Mayor Bypasses Commission, Claims Sole Authority to Nominate Charter School Trustee
Commissioner Howell Expresses Interest in Appointment, Wants More Discussion
Last updated 4/18/2021 at 12:51pm
Despite a recent change to the City Charter requiring more input from city commissioners on appointments, Mayor Eugene Fultz did not involve them and is bringing forth only one name for an opening on the Lake Wales Charter Schools Board of Trustees.
In an exchange at the end of an April 14 commission workshop, Fultz told commissioners the charter trustee position was “my spot” and he alone had the authority to choose. Commissioners could then vote to accept or reject his appointee, Fultz said.
Commissioner Terrye Howell, who served as the city representative on the charter trustees before Fultz was mayor, questioned the lack of input and why Fultz didn’t at least ask commissioners if they were interested in serving.
“The mayor does not have the sole authority to appoint someone on the charter school board,” Howell said. “A city commissioner is supposed to be on the board unless we agree to choose someone else who is not on the board. There should have been a discussion on who we would like to have before a name was brought up.”
Commissioners at their April 20 meeting will consider Fultz’s nominee, Marcus Kirby, who is transitional housing coordinator for the Lake Wales Care Center and a part-time associate pastor of High Point Church. Kirby served in the U.S. Navy for six years and has lived in Lake Wales for 15 years.
A retired public school teacher with more than 30 years’ experience, Howell said she has no problem with Kirby, but since this is a critical year with the charter schools choosing a new superintendent it might be better to have someone with more background in education. She said she herself is interested in possibly being considered for a one-year appointment. She also wants to know if either of the new city commissioners, Kris Fitzgerald and Daniel Williams, would be interested in serving.
Fultz’s last appointee to the city’s seat on the trustees, Becky Gaston, is resigning her position. After she called for the firing of Superintendent Jesse Jackson, Gaston was at the center of a firestorm of social media criticism and an online petition calling for her removal. Fultz said unlike Gaston, who gave him updates “on the side,” the city’s appointee would be expected to provide quarterly reports to the commission. Fultz was the city representative on the trustees before Gaston; he resigned to avoid a conflict of interest since the city and its Community Redevelopment Agency were in negotiations to donate or sell the old 1919 school property to the charter schools.
“I wanted once again to reach out and get someone who had not been on the school board of directors before, who would be going in with a clean slate that would be going in without any preconceived notions or ideas about the system,” said Fultz. Kirby’s wife teaches first grade at a charter school, Polk Avenue Elementary, and three of their five children are currently students in the system.
“All of the shakeup and all of the stuff that’s happened there thus far in the charter school system with Mr. Jackson leaving and the selection of a new Lake Wales Charter Schools superintendent, I didn’t want a prior person going in because that could start a controversy,” said Fultz, explaining why he did not consider former Trustee Chairman Jimmy Nelson, who has expressed interest in the appointment.
City Attorney Chuck Galloway sent out a memorandum the day after the workshop, indicating the charter school bylaws call for the city commission to make the appointment, and suggesting commissioners submit potential nominees to the city clerk to forward to the mayor for consideration.
He included the wording of the new Charter amendment, approved by voters April 6: “The mayor, in conjunction with the city commissioners, will make appointments to the various citizen advisory and regulatory boards, commissions, committees and authorities. Each of the commissioners may suggest individuals for appointment and the appointments will be made by the mayor with the advice and consent of the city commission.”
At the end of the workshop, Fultz confirmed he would be leaving office in 2022 and said if commissioners continued to take authority from the mayor they should consider going back to a system where they rotated into the mayor’s seat.
“Whoever sits in this mayor seat, I hope everybody will give them the same respect that I’ve had since I’ve been here and not try to take away too much responsibility from them. Because they’re running citywide for this seat they should have a little more say as to what’s happening up here than just a regular commissioner,” said Fultz. “If they don’t have any more say then a regular commissioner, go back to the rotation, because that’s what you were doing. I hope you will give them the opportunity to be the mayor and not take away everything that they possibly can do to make thing better.”
City commissioners also are elected citywide, but must live in the district they seek to represent.
After the meeting Fultz was heard to say if Howell wanted to be mayor she should run for the position.