In a close vote Monday night and after three rounds of voting, Billings School District 2 trustees elected Teresa Stroebe 5-3 to be the next board chairwoman.
Both Stroebe and Lindy Graves had been nominated at the meeting to take over for Barbara Bryan, who resigned from the board on Tuesday.
Graves was nominated by trustee Travis Kemp and Stroebe was nominated by trustee Greta Besch Moen.
Earlier in the meeting, trustees decided they would undergo five rounds of voting if the election were tied. And for the first two rounds of voting, it was.
Trustees were split 4-4, with Travis Kemp, Travis Smith, Pam Ellis and Graves voting on one side and Kathy Aragon, Connie Wardell, Moen and Stroebe voting on the other.
Finally, Smith broke the deadlock, voting for Stroebe in the third round.
“I could go with either one,” Smith had said earlier in the meeting.
Monday night’s meeting got off to a contentious start as trustees tried to figure out who had called the meeting and why Aragon, vice chairwoman, had not known about it until after the agenda had gone out.
Moen was especially vocal, verbalizing her distaste for special meetings. She had to drive back from Washington on Monday to make the meeting.
“There’s no predictability,” she said.
Given that Aragon could lead the district until a new chair was voted in, she said there was no emergency.
“I think this was an egregious error,” she said.
Monday night’s meeting had been called by Pam Ellis and Lindy Graves — first when Ellis had tried at the beginning of the month to force Bryan to step down from the chairmanship and then again on Tuesday when Bryan announced her resignation.
It was the fifth special meeting called since September and the fourth to actually happen.
The first special meeting was called by Bryan early in September to vote on a contract extension for Superintendent Keith Beeman. The motion failed and led to Beeman’s accelerated departure from the district.
The following meetings — the first called by Ellis and the second set by the board — terminated Beeman’s employment and secured his buyout package.
Aragon asked Monday night that in the future trustees are asked about availability first before any more special meetings are called. Moen, Graves and Stroebe were all out of town Monday morning.
Following the vote, Stroebe said she was just happy everyone “was at the table.” For a while it looked like that might not happen.
With the chairmanship now secured, Stroebe sees it as her job to heal the board and get it functioning again.
“At this point in time, consensus is important to me,” she said. “The healing of this board is important to me.”
In her view, the chairwoman’s job is to aid the board in getting its business done.
“I really believe a chair’s biggest responsibility is to run the meetings, not run the district,” she said.
Trustees praised Stroebe’s peaceful nature and her ability to work with any trustee whatever their viewpoint. In fact, Stroebe is so averse to conflict that many times at past meetings she could be seen rubbing her face or burying her head in her hands, visibly uncomfortable at whatever bickering was transpiring.
“It’s been stressful, tumultuous,” she said. “I’ve got my work cut out for me.”