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Jockeying begins to fill Hernando School Board seat

BROOKSVILLE — Jim Malcolm started fielding the calls Wednesday morning.

Supporters of the former longtime School Board member had seen the story in the St. Petersburg Times that board member Pat Fagan had resigned, and they wanted to know if Malcolm would apply to fill the vacancy.

Gov. Rick Scott will appoint someone to fill the remainder of Fagan's term, which ends in November 2012. One supporter even printed out the application for Malcolm.

Malcolm, who served on the board for 16 years and decided not to run for re-election in 2008, still has property in Brooksville. But his primary residence is now in Daytona Beach, and he claims his homestead exemption in Volusia County.

"I'm flattered," Malcolm said of the requests, "but I think it's going to be too many hurdles and hoops to jump through."

Malcolm's demurral is one example of the chain reaction set off by Fagan's announcement Tuesday night that he had mailed his resignation letter to Scott. Fagan, 61, stepped down from his District 2 seat, effective Wednesday, because his position as county parks and recreation manager has been eliminated, and he cannot afford to defer his county pension benefits while serving out the rest of his term.

School Board seats are nonpartisan and elected by all Hernando County voters, but each seat corresponds with a geographic district. Candidates must reside in that district to be eligible to run for election.

Applicants for temporary School Board appointments, however, do not by law even have to live in the county. The successful appointee would have to move to the district to qualify to run for election, though.

Fagan of Spring Hill was first elected in 2004 and ran unopposed in 2008. District 2 covers the southwestern corner of the county.

Another well-known name to cross off the list of contenders: Sandra Nicholson, who served in the District 5 seat for 16 years and lost in a squeaker of a runoff last November to retired educator Cynthia Moore.

Nicholson said she'd consider applying if the vacancy were for District 5.

Regardless of what the law allows, "I believe it's supposed to be someone who lives in the district," Nicholson said. "That's how representative government is supposed to work."

One name that will be on Scott's list: Robert Neuhausen, an engineer with Sparton Electronics in Brooksville. Neuhausen ran for the District 4 seat in 2008, losing to first-time candidate James Yant, who is now chairman of the School Board.

Nilsa Colon-Toro, a receptionist at Springstead High School who ran unsuccessfully against School Board incumbent John Sweeney, said supporters have asked her to seek the appointment and that she is considering it.

So, too, is Keane Chapman, a national sales manager for Alumi-Guard who challenged and lost to incumbent Dianne Bonfield last year.

"It's a conversation I'm having with my family this weekend and will make the decision then," Chapman said.

While the position is nonpartisan, some expressed doubt that Scott, a Republican who has courted the tea party movement, would choose anyone other than a conservative Republican.

"I don't have the right letter after my name," said Linda Prescott, a Hernando Beach Democrat who ran against Fagan in 2004. Prescott said she probably would submit her name for consideration if Democrat Alex Sink, who challenged Scott, was in the governor's mansion now.

Malcolm, a Democrat, said party was another factor in his decision.

"Wouldn't that be ironic if Mr. Tea Party picked me, one of the more liberal members on the board in recent memory?" Malcolm said.

For the record, Colon-Toro and Chapman are Republicans. Voter registration records show Neuhausen listed his affiliation as "tea party."

Neuhausen was a registered Republican until early last year, when he switched his affiliation to the tea party. "I would hope that wouldn't be a key factor, though we both know it may play a role in (Scott's) decision-making," Neuhausen said.

As applicants begin to emerge and Scott's selection process begins, the school district must do business with a four-member board. It's unclear how long that will last, because there is no set timetable for Scott to make an appointment.

Setting policy can be difficult without a tie-breaking vote, school superintendent Bryan Blavatt said.

But Blavatt said he won't be putting anything off in the next couple of months to wait for the fifth member to arrive.

"I can't stall," Blavatt said. "Issues are issues and these things that are coming up have to be brought forward."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

On the Web

The application for governor appointees is available online. Go to www.floridgov.com/appointments and look for the Gubernatorial Appointments Questionnaire link.

Jockeying begins to fill Hernando School Board seat 03/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 8:05pm]
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