Search for Sproul’s Ed Board successor proves bumpy

By on January 21, 2020

Basnight said a special meeting was called “to be sure we’re open and transparent.”

Perhaps the task of appointing someone to temporarily fill the vacancy left when Ben Sproul was elected mayor of Kill Devil Hills was never going to be an easy one for the Dare County Board of Education. But that process appears to have gotten more complicated and confusing in recent days — something that may be due in part to the prospect of a looming partisan election for that seat in November.


Analysis


Sproul, who represented District 2 on the school board, officially resigned from that post on Dec. 8. His term was set to expire after the November 2020 election and when the December filing period ended for those seeking to run in this fall’s elections, Democrat Jen Alexander and Republican Susan Bothwell had filed to compete for the seat.

At roughly the same time, the Dare County Board of Education began accepting applications from those seeking to be appointed to the open seat until the November election. Dare Education Board Chair Bea Basnight established a Jan. 6 deadline for receiving those applications and said at the time that, “our aim is to have someone seated by the January meeting.”

By the time the Jan. 6 deadline had passed, five candidates had applied for that appointment. They included, logically enough, Alexander and Bothwell, as well as Kyle Eaker, Dawn Edwards and Harvey Hess.

The last item on the agenda for the Jan. 14 regular meeting of the Dare Board of Education was “Discussion of Vacant Board Seat.” And a number of those candidates — as well as Dare County Commissioners Bob Woodard and Rob Ross — were on hand at the meeting. It also seems that not everyone knew what would happen regarding the candidate search that evening.

What did occur, according to Basnight, is that following a motion by Board Member Frank Hester, the board approved continuing the selection process by scheduling interviews with the five candidates on Jan. 30.

But the situation grew more complicated the following day when one of those candidates raised a concern that the board had held an illegal private meeting to discuss the various applicants for that appointment.

“It was a conversation with [Board Member] Joe Tauber and a candidate that led to allegations of an illegal meeting,” noted Basnight, who told other board members to funnel all media inquiries about the situation to her. When asked if such an illegal meeting took place, Basnight said, “At this point, it’s just an allegation. To my knowledge, no.”

What did happen, however, was a quickly convened special meeting of the Dare Board of Education on Saturday, Jan. 18 that was designed to “review the process and be sure we’re open and transparent,” Basnight told the Voice.

At that meeting, several things occurred. One is that Basnight disbanded a three-person committee — consisting of Hester, Tauber and Mary Ellon Ballance — that she said was tasked with gathering candidate interview questions for the board.

Basnight said the decision to disband the committee was made “to ensure our selection process was open and transparent and to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”

The next step was to reschedule the interview for those five candidates starting at 8 a.m. on February 5. Each candidate will get 45 minutes to offer an opening and closing statement and answer questions – with each person getting the same questions and no follow-up questions allowed to ensure equal treatment.

“I am hopeful we can make a decision” on Feb. 5, Basnight added.

As the board chair notes, because Sproul was last elected to the board in 2016 — before the General Assembly passed a bill requiring Dare County and eight other counties to hold partisan school board elections — the party affiliation of the person appointed to succeed him does not need to be considered. And she acknowledged that, “I do not know the parties of the other three applications” beside Alexander and Bothwell.

But while this appointment carries no partisan mandate, the board of education, on which Republicans outnumber Democrats 4-2, appears to be in the tricky position of deciding whether to give either of the two candidates running in November a possible advantage by making her an incumbent on Election Day.  It may help explain why the process of making that temporary appointment has thus far proven to be a bumpy ride.


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