VINA | Greg Hamilton campaigned on changing the hiring practices for Franklin County Schools if he were elected. Now, his campaign promise may very well be put to the test – in replacing himself.
Franklin County voters made history last week as they selected an independent candidate – the first independent elected to countywide office – to take leadership responsibilities for the county school system. Key to Hamilton’s win was a sweep of boxes on the west side of the county. Hamilton carried every box in Franklin County from Belgreen westward, overcoming the inherent advantage candidates affiliated with the Republican or Democratic parties would normally have.
“It’s a surreal feeling to be elected by the people to a position as important as superintendent of education,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton drew 3,215 votes, outpacing Democratic candidate Donald Borden (2,842 votes) and Republican challenger Bart Moss (2,779).
“I think this is noteworthy,” Hamilton said. “There were 2,700 straight-party Republican and 1,200 straight-party Democratic votes and we still won.”
Hamilton, who takes office January 1, 2017, said getting the word out to his supporters that they could vote straight party but also vote for him as an independent was one of the keys to his win. But there were others as well.
“There were a lot of factors that led us to the win,” said Hamilton late last week, after he’d had a couple of days to reflect on the lengthy campaign and election. “Obviously we hope they thought I was the best candidate.”
Hamilton said he believed his work at Vina High School was a key as well.
“The people who’ve known me the past 21 years helped and trusted me,” he said. “The west end (of Franklin County) – the numbers were staggering in Red Bay and Vina. I also believe hard work was so important. I had many, many people tell me we worked so hard to win we deserved to win.”
Hamilton credits his late father, who passed away earlier this year, for some of his campaign’s success. He said his father’s influence was probably strongest around the Belgreen community.
Roadblock to courthouse
Hamilton and his wife, Jessica, had planned to be at the courthouse as votes began to be tallied. However, the stress of the campaign finally caught up with Jessica, who had to be taken to the Red Bay Hospital emergency room. Once she was cleared to leave, they went on to Russellville. Early on the vote count was trending for Borden, but Hamilton started getting calls from his supporters telling him he needed to get to the courthouse.
“We didn’t know we were behind early,” Hamilton said. “Then it got down to five boxes, including Red Bay, Vina and Hodges. We had also worked hard on absentee ballots. At that point we thought we had a chance to win.”
The challenge begins
The first thing Hamilton plans to do is begin to make recommendations to the board on changing the hiring process.
“I’m going to change the hiring process in the county,” Hamilton said. “I’m going to recommend to the board we revert back to hiring the best candidates. We’ll accomplish this with more rigorous interviewing, first and foremost. We’re also going strong background checks.”
Hamilton said last week he did not have a specific candidate in mind for the assistant superintendent’s post, but he does plan to keep and fill the position, following his primary campaign promise.
“This will fall back under the question of who is the most qualified person for the job,” Hamilton said. “We’ll look within the county first.”
The same thing goes for whoever will replace him in his role as assistant principal and baseball coach at Vina. He will be talking with outgoing superintendent Gary Williams on whether Williams makes a recommendation for Hamilton’s replacement before the end of the year or whether Hamilton will get the opportunity. Either way, Hamilton said he wants the best for the school
“I want to find someone who was a better coach than I was,” Hamilton said. “Vina has a lot of pride in its baseball program and has had a lot of success, and I want that to continue. After 21 years there I’m going to miss it. They didn’t have a team when I got there and they asked me if I would try to start a team back there. We’ve had eight players sign baseball scholarships and multiple playoff wins. Everyone knows how small the school is and how hard it is to win at a small school.”
Hamilton said though he carried the west end of the county, he will make it a point to give each school in the county the attention it deserves.
“I am so appreciative of the people of Franklin County for electing me superintendent,” Hamilton said. “I don’t take it lightly. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure every school and student has the best opportunity to succeed.
“I am truly humbled beyond words by this opportunity,” he said. “Anybody who knows me knows my care for kids is genuine and I want them to have the best opportunities.”