Hamilton County commissioners who attended a public forum Thursday for the 11 candidates seeking to fill a District 3 school board vacancy say there's no clear front-runner.
At least seven of the nine commissioners who will be in charge of appointing a replacement to complete the term of Everett Fairchild attended the event at Hixson Middle School. Fairchild resigned March 15 for health reasons. Commissioners took applications for the position until last Friday and plan to appoint someone on March 29 who will serve until 2014.
Commissioner Fred Skillern, who says he's interviewed all the candidates, has narrowed his list to four or five and plans to ask two back for second interviews.
"I haven't got nobody yet I can nominate," Skillern said after the two-hour panel hosted by Friends of Hixson and moderated by Chip Chapman of WDEF-Channel 12.
Candidates are Mendi Catlett, David Lawrence Cowan, Charles Leslie Elliott, James S. Goebel, Mary B. Lewis, Greg Martin, Laurie Shipley, Joe Smith, Ken Smith, Joy Ward and Tammy Bishop Zumbrun. At least four are current or former educators.
Skillern, a former school board member, said his one of his criteria is that the appointee be someone with a business background.
"Business people can hire educators," he said.
Commissioner Greg Beck also attended the event, which he will use as his only basis for evaluating applicants. Beck wanted a public interview process and said he would boycott the individual interview process similar to one held weeks ago to appoint an interim General Sessions judge.
Beck said the field is strong but gave no indication about his preference. He did joke that he won't be supporting Goebel, who said he thinks the County Commission erred last month when it voted 6-3 to return control of payment-in-lieu-of-tax funds to the school board.
"The PILOT money should not have gone back to the school board," Goebel said. "They had already gone way over their proposed budget."
Ward was asked the same question and said the duties of the school system and County Commission need to be clearly delineated.
"The County Commission's job is not to tell the school system how to spend the money," she said.
Catlett later said she, too, supported the commission's handover of PILOT funds.
Joe Smith, promised he would be a caretaker for the seat and not run in 2014. He works with middle school students on a regular basis.
"I'm tired of seeing kids in eighth or ninth grade that can't read two-syllable words," he said. "In my opinion, this needs to be somebody who's not interested in political posturing."
Only one candidate, Cowan, said he hasn't had or doesn't now have a child in Hamilton County public schools.
About 100 people attended the event, including Superintendent Rick Smith, School Board Chairman Mike Evatt and City Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd.