurance and be able to trust that they're getting what they're paying for."
Asked for examples of the board mismanaging money, Thomas mentioned two:
The $30 million project that constructed the Muscogee County Public Education Center. "I saw the need for a new building," he said. "But they leveraged it into something that had not been approved by the voting public."
No-bid contracts. "In my corporate world, when I was working in the private sector, everything had to be bid on," he said. "I was accountable to someone to see that costs were managed and I wasn't blowing money recklessly. The school board needs to be accountable to the taxpayers, and I'm not certain that they are in every instance."
Before working for the IRS, Thomas was general manager of Delaware North Companies, a global food service and hospitality business headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y. The North Carolina native has lived in Columbus since 2007. His wife, Marjorie, is a Columbus native and teaches in the district. His stepdaughter teaches in Atlanta.
Thomas views the Muscogee County School District as being "really at a critical point." He praised superintendent David Lewis, hired in July from Polk County, Fla., for his "huge overarching vision" and "a lot of great ideas," but he criticized Lewis' proposal to divide the district into west, central and east regions and appoint chief administrators for each.
"I do not believe the school district is going to benefit from becoming more top heavy," Thomas said. "I'm not certain his proposal for zones within the district, each with a little sub-administrative body, is going to be cost effective. The last thing I want to see is furloughs for teachers, layoffs for teachers, cutbacks in teachers -- anything that impacts the quality of in-class instruction. I don't want to see that, because it's not good for the students, it's not good for the teachers, it's not good for the county."
Other experience he lists on his fact sheet:
Created, developed and managed budgets ranging from $3.5 million to $16 million.
Co-authored "Income Tax Reform and the Flat Tax," published in the Fall 2012 issue of the International Journal for Business, Accounting and Finance.
Master Mason, Midland Lodge No. 144, currently serving as chairman of the finance committee and chaplain.
Chattahoochee Valley Volunteer Tax Assistance program.
He lists bachelor's degrees from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in communications (1977) and Columbus State University in business administration (2011), as well as a master's degree in communications from the University of Iowa (1989).
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkRiceLE.