Ward 1 loses vote for school board seat

GULFPORT

Breaking with tradition, Mayor George Schloegel has left the Gulfport school board without a Ward 1 representative.

With a 4-3 vote, the council approved Schloegel’s appointment of Gwendolyn L. Jones of Ward 4 to fill the unexpired term of Nathan Walker of Ward 1. Ward 1 Councilman Kenneth “Truck” Casey objected to the appointment because Ward 4 already has a representative on the board, as do Wards 2, 3 and 5. Wards 6 and 7 are in the Harrison County School District.

Ella Holmes-Hines of Ward 3 and R. Lee Flowers of Ward 7 also opposed the appointment. Casey agreed that Johnson, a retired teacher with a master’s degree who volunteers with youth programs, is qualified for the position. However, Casey said he gave the administration two names of qualified Ward 1 residents who are retired teachers who have doctoral degrees. Holmes-Hines said past mayors have filled the staggered school board appointments by going down the line from Wards 1 through 5.

“If Ward 1 doesn’t have someone to represent them, I don’t think that’s fair,” said Casey, who offered petitions signed by more than 150 residents. “The people from Ward 1 are insisting that we have someone from Ward 1 on the school board.”

City attorney Jeff Bruni said school board seats are not ward-specific. Schloegel said Johnson is “highly qualified for the job.” Board members, he said, represent all Gulfport’s children. Johnson said she has worked with children from all wards. After the meeting, she had to check her voter registration card to see what ward she lives in because, she said, she does not think along ward lines.

Superintendent Glen East said the board is anxious for a fifth member because the seat has been vacant a long time. Walker, whose term expires in March 2012, resigned in August after 20 years on the board.

In other business, the council

n Rejected a request from the American Red Cross for $10,000 because council members said the city has no money to donate.

n Decided to hold a work session to learn more about the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission’s bylaws and plans as the group prepares to market the old Veterans Administration property on U.S. 90 for the city.

n Agreed to lease rent-free a $1.3-million building in West Gulfport — funded through the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund and donations — to the Gulfport Police Athletic League, which has for years offered programs for at-risk youth but has never had a permanent home.

By ANITA LEE – calee@sunherald.com
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