Forum Thoughts…

From left: Board of Education candidates Cameron Sharpe, Dr. Lynn Smith and Bill Tatum. Rounding out the field in the May 6 BOE race are Mark Akinosho, Kim Lilley and Shawn Williams. Read Gordon Anderson’s coverage in today’s Herald.

BOE FORUM | In the forum’s wake…

Thanks again to the candidates and those who attended our Lee County Board of Education forum at the civic center last night. We crammed a lot of questions and candidates into our schedule, so the night was a little long…but I think worthwhile. I’ve talked to a number of people today (in addition to those I spoke to after the forum) and most have said that “three or four” of the candidates stood out in terms of their performance. Predictably, the “three or four” differed depending upon the source. More on that later…

Before saying anything else, I’d like to recognize the students participating in the Communities In Schools’ Kids Voting program who helped ask questions…
From West Lee Middle School: Shaquille Stepney, Kiera Harrell and Matthew Harrison
From East Lee Middle School: Lupita Dominquez, Stephanie Quezada and Holly Stack
…as well as Alison Poole and her staff at CIS, who helped coordinate it all.

The kids did a wonderful job, as did our moderator, Carol Carlson. In addition, Randy Brewer, Jim Felton and the staff at the civic center did a great job as usual. They figured out a way to configure six microphones for our six candidates. It’s impossible up on stage to tell if what you’re saying is carrying to the audience, and powering six mics isn’t easy when you really max out at four, so all things considered I think things turned out OK. The major culprit last night was the questions: too long and too complex. That was our fault. We don’t give candidates the questions in advance…ideas for questions are submitted by readers and by our staff, and we hone those down into a set that covers the gamut in topics related to a particular race. The issues facing the BOE are complex, and the questions tried to reflect that…but next time we’ll make the questions more concise, which will make for less stressful night for everyone.

Who’s your pick? The Herald’s editorial board has concluded its endorsement work; our editorial with our four picks for the BOE will appear in Sunday’s edition. Your favorite candidate might well depend on your political persuasion, even though this is a non-partisan race: the Republicans I know tend mostly to favor the three newcomers (first-time candidates Kim Lilley, Cameron Sharpe and Mark Akinosho) while the Democrats I know tend to favor mostly the “incumbents” (Bill Tatum, Dr. Lynn Smith and Shawn Williams). Of course, the top four vote-getters will take seats, so if you vote for four you’ll have a mix of the old and the new on your ballot. In my very unscientific survey, the “fourth” name I’ve heard mentioned more than anyone else’s is Mark Akinosho’s.

Early exit. I’ll certainly concede that the night was a long one…we kicked off at 7 and didn’t finish until almost 9, so we lost a few in the crowd. One person in attendance was upset that a number of Lee County HIgh School staffers walked out after “their guys” (Tatum, Smith and Williams) spoke. I didn’t see it because I was up front, but apparently the staffers said it wasn’t related to not wanting to hear the “other” candidates. Rather, they had early mornings today and wanted to get home. I’m not sure how the person who told me this discerned all that, given the order of the speakers, but he was pretty adamant. At any rate, we normally include one break during our forums and next time will keep that in mind. If you got there for the reception at 6, having to still be seated and listening to speakers at 8:45 without a break is a lot to take in after a long day at work.

Doctor in the house? We listed Dr. Lynn Smith’s professional designation in the program, but didn’t do the same for Dr. Andre Knecht, who’s one of the Republican at-large candidates for commissioner. I didn’t realize it, but apparently in our stories about the commissioner race (we’ve not written much about the Republicans because all three at-large candidates will automatically be on the November ballot) we’ve consistently had the “Dr.” before Smith’s name but not before Knecht’s. We’ll fix that. No slight to Andre, who’s a chiropractor. Some “doctors” (not Smith, I don’t think…he’s an orthodontist) don’t believe in chiropractic care and thus don’t give much credence to the “Dr.” title given a chiropractor, but I sure do. Two neck injuries (one in high school, one in college) that went untreated led me to my first chiropractor visit about 20 years ago, and I’ve been a believer ever since.

Experience… Forum attendees got to see seven of the eight “at-large” commissioner candidates plus both the District 2 candidates. Not that it matters to anyone following the at-large race, but the average age of the Republican candidates (of which there are three) is 60; the average age of the Democrat candidates (five) is 69.4. So much for a happy retirement. The average age of the BOE candidates is 53.

Quarter-cent sales tax. Nearly everyone I spoke to last night about it was in favor of it. Our poll question about the issue on our website shows something different, but it’s important to remember that essentially the sales tax is really a referendum on our schools, and the need for improvements at Lee Senior. More on that next week…

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