Snoop: On Interviewing Politicians

by Michael Boyink / mike@douglascountyherald.com

On Tuesday, June 2nd, Ava and Douglas County will have the Municipal Election that the COVID-19 pandemic delayed back in April.

While recent heavy rains have damaged many local roads and made the County Commissioner race more interesting, my focus today is the ever-lingering “big story” in Ava.

School busing. 

The issue predates my time here at the Herald. Looking through our archives I first see busing-related discussions in 2015 when the then-Ava Schools Superintendent Nancy Lawler formed a committee to find ways to improve busing costs. 

And kicked off years of unrest.

Board members have changed. School staff have changed. Lawyers have come and gone. Routes have been bought and sold. Contracts were signed.

And just when it all looked (finally) settled, some board seats turned over and, once again, the board is at odds with the bus drivers. 

The two parties currently have legal action filed against each other over bus camera-related issues.

At the ballot box, in addition to deciding the outcome of several other local races, Douglas County voters will choose who occupies three seats of the Ava R-1 School Board.

Six candidates have filed – the three incumbents (Michael Stewart, Mark Henry, and Kenny Fleetwood), two former board members (Troy Tredway and Lowell Strong), and one who would be new to the board (Vern Deatherage).

In order to help our readers make a more informed vote, we sent each candidate questions. Their full answers (lightly edited for readability) appear on Page A-8 of this edition of the Herald.

  • I want to make a few points about some of the responses. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if the issue will influence your vote:
  • The three incumbents answers are similar enough in structure and content to suggest collaboration.
  • When they first ran for office in 2017, all three incumbents ran ads in the Herald stating they felt the controversy between the school board and bus drivers was “settled”, “over” and they wished to “move on,” yet during their tenure have allowed the relationship between the bus drivers and board to again become contentious.
  • Each incumbent has refused to explain their busing-related voting history, claiming the issue was “too complex” and instead recommending voters watch the video recordings of the school board meetings (found on the Douglas County Herald’s YouTube channel) to learn their opinions on the issues.  Let me save you the trouble. The entire reason we asked them to explain their busing-related voting history here in the Herald is due to the lack of conversation and explanation during the school board meetings when the votes were taken. 
  • When asked about their “vision for a safe and affordable busing solution for Ava Schools going forward”, each of them basically answered “bus cameras.”
  • When asked what specific improvement initiatives they would propose if elected, the three incumbents first answered an unasked  question and included past accomplishments and school-related news (some of which has little to do with a school board).
  • The advice I read for interviewing politicians said the goal was to “uncover information in the category of had it not been for you the world would never have known”.

I’m not feeling 100% successful in achieving that goal. Some of our candidate responses are frank and forthright, with some information you probably hadn’t heard before.

But not all of them.

However, after attending all school board meetings for the past year and a half, researching the issues in the Herald archives, and discussing the issues with various parties, I do believe this election has the potential to create an outcome where  the busing issue is indeed “settled and over.”

And that’s a goal I think (almost) everyone is ready to achieve.