Phenix City Council appoints two members to Board of Education

The Phenix City Council, on three split votes, reappointed one current school board member and voted not to reappointment another today.

Fran Ellis was chosen for a second five-year term 3-2 vote. Barbara Mitchell failed to win approval on a 3-2 vote; council then selected Mesha Ramsey Patrick, who works for the Russell County School District, to the post on a 3-2 vote.

The council interviewed five candidates Monday night for the two open positions on the seven-member board that has been embroiled in controversy for more than a year. Both Mitchell, a retired educator and former Phenix City council member, and Ellis indicated they wanted reappointment to the board.

Mitchell was nominated by council member Chris Blackshear. Council member Gail Head and Blackshear voted for Mitchell, while council members Jim Cannon and Arthur Day along with Mayor Eddie Lowe voted against her.

Patrick was then nominated with Lowe, Day and Cannon voting for her and Blackshear and Head voting against her.

The selection of Ellis also came down to a 3-2 vote with Blackshear, Head and Cannon supporting her. Lowe, a former president of the Board of Education, and Day voted against her.

The most discussion by council was over Patrick’s selection. Patrick Central High graduate, is the former principal of Russell County Middle School. She is currently working in as Director of Federal Prograns for the Russell County District.

Blackshear couched his voted against Patrick, noting that they attended high school at the same time.

“Do I think she will do a good job? Certainly,” Blackshear said. “My concern is she is employed in another school district in our area. I think this opens her up for some conflicts of interest.”

Day said he had done his due diligence on Patrick’s selection.

“I don’t see the conflict,” he said.

Patrick said that she reached out to the Alabama Education Association and Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools to see if a conflict exist. She was told it was not an issue.

"It is only a conflict if you don't do the right thing," Patrick said.

Cannon said that Patrick blew him away in the interview process.

“She impressed me,” he said. “That lady is special.”

The Board of Education terminated Superintendent Larry DiChiara in November 2013, prompting DiChiara to sue the district for breach-of-contract. The lawsuit was dismissed, but DiChiara appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. He settled with the board before his case was heard. The board agreed to pay him $587,412, less taxes, to buy out the 4½ years left on his contract.

Rev. I.N. Hudson Jr., backed by a group of black Phenix City ministers, sued the board for an alleged violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act after hiring Randy Wilkes in June from Crenshaw County, Ala., as superintendent without public discussion following a closed session. That case still is pending.