Assessing the results of Tuesday’s elections, the message from voters to the Muscogee County School Board is clear, says a former board member who continues to be an active board observer:
“The takeaway is that it’s easier now to differ with the superintendent, but you probably need to be polite about it,” Fife Whiteside told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Wednesday.
Whiteside, a bankruptcy lawyer, represented District 5 during the first 15 years (1993-2008) that the board has been an elected governing body instead of grand-jury appointed. He was known for asking administrators pointed questions, insisting on transparency and voting against recommendations when he wasn’t satisfied with their answers.
So in substance, Whiteside is similar to District 8 representative Frank Myers, the current board’s most outspoken critic of superintendent David Lewis and his administration. But in style, although he was persistent, Whiteside wasn’t considered hostile during board discussions.
And such criticism of Myers appears to be the major factor in former board chairman Philip Schley ousting the one-term incumbent and leader of the board’s anti-establishment wing, Whiteside said. That’s because the other incumbents on the ballot, who also have voted against some of Lewis’ recommendations or have asked critical questions of the administration, easily won another term Tuesday night, he said.
The results won’t be official until the Muscogee County Board of Elections and Registration meets at 2 p.m. May 29 to finalize them. But all 25 precincts in Columbus have reported, so here are the most updated results of the school board races, with five of the nine seats up for election this year:
▪ District 2 (five precincts): Mike Edmondson 47 percent (1,864), Bart Steed 30 percent (1,172) and Sheryl Hobbs McCraine 23 percent (897). Because nobody received a majority of the vote, Edmondson and Steed will compete for the seat in a July 24 runoff. The incumbent, John Thomas, didn’t seek re-election.
▪ District 6 (four precincts): Incumbent Mark Cantrell 56 percent (2,096) and Eddie Obleton 38 percent (1,418). Bob Roth dropped out of the race after the ballots were set, but he still received 6 percent (244).
▪ District 8 (seven precincts): Schley 65 percent (1,517) and Myers 35 percent (828).
“A lot of the results in District 8 had to do with the contrast in operating styles of the two candidates,” Whiteside said. “Dr. Schley intends to be less confrontational. A lot of people might have voted for Frank if it was just a matter of the issues, but they don’t care for Frank’s assertive style.”
Examples of recommendations from Lewis rejected by the board’s majority in the past 12 months are the proposal to hire an outside agency to conduct alternative education programs, the proposal to make up snow days and the proposal to add a full-time police officer to only the high schools, which the board’s majority expanded to include the middle schools.
All of which shows the results from Tuesday’s elections also have a message from the board to the superintendent:
“Just because we’re polite to you,” Whiteside said, “that doesn’t mean we’ll always do exactly what you want.”