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State board names new officers; White cries foul

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State board names new officers; White cries foul
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette

The West Virginia Board of Education Thursday elected new officers, but the only board member to vote against the choices accused his colleagues of a “back room deal” despite saying he didn’t know who specifically was involved.

“We talk about transparency — I don’t dislike any one of those people, but you don’t pull that kind of crap,” Bill White told the Gazette after the meeting.

Fellow board member Wade Linger nominated Michael Green for president, Lloyd Jackson for vice president and Tina Combs for secretary.

Of the nine voting members on the board, only Tom Campbell was absent during the vote due to a prior engagement, according to board attorney Mary Catherine Funk. White told his fellow board members during the meeting that he couldn’t vote for the new officers, but he’d support them. No one offered alternative nominations.

After White’s short statement of dissent, Linger, Green, Jackson, Combs, Beverly Kingery, Gayle Manchin and Jim Wilson opted to approve Linger’s nominations in a single vote with no further discussion. The officers take over their new positions immediately for one-year terms and can be renominated, though the president can’t serve three years in a row.

White, who said he didn’t want to be elected to any of the officer positions, said board members had discussed the issue prior to the meeting, and raised concerns about running amiss of laws regarding open meetings. He said the board needs a nominating committee to remove similar issues in the future. Before the vote on officers, he also suggested the board have a future discussion on televising its meetings or live-streaming them online, as the Kentucky Board of Education does.

The state Open Meetings Act requires public boards’ decisions be made by a majority of members in open meetings, the times and locations of which must be publicly posted ahead of time except in emergencies. Outside of open meetings, discussions about matters pending before a board are also limited — the act intends that the decision-making process also be in the public eye. But there are several caveats in the law.

Certain issues may be discussed in closed session, like firing employees, though decisions must be voted on in public before they become final. Other than using closed session to discuss those issues, there cannot be discussion among a majority of board members on an issue pending before the board outside of open meetings.

According to a 2007 opinion from the West Virginia Ethics Commission, “public officials could be in violation of the Act if they use a series of communications, whether face-to-face meetings, telephone conversations, or an exchange of electronic mail, with the intent of allowing a majority of the governing body to predetermine the outcome of a particular matter pending before the entity on which they serve.”

Linger said that didn’t take place. He said he asked Green whether he wanted to be president, but didn’t have any “specific memory” of communicating in any way with other board members before the meeting.

“I would suggest that you ask Dr. White what he might have done in order to lobby for a position,” he told a Gazette reporter when contacted after the meeting. White again said he didn’t want any of the board officer positions when again contacted by the Gazette Thursday.

Combs declined to answer whether she’d spoken to other board members about the issue before Thursday’s meeting. Jackson said he did, but couldn’t remember how many other members he talked to.

“There wasn’t any decision made ahead of time,” he told the Gazette.

When asked whether he spoke to other members, Green declined comment, though he noted that “there’s talk about this all the time.”

“People know who I am and what I stand for,” he said.

Manchin, whom Green replaced as president, said she talked to Green only to ask him directly whether he’d be willing to serve as president, and said that when she was selected president two years ago, she called each board member and asked whether they would support her.

Including her past two years as president, Manchin said she’s served as a board member for nine years, and doesn’t want to be reappointed to another term when hers expires in November. She is, however, willing to continue serving after her term expires until Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin names a replacement.

Members are allowed to retain their positions until they’re either replaced or reappointed. Tomblin waited until January to replace a member of the West Virginia Board of Education who resigned in 2012.

In a speech before adjourning the meeting, Manchin thanked her husband, now-U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, for appointing her in 2007 when he was governor.

“He certainly put his head, neck on the chopping block, when he did that,” Manchin said, “but I can only say that had he not done that, I would have missed a very valuable experience in my life in terms of what I have learned.”

Manchin, who taught in Marion County schools and at Fairmont State University before joining the board, said she has worked in education all of her life, but the board offered a different perspective. She said she is thankful for unity among her fellow board members and state Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano, the first person the board hired to that position on a permanent basis since it voted without discussion in 2012 to fire Jorea Marple.

“Maybe for the first time in West Virginia, we are speaking with one focus and one voice around education,” she said.

Green said it was an honor serving with Manchin.

“In my humble opinion, you’ll always be the first lady of West Virginia,” he said. “And you’re certainly the first lady of education