Smith named to school board

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A dozen Marshall County commissioners voted Monday night to appoint a former commission chairman to fill an open seat on the school board.

Cornersville farmer Sam Smith was to be sworn in Tuesday, Commission Chairman Tom Sumners said after the vote. On Tuesday, Judge Steve Bowden said it be "probably" Wednesday. Smith succeeds Dee Dee Owens who resigned Jan. 3.

Smith overcame a petition signed by nearly 600 opponents. He resigned from the commission to avoid a conflict of interests from a purchase option he sold to Waste Management for a landfill at Cornersville. The option expired amid controversy prompting creation of the Tri-County Environmental Association.

"I am pleased that today lies, slander and bully tactics did not prevail," Smith said in an e-mail Tuesday morning. "Bitterness and hatred are a cancer on our community."

Nearly 75 people were in the commission meeting audience before the vote. Among them was Kathy Fox, a 4th district resident. She petitioned against Smith saying it's unrelated to landfill issues. Smith mentioned her in his statement.

"I have not and will not engage in personal attacks," Smith said. "It is unfortunate that Mrs. Fox and her henchmen chose to spend their time, money and energy on a bogus petition instead of a scholarship for a worthy Cornersville [High School] senior.

"I intend to focus my efforts on unifying our community and making our teachers and students the best in the state," he said.

Reaction to Smith's appointment came with dismay over commissioners' decision against permitting two county residents to speak during time ceded to them by two commissioners.

"If that's the rules, then I abide by them," said Henry Dowlen, a retired director of the Dairy Research and Education Center in Marshall County. "I was going to speak for Jerry Campbell."

Campbell, a former school board chairman and Cornersville police chief, and Tommy Upton, a prominent Cornersville rancher, were nominated to succeed Owens. Campbell received four votes. Upton received two. Former Cornersville Mayor Gaye Wilson, who's been a schools' central office employee, filed a letter to be nominated, but withdrew as she recognized a conflict of interest and rules against school system employees serving on the board.

Commissioner E.W. Hill nominated Smith. Commissioner Seth Warf nominated Tommy Upton. Commissioner Sheldon Davis nominated Campbell. Commissioner Rocky Bowden sought to cease nominations. Chairman Tom Sumner called for discussion.

Commissioner Don Ledford offered to relinquish his time so Dowlen could speak. Bowden responded: "Point of order," and that led to the first of two 11-7 votes against letting Dowlen speak.

Commissioner Mickey King asked to let Fox speak. A voice vote to deny was followed by a roll-call vote of 11-7.

"It was quite insulting," former Commissioner Doug Martin said. "The people should have had a voice in that."

After the 12 votes for Smith overcame Campbell's four votes and Upton's two, Campbell said, "I already knew that's the way it would go."

Residents leaving the meeting included Carlotta Soloman.

"It's pathetic," she said.

Wayne Giles called it ridiculous.

"Nobody was allowed to say anything," Giles said. "That was the very least they could do."

Former Commissioner Scottie Poarch was texting information and declined comment, "I'm not getting involved in that."

Lewisburg Councilman Quinn Brandon Stewart attended to monitor the future of Marshall County's education system.

"It's not the way I would have voted," Stewart said of the results.

Asked if the vote was prearranged, the commissioner who nominated Smith indicated that it was not.

"Not as far as I know," Hill said.

Chapel Hill Alderman Marion Joyce supported Smith.

"I think he will make a very good school board member," Joyce said. "He always worked hard for the improvement of the schools and for Cornersville when we served together on the county commission."

Other comments Monday night came from people leaving the building.

"Democracy at its best," Fox said sarcastically.

Fox's farm is near Smith's.

"How could they elect someone when all the 4th District was against him?" Smith's neighbor, Grady Osborne said, calling Marshall the "worst county you can be in for politics... [There's] no ethics in Marshall County."

Commissioner Kevin Vanhooser "voted for him," Osborne continued. "His drinking buddies are stronger than the elected officials."

But another neighbor, Carson Cantrell, said Smith has been a "good" neighbor.

"I'll support him," Cantrell said. "I'm a good friend."

Bobby Bills was convinced the vote was sewn up before the meeting.

"Cut and dried before the meeting started," Bills said. "They didn't mention the petition."

Tom Whitsett scoffed at the vote

"It's common," Whitsett said. "They're common dictators.

"When you take the voice of the people away, it's no use doing anything," he said. "We don't have free speech in Marshall County."

Former county Commissioner Mary Ann Neill watched the vote and left.

"Proves they don't care what the people want," Neill said. "If any of these people get re-elected that voted not to let the people speak... It's a hollow victory if you don't get the job on your own merits."

The prospect of political consequences wasn't lost on Harvey Solomon.

Vanhooser "went to everybody [before the August election] saying 'I will do what the district wants and I will have a community meeting...' and he has had no community meeting and he did not vote the way we wish," Solomon said.

Larry Clark is one of the people who would have been most affected by the proposed landfill site.

"I can't forgive him for (the landfill,)" Clark said.

Some supporters said the landfill issue is in the past and it should be forgiven if not forgotten. Supporters also said they felt Smith would be a good member of the school board. In prepared statements before the meeting, Smith indicated he wants to help develop a school budget with county commissioners. The school budget is the largest part of the county budget and the largest part of the property tax revenue is spent on education. State funding, however, is even greater.

Staff writers Karen Hall and Clint Confehr collaborated on this story.