Community members and activists rally for McKenna to take up LaMotte’s position

Many activists and community members present at a meeting on Sunday evening said they supported the appointment of Dr. George McKenna III to take up Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte’s position as a member of the Los Angeles Board of Education.

Community members observing a minute of silence remembering the late Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte at the First AME church| Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

Community members observing a minute of silence remembering the late Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte at the First AME church| Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

More than 200 members from various civil rights, political and community groups gathered at the meeting facilitated by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) held at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. Councilman Bernard Parks, School Board Member Steve Zimmer, United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher, Retired Assemblyman Mike Davis were some of the notable people present.

LaMotte, 80, died of natural causes less than two weeks ago. The Los Angeles Times reported that there is a debate amongst school board members over which of the two routes they should take to replace her – special elections or appointment of a person by the board.

UPDATE: The school board has decided to postpone the decision on LaMotte’s vacant seat. Click to read the report from Intersections.

Former Assemblyman Mike Davis said in an interview after the meeting that it was an organized effort to allow for community input to decide who should be the next school board representative for Los Angeles County District 1.

“It was a necessary meeting and I think it went very successfully,” he said.

Many present at the meeting on Sunday said they preferred the appointment of McKenna over special elections. Members cite several reasons for their preference for appointment over special elections.

Sandra Davis, a former school board member for Culver City, said she preferred appointment because special elections would cost money and would be a drain on the district’s resources.

“I think it should be special appointment for the interim until it’s time for elections,” she said. “The district doesn’t have that kind of money to waste on a special election. It’s not fair to the students to lose more resources that they need.”

Hattie McFrazier, a community activist, said that special elections take time and the district needed somebody now to represent its interests while the board makes crucial decisions.

“Like in January, we need to look at the budget; somebody needs to be in place for that,” she said. “School will be over by the time we get through election.”

Having special elections right now would not give enough time for grassroots campaigns to develop and candidates with deep pockets would have a better chance of winning the elections, said Leon Jenkins, the President of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in a press release.

“It would give the big money interests…like billionaires Eli Broad and Michael Bloomberg, the ability to use their significant financial advantage to rob the community of its powerful voice and flip the seat from pro-student to pro-corporate,” he said. “It is not fair to disempower District 1 voters and empower corporate interests….”

McKenna served as Superintendent of the Inglewood Unified School District and recently as an regional superintendent with L.A. Unified.  He is also the subject of the movie “The George McKenna Story” that captures his work while he was  principal of George Washington Preparatory High School.

McKenna would be a good fit for the role because of all the relevant experience that he brings in as a school principal and as an administrator, said Carolyn Fowler, another community activist. She said he would be someone who could hit the ground running, which is what the district required right now.

“This isn’t an opportunity for on-the-job training,” she said. “With his experience…knowing the inner workings and processes [of the LAUSD],…he would certainly be the best choice.”

Frederic MacFarlane, political advisor to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors member Mark Ridley-Thomas, said in a phone interview that he opposed the idea of appointment because it would deny voters their fundamental right to choose in a democracy.

“Having a small, select group of people make a choice for…hundreds of thousands of people is not the way to go to fill a vacant elected position,” he said.

He adds that even if the community strongly favors one person, the body that’s appointing isn’t going to be compelled to choose that person.

“They can appoint whomever they want,” he said. “They may be looking to appoint somebody who they think will get along with them, someone they think will vote with them on certain issues.”

The Board of Education is scheduled to decide on Tuesday which route it will take. According to the Los Angeles Times, three school board members — school board president Richard Vladovic and board members Monica Garcia and Tamar Galatzan — said they are in favor of an election. Board member Bennett Kayser said he favors appointing a replacement. Monica Ratliff said she is leaning toward an appointee, while Zimmer said he is undecided.

Zimmer, who was present at the meeting Sunday, said that he’s listening to different perspectives from the community and is yet to decide which side he’s going to support on Tuesday.

“I have been in other rooms with other perspectives,” he said. “I am trying to get the best I can, from where I sit, a picture of what’s most important to the community.”

Note:  The meeting was not open to the media. All the reporting in this article is based on interviews with attendees after the meeting.




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