John Wells apologizes for 2012 vote against principal nominations

June 5, 2014 

Joe Paull jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com John Wells, who currently holds the Muscogee County School Board district 2 seat, answers questions during a forum held by the Columbus branch of the NAACP.

Chatterland is usually a spot where we add three to four interesting tidbits of news from around the Chattahoochee Valley.

This week. It's just one, but we think you'll be equally satisfied.

For the first 85 minutes of the two-hour Muscogee County School Board discussion of the preliminary fiscal year 2015 budget Monday evening, John Wells, the usually outspoken District 2 representative, sat silent. But as the board prepared to vote on the budget that lays off 69 school-based personnel, Wells spoke up -- and started with an apology.

He said the budget situation reminded him of the vote two years ago, when he led a bloc of board members who without explanation rejected retiring superintendent Susan Andrews' nine personnel moves then unanimously approved them five days after she left and interim superintendent John Phillips made the same recommendation.

"People didn't have enough information about it, so they got voted down," Wells said. "Was that an embarrassing situation? Absolutely it was. I was here, and I want them to understand that I'm sorry that that situation happened, and I personally apologize for participating in that at that time, but I voted my conscience on the best information I had at the time.

"Even though we approved all those people at the next meeting, I always supported superintendent Andrews and I highly respected all that she did. That was about people. This budget is about people."

Then he suggested using about $7 million of the projected $19.7 million in reserve funds to prevent any layoffs.

Cathy Williams, the equally outspoken county-wide representative, asked Sharon Adams, the district's chief financial officer, how vulnerable the school system would be to midyear state cuts or cost increases with only $12 million left in the reserve.

"If we delay this a year," Adams said, "next year we're going to have to do twice this. It's not going to go away. … You have to live within your means."

Williams then reminded the board that superintendent David Lewis had said 19 of the 69 layoffs are employees who had poor performance evaluations or weren't certified or qualified for any available position.

Williams: "I assume, Mr. Wells, you don't want those positions to be put back in if they're being removed for cause, right? You're not saying we keep bad teachers just because …"

Wells: "You can say what you want to. I made a motion."

Williams: "I just want to get clarification so I can vote on this."

Wells: "My clarification is to keep the people. If the superintendent comes back and says we can't keep this person because they drag themselves to work drunk every day, we're not going to keep them. I'm saying fund the people that are on this thing. The superintendent always has discretion on what to do. This is not …"

Williams: "Mr. Varner? Can I get the floor back, please? I understand we're campaigning now, but I would like to get my question …"

Wells: "You've been campaigning all the time."

For the record, Wells faces challenger John F. Thomas in the July 22 election runoff. Williams, who didn't seek re-election, will be replaced Jan. 1 by Kia Chambers, who won the nine-member board's lone county-wide seat outright in the May 20 election.

Wells' proposal failed. Athavia "A.J." Senior of District 3 abstained from voting on the proposal because her daughter is among the 69 layoffs, she said. Beth Harris of District 8 was the only representative to vote for the proposal along with Wells. And he was the only representative to vote against approving the superintendent's preliminary budget.

"I did not vote for that because I'm not in favor of laying off any people when we have money in the bank," Wells said.

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