PE Coin Toss Decides Seat

Published 4:00 pm Thursday, June 13, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD – Three candidates, one coin.

It took County supervisors months to get to Tuesday night's vote to fill two seats on the County's school board. There was no question about the Hampden District (401) seat, where there was only one candidate-Beulah M. Womack, who was unanimously appointed by the eight-member board. The divisive issue was that of the Farmville District (701) seat where there were three candidates.

At the end of the day, with current representative Dr. Ellery Sedgwick and former school board chairwoman Sherry Honeycutt each having received four votes on two separate attempts to fill the seat, it came down to a coin toss. (Dr. James C. Dumminger, the third candidate, did not receive any of the board's votes.)

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The coin came up heads for Sherry Honeycutt.

It was a bit unusual for supervisors not to appoint a school board representative favored by the individual supervisor that represents the same district. Supervisor Jim Wilck, prior to the first vote, explained, “The selection committee I charged to interview all these people and to make a recommendation back to me and I said I would carry that recommendation to the board.”

And that, he cited, was for Dr. Sedgwick, though he did also note that everyone is entitled to their vote.

Honeycutt received the support of Lockett District Supervisor Robert “Bobby” Jones, Leigh District Supervisor Don Gantt, vice-chairman Howard Simpson and Chairman William “Buckie” Fore. Dr. Sedgwick, who has served since 2005, was supported by Wilck, Hampden-District Supervisor Charles McKay, Prospect Supervisor Howard “Pete” Campbell and Farmville District (801) Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones.

Fore then directed a second vote with the two candidates, affirming with the County Attorney that with another tie then a motion for a coin flip would be in order. A second vote on just the two candidates resulted in the same 4-4 vote.

The motion for the coin toss was approved 7-1, with Cooper-Jones opposing. County Administrator Wade Bartlett flipped the coin onto the carpet in front of the board's circular bench, where minister Rev. Earl Wallace and Assistant County Administrator Sarah Puckett affirmed it was heads.

“Was I surprised (that it came down to a coin toss)?” Honeycutt, a real estate broker/co-founder of RE/Max Advantage Plus commented Wednesday. “No. No, I wasn't because I think Ellery is very well respected and I know that they like the job that he has done. But I also know that they keep talking about change and that was the reason that I decided to bring my name forth.”

While it's not the only reason, she clarified, it's one of the main reasons “because the board kept talking about change and I thought now is the time for me to offer my services to the community because they were looking for change. And even though Ellery had done a wonderful job, I thought now is the time for me to do that because of…the encouragement that I had gotten from some community members.”

She added that she is “real excited to come back to the board.”

Honeycutt replaces Dr. Sedgwick in a different sort of flip; Honeycutt had served on the school board representing the district from 1992-2005 and Dr. Sedgwick, a retired Longwood professor, was appointed to succeed her when she did not seek reappointment.

“What concerns me most is that Supervisors Fore, Simpson, Gantt, and Jones entirely ignored the carefully vetted decision of the citizens' committee composed of representative parents and others,” Dr. Sedgwick said in a released statement. “They also overrode the choice of the supervisor from our district. For these judgments, based on familiarity with the district and fair due process, they substituted their own political and personal agendas. Whether I was the target of private lobbying behind closed doors or just collateral damage in a political feud, it is one more instance of the board dismissing due process and representative public input.”

He further offered, “As for the schools, I believe that they are documentably better than the public believes and that they are improving. I'm confident that my board colleagues will continue to work on the issues that matter to me and others: attracting and actively supporting good teachers, developing a more diverse and challenging curriculum, applying consistent and fair discipline, and ensuring public accountability through measureable objectives.

“Personally I hope to continue to work in other ways for the children of Prince Edward County. I would also like to thank the Superintendent and School Board for their collegiality and their ability, despite substantial differences, to work together for the improvement of the schools.”

Prince Edward is one of the few remaining counties in Virginia that has not opted for elected school boards. The eight-member board of supervisors selects school board representatives following a months-long process, a public hearing and the aid of a citizen committee.

In District 701's case, the citizen committee had recommended the re-appointment of Dr. Sedgwick for a third term. Dr. Dumminger, speaking at the board's public hearing in May, complimented the committee who spent a lot of hours trying to come up with a selection for the school board. Dr. Dumminger assessed that they came up with a good candidate adding that if the position becomes vacant in the future he would definitely apply. He recommended that they go along with the recommendation of the committee.

“I think I have a different viewpoint this time,” Honeycutt said of her second stint on the school board. “Because I went into it last time not knowing anything about how to run the school. This time I have experience from the background that I have before. And…it's funny because I have been off for several years, people still come and talk to me and they're even more open now about giving me…their opinion. And I hear a lot from teachers, administrators, parents and I think now…a lot of people are a little reluctant to talk to school board members, but I have been talking to them and encouraging them to be more open to us as school board members and I think now I've learned how to approach the community members so that they feel more open to talking to us.”

In that way, she suggests, she can be more aggressive in making different opinions heard.

Honeycutt assesses that the board has “done a good job so far,” but noted that because she's been off, she has heard different opinions and comments from the community “of things that they want to see and I've been listening to the boards of supervisors and what they have had to say and think I have a good relationship with them. So I think that will be an enhancement, also.”

She will find a board with some familiar faces and Honeycutt -which she sees as a benefit, assessing they will respect her opinion.

“And I think Ellery did a really fine job and I will continue to build on his expertise and the groundwork that he has set…his past two terms,” Honeycutt said.

The board had little division on the Hampden District seat. Current member Dr. Osa Sue Dowdy did not seek reappointment and the citizen committee from the district supported Womack, a retired educator and former New Jersey school board member. Supervisors unanimously approved her appointment.

Dr. Sedgwick could not be reached for comment.