Ousted Board Member Continued Sitting on Jasper County BOE

Sister Mary Gallagher sworn in.
Sister Mary Gallagher sworn in.

Chatham County isn't the only place having some unusual problems with its board of education. Some strange things are happening in Jasper County. Essentially, someone who's not even on the board is voting on issues.

Early last month, Sister Mary Gallagher was declared the winner for a spot on the Jasper County Board of Education. The problem is that until tonight, the incumbent she beat had stayed aboard, even casting decisive votes.

Gallagher says she's never seen anything quite like this. "No. Never in my life."

After the election, incumbent Darlene Burroughs asked for a recount, which came out in Gallagher's favor. After that, Burroughs went to the county board of elections and eventually the state, who both also came back with the same decision.

Gallagher thought that meant she was in the clear. "I figured I'd come back to the school board meeting last week," she said. "Again I was denied a seat at the board."

But not until Monday night was Gallagher allowed to take her oath of office. Now that she has been sworn in, some other school board members are worried about the ramifications of conducting previous meetings with a sitting school board member who'd lost her reelection bid.

"She was seconding a motion and casting a deciding vote on something that will impact us for the next 12 months," said board member David Cope. "So while I think the world of her personally, I don't think she had the authority to cast those votes."

The board chairperson, Patricia Wells, says she did the best she could considering they don't have any policies now directing the board how to act when an incumbent challenges election results. "We went by the recommendation of our attorney," said Wells. "If we made some mistakes, I'm sorry, but we went by the recommendation."

The board of education's hoping this isn't a common problem, but they're planning on having the policy committee look into any changes the school district could make to clear this type of confusion up in the future.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com