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Did BOE Member Cooks Abuse Elected Authority?

A Column by the Editor
web posted November 28, 2011

COLUMN – Allegations raised by Edgefield County School Board member Chris Hoffmann concerning Board member Sallie Cooks at a recent board meeting continues to fester, so much so that Hoffmann is threatening to boycott the meetings until they are addressed. In the meeting Hoffmann stated that Cooks used her position to have a family member placed on the Merriwether Middle school basketball team after failing to make the cut - and is reportedly academically ineligible to even have tried out for the team to start with.

School Board member Cooks has denied the allegations, but has admitted to making phone calls to the principals after the child did not make the team. Suddenly, the only child added to the roster was her family member, and that has set off a chain of events that to date remains unresolved.

According to those close to the incident, Cooks is said to have placed a call to Merriwether Middle School Principal Bobby Turner who was out at the time. She instead spoke with Assistant Principal Kevin Butler. Shortly after the call Butler informed the coaches that Mrs. Cooks' family member would be placed on the team.

Later, after a meeting of the coaches and the Administration of Merriwether Middle School, Cooks' family member was removed from the team again for the same reasons she was unable to make the team.

That obviously did not sit well with Mrs. Cooks and she then called interim-school district superintendent Carol Linderman to have the child put back on the team.

Of course, after having already been called out at a pubic meeting by Hoffmann, Cooks claims she thought all the children who tried out should be put on the team. Linderman seized on that and called Merriwether Middle and stated that new try-outs should be held for the five who were cut from the team. After coaches approached the students, only two wanted to try-out again.

Since there were only two, the decision was made to just add the two students to the team, though it is unlikely either will see any playing time. Moreover, according to sources very close to the situation, Cooks' darling will be kicked off the team due to grades so the whole thing is a lesson in futility.

But that is not the issue. The issue is Sallie Cooks abusing her elected office and the public trust as an elected official for the benefit of a family member. Some of those involved have used the term "intimidation" regarding the tone of Ms. Cooks' calls in an effort to get the child on the team.

"Intimidation"? As an elected official on the Edgefield County School Board, Cooks cannot tell anyone in the school district to do anything, especially on her own as a board member. The board as a whole votes to set the policies and the superintendent and staff carry out the orders. That legal separation of power is there for a reason.

I firmly believe those I have talked to in this matter including BOE member Chris Hoffmann and others involved with the series of events and phone calls made. I agree with Hoffmann that this scandal too should not try to be swept under the rug as was tried with many of the recent scandals involving the firings of a principal, a teacher, and even Superintendent Mary Crenshaw.

An investigation by an outside entity needs to take place to get to the bottom of this and its findings need to be made public as soon as possible. If it is found that all the allegations are true Cooks should face a very public reprimand by the School Board, if not her resigning her position as well.

As one of those stated in conversations for this column, if Ms. Cooks is using her elected office when she is out of power, what took place over the years she was the School Board Chairwoman?

The whole thing stinks and it leads to the mistrust so much of the public has for elected leaders in the county.

Cooks needs to resign, yesterday, if you ask me. 

However, School Board Chairman Brad Covar is now on the hot seat. Will he discuss these actions in public (actions of school board members are not allowed to go into executive session for discussion which he has already allowed) or will he just consider the matter "handled" at this point.

This situation must be vetted in an open meeting of the entire School Board for the public to hear and see their elected representatives deal with yet another ugly stain that has been left by the previous school board majority voted out of office in 2010 that ended Cooks' rule.

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