Members clash over appointment to new book evaluation committee

By Heather Michon

Wednesday (Dec. 13) was supposed to be the night the School Board appointed citizen representatives to the Learning Resources Committee, a new body created in November to evaluate books and materials in the school libraries for inappropriate content. 

Those appointments did not happen.

In November, it was decided that each member of the School Board would appoint a district representative of their choice for a one-year term. While a survey form had been opened for interested citizens to put their names under consideration, members were not bound by that list. A spreadsheet containing the results of the survey form had been sent to members earlier in the week.    

Moments into the meeting, Andrew Pullen (Columbia) made a motion to move the item from “action matters” to “reports,” saying he had only seen the spreadsheet the night before.

“I need more time,” he said. “I’m sure I’m not the only one that needs more time to speak with these people.”

The motion would effectively block outgoing member Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) from appointing a representative before her term expires on Dec. 31; instead, the choice would go to incoming member Danny Reed when he assumes the seat in January.

Johnson said they had known about the committee appointments since the November meeting, and because people in the community were anxious to get the committee up and running, she had been speaking to potential members. “So I feel prepared, and I feel like out of respect for the people who had grave concerns, we should address this tonight.”

“The concern for the Fork Union district that elected your successor? Is that important?” Pullen asked.

“I feel perfectly capable of doing it,” she said. “I don’t feel like I need to pass it on to the next person.” 

The motion passed on a vote of 3-2, with Pullen, Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham), and Andre Key (Rivanna) voting yes, and Johnson and Chair James Kelley (Palmyra) voting no.

But the issue refused to die, coming up two more times in the two-hour meeting.

Kelley opened the door to a motion to consider appointing committee members, drawing an immediate rebuke from Pullen that Kelley was violating the parliamentary rules by trying to reintroduce an item that had been removed from the agenda.

“Just because you removed it from the agenda doesn’t mean that someone else can’t make a motion to do so,” said Kelley.

While Johnson reiterated that she was ready to make her appointment, it was clear there were not enough votes to get it back on the agenda, and the meeting moved on.

At least for a few minutes. 

As the members considered a motion to approve some minor policy updates, Johnson said: “I have a question for you, Mr. Pullen –  it’s a little snarky – but we’ve known about these policy updates for less time than we’ve known about appointing someone to a Learning Resources Committee. Do you think that I should defer my decision-making to Mr. Reed on this issue as also?”

Pullen accused Johnson of taking him out of context, arguing again that he hadn’t had time to vet candidates and that he felt “passionate about sitting down and looking these people in the eye” before making a decision.

He told Johnson that “the argument could be made that you’re trying to push something through before someone else takes office.” 

“And I’m asking what other action items you think I may be trying to ‘push through’ and should I defer to Mr. Reed rather than decide for myself?” Johnson countered.

Kelley pointed out that members have the full authority of their office until the last day of their terms – including making appointments that extend beyond their tenure. 

Pullen then accused Kelley of “literally trying desperately to get someone else to agree with you to push this through,” a charge Kelley flatly denied.

“Let’s move forward,” Pullen finally said. “I’m not gonna sit here and debate with you for the next hour. Let’s move on.”

Despite the obvious tensions, the members moved quickly through the remainder of the agenda, approving the annual Memorandum of Understanding with the sheriff’s office to provide Student Resource Officers and a motion to remain in a self-funded health insurance program. 

They also agreed to hold a budget workshop on Jan. 24 at 6:30 pm to work on the FY25 budget and developed a basic agreement on how to add student representatives back to the monthly board meetings.

In the closing moments of the meeting, Johnson told members that her eight years on the board were “an honor. And I’m grateful to know all of you, and have worked with all of you.”

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