Ben Trotter named school board chair

By Ben Robinson, Courier Staff

EASLEY — Less than three months after announcing his resignation from the School District of Pickens County’s board of trustees before reconsidering the following day, Ben Trotter was elected as school board chairman during a special called meeting on Monday night.

Trustee Alex Saitta originally nominated fellow trustee Jim Shelton as chairperson, but the board voted 2-4 against the motion, with only Saitta and Shelton voting in favor.

Trotter then nominated chair Judy Edwards to serve a second term, but board members split with a 3-3 vote, with Trotter, Edwards and Dr. Herbert Cooper voting in favor.

Trustee Jimmy Gillespie nominate Trotter, who was approved with a 3-2 vote, as Trotter, Edwards and Gillespie voted in favor of the motion, with Cooper abstaining.

A former county councilman, Trotter has been a divisive figure during his term as a school board member. Last year, Trotter came under fire from parents in the Liberty area after comments he allegedly made regarding special-needs students during a meeting with parents and teachers. In September, after his resignation and reconsideration the previous month, Trotter faced allegations that he does not live in the district he was elected to represent.

Following Trotter’s selection as chairman, nominations were made for the position of vice-chairman. Saitta and Edwards were nominated, but the votes for each were split 3-3. Saitta, serving as secretary for the current board, was therefore named vice-president.

Saitta then nominated Shelton as the new secretary, and the board approved with a 6-0 vote.

“This has been an interesting time for the board, because for a few years now the chairmanship has been weak and the board as a whole has been strong,” Saitta said after the meeting. “The chairman has formal power and informal power. The formal power is very limited to the chairman running meetings, setting the agenda and nominating committee members. The informal power of a chairman can be vast if the chairman has four or more votes in his pocket because the board happens to possess one like-minded philosophy or most of the members just go with the flow.

“This board has none of that,” Siatta continued. “Members are diverse in terms of philosophy or how to do things and are independent-minded. That’s good for the board and our local democracy because it requires the chairman to listen to all board members and propose things the board members agree with.

“Now, more than ever the chairman is going to have to reach out to all board members, identify and build a consensus on the issues, or little will be accomplished.”