Winning candidate for LaRue Co. board seat won't take office as two relatives hold district jobs; defeated challenger raised issue, commissioner to make appointment

LaRue Co. Herald-News, Hodgenville, Nov. 24, 2016

Change to school board election
Cooper said he will not accept position
By Doug Ponder

LaRue County School board member-elect Greg Cooper says he will not accept the position after it was revealed that he will not be allowed to take office since he has two relatives who are employees in the LaRue County School system.

State law KRS. 160.180 states that “no person shall be eligible to membership on a board of education who has a relative employed by the school district.” The statute defines a relative as a father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, aunt, uncle son-in-law and daughter-in-law.

In the second district school board seat race in the 2016 Fall General Election on November 8, Cooper won with 526 votes compared to his opponent Arthur Hawkins’ 351 votes.

Last Friday, Hawkins notified the LaRue County Herald News about Cooper being ineligible for the board seat because he had two uncles, Jim and Jerry Cooper, who were both employees in the LaRue County School system. LCS Superintendent Sam Sanders confirmed that Jim Cooper is a bus driver and Jerry Cooper is a custodian.

LaRue County Clerk Linda Carter said they are not required to check and verify the information provided by candidates on their filing papers such as education background, relatives, etc. She said that every candidate signs their name on their filing papers stating that they are eligible for the respective office they are seeking.

Hawkins said that he was advised to contact the state board of elections about the issue. He said they recommended him to hire a lawyer and bring a suit in front of the circuit court to challenge Cooper’s eligibility. He said that he chose not to pursue the issue as he did not feel it should be his obligation to pay court and attorney fees to “make the system follow its own rules.”

However, Cooper said on Monday that he will not accept the position and that he will notify the Kentucky Commissioner of Education about the issue next week.

“ I was not aware of KRS 160.180 until after the election. It is true that I have two uncles that work for the school system; one is a custodian at ALES and the other drives a bus. I regret that I will not be able to accept the position that I won by an overwhelming show of support by the voters in my district. My goal was and still is to help the LaRue County School District to be a better place for students and staff for years to come,” Cooper said. “I will be notifying the Commissioner of Education so the seat on the board can be filled in a timely manner and will not interfere with the work the LaRue County Board of Education will need to do to ensure the district can keep moving forward. I do appreciate the voters in my district supporting me and trusting me with the greatest assets this county has to offer, our students.”

John Thompson, Commissioner’s Designee for Local School Board Appointments at the Kentucky Department of Education, said the state education commissioner will appoint someone to fill a vacant school board seat per KRS 160.190 which states “any vacancy in any board of education shall be filled by the chief state school officer within ninety (90) days after the vacancy occurs. The member so chosen shall meet the eligibility requirements as established by KRS 160.180 and shall hold office until his successor is elected and has qualified. The local board of education may make nominations and any person may nominate himself or another for the office.”

Although Cooper has not officially been sworn-in or taken office yet, Thompson said the statute will still apply in this case and that whoever is appointed will serve the complete term. However, he said they have not been officially notified by Cooper and that the 90 day process does not start until they receive official notification.

Thompson said that the local board will advertise for qualified candidates and that two or more qualified candidates will be reviewed. He then said a state education committee for local school board appointments will interview and recommend a candidate to the state education commissioner, who will then decide to reject or accept the recommendation.

Thompson went on to say that the process usually takes more than two months to complete and that the holidays will play a factor in this particular case. Since the 90 day process will go well into January, he said the school board seat will remain vacant until a candidate has been appointed to the seat.

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