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School board member says time constraints could deter candidates

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FROM THE TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH:

School board member says time constraints could deter candidates
By DAYNA WORCHEL & EMILY GUEVARA
Staff Reporters

This May, as many East Texans are heading to the polls, Tyler voters won't see city council and school board positions on the ballot. 

The fact that there are so many uncontested races for city council is indicative of a statewide trend, one state official said. A school board member said the time commitment necessary to serve on the board could deter potential candidates. 

This May, there will be four uncontested Tyler city council races, which could be canceled if there are no further filings for the District 6 seat vacated by Jason Wright in January. The last day to file for the District 6 seat is Monday. 

In Tyler ISD, there will be no school board election after only one candidate filed for each of the three open positions on the board. 

"It's hard to find people to run — there's a great deal of training to complete and it's usually unpaid," Bennett Sandlin, Texas Municipal League executive director, said this week. Sandlin said it's not common for most people to want to run for a public office. 

The city provided a history of all city council and mayoral races back to the year 2000. 

Since 2000, there have been 31 uncontested races and 17 contested in the city government. All city offices are two–year terms with a maximum of three consecutive terms. 

In 2011, the last time there were three uncontested races for city council seats, the city of Tyler canceled the elections. 

The large time commitment, and the fact many city council positions are unpaid, are two of the biggest detractors to getting candidates to run for office, Sandlin said. 

He said in some instances, there is not one person who wants to run for office. Sandlin such much is expected of a city councilman. 

"City Council is for the dedicated. You have to learn a lot of complicated stuff, like budgets, and about different departments of the city — sometimes it may take serving several terms to get up to speed," Sandlin said.

TISD has board elections every year, with certain seats coming open each year. Since 2000, of 35 possible races, 24 were uncontested, 10 were contested and one resulted in an appointment. During five of the past 14 years, all races were uncontested. 

William Nemir, of the Texas Association of School Boards, said most first-year board members find board service takes more time than they expected.

In addition to the regular board meetings, board members like to attend school events and, in some cases, are expected to, he said. On top of that, they have to read a lot in preparation for meetings. 

"It's a tough job," said Nemir, who is director of the association's leadership team services division. "It's a tough form of service and we do encourage potential board members to think long and hard about doing (it)" because of the time commitment and the public nature of it. 

TISD board President Michelle Carr said she thinks the time commitment is a factor when people are deciding whether to run for school board or not. 

A typical week might require five to 10 hours of work whereas a big week could be up to 30 hours, said Mrs. Carr, who has served on the board for nine years. 

A first-year school board member has to complete at least 17 hours of continuing education, according to information provided by the Texas Association of School Boards. Experienced board members have to do about half that each year. 

School board and city council members said it takes dedication and a lot of time to manage their work and public service responsibilities. 

"I have taken vacation days to handle mayoral duties," Tyler Mayor Barbara Bass said. 

Other weeks, she may spend about 10 hours per week handling city business. Council members also said their time commitments vary each week, but they are happy to serve the community.


Martin Heines, who is in his second two-year term representing District 4, estimated that he spends between 10 and 30 hours per week on his council duties, including helping constituents with concerns and serving on committees which provide oversight to the city manager's office.

"To be prepared for the meetings, we must do a lot of background work," Heines, 50, a Realtor, said. "I enjoy every minute of that time. I would venture to say everyone does." 

He added that the decisions he makes as a councilman affect businesses, nonprofits, faith-based institutions and tax payers. 

Darryl Bowdre, 55, is in his first term representing District 2, and works full time as the minister of South Central Church of Christ. In addition, he serves on the East Texas Council of Governments Board, as well as four to six city council committees. 

Bowdre said being a councilman is a balancing act and that it is important to "assess yourself so that you don't get burned out because you can receive a barrage of visits and calls." 

TISD board vice president the Rev. Orenthia Mason also works full-time in addition to her service on the board. She works as the Texas College director of alumni affairs and external relations and serves as pastor of Cole Hill CME Church. 

The Rev. Mason said she relies on God's strength to help her complete her daily tasks and believes that investing in education and service is a part of her calling
.
"I have to learn what my priorities are and I have to keep those in order," she said. "I consider my responsibility as a member of the board … as a calling because you're serving your community." 

Donald Sanders, 60, who served as a councilman representing District 2 from 2006 to 2012, said the council members do this service with no salary. 

"It's a challenge to be a councilmember — you have to want to serve your constituents," he said.

Smith County Republican Party Chairman Tim McCormick said he does think there is a trend toward "good, qualified people avoiding public office." 

He attributes this to the personal attacks and divisiveness that's happening at so many levels in the public arena. This can be a consideration even in lower-level races, he said.

"It's very sad because I think it's very important for there to be competition," McCormick said. 

Smith County Democratic Party Chairman David Henderson said he doesn't have an answer for why so few people run sometimes, but it's a problem that concerns him.

"There is just a level of apathy that is really not conducive to good government and it's really obviously not conducive to having a top quality school board (and) public education system," he said. "I beat my head against the wall all the time on this issue. Why can't we get more people to run for offices?"
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