BOE chair Grissett’s candidacy still up in air
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
The lack of a local Democratic Party chairman could mean that Escambia County Board of Education Chairman Willie Grissett’s name won’t be on the March 3 Democratic Primary ballot.
Grissett, who has represented District 5 on the local school board for the past 24 years and has served for the past nine years as the BOE’s presiding officer, didn’t find out until just before the November 8 qualifying deadline that the May resignation of Mike Godwin as chair of the Escambia County Democratic Party left a trip to Montgomery as the only option for completing the qualifying process.
Grissett said during a November 18 telephone interview that he got all his paperwork to the state before qualifying ended at 5 p.m. on the deadline date.
“I had been out of town that week and it was around 4:15 (p.m., November 8) when I found out that I had to have everything filed by 5,” said Grissett, who noted that he spoke briefly with Judge of Probate Doug Agerton and Sheriff Heath Jackson about the filing procedure. “I went right across the road to the (Escambia County School System) Central Office, and (Superintendent of Education John Knott) helped me get my confirmation submitted online. I also sent a hard copy as a follow-up.”
Everything to that point was fine. The snag appeared when he tried to pay his qualifying fee.
“I tried to pay the assessment to the county but found out I had to pay it to the Democratic Party chairman, and nobody knew who that was,” Grissett said. “Attorney Mike Godwin had resigned about six months ago, and the party has not been truly active since then. All I know right now is that I followed procedure. Everything was committed online, but it seems that (his declaration of candidacy) did not get confirmed.”
Natalie Rodgers. chief clerk for the local probate office, said she has made several calls to Alabama Democratic Party headquarters in an attempt to sort the matter out.
“Mr. Grissett filed his declaration page,” Rogers said. “I have made several calls to try and find out what’s going on. He filed his campaign financial disclosure statement and his commitment to run with the (Alabama) Secretary of State’s Office, but not with the party.”
Rodgers said she has been unable to get a satisfactory answer.
“I’ve made several calls, but I still don’t know if they’ve even made a decision at the state,” she said. “I might not know until I get a certified list of who is on the ballot.”
Grissett, who is the only local educator to attain Alabama Association of School Board’s Masters Honor Roll designation, said he would like to seek a fifth six-year term but did not want the controversy that now surrounds his candidacy to blemish the work he has done over the past 24 years.
“I don’t want to fight over this,” he said. “I can’t gain any more accomplishments on the board, but I can still keep helping move our system forward. I just want to clear my name.”
If Grissett’s candidacy is deemed invalid, Loumeek White — the only other candidate of either party to qualify for the District 5 post — would win the primary by default and, barring the entry of a write-in or independent candidate, would run without opposition in next November’s General Election.
Grissett said some of his supporters have suggested that he run as a write-in or independent, but he had not yet checked into the requirements for doing so.