Wicomico School Board Vacancy Process Talks Stall

SALISBURY – After months of discussion on the process for filling a vacant seat on the school board, officials in Wicomico County last week agreed to hold off on any possible changes.

Last week, the Wicomico County Council met with members of the Wicomico County School Board Nominating Commission in a work session to continue a discussion on the procedure for filling a vacancy on the Wicomico County Board of Education.

“The purpose of the meeting today is to evaluate whether or not there are ways we can tweak it to make it a little more user-friendly as a whole for the committee,” Council President John Cannon said.

Conversations on changing the process began in September, after issues regarding the nomination and appointment process were brought to light.

Earlier this year, the council voted to appoint Tonya Laird Lewis to fill a vacancy on the school board created by the death of member David Goslee. That decision, however, followed a lengthy nomination process and a tie vote between Lewis and candidate Gains Hawkins Jr.

In the event of a vacancy, the nominating commission seeks qualified applicants for appointment to the school board.

Within 60 days of a vacancy, the commission develops criteria for choosing nominees, publicizes the names of applicants, holds two public hearings and submits the names of two nominees to the Wicomico County Council.

From there, the council is expected to hold a public hearing regarding the nominees within 60 days. If the council deems at least one of the nominees acceptable, it will then vote on the nominees and fill the vacancy.

Officials noted, however, the process failed to address certain scenarios, such as tie votes. They also questioned if timelines, vacancy terms and the number of public hearings should be amended in the state code.

It should be noted if the county chooses to change the procedure for school board vacancies, it would have to be through state legislation.

“It’s a lot of work,” Cannon said. “It would have to go to the state legislature.”

While officials ultimately agreed the county should maintain its nominating commission, Cannon questioned if the number of public hearings should be reduced.

“I think we should continue with the law as it has been written,” commission member Joan Smith replied. “In having it two times you do accommodate people who aren’t able to make it to the first one.”

Cannon also questioned if the 60-day deadline should be extended to 90 days.

“That’s the most important issue,” he said. “The commission was really up against those 60 days. It wasn’t allowing enough time for the advertising, it wasn’t enough time for the respondents to turn in their resumes, and the process for getting it to the council you were right up to the last second.”

Smith noted, however, that speed would come with practice and time. She said the process for filling a vacancy was relatively new.

“Those folks who change tires during the races, they didn’t get so fast by doing it in a couple of months, or even in their first years,” she said. “They’ve got speed lightning going on by practice and time. And I think that’s what we are doing.”

Councilman Bill McCain questioned if anything needed to be changed at this time. He said the larger issues identified in prior work sessions could be easily fixed without changing the legislation.

“Our debate has been healthy, and we’ve brought some of these issues up,” he said. “We represent the people, but we don’t have anybody telling us to make these changes.”

Cannon argued the issues discussed were ones identified by the commission.

“We aren’t making changes for the sake of making changes,” he said. “These were very serious issues at the time.”

Councilman Joe Holloway recommended the commission meet again to discuss which issues, if any, needed to be changed in the state code.

“I think they need to come to a consensus first before we do anything,” he said.

Cannon noted any possible changes could be revisited in a future work session.

“We should try to get as much minutia out of the way on one shot, as opposed to going to the state three or four times,” he said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.