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Heated GOP meeting

Candidate, former principal, says ‘railroaded out of county’

District 6 BOE incumbent Sherry Digmon
District 6 BOE challenger Michael Bowens
District 4 BOE incumbent Cindy Jackson
District 4 BOE challenger John Brantley

News Staff Writer

The Escambia County Republican Executive Committee’s monthly meeting, held Monday evening (April 18) in the auditorium of Atmore City Hall, was a typical GOP get-together … for about 35 minutes.
The highlight of the meeting — addresses by local and state political candidates — turned into a virtual fireworks show for almost 10 minutes when the former principal at A.C. Moore and Rachel Patterson elementary schools lit the fuse.
John Brantley, one of three candidates for the District 4 seat on the county school board, attacked the incumbent District 4 rep — former board chair Cindy Jackson — and former Superintendent of Education John Knott, accusing both of “unethical behavior” in the oversight of the county’s public schools.
More than 50 local Republicans, including numerous elected officials, listened as Brantley, currently principal at Evergreen Elementary School in Conecuh County, outlined his career as an educator and administrator. They listened more intently as he continued.
“One would be highly mistaken to say I don’t have a vested interest in Escambia County,” he said about three minutes into what turned out to be a 10-minute tirade against Jackson and Knott. “I would still be here in Escambia County if I hadn’t been railroaded out of this county.”
Brantley said he “debated long hours on what I needed to say and how I needed to say it.” He pulled few punches as he explained the two reasons behind his decision to run for a BOE seat, claiming he was not the system’s only political casualty.
“I’m not the only one in Escambia County who has been done this way,” he said. “Several other administrators and teachers have had their contracts non-renewed, been terminated, forced to resign or just retired from being tired. We have had a mass exodus the last couple of years of amazing administrators and teachers who are no longer employed in the county. That’s a problem that needs to be looked at.”
He said his second reason for running is “ethics, honesty and transparency.” He looked directly at the sitting District 4 board member as he denied rumors that his decision was based on vengeance.
“To set the record straight, Mrs. Jackson, I’m not running to retaliate from my contract not being renewed. I’m running because parents, the community and people like me … are tired of the unethical behaviors from some — I did not say all — of our board members.”
Brantley said current BOE President Coleman Wallace and board member Sherry Digmon, who represented District 6 for six years and was reappointed to fill the remainder of the late David Nolin’s term, are the only BOE members who ever met with him to discuss his concerns.
Jackson, who is serving her second six-year term on the board, apparently knew the verbal assault was coming. She spoke first, pointing out the extensive training she has undergone as a board member, as well as her leadership roles, which also include six years as the BOE’s vice president.
Then she explained that she alone did not have the power to approve or block an employee’s contract extension.
“The board has to make many hard decisions when it comes to personnel,” she said, glancing quickly in Brantley’s direction. These are difficult decisions that the whole board makes, not just one member.”
Before taking her seat, she also talked about the capital improvement projects that have been undertaken by the board in and around the Flomaton area.
(Racheal Wagner is also running for the District 4 seat but was not at the meeting.)
Earlier, the two candidates vying for the District 6 seat — Digmon and Michael Bowens — each addressed the crowd. Digmon, who had another engagement, was brief in her remarks.
Digmon’s voice broke briefly when she recounted her most recent tenure on the school board. Nolin, who challenged her in 2016 and claimed the seat, died last September, and the board selected Digmon to finish his term.
“Coach David Nolin …served admirably until his death last September,” the Atmore News and “atmore” magazine co-owner said. “Several board members called me and asked me to fill David’s seat until November, and I did. When it came to making a decision about running for the seat, I decided I would.”
She explained that she enjoyed every aspect of working on behalf of county schools, trying to spark improvement in each one.
“I’m talking about the kids, the teachers, the administrators, the support people and the parents,” she said. “That’s my agenda, why I’m running — to make things better.”
Her opponent, Michael Bowens of Flomaton, praised Digmon and her work on the board, but said his goal was to do even better, especially in the area of career education.
“If elected, I will work closely with the community, with the kids and the parents, and come up with ideas and solutions in terms of how can we move our kids forward, how we can increase our graduation rate and how we can make a more productive student once they graduate from high school.”
Rusty Glover, a former member of the Alabama Senate and House who is running for State Auditor, and Ed Packard, who is seeking the Alabama Secretary of State office, also spoke during Monday’s session.