Columbus Mayor Robert Smith cast two tiebreaker votes Tuesday that effectively decided appointments to the Columbus Municipal School District Board.
The city council, with the aid of Smith’s votes, reappointed Currie B. Fisher to a five-year term on the CMSD board and appointed local real estate agent Stephen Jones to fill former board member Greg Lewis’ unexpired term.
Fisher and Jones were among eight applicants for the two slots. Their appointments are effective immediately.
The road the council took to make the appointments proved cumbersome.
Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin first moved to appoint another applicant, Josie Shumake, to the board. Ward 3’s Charlie Box seconded. However, Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem, with a second from Ward 2’s Joseph Mickens, offered a substitute motion for Jones that supplanted the original motion. The council voted 3-3 (Ward 1’s Gene Taylor, Mickens and Karriem for; Box, Ward 4’s Marty Turner and Gavin opposed) for Jones’ appointment. The mayor broke the tie.
Karriem and Mickens then moved to reappoint Fisher, which drew a substitute motion from Gavin for Shumake. The vote for Shumake also split 3-3, and Smith voted ‘No.’ Fisher then went back on the board by a 4-2 margin with Turner’s support.
Fisher has just completed her first five-year term on the CMSD board. Smith said her experience drew his support. As for his vote for Jones over Shumake, he said that one was much tougher.
“It was a difficult decision either way,” Smith said. “Both were outstanding applicants and you can’t argue with Ms. Shumake’s credentials. I received calls and emails in support of both of them, but in the end, I received more in support for Mr. Jones.
“I hope Ms. Shumake will apply again in the future,” the mayor added.
The council first appointed Fisher in 2010. She filed a grievance against her fellow board members after they removed her as president in 2013. The board ended Fisher’s presidency after firing former CMSD superintendent Martha Liddell, who was accused of mishandling district funds.
Jones, a RE/MAX real estate agent in Columbus, is a product of the city’s school system and has children who graduated from Columbus High School.
Karriem said he supported Fisher for her experience, as well, but said he supported Jones because he is a Columbus native. He acknowledged Shumake as a qualified applicant, but said he believes Jones will “serve the board better.”
“Stephen Jones is from this community and he understands the needs of the community,” Karriem said. “I’m happy to have cast my vote for him. I think he’s going to make us all proud.”
Fisher, whose new term runs through March 2, 2020, said she appreciated the council giving her five more years to “focus on the goals the district has already set” and hopefully improve on CMSD’s current “D” grade status.
“I’m pleased I get to work a little bit more and a little bit longer for our children,” she said.
Jones, whose term runs through March 2, 2019, replaces Lewis — who was appointed in 2014 but resigned 10 months later after accepting the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority director’s job.
“I’m really excited,” Jones told The Dispatch this morning. “What’s good for the children is what this is all about. I won’t really know what exactly I can do until I get in there, but I do hope to get in there and do something positive.”
Also a Columbus native and city school system alumnus, Shumake holds a doctorate in English literature from the University of South Carolina and retired in 2009 as public affairs officer with the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Information Agency. She said she didn’t feel like she had lost on Tuesday because she had enjoyed the process of applying.
“I am not horribly disappointed,” Shumake said. “I think it was a tough decision for the council and a tough decision for the mayor. I just want to keep working the best way I can to help make the city better in whatever capacity I can serve.”
Gavin said after Tuesday’s meeting that the school board needed “highly qualified” members to improve the district’s overall quality. He said he would reserve judgment on whether the council’s two picks would accomplish that, but he stood by his nomination.
“I’ve known Josie a long time, and in my opinion she was the most qualified applicant,” Gavin said. “She would have brought stability to the school board.”
Other applicants included retired middle school principal Lee Russell Peeples Sr., local pastor Willie Petty Sr., Mississippi School for Math and Science foreign language teacher Lori LeVar Pierce and local independent insurance agent Eric Thomas. An eighth applicant, veteran United States Postal Service worker Frederick Sparks, submitted his paperwork to city hall on Tuesday.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.