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O’Neal voted to school board

Local pharmacist Ronnie O’Neal was appointed to fill the seat on the Demopolis City Schools board formerly held by board chair Gary Holemon, whose term expired in April.

His appointment ends a nomination and voting process that has spanned two months.

O’Neal, who was nominated by District 5 representative Jack Cooley, was appointed by a 5-1 vote of the Demopolis City Council Thursday.

District 2 representative Mitchell Congress cast the lone dissenting vote after nominating Harris Hurst, who had been nominated in two previous meetings by District 4 representative Bill Meador.

In each of the previous votes Congress voted against Hurst’s appointment but cited a phone call from a trusted friend for his change of heart Thursday.

“A person I worked with when I was in the school system — an older lady — had called me, and we talked,” Congress said. “She said that it sends a bad message to people who come to our city to live, when we totally reject someone who has been nominated that is a newcomer to our city that can offer so much to the school board.

“She told me to look at the message that we send, that ‘We want you to move in, we want you to contribute to our economy and do all this, but we don’t want you to serve on our board.’ She felt that it sent the wrong message for someone to be nominated twice and be rejected to newcomers and a lot of people around our city.”

Congress further cited honoring commitments made to constituents and an unfamiliarity with Hurst as reasons why he declined to support Hurst previously.

“I voted against him the first two times because I didn’t know him,” he said. “I had committed to other people with prior commitments, but after I received the phone call from a person I respect greatly…I had already supported the people I had committed to already, I had no further commitments — those people had been voted down by the council — I told her that I would support his nomination.”

Still, Meador, whose nominations of Hurst were defeated twice by Congress, Melvin Yelverton and Thomas Moore, was frustrated by the appointment process and how it unfolded.

“There comes a point in the process where it becomes a reality that it’s not going to work,” Meador said of why he voted against Hurst. “We had voted three times on Harris Hurst, and we were in an apparent deadlock, so after talking with Harris, we both felt it was best to just withdraw the nomination and move on to another qualified candidate, which Ronnie O’Neal certainly is.”

O’Neal will begin his five-year term immediately, which will expire in April 2015.