Photo taken by Mike Beaty
A seat on the Prince William County School Board dais may be empty for the coming school year.
Brentsville District school board member and Navy Reserve Commander Gil Trenum, who has served on the board since 2007, has been called up for Reservist duty, and at this point it’s unclear if someone will serve on his behalf during his absence.
“I’m being activated for the Navy Reserves…I’m being mobilized…it’s very unexpected,” said Trenum.
According to Trenum, he will be sent to Djibouti, Africa, and expects to be leaving before the coming 2016-2017 school year, and coming back by the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.
While situations like this have happened in other parts of the country with local government officials, it has not happened with the county’s school board.
“It’s not completely unprecedented. Back, actually, in the state of Virginia, there was a [board] supervisor that had a similar situation. And there’s been other situations in other places in the country as well. The Virginia state law is very clear that officials that are mobilized for active duty do not give up their seats, so from that perspective I retain the seat, and retain the title,” said Trenum.
While Trenum will not have to give up his position while he’s overseas, there has been some disagreement about if an interim person will be appointed to stand in while he’s gone, and what the rules are for that.
“I contacted the Division of Legal Services…and the attorneys there told me that the guidance that would be given by most attorneys is that I have to request [an interim], and if I don’t request it, the [school] board doesn’t have the authority,” said Trenum.
Trenum has told the school board that he would request an interim to be installed for his absence, if it were one of the people he has identified for the role, which are Kim Simons, Shawn Brann, and Christopher Park.
“My preference would be – what I put forth – is that…in the past couple years I’ve had an informal budget committee…it’s a group of involved citizens that have been working with me – they’re parents, teachers…so what my desire would be is to ask one of those individuals, who’s already used to working with me, so I already have an established working relationship with them, and ask them to sit in for me,” said Trenum.
Because the situation is unprecedented on the county’s school board, School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers has requested a legal opinion from Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring about what to do in this case, and to see if the school board needs permission from Trenum to appoint an interim board member.
According to Trenum, the opinion from Herring has not been announced yet.
“My position on that is that it’s really not necessary, because I’ve already said as long as they commit to one of those three people, then I’ll be glad to request it,” said Trenum.
There is no deadline on when the decision needs to be made, but if it is not decided, the seat could potentially be empty for the next years’ worth of board votes.
Another option would be to Skype or video conference Trenum in to school board meetings for votes, which has been done in other parts of the country.
“That possibility hasn’t been discussed yet,” said Trenum.
Trenum stressed that while he will not be physically present during his deployment to Africa, he still intends to be plugged in to the community and his constituents.
“I’m only going to be gone for a little while, I’m not going to be completely out of touch – I’ll have access to emails and things like that. So I’ll still be able to be engaged, I just won’t be able to be physically present. I will still be available via email, I’ll still be able to advocate for my constituents electronically, that way – which is 90% of what I do anyway,” said Trenum.
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