The Johnston County Board of Education is accepting applications to fill a vacancy within its ranks. Archer Lodge has two candidates for a vacancy on the town council. In both cases, the board didn’t simply default to choosing the next-highest vote-getter in the last election. It’s hard to fathom why.
As best I can tell, state law allows elected boards to fill vacancies however they see fit. They could draw a name out of a hat if they wished. But once upon a time, it was tradition for boards to fill vacancies with the next-highest vote-getter.
I like that tradition because it rewards people who went to the trouble of filing for and then running for elected office. Yes, they lost, but at least they tried, which is more than I can say for a name plucked out of a hat or from a pile of applications.
I have no doubt that the people who apply for the Johnston school board vacancy want to serve. I’m sure they will be parents, or school volunteers, or PTA leaders or advisory council members. They will be, in other words, people who care about Johnston County schools.
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But I can say the same of Todd Sutton, who finished fifth among eight candidates in the November race for four seats on the Johnston County Board of Education. Sutton is not only the parent of an autistic child, he has been active in the North Johnston High School Panther Club and on the board of the Johnston County Education Foundation. In other words, Mr. Sutton cares about Johnston County schools and Johnston County school children.
But what will separate Mr. Sutton from other applicants for the school board vacancy is that he actually went to the time-consuming and money-consuming trouble of running for the office.
In Archer Lodge, Debbie Barnes also went to the trouble of running for office, finishing fourth in the race for three seats. The same cannot be said of Teresa Bruton, the other candidate in the running to fill the Archer Lodge vacancy, though she has a history of service to Archer Lodge through her tenure on the town’s planning board.
I could see the reluctance of Archer Lodge leaders to appoint Mrs. Barnes if she were a fringe candidate espousing a radical agenda or a green horn with no valuable skills or experience. But on the campaign trail, she said she was running in hopes of bringing a woman’s perspective to Archer Lodge governance. And she was far from radical in her thinking; like the male candidates who won, Mrs. Barnes said she would be in no hurry to expand town services; when residents want them, they’ll ask for them.
Mr. Sutton wasn’t a fringe candidate either. When he filed for office, Mr. Sutton said he supported Johnston’s community school model, in which students attend small schools close to home, and he said parents should have a voice whenever the school board proposes to change attendance boundaries.
Moreover, on the campaign trail, Mr. Sutton sounded a lot like the winning candidates. He called for managing growth by setting aside land for new schools; continuing to promote career and technical education programs and expanding STEM programs in the county; replacing mobile units with brick-and-mortar classrooms; and creating competitive teacher supplements and compensation.
He was also innovative, calling for safety features such as key fobs in all schools so doors can stay locked during the day and suggesting that the school board expand from seven to nine members, with one member from each high school attendance area.
On Nov. 8, nearly 32,000 Johnston voters cast ballots for Mr. Sutton. No other candidate who finished outside the running received more than 23,700 votes.
But Mr. Sutton’s effort and strong showing apparently mean nothing to the board of education. In Archer Lodge, Mrs. Barnes is at least in the running to fill the vacancy there.
I know tradition can be overrated, but I’m having a hard time figuring out why the Archer Lodge Town Council and Johnston County Board of Education aren’t jumping at the chance to appoint clearly qualified people who have shown an obvious interest in serving.