Elections officials ruled Friday that longtime Gainesville school board member Kelvin Simmons cannot run for re-election because his wife works as an administrator at one of the system’s schools.
Because of an anti-nepotism state law that went into effect this year, city elections superintendent Denise Jordan and Hall County elections superintendent Charlotte Sosebee found Simmons ineligible to run for the Ward 4 school board seat. Simmons has served on the school board since 1991 and was seeking re-election on Nov. 3.
House Bill 251, which became effective July 1, dictates that no school board member can serve in the same school system where a spouse or immediate family member is an administrator.
Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer testified at the hearing that Simmons’ wife, Audrey Simmons, has been teaching in Gainesville schools since 1977 and is the Eighth Grade Academy principal at Gainesville Middle.
Simmons represented himself at the hearing and voiced his disapproval of the law. He said he abstains from school board votes affecting his wife, and their martial relationship does not interfere with his official duties.
Simmons said he was disappointed with the outcome of the hearing and has not yet decided if he will appeal the verdict within the next 10 days.
"I still feel like this House Bill 251 violates my constitutional rights," he said. "... You’re basically telling a free man that I cannot run for public office."
After reading the city’s decision, Jordan said she hoped legislators would revisit the law to address the issues Simmons voiced Friday.
She said the hearing to determine Simmons’ legitimacy as a candidate was required by law. She estimates it cost the city at least $500 to conduct the hearing.
Simmons said he is weighing his options.
"I’ll serve the rest of my term this year," he said. "I’ll continue to work with the school system and work for the rights of kids."
With Simmons no longer in the race, Delores Diaz and Richard Lacey are the remaining Ward 4 candidates.
"I’m just happy to see that the nepotism that’s been perceived as kind of rampant in our school system is no longer going to be an issue," Lacey said. "I think that’s really going to benefit the kids. I think it’s a positive thing."
Diaz could not be reached for comment.
Jordan said Simmons’ name will still appear on the Nov. 3 ballot because of time constraints, but signs at the polls will inform voters that he is not a viable candidate.