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Political News in Virginia

—Franklin Update— Council’s Votes Keep Racial Balance of Power Unchanged

By Leonard E. Colvin

Chief Reporter

New Journal and Guide

The Franklin City Council voted  May 8  to  retain Edna  King  in the at-large seat on the school board and selected Verta Jackson to sit in the Ward 4 seat and  Bob Holt for Ward 6.

While the selections of Jackson and Holt were anticipated,  the retention of King, who is the current chair of the board, was a more dramatic issue.

There were questions in the Black community and in the media, about whether the four Blacks on the seven-member  council would support King’s bid to return to the school board.

They did so, down racial lines, with Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn casting the deciding vote which gave King a third three-year term.

Ashburn’s choice was unclear before the vote, as questions began to arise about her association with Lilley who was the treasurer of her first campaign for mayor in 2010.


The local media and many White business leaders and parents wanted King ousted, claiming she was the reason for the Franklin school division’s slide in recent years, including several of the  city’s schools losing their accreditation.

But prior to the voting on the candidates  during the citizens’ comment time, Franklin resident, John Rose presented a petition  to the city council containing 204 signatures in support of King.

The retention of King on the school board allows the Black community to retain its 4-3 majority on the board.

Prior to the crucial vote on the at-large seat,  council members were allowed to voice their opinions about which direction they would vote.

Mary Hilliard, Ward 5, said she supported experience and wanted everyone to vote for King.

King has been on the board for six years and had worked to bring reforms to improve the division’s ability to educate the children, her supporters said. Before being selected to the board, she was an educator for over two decades.

Barry Cheatham, Vice Mayor, Ward 1, said that he also believed the best person should have experience.  He said that Chuck Lilley had experience in business and with budgets.

Benny Burgess, Ward 2, said Chuck Lilley had superior ability and experience

Lilley is a former paper mill employee and founder of the Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS).

Mona Murphy, Ward 4, said that Mrs. King had the proper experience, and that the issues that had been brought against her were unfair.  She said many of the complaints about the condition of Franklin’s public schools had been going on for years; long before King was placed on the board.


Gregory McLemore, Ward 3, said that it was a hard vote to make, “but you have to work with what’s in front of you.” McLemore said he did not think highly of either Lilley or King in a recent interview with the New Journal and Guide.

Mayor Ashburn spoke last, saying that she had done research and talked to citizens and knowledgeable individuals in order to make her decision.

She said the issues before the council were not about race, and those individuals who had tried to intimidate her into voting their way had failed to influence her decision.  She said her vote would be based on the needs of the children and the community.


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