More than a month after the Eufaula City Council chose a new member for the Eufaula City Schools Board of Education, thus replacing 20-year member Louise Conner, a group of citizens is trying to change the council’s future authority regarding such decisions.
State Rep. Berry Forte and the Barbour County NAACP addressed the council at its May 20 meeting in hopes of getting the ball rolling on changing the appointed school board to an elected one.
Conner, who is black, was one of three vying for the position when the council voted 3-2 in favor of Yadira Chavez, who is Hispanic. Conner’s recent term ends on June 1.
The new ESC board will be comprised of three whites, one black and one Hispanic.
Forte said a letter had been sent to each board member several weeks ago, and his visit Monday was follow-up on the letter.
“I will ask you again what I asked in the letter,” Forte said. “We just said the pledge for liberty and justice for all. I’m asking for y’all to send to a delegation, including myself and (State) Sen. (Billy) Beasley, to change from an appointed school board to an elected one. It’s easy as falling off a log. Y’all are running again in August, or there is the presidential primary next year. Our regular session ends in three weeks and it has to advertise for four weeks, so it can’t be done before our regular session ends. The governor will be addressing the prison issue. So, send it to us and Sen. Beasley and I will go to her and ask for this.
“In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court said segregation was illegal. You know how long it took to segregate the schools in Eufaula? It was the 1971 school year, more than 16 years later. Here we are in 2019 and I’m begging you to put in an elected school board. The Census Bureau says Eufaula’s population is 12,467 and 6,256 are black (50.2 percent). If the Justice Department looks at this and sees one black person in there, it will see tokenism. We want to have it ready for a special session. Y’all please pass this and let the people decide. Y’all are elected; I’m elected. Also, I want to ask why the city council why it released Louise Conner from the school board. What is their response? I never heard why.”
Willie Shipman, head of the Barbour County NAACP, also addressed the council.
“The NAACP is for equal opportunity for all citizens of Eufaula,” Shipman said. “For years, the school board has not been in the best interest for Eufaula. The election should be given to citizens. A change of leadership is where it’s needed. Let the citizens of Eufaula decide and send this to the state legislature as soon as possible.”
Council President Johnny Knight thanked the individuals for bringing their concerns before the council and added, “I will assure you that the council would give it undivided attention to what’s best for the schools, its citizens, and the city as a whole.”
The Alabama Senate recently passed a bill to replace its elected school board to a commission appointed by the governor, which Gov. Kay Ivey supported, saying the board was “broken” and a new plan was needed to improve education in the state. The bill will require the current state school board to improve from two to three African American members.
In other business:
Local resident Glen Dean told the council that years ago he would have to go to Columbus, Georgia to hike a walking trail because there were none in the area. Dean, in working with the Alabama Scenic River Trail, said he discovered that people will come to your town if there is a trail and “they leave money too.”
“Eufaula re-invented itself from an old mill town to a scenic, tourist town,” Dean said. “We are losing population. The town doesn’t grow with hamburger joints alone. We must continue to refresh and renew so it will stay on the map. There is a book on dead towns in Alabama and most are old mill towns. Let’s don’t end up one of ‘em.”
Mayor Jack Tibbs said he hopes to bring an engineer and the local airport board to the next city council meeting regarding Weedon Field, which lost all of its hangars during the March tornado.
“We’re working with the FAA to get additional funding,” Tibbs said. “People that lease the airport run it as a business. It’s a process to get things put back together. A part of their revenues are the hangers. My proposal is to keep them operating while this is repaired and give them some monies to keep things going. There are only two employees and that’s their main expense. They do an excellent job running the airport.”
Council member Lucious Cobbs asked for a work session regarding the airport prior to the next city council meeting.