A challenge for Washington County commissioners, school board members

Johnson City Press • Aug 5, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Now that Washington County’s general election is in the books, we have a challenge for the new County Commission and Board of Education: Start fresh on settling the dispute over Jonesborough school building projects.

Unless a miracle happens in the August sessions, the new boards will be faced with a mess that has seen no shortage of options, debates, votes and accusations in the effort to improve the school facilities.

When they take their seats in September, the governing boards will have decidedly different compositions than they do today, and that presents an opportunity for real progress after the long stalemate. One-third of each panel will be new members.

Voters selected three new school board members and three incumbents Thursday to join three others whose terms have two years remaining. Newcomers Jason Day and Chad Fleenor will bring entirely new faces to the discourse, while former County Finance Director Mitch Meredith, a former county commissioner who resigned his seat to run for the school board, has been neck-deep in the process from the beginning.

Our challenge is particularly directed to Meredith, as he should set aside any previous conceptions from his time in county government when negotiating through various options for Jonesborough, but the same is true of all six current school board members.

An even more drastic change will take place at the Courthouse in September when a much smaller County Commission meets for the first time. This election marked the first time the commission was reduced from 24 seats to 15 individual-member districts. Five newly elected commissioners — former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris, former Jonesborough Alderman Jerome Fitzgerald, banker Freddie H. Malone, East Tennessee State University faculty member Jodi Jones and attorney Jim Wheeler — will join 10 incumbents.

Washington County also will have a new mayor, as Joe Grandy moves from his eight-year position on the Commission to the county’s executive leadership. As we stated when we endorsed him, Grandy will have to be rather flexible in working with the elected boards to find a solution. He will have to be open to new ideas, and that could include adjusting funding priorities.

This editorial marks the fourth time this year we have urged commissioners, school board members and county administrators to get the Jonesborough project off the ground. A joint session is needed immediately.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this editorial incorrectly referred to Jodi Jones as an attorney.

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