Interviews with 5 finalists set for February 22nd
The Johnston County Public School Board met in special session Thursday evening to approve a process for filling the vacant seat of Tracie Zukowski who resigned in January.
A total of 31 people submitted letters of interest for the seat including several people who were unsuccessful in their bid during the 2020 elections.
The board approved, in a 6-to-0 vote, the selection process. The board voted by ballot to narrow the field from 31 to 7 candidates, then voted again to narrow the field from seven to five candidates.
The five finalists for the seat were Dr. Chuck Williams (5 votes), Al Byrd (5 votes), Robert O’Neal Jr. (4 votes), Brian Jenkins (3 votes), and Jeff Robinson (3 votes).
The selection process was in contrast to the last time a vacancy occurred between elections. In January 2017, Todd Sutton was appointed to fill out the unexpired term of Larry Strickland who stepped down after winning the District 28 seat in the NC House.
Sutton lost in the 2016 elections but was the highest vote-getter not to have won a seat. Board member Ronald Johnson reminded the board a precedent had been set in 2017 to appoint vacant seats, referencing Sutton’s appointment. However, Mr. Sutton, who is now the chairman, said there was no precedent and no set guidelines on how to fill a vacancy.
Several people gathered outside the JCPS Central Office prior to the meeting holding signs in support of Terry Tippett. He came in fifth place in the Nov. 2020 elections with four seats up for election. Those gathered said they believe Mr. Tippett should have been appointed to the seat, the same way Sutton was appointed in 2017. Tippett finished about 1,600 vote behind Mike Wooten for the fourth seat last November. Tippett was not among the five finalists chosen for interviews by the board on Monday, February 22nd.
After the five finalists for the seat were announced, Ronald Johnson said he was shocked his fellow board members did not consider Terry Tippett for the vacancy. “That is not cool at all. The people had confidence in him. We are not even giving him an interview. Something has to be said for voter confidence. I am at a loss for words. I feel like we have failed in some sense by not picking him.”
The board could name a replacement for Mrs. Zukowski at the conclusion of the Feb. 22nd special called meeting for candidate interviews, but no later than their March 9th regularly scheduled meeting.