City Schools of Decatur Board of Education elects new chairperson in 3-2 vote

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt January 14, 2015
Left to right: School Board Lewis Jones, Julie Rhame, Bernadette Seals and Superintendent Phyllis Edwards. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Left to right: School Board Lewis Jones, Julie Rhame, Bernadette Seals and Superintendent Phyllis Edwards. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Intrigue surrounded Tuesday’s election of the chairperson of the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education.

Bernadette Seals wanted to serve another one-year term as chairperson. But the board chose Garrett Goebel after Seals failed to earn enough votes to be reelected.

Goebel was nominated by board member Annie Caiola and supported by board member Lewis Jones. Jones and Caiola were elected in 2013.

Caiola said the board was asked for a show of hands to reelect Seals. School Board member Julie Rhame and Seals voted to reelect Seals as board chair. Goebel, Caiola and Jones did not vote. There was no vote by show of hands on Goebel’s nomination, Rhame said.

“Since she didn’t have a majority, Garrett was automatically elected chair,” Rhame said.

The board unanimously chose Rhame as vice chair.

Seals was elected as chairperson in January, succeeding Marc Wisniewski, who did not seek reelection.

Seals took the vote in stride.

“We both expressed an interest, it’s basically as simple as that,” she said. “The same votes he got last year for vice chair he got this year for chair. It’s not what I expected, but I’m fine with it.”

Goebel said he made it clear at the last regular meeting that he would like to serve as board chair.

“At last month’s meeting, we discussed who was intending to declare intentions (for chair) and would like to serve in the meeting and both Bernadette and I expressed an interest and Julie expressed an interest in serving (as vice chair),” Goebel said. “I’m not going to go into more detail than that.”

Goebel said “there’s a learning curve” for the chairperson and he thinks that every board member should have an opportunity to serve in that role. He said he didn’t have any complaints or concerns about Seals’ leadership of the board.

“I don’t think there was a particular issue with her leadership,” he said. “I really don’t think I can go further than that.”

Jones agreed, saying that the position can benefit from change.

“I think there was a sense on the board that it’s a good thing for the chairmanship to change seats periodically,” he said. “It’s just a good healthy thing to pass that around a little bit.”

Like Goebel, Jones said he didn’t have any issue with Seals’ leadership as board chair.

“I have confidence Garrett can do a good job as chair,” Jones said. “It was not a vote against Bernadette. It was a vote in support of Garrett.”

Caiola said she nominated Goebel because he had expressed an interest in the job.

“To look at the vote as a sign of dissension among board members would be inaccurate and unfair,” she said. “I think two qualified people wanted to lead the board and it was a hard decision.”

Rhame said she supported Seals over Goebel because of her experience as board chair. She had also previously served as the vice chair.

Rhame said the vote was close because the job usually isn’t in contention.

“We are very blessed with talented people. And usually, most people don’t want to step up to the job so it’s an easy decision,” Rhame said. “This year it’s different. Two people wanted the job.”

Seals said the board chair’s position “carries no more weight than any other” seat on the board.

“You’re basically a meeting conductor,” Seals said. “Everybody on the board is capable of conducting a meeting. Everybody on the board is capable of speaking with the press or anyone else we have to speak with because we often do.”

So Seals is OK with it then?

“I’m more than OK with it, believe me,” Seals said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the process of voting for chair. The board was asked to vote on Seals nomination by raising their hands, and she did not receive enough votes to be reelected.

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  • Rabbit47

    Why do you refer to Ms. Seals by her last name most of the time but by her first name in graph #3?

    Also, while not specifically saying he had problems with her leadership, his several quotes (at least the way they are used here) certainly imply it.

    • In reference to No. 1, it’s because I don’t have a copy editor and make typos sometimes.

      • Rabbit47

        I realize you don’t have a copy editor, Dan. (Even the New York Times seems in need of a copy editor these days.) It was just my old journalistic training kicking in. However, I believe you made a style faux pas, not a typo.

        On the other hand, your reporting efforts provide many of us with the most comprehensive view of local happenings.

        • Thanks for that. I do try. I would hope a copy editor would catch a style faux pas, too. Also, these school board members aren’t pretentious (thank god) and don’t mind if I call them by their first name. Sometimes that creeps into the writing.

  • D. Catur

    This article illustrates very well what I notice about many Decaturish stories, particularly if they have anything to do with the schools — that you really want there to be strife, conflict, hidden agendas, cover-ups, whatever — anything to stir stuff up. How many times can the board members say they are fine with electing a different chair? Were you disappointed that no one made any snarky comments? Or that apparently the three that voted against Seals really weren’t trying to enact some kind of takeover of the board? And the story the other day about the lice letter. I got several of those when my kids were in elementary school. I cannot imagine any reason why that would warrant a “news” story at all, unless you were hoping your readers would get up in arms about it and demand that COD do something about this scandalous situation immediately!

    • If you’re asking if I’d like news to be interesting, then yes, yes I would. I was personally surprised that Seals wasn’t reelected by a 3-2 vote, because 1) the school board doesn’t often have a split vote on anything and 2) it’s a thankless task and I can’t imagine there being any competition for it. As far as the lice story goes, I was particularly amused that the school had decided to “take hugging out of the morning greeting options.” It also seemed like a good opportunity to remind people about the policies and what not, as well as post a neat close-up shot of a bug. I write about what I find interesting and what I think others will find interesting, too. If we’re not boring enough for you, I have a few other news websites around town I could recommend.

      • Appreciative

        I appreciate your reporting on the mundane as well as the shocking. Ditto for Decatur Metro and other blogs with a neighborhood news focus. Otherwise, we wouldn’t hear at all about much of what happens around COD and CSD. Word of mouth gossip or party-line is not a better way to learn about what’s happening. The fact that our School Board operates respectfully and cooperatively, especially compared to many of the Boards around us, does not mean that there isn’t significance to their actions. And yes, any parent who has school age children learns to live with lice, and even will get lice themselves a time or two, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t upsetting at the time, not to mention a colossal pain in the neck. A spotlight on what’s happening is a good thing and there’s room for lots of spotlights if folks don’t like yours and prefer another one. The fact that you have a growing number of subscribers shows that many folks want to hear from you.

        • Thanks for that. I always find Metro entertaining. The commenters are a hoot. I always ask people to write a signed letter to the editor telling me how much I suck, but no one ever takes me up on it. In terms of inspiring false courage, commenting anonymously is second only to alcohol.

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