A unanimous vote by the Lafayette Parish School Board Wednesday night naming Shelton Cobb as board president by acclimation offered a rare moment of unity for a governing body that's been notably divided over the past eight months, but the united front was short-lived.
There was room for pause Wednesday night when former Lafayette Parish School Board President Mark Babineaux, speaking during the board's first regular meeting of the year, moved for his fellow board members to unanimously name Shelton Cobb as the 2012 president of the school board.
"This is significant ... I hope it's in the spirit of getting along and unifying our efforts," Cobb said after taking his seat in the president's chair.
Though it's common practice for governing bodies to name a new president or chairman by promoting the vice chairman or vice president, which Cobb served as last year, it was a welcome surprise for school board observers and other outside stakeholders to hear the suggestion of unanimity come from Babineaux.
Babineaux has joined board members Tommy Angelle, Greg Awbrey and Rae Trahan in consistently voting against the Gang of Five, a somewhat new majority on the board that comprises Cobb, Hunter Beasley, Tehmi Chassion, Mark Cockerham and Kermit Bouillion. (Worth noting: The Independent selected the Gang of Five as its Persons of the Year in 2011 for the group's efforts to buck the status quo and central office to bring in the highly qualified Dr. Pat Cooper as the next superintendent of Lafayette Parish public schools.)
But immediately after the board cast its unanimous vote for Cobb, the often bitter cleft on the board returned. Beasley was named over Awbrey as the 2012 vice president of the school board by the same 5-4 vote that's been surfacing at board meetings since the superintendent search unofficially began in May. The Gang of Five voted for Beasley, while Angelle, Awbrey, Babineaux and Trahan favored Awbrey.
The tensions between the two blocs on the board continued even after the meeting, when Awbrey - clearly not still sour from his loss - told The Daily Advertiser that "the vice president's job is to keep the meeting moving and make sure that issues are resolved quickly, but that didn't happen (Wednesday) night. Hopefully it happens in future meetings."