After three school board members left a standing April 18 meeting amid policy debate and in protest of a questionable appointment attempt, the Hickman Mills School District looks to work out differences with unified plan.
By Tyler Schneider
What was supposed to be the Hickman Mills C-1 Board of Education’s Inauguration and Reception on April 18 quickly dissolved into a heated policy debate, culminating in three board members walking out before election results could be certified and board officers subsequently elected.
The fiasco was initially stoked when board member Terri Barr-Moore submitted a letter of resignation, dated April 7, to the board after moving out of the district. Elected in April of last year with the most votes of four candidates at 822, Barr-Moore joined the board alongside director Beth Boerger.
Barr-Moore’s vacancy is the second the board has faced in 2023, with Clifford Ragan III, a former vice-president of the board, being appointed via a board majority vote in February to assume the seat vacated by perennial politician DaRon McGee, as the latter joined the Jackson County Legislature after winning an uncontested race in the Fourth District last November.
Ahead of the April 18 meeting, it had become fairly well-known within the community that some members of the board were considering a move to once again appoint Ragan to fill the vacancy created by Barr-Moore.
By the time 5:30 p.m. had rolled around on April 18, it was standing room only for a time within the board room of the Hickman Mills C-1 Administration Center. As the meeting started, Brandon Wright, the lone newcomer to the board having earned 1,569 votes for second behind incumbent Irene Kendrick (1,595) and ahead of the other incumbent, Byron Townsend (1,441) in the April 4 election, had apparently already taken his oath of office prior to the meeting and therefore had requested to be seated as the meeting commenced.
A 3-2 vote against this request, with Boerger and Kendrick in support of seating Wright, brought on a twenty minute closed session to discuss the matter as the former was forced to wait alongside the meeting’s many public observers.
When they returned, HMC-1 district attorney Carla Fields Johnson, summarized the situation: “Mr. Wright was elected into the seat of the director. And the question that the board is trying to address is when is the appropriate time for him to be seated?”
Was the “new board,” which would include Wright, to preside? Or the “old board,” which featured all but Wright and whose interim member, Ragan had finished with 1,349 votes in the official results and was now seated in the audience?
The significance of the ordering of this agenda seemed poised to block Wright’s vote from being counted in the matter. Kendrick again suggested a motion for Wright to be sworn in prior to recognizing Barr-Moore’s resignation and the vacancy it would subsequently create.
“Those of you that have been in the board meetings, you know the old board takes care of its business before [we] seat the new board,” incumbent board president Carol Graves responded. “How can the new board take up business again? “I’m following the board policy, as the board president, as many other board presidents did when they sat here.”
Boerger spoke up, referring to board policy BDBB-2 (Agendas), “the tentative agenda related materials and minutes of the previous meeting shall be mailed to each member four days prior to the stated meeting,” Boeger cited. “The addition was just made yesterday, that does not meet the four day minimum,” the director summarized to applause from much of the room.
Graves suggested the board proceed to vote to simply approve the agenda. It passed 3-2 on the same lines.
Here, the dominoes began to fall, as HMC-1 attorney Fields Johnson cited two resignations set to be recognized: that of Barr-Moore and another from Ragan. Board secretary Ramanda Hicks replied that there was only one vacancy, from Barr-Moore.
A two-minute silence followed, with Barr-Moore’s resignation letter read. Following the reading, the board vice president and reelected incumbent, Townsend, moved that “Clifford Ragan fill the vacancy.”
“Excuse me? That’s not on the agenda,” Boerger responded.
Townsend tripled-down on repeating the suggested motion.
“You’re trying to waive policy again to follow the normal processes to appoint someone to the board,” Boerger said, in turn, citing board policy BF (Board Policy Process-Suspension of Policies).
Boerger continued, “as part of the discussion I want to state that it has been brought to my attention” that Ragan had violated board policy BBBA-1 No. 5 (Board Member Qualifications), alleging that Ragan had not satisfied his personal property tax payment requirements and thus moved that he be removed from consideration to fill Barr-Moore’s vacancy.
“Policy BBE provides a process to fill the vacancy, that allows the board to use a different process due to the timing or other relevant matters,” Graves cited in response.
“Well, it still remains that he is not qualified under BBA-1. Goodnight,” Boerger stated as she left her seat with Kendrick and Wright following suit.
A few days of silence brought unity behind the scenes, as stated in a district press release.
“Hickman Mills C-1 Schools Board of Directors is pleased to announce a decision to move forward after the events of recent weeks. The board has… developed a plan demonstrating that the board is unified… To demonstrate this unity, the board will start the new governance cycle with co-presidents and operate with a six-member board to ensure decisions are made with a collaborative mindset,” the email from district spokesperson Justin Robinson read.
The following Monday, April 24, a 5:30 p.m. meeting took place which was said to provide this resolution.
Obeng began the session by repeating the solution suggested in the email. Under this condition, were the board to approve it, Kendrick would join Graves in serving as co-president of the board, with six members seated instead of seven “for a short period.”
After this discussion, the topic was shelved for vote until after the new board could be sworn in. Although Kendrick and Wright had already been sworn in via documents, all three stood to take their oath.
Following this moment of unity, the board voted on the proposal. The subsequent vote was split 3-3.
Director Ann E. Coleman had the concern that duties hadn’t been explicitly delegated between the two if this vote were to pass. Another concern was how long this change would be in effect, as it wasn’t set in writing.
After discussion, the board came to an agreement that Graves and Kendrick would form a subcommittee set to delegate these co-presidency duties. Board policy states that the state gives boards until July 15 to fill positions of secretary and treasurer, and so July 15 was set as the date at which the board to reassess its membership and leadership delegations.
This vote passed unanimously, the meeting adjourned, the future of the district in the hands of six well-intentioned people who have yet to display fully the reasoned unity the district needs.