City Schools of Decatur Board of Education elects new chairperson in 3-2 vote

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt January 14, 2015
Left to right: School Board Lewis Jones, Julie Rhame, Bernadette Seals and Superintendent Phyllis Edwards. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Left to right: School Board Lewis Jones, Julie Rhame, Bernadette Seals and Superintendent Phyllis Edwards. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Intrigue surrounded Tuesday’s election of the chairperson of the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education.

Bernadette Seals wanted to serve another one-year term as chairperson. But the board chose Garrett Goebel after Seals failed to earn enough votes to be reelected.

Goebel was nominated by board member Annie Caiola and supported by board member Lewis Jones. Jones and Caiola were elected in 2013.

Caiola said the board was asked for a show of hands to reelect Seals. School Board member Julie Rhame and Seals voted to reelect Seals as board chair. Goebel, Caiola and Jones did not vote. There was no vote by show of hands on Goebel’s nomination, Rhame said.

“Since she didn’t have a majority, Garrett was automatically elected chair,” Rhame said.

The board unanimously chose Rhame as vice chair.

Seals was elected as chairperson in January, succeeding Marc Wisniewski, who did not seek reelection.

Seals took the vote in stride.

“We both expressed an interest, it’s basically as simple as that,” she said. “The same votes he got last year for vice chair he got this year for chair. It’s not what I expected, but I’m fine with it.”

Goebel said he made it clear at the last regular meeting that he would like to serve as board chair.

“At last month’s meeting, we discussed who was intending to declare intentions (for chair) and would like to serve in the meeting and both Bernadette and I expressed an interest and Julie expressed an interest in serving (as vice chair),” Goebel said. “I’m not going to go into more detail than that.”

Goebel said “there’s a learning curve” for the chairperson and he thinks that every board member should have an opportunity to serve in that role. He said he didn’t have any complaints or concerns about Seals’ leadership of the board.

“I don’t think there was a particular issue with her leadership,” he said. “I really don’t think I can go further than that.”

Jones agreed, saying that the position can benefit from change.

“I think there was a sense on the board that it’s a good thing for the chairmanship to change seats periodically,” he said. “It’s just a good healthy thing to pass that around a little bit.”

Like Goebel, Jones said he didn’t have any issue with Seals’ leadership as board chair.

“I have confidence Garrett can do a good job as chair,” Jones said. “It was not a vote against Bernadette. It was a vote in support of Garrett.”

Caiola said she nominated Goebel because he had expressed an interest in the job.

“To look at the vote as a sign of dissension among board members would be inaccurate and unfair,” she said. “I think two qualified people wanted to lead the board and it was a hard decision.”

Rhame said she supported Seals over Goebel because of her experience as board chair. She had also previously served as the vice chair.

Rhame said the vote was close because the job usually isn’t in contention.

“We are very blessed with talented people. And usually, most people don’t want to step up to the job so it’s an easy decision,” Rhame said. “This year it’s different. Two people wanted the job.”

Seals said the board chair’s position “carries no more weight than any other” seat on the board.

“You’re basically a meeting conductor,” Seals said. “Everybody on the board is capable of conducting a meeting. Everybody on the board is capable of speaking with the press or anyone else we have to speak with because we often do.”

So Seals is OK with it then?

“I’m more than OK with it, believe me,” Seals said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the process of voting for chair. The board was asked to vote on Seals nomination by raising their hands, and she did not receive enough votes to be reelected.

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