What role partisan politics should play in a Williamson County Board of Education race came under scrutiny last week after an email was sent by a sitting county commissioner to other locally connected elected leaders and party representatives.
What role partisan politics should play in a Williamson County Board of Education race came under scrutiny last week.
While the Williamson County Commission is a partisan elected board, local school board elections in Tennessee by law are not. While the county commission funds the annual school budget, the two boards are otherwise independent of each other.
In a private email obtained by BrentWord Communications, parent company of Franklin Home Page, 4th District county commissioner Kathy Danner complained to 4th District school board member Tim McLaughlin, Franklin Alderman Beverly Burger, county Republican activist Chuck Shelton and others that she was excluded from ethe process of helping to vet and encourage someone to rune for the seat McLaughlin is giving up.
Burgeres Ward 1 boundaries overlap some of the countyes 4th District, which encompasses the Cool Springs area east of I-65 and runs as far east as Arrington.
The email was copied to county GOP chairwoman Mindy McAlindon and Gregg Lawrence, a newcomer running unopposed in the May 6 GOP primary for the second District 4 commissioneres seat.
Danner also noted in the undated document that she thought she was epart of a team effort to get the most conservative and Christian candidates in the races.e
The county primary election is May 6. The county general election and state primary is Aug. 7.
eFrom a political standpoint, you could not have pulled off a more monumentallyedumb move,e Danner wrote.
McLaughlin, who decided not to run the day before the qualifying deadline, said he didnet know what vetting process Danner was referring to. He added that the two citizens who filed petitions to run for the 4th District school board seat, Andrew Voyles, who withdrew from the race last week, and Paul Bartholomew approached him, not the other way around.
eBoth candidates told me if I ran, theyed back out. I called them and told them I was not going to run. They came to me, asking how much time is invested in being a board member, and what it is to run for school board,e McLaughlin said.
eI donet campaign for anybody but myself,e he added.
When asked to explain the referenced vetting process she addressed in her email, Danner replied on Friday she was ehoping to at least know who was going to file. Ieve never met Paul Bartholomew and was hoping to know who he was.
eI have always supported Tim,” Danner said. Believing McLaughlin was going to seek re-election, she asked the person she had thought would be the best fit for the seat — if available — not to file.e “In my opinion, you donet run against an incumbent unless therees a reason to fire the incumbent.e
When asked about her references to wanting to put a conservative and Christian candidate in the race, Danner said, eThe school board votes on issues that touch on those things that are considered ideologically conservative, and thates something I support.
“Just because the election is nonpartisan doesnet mean youere electing a robot. I personally vote for the person most like-minded to myself.e
McAlindon said that while the Williamson County Republican Party does vet and credential potential candidates to verify they are ebonafidee Republicans and find out where they stand on the issues, that process does not apply to the school board election. e
eThe school board race is one that we donet get involved in,” McAlindon said.e
“I do think Chuck and Bev and whoever was involved were just trying to find people like-minded to run. Thates no different from what liberal groups do try to find people like-minded.e I donet think anyone was recruiting people,e McAlindon said.
Randall Bennett is deputy executive director and general counsel of the Tennessee School Board Association and a former school board official in Johnson City, Tenn.
eThe whole idea when the General Assembly created this [statute] was that they wanted to not bog down the race in partisanship, although if candidates are active in the political parties, people might know who they are, but therees nothing on the ballot to identify their party,e Bennett said.
eItes hard to keep partisanship out of some elections, but I think school board elections are better at keeping partisanship out. I think some people like the fact they can get out and talk to people about the issues and not a party affiliation.e
Several sitting WCS board members and other elected officials were asked for their opinion on whether they think public school board candidates should be able to identify with a political party on the ballot or if it matters, given some candidatese known political involvement in the community.
“I’ve always been very open that I’m both a Republican and a conservative, and that does shape my outlook on issues like local control over our schools versus federal and state over-meddling,e 10th district school board member Eric Welch said.
eStill, the vast majority of policies the Board of Education implements are completely non-partisan; dealing with growth and re-zoning, maintaining our facilities and educating students for the future economy covers the entire political spectrum,e Welch continued.
eWhen I talk to parents at PTO meetings, school plays or the bleachers of a Friday night game, they’re not worried about who I voted for during the Presidential election, but that I continue working to provide their children a world class education and the best opportunities available to them.e
School Board member Rick Wimberly did not have a strong opinion on the matter, but said it is a emisinterpretatione to think the election is non-political in the sense that voters have a right to know school board memberse positions on political issues that relate to education.
County Mayor Rogers Anderson, elected to his office several times as a Republican, said he would support partisanship in the school board election, which would set a ephilosophical tonee for voters.
However, school board Vice Chairman Gary Anderson, who has served the Williamson County Schools board for 24 years, said the system in place works well and politics are not the focus of the local board.
eThe political affiliation of a board member has never been a focus of the school board since I have served,e Anderson said. eOur attention is on what is in the best interest of the students and the education that they receive in the Williamson County school district. The current system has served the Williamson County School district well, so there is no need for a change.e
The email communication did not violate state Sunshine laws, which pertain to public access to governing bodiese meetings and other deliberations, according to Frank Gibson, founding director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
Jessica Pace covers Williamson County, Williamson County Schools and the Town of Nolensville for BrentWord Communications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Jess_Marie_Pace.