MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The day after the Montgomery Public School Board made news for a heated, abrupt vote on a new superintendent, two board members appeared together on WSFA 12 News' community events talk show, Alabama Live!.
Tension between Board President Beverly Ross and Vice President Melissa Snowden was visible as the two presented their feelings on the decision. Ross explained that the board had been through the process of choosing a new leader, and when one of the two finalists dropped out, "Why not vote?" Snowden felt as though she'd been "tricked."
"I don't think the process has worked," Snowden said, citing the fact that three finalists dropped out of the running. "We should have taken a step back...I think we've really short-changed ourselves in this process. "
WSFA 12 News anchor Kim Hendrix - "Aren't we well into the process where references should have been checked already?" Ross explained that the names given by then finalist Barbara Thompson were not references. "...the consultant we hired, Jim Huge, checked the references of all the candidates." Still, Snowden and other board members don't believe references have been checked at all.
Ross and Snowden also disagree about the newly selected superintendent's past. Snowden thinks there are issues between Thompson and her current board that should've been more thoroughly looked into, while Ross believes, "There's no problem at all."
Is race a factor in Wednesday's decision? Again, disagreement. Ross believes there are "political party differences." Snowden believes race did play a role in the vote, "but not on the people that voted 'no'." She added that, " I've even had one board member tell me, a current board member, that 'the whites were in control, now it's our turn.'" She didn't name that member.
When Thompson settles into her new position she will have a lot of work to do and Snowden thinks it's going to be up to Ross to help her get over the "steep, sharp, long learning curve."
"She has a lot of wonderful employees that know what their jobs are," responded Ross, "and they haven't missed a beat since our last superintendent left."
So can the board members work together and move forward? "I will treat each board member with respect," Snowden responded. "We're gonna get along," Ross later said. "It's ok to disagree...and we're gonna work with the superintendent and work for the school children. "
The two could agree that their main focus was the 32,000 students in the Montgomery Public School System.
The board has attempted to present a unified front in the past, only to have divisiveness creep in. Only time will tell if that happens again once Thompson takes command of the system.
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange reacted to the latest chapter of the Montgomery Public School Board's saga Wednesday evening.
Mayor Strange said the entire event has cost the city at least one economic development project. He wouldn't name the project that pulled out, however.
WSFA.COM users saw the event unfold live as the school board's special meeting came to an abrupt end. Shouts of "call the references" came from several members as the panel tabled discussion and prepared for a vote.
Board member Melissa Snowden pleaded that the board shouldn't rush to any decision as it hadn't even checked the remaining finalist's references and didn't even know how much money they would offer her. Those references were provided on the last day of an on-site trip to the finalist's home state last week.
"Watch the people's hands that go up..." said board member Heather Sellers.
"We've been voting along racial lines the whole time..." responded fellow board member Mary Briers.
A short burst of applause from the crowd came just before Melissa Snowden, Heather Sellers and Charlotte Meadows, all white, were voted down by a majority of the board, all black.
Barbara Thompson, who is the current Superintendent of Schools for the New Glarus School District in New Glarus, Wisconsin now has the option of taking the job or leaving it.
WSFA 12 News spoke with Thompson late Wednesday evening. She said she was "thrilled" she got the job and hopes to get to work by the first week of August. She says her first order of business is to fill several open positions.
Though the vote was straight down racial lines, each of the members said at the time that the vote had nothing to do with race, only with what was best for the children of Montgomery.
Regardless, the meeting wasn't without tension between the races. Board member Charlotte Meadows responded to possible criticism that the vote might have been racial in nature saying she is "an accountant with a masters in business administration," something to which Mary Briers responded, "well good for you."
"We try to have decent meetings," said School Board President Beverly Ross, "...but when you're yelling and screaming out and carrying on, that's just not professional."
Contract negotiations with Thompson will begin next week with a conference call between Thompson, President Ross, VP Snowden and the consultant.
As for Mayor Strange, he's said he would like to work with the new superintendent and move the city forward. "We need to take a deep breath and need to regroup and go forward, and get behind the superintendent they've chosen."
WSFA 12 News will have the very latest information as it becomes available.