Shirley Parris, 3rd District representative to the Cumberland County Board of Education, said she will continue with the director of schools search process that includes her son as a candidate.

“I believe all Ms. Shirley has to do is declare a conflict at the beginning of the meeting. And then she ought to be able to participate because she’s there to represent the constituents of the 3rd District,” said Jim Inman, 1st District representative.

Teresa Boston, 8th District representative, broached the subject during the meeting, asking for BOE Attorney Earl Patton to clarify the legal responsibilities of board members. 

South Cumberland Elementary Principal Darrell Threet, Parris’ son, is among the four local candidates scheduled to be interviewed May 9 for the director of schools position.

“Ms. Parris is going to have to make the call whether or not to recuse herself,” Patton said. 

Cumberland County operates under the county financial management system of 1981. Under that law, members of the board of education, local legislative bodies, county committees or other officials “shall not be financially interested or have any personal benefit interest, either directly or indirectly, in the purchase of any supplies, materials, equipment or contractual services for the county.”

Board policy 1.106, the board’s code of ethics, requires board members to disclose any personal interest that could affect them or lead a “reasonable person” to infer that it affects the official’s vote. 

The policy defines personal interest as “financial interest of the official or employee, or a financial interest of the official’s or employee’s spouse or child living in the same household, in the matter to be voted upon, regulated, supervised, or otherwise acted upon in an official capacity.”

Other board members with relatives working in the school system are Inman; Boston; Robert Safdie, 2nd District representative; and Tony Brock, 5th District representative. They each take part in a declaration of conflict prior to each session of the board.

“Just because her son happens to be one of the applicants, I don’t think should disqualify her from being a participant in these processes,” Inman said. 

When Threet applied for the position in 2016, Parris was also on the board and declared a conflict before voting for him for the position. 

Boston asked if Parris intended to declare a conflict before voting in this process.

“Is that your intention?” she asked.

Parris replied, “Yes.” 

The board will convene May 9 at 9 a.m. at Central Services, 368 Fourth St., to conduct interviews of the four local candidates. The board has said it will interview individuals with a connection to the school system and county before considering seven candidates who hail from other areas of the state and country. 

In addition to Threet, local candidates are Scott Maddox, Ina Maxwell and Dan Schlafer.

Maddox currently serves as supervisor of high school and career and technical education for the school system. Maxwell is the director of federal programs. Schlafer retired from Cumberland County last year after serving as the director of federal programs. He currently holds the federal programs director position for Hamilton County Schools. 

During a work session prior to the special-called meeting, the board worked out details for where to meet and how to conduct the interviews while maintaining social distancing. 

Board members had suggested using the Stone Memorial High School Auditorium. However, the facility can not accommodate microphones for nine board members and an interviewee. Also, the facility is too large to live stream the meeting for the public. 

“If we’re passing around a microphone, you’re still passing those germs from person to person,” said Becky Hamby, 7th District representative. 

Spacing would lead to an inability to see who was speaking, Elbert Farley, supervisor of technology said.

The board room at Central Services can accommodate the nine board members, attorney and interviewee, and members of the press. 

Parris said, “If we’re going to meet in the board room, then I will be wearing a mask.”

There would not be room for members of the public to physically attend. However, the room is already set up for live streaming online. 

That presents another question, as board members said they don’t want candidates to know the questions they will ask before their interview.

“I don’t want candidates to have canned answers,” Inman said. 

The board will submit questions to Patton before the meeting to have questions screened for any legal considerations. 

“It’s not always obvious the questions that you shouldn’t ask,” Patton said. “It’s better off if we determine questions ahead of time.”

Each candidate will have about one hour to field questions from the board about their qualifications and suitability for the position. 

The board will then take Sunday and Monday to consider interviews and convene for a special-called meeting May 11 at 6 p.m. to vote by paper ballot for each member’s choice.

After the board selects a candidate, it enters a contract negotiation process with the selected candidate.

If the board is unable to make a selection from among the four local candidates, there are seven external applicants who could be considered. 

Following a work session where the board discussed the details of the interview and selection process, the board held a special-called meeting where Boston offered the motion that detailed the process discussed in the work session. Hamby supported the motion, and it was unanimously approved. 

Stace Karge, 9th District representative, did not attend the meeting. 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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