Chattooga County Board of Education member John Turner has second thoughts, returns to seat

Chattooga County Board of Education member John Turner has second thoughts, returns to seat

March 19th, 2019 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press — Apr 26, 2012 Students hustle through the halls of Chattooga High School on the way to their final class of the day in Summerville, Ga., on Thursday, April 26, 2012. Chattooga County, Ga., has adopted a four-day school week, and teachers, students and administrators say they prefer the shorter week. The county has also taken on other cost-cutting measures, like reducing the amount of electricity used and being more mindful about seemingly minor spending.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press — Apr 26, 2012 Chattooga County Superintendent Jimmy Lenderman {CQ} speaks with the Times Free Press in his Summerville, Ga., office on Thursday, April 26, 2012. Chattooga County, Ga., has adopted a four-day school week, and teachers, students and administrators say they prefer the shorter week. The county has also taken on other cost-cutting measures, like reducing the amount of electricity used and being more mindful about seemingly minor spending.

Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press...

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

John Turner has turned back around.

Turner walked out of a Chattooga County Board of Education work session Thursday night, proclaiming his career as a public official finished. He said he was going to resign, effective Monday. But then he received a number of phone calls and emails, he said. Members of the community begged him to stay, he said. So, if nothing else, he'll continue to occupy the seat representing Summerville.

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The next Chattooga County Board of Education meeting is Thursday at 6 p.m. at 206 Penn Street in Summerville

"I'll just sit there," he told the Times Free Press in an interview Tuesday. "I'll be, I'm pretty sure, just a quiet observer. But at least I'll be there. It was a matter of loyalty to my school. And really, I just don't like bullies. I guess that's it. I just don't like people bullying other people. I think everybody ought to have the ability to express themselves and not be shut down."

Turner, a former teacher and six-year veteran of the board, put an item on the agenda for Thursday's work session, calling for a survey. He wants to poll the district's students, parents, teachers and non-certified staff on how they feel about the board's recent decision to return to a five-day-a-week schedule. The other board members voted to remove Turner's item, igniting his walk out.

"It just came across to me that this was going to be a brick wall right here and we weren't going to be heard," he said. "I guess you might say there were tones of McCarthyism, the way I felt. They had chastised the people out in the audience. It just seemed to be a very rude chastisement."

Pictured is Chattooga High School in Summerville, Ga., on Thursday, April 26, 2012. Chattooga County, Ga., has adopted a four-day school week, and teachers, students and administrators say they prefer the shorter week. The county has also taken on other cost-cutting measures, like reducing the amount of electricity used and being more mindful about seemingly minor spending.

Pictured is Chattooga High School in Summerville, Ga.,...

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

Turner's resignation — and then cancellation of that resignation — marks another page in a helter skelter Chattooga County education system this year. First, three new board members voted to return the district to a five-day-a-week session on Jan. 17, minutes after they were sworn in. This led to audible jeers at that meeting, as well as all the meetings that have followed. Also, plenty of anger on Facebook.

Superintendent Jim Lenderman, a champion of the four-day-a-week schedule, told the Times Free Press he may be in a hostile work environment. The board held more meetings; crowds jeered. Then Turner said he would resign. Then Lenderman said Friday he would resign, effective April 30.

After Turner's about face, the Times Free Press contacted Lenderman, asking if he had any second thoughts.

"Let the local people and the board do what they want to," he said. "But I'm going to travel the United States for the 10th time in my RV."

Now, there's yet another development: A group of residents met at the Summerville Recreation Center on Tuesday night to begin efforts to recall Board Chair John Agnew, one of four board members who voted to return schools to the five-day-a-week schedule. Agnew did not return a call seeking comment on Tuesday.

Allan Baggett, chair of the committee to recall, said the new board members violated the district's code of ethics by failing to have a "full discussion" on the schedule policy before voting Jan. 17.

"[Agnew] allowed no discussion of the five-day school week at a public meeting before voting to change," Baggett said. "This is a breach of public trust."

Said Agnew: "We did. We discussed it within ourselves and made our decision. That was back in the January meeting."

This same group could work to recall the three new board members: Sammy Ballard, Brad Hayes and Julia Houston. But elected officials cannot be recalled until at least 180 days into their terms. Hearing about the recall effort, Houston countered that there is no legal reason to recall them. Voters cannot recall elected officials on the grounds that they don't like a new policy — or a new school schedule.

Houston said the board members discussed the five-day-a-week schedule plenty, during the campaign last year.

"That was the whole election," she said. "The whole time."

She added: "I have to make decisions based on what I think is the best interest of our students, not on the threat of being recalled or slandered or what all these people are trying to do right now. It's a lot of slander."

Houston said the board needed to act quickly when they were sworn in because districts usually set their calendars for the upcoming year in December or January.

To recall a candidate, Baggett needs signatures from at least 30 percent of the county's registered voters, which stood at 11,099 in the 2016 election. But even then, before a full vote on the issue, public officials can appeal to superior court, asking a judge to determine whether there are legal grounds for a recall.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.


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