By John Mullen
About halfway through the Dec. 5 Orange Beach City Council meeting, Mayor Tony Kennon looked at his phone and called the meeting to a halt.
“I have an announcement,” Kennon said. “Angie Swiger just resigned.”
It was just one more of the many twists and turns involving schools on the island, and probably the most bizarre. The county has been abuzz with education talk concerning separation negotiations with Gulf Shores, a tax renewal and an attorney general’s opinion over Swiger’s representation on the Baldwin County Board of Education.
It’s no secret many in Orange Beach, particularly Kennon, weren’t pleased with the representation by Swiger, who was in her second six-year term.
“It is my personal contention that our school board representative has a severe conflict of interest,” Kennon said. “It would be detrimental to the city of Orange Beach and our children if she sits on the board while there are negotiations between the city of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach as to the separation agreement.
“Our children will be greatly affected over the next five years as to where they will go to school. I do not see how she could participate in good faith and truly represent us.”
About 30 minutes before hearing about Swiger’s resignation, the council unanimously voted to sue the Baldwin County Board of Education over her representation of District 5. City Attorney Wanda Cochran received authorization to seek a declaratory judgment on whether or not Swiger could live in one school district, Gulf Shores, and be a representative in another, Baldwin County.
“The section of the code that addresses that, in my reading, creates a vacancy as a matter of law at the moment the representative no longer resides in the district,” Cochran said.
Waiting for the attorney general to respond, Kennon said, would take too long.
“It will take as much as six months and none of us want to wait that long to know what we are dealing with,” Kennon said.
Complicating the matter further was Swiger’s application be a member of the new Gulf Shores School Board. She was one of 34 who applied for one of five spots, but was not selected to the panel.
Just days before Gulf Shores announced it was forming a new city school system, Superintendent Eddie Tyler announced a new middle school for Orange Beach, one that would house all the middle school students in the Gulf Shores feeder pattern.
Swiger thought the vote on the new school came too swiftly, just two days after Tyler’s appearance in Orange Beach and barely a week before she learned of the middle school plan.
She made a motion to delay the vote on the Orange Beach school by a month to give Gulf Shores parents time to see and study the new facility, but it died for lack of a second. The subsequent vote on the new school passed 5-2, with Swiger casting one of the dissenting votes.
“If it had been done in a different way and the residents had some time for some input and hear the plan and ask questions, I think it could have all gone differently,” Swiger said at the time.
Kennon, in presenting the resolution for the lawsuit, was incredulous Swiger wouldn’t back the school in his city.
“I do not believe we could be represented by someone who actually voted against a brand-new school in her own district without being able to articulate logically or reasonably why she would do so,” Kennon said.
The county school board has 30 days to interview and select a candidate for Swiger’s seat. Applicants must submit paperwork by 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 15. The term ends in November 2020.
Tyler issued a statement thanking Swiger for her service.
“We greatly appreciate Mrs. Swiger’s service to the children and employees of Baldwin County Public Schools,” he said. “She has a servant’s heart and a passion for public education. We wish her all the best and again, we’re very grateful for her service.”
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