The Principles of Leadership Transition
By Alex Saitta
June 20, 2016
In late November the school board selected a new Chairman. The current Chairman Brian Swords and Phil Bowers were nominated. Neither generated a majority vote which is required. After two ballots, the board agreed neither had a majority. No one chose to dropout or which their vote, so the job went to the sitting Vice-Chairman Judy Edwards as stated in board policy.
State Representative Neal Collins called selecting a chairman without a majority vote ďdysfunctionalĒ. I disagreed and explained why.
I wondered if he knew what dysfunctional meant in the context of an elected body. When is an elected body dysfunctional? If a majority of the elected body or government wants to solve a problem, but fails to do so due to disagreement over the details or inability to move the process forward to a solution, that is dysfunction. For instance, the Republican Governor, Republican State Senate and the Republican State House all agree the roads in South Carolina are crumbling and a funded road plan needs to be passed. After two years of talking about it and debate, they havenít passed a plan; that's dysfunctional.
Each year the US Congress and President are to create, approve and sign a budget. Thatís Government 101. For six years the US government couldnít pass a budget. That was dysfunctional.
By policy in November the board is to select new officers ó chairman, vice-chairman and secretary. The policy is written in such a way that if those nominated donít get a majority support from the board during voting, then the vice-chairman gets the job. Within 10 minutes of the item being introduced, a new chairman was named. Board members were happy with the result. The choice was vote for someone with a majority vote or the vice-chairman gets the job. All the board members know the rules. By not giving a majority vote to either Brian Swords or Phil Bowers, the board chose the vice-chairman Judy Edwards. It would have been dysfunctional if we came out of the meeting with no chairman.
There are four principles when it comes to picking a chairman. If the board follows them, the transition from the old to new leadership will not be a problem.
First, the board leadership (chairman and vice-chairman) must recognize they are responsible for making sure there is a smooth transition from the old leadership to the new one. Why? They control the situation because of the leadership positions they hold and the authority they are given over the process.
Second, the chairman serves a 1 year term and is limited to 2 consecutive terms. When the chairman hits his term limit, he must willfully step aside and work to help select his/ her successor. That is, the Chairman must respect the 2 year term limit, not try to change the rule to a 3 year term limit or get around the term limit in some underhanded way.
I was the chairman in 2011 and 2012. At the end of my term limit, I stepped aside and threw my support to Judy Edwards in 2013. She was elected and served as chairman in 2013.
Third, if the chairman serves a year and doesnít have a majority or at least 4 votes for his re-election as chairman, he should voluntarily step down and give another trustee the chance as chairman to try and build a majority.
After the Chairman resigned in 2014, as vice-chairman I moved up to chairman. I served the rest of his term and realized at re-election time I didnít have majority support. I was short of the majority I needed for re-election. I knew it. The rest of the board knew it. As a result, I didnít push for the job again. Before the vote threw my support to Brian Swords to give him a chance. Swords was elected in a 6 to 0 vote, and served as chairman in 2015.
Fourth, donít accept the job as vice-chairman unless you are willing to be the chairman if the chairman resigns or canít get re-elected with a majority vote. This would be like Lyndon Johnson at Parkland Hospital, Dallas saying, but I donít want to be the President. It kinds of throws a monkey wrench in things.
When the chairman resigned in 2014, and I was vice-chairman. Iím conservative and the board had moved to the left, so I really didnít want the job. However, that is one of the primary responsbilities of the vice-chairman (chairman in waiting ifÖ) I finished up the term as chairman.
Recent Chairman Selection:
Brian Swords didnít have majority support for a second term (been there myself). As Vice Chairman Judy stepped up and took the job (bravo to her ó been their too). The process was a bit bumpy but worked because these basic principles were followed.
Brian didnít have majority support going into the election. Why he asked for two votes Iím not sure. Unnecessary? Yes. Dysfunctional? No. Like I said, I was in the same boat last year, and didnít even run for re-election as chairman. Instead, I supported Brian and he was elected 6 to 0.
After the first vote when it was clear Brian didnít have support, honestly, he should have withdrawn and said either: my second choice is Phil Bowers or my second choice is Judy Edwards and nominated her. Either way, then, there would have been a majority vote. Clearly Brianís second choice was Judy, but instead of withdrawing and nominating her, he called for another vote and then just let the succession rule kick in and as vice-chair Judy Edwards moved up a slot. Same result, different route that no one seemed to care about but Neal Collins.
Disagreement Not Dysfunction:
One final note. Just because there are disagreements or bumps in the road getting to a solution, doesnít mean the elected body is dysfunctional. Like all elected bodies, our school board is diverse and made up of men, women, educators, businessmen, those who support the administration 100% and those who are more independent minded, those from liberal Clemson and those from conservative Pickens. If all are doing their job and putting forth their opinion and they do it publicly as they are required to, there will be public disagreement. That is a sign of a healthy diverse democratic body at work. As long as the body reaches solutions on the issues it faces, it is functioning like it is designed.