published Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Nicholas Lillios wins seat on Bradley County school board

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Nicholas Lillios, a local businessman who defeated Melvin "Teddy" Bryson in a squeaker of a race for the Bradley County Board of Education District 3 seat, said Monday that he already feels "the weight of the office.

"I have a lot of folks counting on me, not just the ones who voted for me," Lillios said.

The contest between Lillios and Bryson, a longtime educator, ended with a cliffhanger Thursday: Lillios led Bryson by one vote, while three provisional ballots for the race remained to be tallied.

On Monday evening, Lillios picked up one more vote out of three submitted provisional ballots; the other two ballots were discarded because of incomplete information. In the end, Lillios received 802 votes to Bryson's 800 votes.

The county's referendum on a wheel tax intended to fund capital school projects may have affected the race, Bryson said. As a lifelong educator, he said, he may have been associated with the wheel tax proposal that proved unpopular with voters.

Both candidates acknowledge the county school system faces a major challenge with funding capital projects -- including renovations to Lake Forest Middle School and extra classroom space at Walker Valley High School -- that would have been funded by the failed wheel tax.

"We don't have a money tree," Bryson said.

Election officials said the provisional ballots were issued because the voters did not present valid photo IDs at the time the votes were cast. Those voters had until Monday evening to present proper identification to ensure their votes were counted.

Lillios will replace David Kelley, who did not seek re-election.

The District 3 race was not the only charged county school board challenge.

District 1

The three-way contest for the District 1 seat resulted in businessman Chris Turner taking nearly 49 percent of the votes. Former Bradley County Commissioner Ben F. Atchley and Laura Mountain roughly split the rest of the ballots.

While the race between Lillios and Bryson was defined in terms of business acumen versus professional educational experience in a recent political forum, the decisive winner of the District 1 school board race has tried to bridge the two perspectives. Turner, a chemical engineer and general manager at Cleveland Tubing, said he has been surrounded by teachers all his life and is influenced by their calling.

Turner said he wants to encourage conversations about capital allocation to improve efficiencies and get the most out of funding.

Turner will replace Richard Baker, who did not seek re-election.

Two unopposed

Two quiet contests for the Bradley County school board also took place Thursday. Charlie Rose and Rodney Dillard, both incumbents, ran unopposed in their bids for the District 7 and District 5 seats, respectively.

Bradley school board members earn $2,400 annually. The chairman earns $3,600.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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