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Two already in race for Lincoln County School Board

Qualifying for the Lincoln County School Board is off and running, and already two candidates have filed their petitions of intent for the upcoming election.

Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Dustin Bairfield said board secretary Johnny Hart has turned in the required paperwork bearing the signatures of 50 supporters in District 2, and Justin Laird has filed to challenge District 1 board member Kay Coon for her seat. Bairfield believes many more candidates are out in the county gathering signatures now.

“Based on the phone calls we have started receiving (Friday) and a couple of people inquiring, I think we’re gonna have two or three candidates for each district,” he said. “A lot of times one or two is all you’ll have, but for this upcoming election we may have some extra candidates running.”

Qualifying for three of the board’s five seats began Wednesday and continues through Friday, Sept. 7 at 5 p.m. Other than Coon’s seat in the first district and Hart’s second, Joanna Posey’s District 5 seat is also on the ballot.

Districts 1 and 2 are for full six-year terms, while the District 5 race is a special election to fulfill the remaining four years of the term. The races will be on the general election ballot Nov. 6.

The seats are on the block in 2018 to correct the board’s election cycle getting out-of-sync with the state election calendar years ago in a slip-up somewhere between the district and state to which neither party has admitted.

The board began working with its attorney and the attorney general’s office last year in an effort to straighten out the problem. The district’s early plan to appoint board members to fill lopsided terms was rejected because it would have put a majority-appointed board in charge of appointing the district’s next superintendent in 2019, removing Lincoln County citizens from the decision-making process.

The school board and the AG’s office agreed to hold elections for the three seats in December.

On top of the board’s election cycle dilemma, student-athlete eligibility, school safety and personnel issues have all attracted the public’s attention and, often, frustration over the last 18 months. County citizens have become more involved with the school district’s operations, and a small handful of board-watchers turned in 54 public records requests between June 1, 2017 and June 1 this year.

A potential third candidate, Timothy Cunningham, has announced his campaign for the District 5 seat on social media, but so far has yet to turn in his signatures. He could be waiting until the time is right — candidates in other races will often wait before qualifying to gauge opponents or make a splash — but with signatures that must be verified, Bairfield is urging candidates not to wait too long.

“We have to verify the signatures on the petitions, and sometimes they’re hard to read, or people may have moved and not updated their information. Even if they have signed it, but their address is different, we’re not able to count that as a signature,” Bairfield said. “As a courtesy, we let candidates know if they’re short so they will have time to go out and get more signatures. But if they wait until 5 p.m. on the deadline day and they’re short, they will not be placed on the ballot — and we’ve had that happen before.”