One political newcomer and one incumbent won races for the Columbia County school board on Tuesday.
Current board member Wayne Bridges defeated Donnie Porter to keep his seat.
Michael Sleeper defeated LouAnne Grove and will take his place on the board at the beginning of 2005.
In the District 5 race, voters choose Sleeper over Grove by a slim margin. Sleeper won with 6,142 votes to Grove's 4,966.
Sleeper was unable to point to any particular issue that put him over the top.
"I don't think there's any one thing," he said. "A lot of support from a lot of friends. A lot of hard work and a belief by the voters that I could do a good job."
Sleeper will replace departing board member Lee Muns in January. He promises to be a drastically different school official from Muns, who often clashed with fellow trustees.
"My whole goal from this entire campaign has been to work with the board and with the central administration and not against them," Sleeper said. "You cannot accomplish anything by working against people. You've got to build a coalition and you've got to reach agreements with the entire goal here being student achievement."
Bridges easily fended off a challenge from Porter by collecting 6,400 votes to Porter's 2,224.
Bridges said he feels grateful that his constituents continue to have faith in his judgment.
"It's just a very nice message to me that they think I'm doing a good job and they want me to keep on doing that good job, and that's what I'm going to try to do," he said.
Although he didn't win, Porter believes he still made an impact.
"One of the reasons I entered this race was to spark debate on important issues that concern parents," Porter wrote in an e-mailed concession statement. "I think we did that."
One of the campaign issues that Bridges and Porter differed on was the countywide elected school board chairman that was included as a non-binding referendum question on Tuesday's ballot. Porter favored it, but Bridges didn't.
The referendum overwhelmingly passed 41,106 to 4,563, or 90 percent in favor.
State Rep. Ben Harbin said he will introduce a bill at the next session of the state Legislature to create an at-large elected chairman.
"We'll work with the school board. We'll work with the people of the county," Harbin said. "This is going to be a very open process, so that we have a bill drafted that helps us make our great school system even better."
Both Grove and Porter are employed by the Richmond County Board of Education - Grove is a teacher at John S. Davidson Fine Arts School and Porter is a guidance coordinator. However, Grove said her job didn't effect her campaign.
"I don't think being employed by Richmond County hurt me," she said. "I think the people didn't bother doing the research to find out the law. By law, you cannot serve on the same county (school board) as the county in which you teach.
"What's sad is that I feel like (The Columbia County News Times publisher) Barry Paschal, or the paper, no one ever wanted to finish that sentence."
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