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Frazee-Vergas board appoints Thorp on 4-2 vote

After about an hour of interviewing the three candidates and a few minutes to share their views, members of the Frazee-Vergas School Board voted and appointed Don Thorp to the open seat.

While the other two candidates, Brenda Como and John Dermody, sat at the end of the board table for the interview, Thorp was via speakerphone from Florida.

After board member Kathy Kallis resigned with 18 months left on her term, the board contacted past board members to finish out the term. All of them declined the request. The process was opened to applications, which the three being interviewed and Oscar Birkeland and Karen Riggle also applied for. After the board ranked the applicants, the top three were asked in for the interview.

Board Chair Dana Laine said after asking other school districts what their procedure was for appointing a new board member, Moorhead provided questions for the process.

The board members each asked the candidates a question, and each was given an unlimited amount of time to answer.

After the questioning, a couple board members expressed their opinions as to whom they were picking, and after the votes were in, two of the candidates expressed their thoughts as well. Voices raised and a five-minute recess had to be taken after the vote was read to clear the audience so the board could continue.

The candidates were asked their strengths and qualifications for the board position and what they could contribute to the board.

Dermody said he has taught in several different schools for several years. He has also been a journalist for 40 years, serves on the Frazee City Council and has been involved with civic organizations.

He added that he could bring communication and his education expertise to the board.

"This board has utterly failed in communication with the city" and others, he said. "You've taken away the chance for people to speak (at meetings)."

He continued that the board should invest in a sound system because members of the audience can't always hear, and that the set-up of the table and chairs (facing one another with backs to half of the audience) has "effectively told people you don't care."

Como said she is a parent with teenage boys in the school district, has a banking background and has an open mind when listening to other people's views.

She added that she is applying for the position because of students and taxpayers, which should be the No. 1 priorities in the district.

Thorp said he has a construction and maintenance background, has dealt with heads of multiple agencies and is good with budgeting.

He said he brings leadership experience, courtesy and respect to the board, and he is a parent with two boys in the district.

Candidates were also asked how they stay informed of the district news and issues, with the three of them responding through media and talking with children, teachers and other staff.

The candidates also were asked about the responsibilities of a board member and what their process is for making a decision. The candidates were then asked if they wanted to add anything, and Dermody said, "I'd like to add a lot more -- myself to the board."

He added that the board has too much secrecy and is not fair to the school staff. He also said he knows he has "zero chance" of being appointed to the board. The right thing to do, he said would be to hire Como since she was fourth in line when the people voted in November, but that he was the most qualified due to his education background.

Como said that if the board was really basing the applications on submitted resumes, Riggle should have been interviewed because she had the most impressive resume. She added that everything she said at the October candidates' forum still stood and that she was here for the taxpayers and the students.

Thorp, who moved to Frazee in 1996, said he is proud to live in the community and wouldn't want to educate his sons anywhere else.

The board took a few minutes to review the candidates' responses. Board member Nancy Dashner was first to say that she would be voting for Thorp because "I only heard positive things from Mr. Thorp." She added that she felt Como and Dermody had agendas and that she would vote against anyone who was against the board.

She addressed Dermody's comment about staff not being treated fairly by saying that all staff does an exit interview and she can't help it if they lie about why they are leaving, but that staff has always had a problem with various superintendents during her time on the board.

"Personally, I don't understand why staff has been so unhappy," she said.

Board member Dwight Cook said he felt that Como and Thorp would bring good experience, and a willingness to learn if appointed to the board, but that Dermody didn't answer any of the questions Monday night and instead presented a negative feeling toward the board.

He added that he thought Como and Thorp were there because they genuinely cared for the kids of the district.

"I didn't notice an agenda by Ms. Como," Board Member Richard Zeigler said. He added that he didn't know if Dermody had an agenda or not, but joked "he's a windbag and God knows we don't need anymore of those on this board." He followed the comment, which brought laughter from the room, with a dramatic wink.

The board ranked the three candidates in the order they would like to have them on the board, and while the votes were being tallied, Dermody asked if he could make one last comment.

He said he didn't mean to come off as "bombastic," but just because board members didn't agree with his opinions doesn't mean he's negative, he's just passionate about the opposite view.

"Turn it around and it's a positive idea about some things that could be done," he said.

Como also made a comment, responding to Dashner, who said she was proud of the board she has served on for so many years.

"Nancy, get a clue. Same old, same old isn't working," she said, which drew applause from majority of the audience members.

Thorp was appointed to the board in a 4-2 vote, with Zeigler and Steve Jepson voting for Como. Dermody received no votes.

"This board is a disgrace to this community," community member Gill Gigstead repeated several times as he walked out after the vote was read.