The Clarke County Board of Education is now accepting applications to fill the remainder of Vernon Payne’s term in District 2.
Candidates should submit a letter of interest and up to two letters of recommendation from supporters by Thursday, Feb. 14. The board will then interview the candidates and take public comment at its Feb. 21 meeting before voting on a replacement.
Qualifications for the position include being at least 21 years old, a citizen of Georgia, registered to vote, not having been convicted of a felony, not holding any other elected office, not currently working for CCSD and residing within the district for at least the past 12 months. District 2 extends roughly from Danielsville Road to Winterville and Lexington Road to the Madison County line. A full list of qualifications and a map of the district are available on the CCSD website.
The decision to accept public comment was a contentious one during a two-and-a-half-hour board meeting Jan. 17 to discuss the process for replacing Payne, who resigned Dec. 28 after a long bout with illness that caused him to miss nine months’ worth of board meetings. Some board members, including President Jared Bybee and Vice President Linda Davis, argued that allowing public comment could create a campaign-style atmosphere and turn the meeting into a “three-ring circus,” as Bybee put it. But a majority of board members, led by Greg Davis and LaKeisha Gantt, said they want to get as much public input as possible.
Usually, a special election is held when an elected official resigns, but that’s not the case with the school board. If Payne had resigned at least 35 days before the November election, voters would have chosen his replacement. But the timing of his resignation requires the board to select someone to fill out his term, which expires at the end of 2020.
The last time the board was forced to make such a decision was in 2012, when David Nunnally resigned from the District 3 seat. The board chose Linda Davis over former Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Alvin Sheats, and Davis went on to win re-election unopposed in 2014 and 2018.
Superintendent Demond Means advised the board to be as open and transparent as possible to avoid any hard feelings on the part of those not selected or their supporters. He compared the public interview process to a Cabinet or Supreme Court hearing. “It’s hard to be in a position where you’re picking one name over another,” Means said. “It can be uncomfortable to watch.”
According to Linda Davis and Charles Worthy, who was serving on the board in 2012, the process for selecting Nunnally’s replacement went smoothly. “I don’t recall hearing any negative feedback on that,” Worthy said.