On May 20, 2014, Chatham County voters went to the polls to elect the next President of the Savannah/ Chatham County School Board. The five (5) individuals who were competing for this position were: Sadie C. Brown, Jolene Byrne, Chester Ellis, George Seaborough and David Simons.
After the voting was finished last Tuesday, it appeared that Jolene Byrne and David Simon would faceoff in a runoff election on July 22, 2014. The election results were clear: Byrne received 40.05%; Simons 21.49%; Ellis 17.25%; Brown 10.70%; and Seaborough 10.51%. Although this is one of the most important elected offices in our community, only about 21% of the eligible voters participated in the election of the next School Board President.
The Election of the Chatham County School Board President is a “Nonpartisan Election.” Even so, Simons made it clear from the beginning that he was the Republican Tea Party candidate. He did not attend any of the early forums to discuss issues related to education and the school system, and did no outreach in the areas of Chatham County where most of the African-American voters live. The race for School Board President was contentious because of his campaign tactics and his views about the owners of African-American and women-owned businesses. Candidate Simons wrote a letter to the White school board members calling these business leaders “unscrupulous” because they have been aggressive in their efforts to participate in the construction of our schools. Additionally during the weeks of the campaign, he was the subject of an ethics complaint for working as a lobbyist without a license and also being sued for slander by a contractor.
Since Simons’ children attend a private school, some observers of the
School Board Election did not believe that he had any real interest in promoting or supporting public education. Many of the contributors to the Simons campaign were white contractors who are doing business, or who hope to do business, with the school system.
Around lunch time on Thursday, May 22nd, the rumor mill in Savannah was alive with chatter that Simons was going to withdraw from the race since he could not see a path to victory. His white-only strategy could not work for him. With Jolene Byrne, a white woman, receiving 40% of the vote with only 21% going to Simons, it was clear that most of the votes for the other three (3) candidates came from the African Americans…the very people for whom he had shown the most contempt. Later that evening, Simons quit the race.
Now, Reverend Chester Ellis, an experienced educator and Jolene Byrne, a former public school teacher, are set to compete in the Runoff Election on July 22nd.