One of Beaufort County Board of Education’s most vocal critics was elected to the school board Tuesday night, according to preliminary election results, and he says his win is a sign that voters responded to his message of reform and change.
John Dowling was elected to fill the District 6 seat vacated by former board chairwoman Patricia Felton-Montgomery in June, representing portions of Okatie and Sun City Hilton Head.
With 15 of 16 precincts reporting, he won 428 of the 680 ballots cast— about 63 percent compared to the 37 percent snagged by his opponent, retired educator Susan Gordon.
“A 62 percent margin is a win not for me but for anyone who feels strongly about the need for reform in the school district,” he said. “I want to help narrow the divide or at least get the discussion going on what the discussion really is about.”
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Throughout Dowling’s campaign, he has indicated his views will align more closely with the board’s minority members, David Striebinger, JoAnn Orischak, Christina Gwozdz and Joseph Dunkle.
Since September 2015, when schools superintendent Jeff Moss’ involvement in the nepotism scandal began, the minority has had, at most, four members. Dowling’s win will now likely divide the board 6-5, with the majority — board members Earl Campbell, Geri Kinton, Mary Cordray, Evva Anderson, Bill Payne and Cynthia Gregory-Smalls — typically aligning themselves with the superintendent.
Only four percent of the district’s 16,333 registered voters cast ballots in the special election.
Gordon was not immediately available Tuesday evening for comment.
Board chairman Campbell was also not immediately available Tuesday evening for comment.
Approached before election results were posted, Moss declined to comment on either candidate and instead said, “I welcome whoever wins and look forward to working with them on the board.”
Dowling has been outspoken about his frustrations with the board and Moss since he said he began attending meetings last December.
Dowling is known among the school board circuit for verbally confronting Cordray after a board work session last April, then pursuing a restraining order against the district official that escorted him out of the building. In June, a magistrate court judge found no evidence of a pattern of harassment against Dowling.
Dowling is the third board member to occupy the District 6 seat in the past year, after Paul Roth was ousted by Patricia Felton-Montgomery last November, who then resigned six months into her four-year term citing medical reasons for her departure.
The votes will be officially verified by the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections Friday.