Questions surround school board

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There were more questions than answers following the Sept. 14 meeting of the Cannon County Board of Education.

One question is how much longer the board will keep Barbara Parker as director of schools, a position she has held for most of the last 20 years?

Another question is whether school board member Shelley Walkup is still the legal representative of District 5?

In response to a statement made at the meeting by fellow board member Tim Powers, Walkup said she no longer lives in District 5. She has moved to a house in District 4.

Walkup stated she had not made any effort to keep the information secret, and had been told by the Cannon County Election Office and by the Tennessee School Board Association that she did not have to resign her seat.

Powers said he was not aware that Walkup had moved outside District 5.

Walkup may have effectively vacated the seat when she established permanent residence outside District 5. According to state law, a vacancy occurs when an officeholder ceases "to be a resident of the state, or of the district, circuit, or county for which the incumbent was elected or appointed."

Election office records show Walkup's address to be 75 Tanglewood Drive. She said during the meeting she lives on Knox Ridge Road.

Cannon County Election Administrator Matt Teply said on Friday that he had not had a discussion with Walkup regarding residency.

Cannon County Attorney Mike Corley said on Friday it is his opinion, after reviewing state law, that an officeholder who permanently moves outside the district in which they were elected must give up their seat.

"From my understanding of the Tennessee Constitution and state codes, if a person no longer resides in the district in which they were elected, they are no longer eligible to serve," Corley said.

Recent Cannon County precedent is that if an officeholder moves outside their district, they must resign. In 2013 Kevin Mooneyham served as one of the two District 5 county commissioners. As is the case with Walkup, he moved to District 4. He resigned the seat and the county commission appointed Jim Jones, who was the runner-up in the election, to fill the seat until the next election.

"This would be handled by the Cannon County legislative body or a judge in the case of a lawsuit," Adam Ghassemi, director of communications for the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, said Friday.

The Sept. 14 board meeting began with Bruce Daniel and Nathan Sanders being reelected as chairman and chairman pro-tem, respectively.

At that point Daniel made a motion to add an item to the agenda. It was "discussion of director's contract and possible transfer."

After the school board's new attorney, Michael Jennings, assured Sanders and Powers it was legal to add that item to the agenda, the motion passed, with Daniel, Walkup and Javin Fann voting in favor.

Powers had asked to be on the agenda to "address the board concerning 'legal matter' in attorney's letter. He was referencing a line in a letter sent to the board by Jennings on Aug. 28.

At the school board's regular workshop prior to meeting, held on Sept. 12, Powers asked Jennings what the "legal matter" mentioned in the letter was. Jennings responded it was in reference to Parker's employment status and any action the board might take to terminate her contract.

"I wasn't aware of the legal matter that you brought up at the workshop Tuesday," Powers said. "Doesn't it seem more competent, more efficient, just the right way to do it, for the board to know about such a matter before hearing from you," Powers asked Jennings.

"I would hope you would know what you're voting on or what's being considered," Jennings said. "If you have questions of me about that as you did the other night, I'll do my best to answer them for you."

Powers stated, "You want your school system to be in the best light be it academics, athletics, school board meetings, you want to be transparent, all those good words ... if we don't do things correctly, it gives the county a bad name and I just don't think this is the correct way to move with that legal matter that we discussed at the workshop."

When the item added to the agenda came up, Daniel made a motion to "let Mike Jennings meet with the director and her counsel if she so desires to discuss her contract."

Walkup said she did not think it was the proper time to take that action.

"Well I'm just going to say, considering all the people that are here tonight, I thought we were recognizing somebody, but, and you can be mad at me for saying this, but I think that everybody wants to do something ugly, and I think that is why we have all the people here tonight, and I think it would probably be in the best interest right now to put it on an agenda, whatever it is that it may be, I just think that's what you should do," she said.

Sanders said it was his understanding there was only going to be discussion, not a motion for action taken.

"Did we not approve to put on the agenda discussion instead of action? I like seeing people here. I wish more people would come to more meetings," Sanders said. "But I think it's sad that people will come when there is a topic of controversy on the agenda. That's really sad. I wish everybody had more interest in academics than they did controversy. And I just want to say again that I think we are doing things so wrong.

"We are only board members the second Thursday night of every month," Sanders added. "We have no authority whatsoever outside this board meeting. I think the letter that has been presented, we were deceived. I, personally, was voting on looking for an at-will agreement and every discussion that came up it asked for an at-will agreement from the current attorney. It was asked for an at-will agreement for an attorney to represent us based on some policy that said we could have two. And then to get a letter, identifying legal matter, that is addressed to a board member's place of business, I think we are so out of line, and Ms. Parker has done a good job of protecting us, keeping us out of the limelight so that Channel 4 News isn't at our meeting headlining it. I just want to do things the right way. I think we we all need to be kept abreast of what's going on especially something that is as important as this," Sanders said.

Daniel asked, "Mr. Jennings, correct me if I am wrong. The motion I made, you can meet with the director and her counsel and report back to the board, and nothing be done. All you would be doing would be meeting?

Jennings responded, "That is correct Mr. Chairman. If the board directs me to do that, I will do that, and will report back and keep the entire board informed and then if there is some action to be taken whatever it may be it would be placed on the agenda with the proper notice and placed in the proper place on the agenda.

Powers said, "So we are taking action, instead of what we voted on, where we said we are going to discuss it?"

Sanders said, "That's the way I understand it. I thought we were just discussing."

"Well there you go," Powers said "That's why I voted no (on adding the item to the agenda), because I knew you'd change it, just like the letter was changed. If this is passed, if we do vote on it, I would love to tally up the money. This is unnecessary funds ... we are going to do something on something foolish. What money we are spending that could go for education is going for this nonsense."

After the discussion, Fann seconded the motion made by Daniel. It failed 3-2, with Walkup, Sanders and Powers voting no.
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