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Peeking behind the scenes - Bob Paslay

Now that Barbara Pulliam is being called the superintendent even though she is still in the land of the cold and a month away from taking over the reins in Clayton County, it is time to pull back the curtain. Let's give you a glimpse to see how close she came to not being the new school chief.

Some school board officials expressed great anger that we did our job and tried to keep the public involved in the selection process. Somehow, it was OK that they were doing their job of helping decide who would be the new chief. It was not OK that we were doing our job of finding out what was going on and telling the public.

It's like the old Flip Wilson preacher character who said you've "gone from preaching to meddling" now that you are preaching on things we don't want preached on.

Our job is simple. We find out what is going on and we report it. We don't pick sides. We don't favor one over the other. We just nose around and report. Sometimes you love us. Sometimes you hate us. We don't seek love and that is why journalists eat and drink together.

Anyway, this is the behind the scenes action as best I can piece it together.

DeKalb assistant superintendent Stan Pritchett won the post in the first vote in the closed door executive session by a vote of 5-4.

Voting for him were Chairwoman Nedra Ware, Bob Livingston, Connie Kitchens, Linda Crummy and Carol Kellam.

Voting for Barbara Pulliam were Barbara Wells, Allen Johnson, Ericka Davis and LaToya Walker.

On the night of the selection process with three candidates in the running, a funny thing happened. People started switching sides after a year of voting together.

First, Roy Brooks of Orlando, Fla. was the candidate that taxpayers coughed up more than a thousand dollars so Ware, Kitchens and Kellam could go to the land of Disney World in sunny central Florida to interview.

On the night of the selection, no one championed Brooks. None of the nine board members said anything good about him. His nomination arrived d.o.a. at the starting gate.

Prior to that night, some board members had grumbled that he wasn't "teacher friendly." Others worried that his style, which led to someone of the same name in Orlando, continually getting death threats, was too rough and tough for Clayton County. For whatever reason, none of the several hour closed door selection meeting was taken up with him.

As I said the voting was odd in that people who voted together started switching sides.

Ware, who someone said went to school with Pritchett's wife, took the lead in championing him. She was joined by board members Livingston, Crummy, Kitchens and Kellam. They said they thought he was the right person for Clayton County, having been at neighboring DeKalb County and knowing the area. Long, impassioned speeches were made, touting his ability. Earlier, county commission chairman candidate and former Atlanta Police Chief Eldrin Bell had privately lobbied for Pritchett.

You will remember that Ware blasted Crummy months ago, accusing her of being a stooge for John Trotter. It was this break that made Ware lose her majority of five and led to the election of the vacancy rather than Ware and crowd selecting the person.

On the other side, there was a predictable coalition. Barbara Wells, Allen Johnson and Ericka Davis, who would be expected to vote together championed Pulliam. They had been strong on Pulliam from early in the selection process.

But they were joined by LaToya Walker. After the 5-4 vote for Pritchett, Walker told her colleagues it was such a close vote that they should vote again. It was at this time that Kitchens and Kellam switched votes and voted for Pulliam. Whichever way Kitchens votes, so does Kellam. But all year-long, Kitchens, Kellam and Walker had stood together, voted together.

Now with them on the other side, Pulliam had six votes. If they had voted as they had in the past, with Ware, Pritchett would have had a 6-3 majority. If two of them had voted for Pritchett he would still have won 5-4. But the three for him could not budge anyone to come back over from the other side.

So after the 6 to 3 vote, board members trooped out to vote in public for the superintendent. Those close to the selection process say it was not clear at all that the three would rally around Pulliam to make it unanimous. No discussion was made of that as they reassembled to vote in public. But as the vote came, all voted for Pulliam, giving her a unanimous selection.

This was not a good year for DeKalb assistant superintendents. Lonnie Edwards had been anointed by Ware and her colleagues. But with Crummy at odds with Ware, they couldn't get their fifth vote for him. He fell one vote short of being superintendent. Jim Williams, another assistant, picked up support but when the elimination began, Livingston wouldn't vote to keep him in the running and he fell one vote short of making the cut. Then the final DeKalb candidate in the running, Pritchett, fell short after Ware's supporters on the board went over to the other side. All in all, it was an interesting selection process.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor for the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com.