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Phillips resigns Stafford School Board seat

MORE: Read more Stafford County news

BY LINDLEY ESTES

THE FREE LANCE-STAR 

Stafford School Board member Doreen Phillips stepped down Thursday, weeks after the county voter registrar raised questions about whether she still lived in the district she was elected to represent.

Phillips sent a letter to the School Board, resigning effective Nov. 1.

In the letter, Phillips said the School Board had bigger priorities than the legal intricacies of her situation.

“The attention of the school division should be first and foremost on providing quality educational opportunities for our students, and not the actions of School Board members,” she wrote.

Phillips hasn’t attended a School Board meeting since Stafford Registrar Greg Riddlemoser called her residency into question in an Oct. 1 letter.

State laws require local elected officials to live in the districts they represent. This summer, Phillips changed her address with the State Board of Elections, listing a property in Fredericksburg.

Phillips contended that she still has a Stafford address, renting a place there while also owning one in the city.

But, “I don’t have the time or gumption or stress level to have my life looked at through a microscope,” she said Thursday.

The School Board now has 45 days to appoint Phillips’ replacement. Interested residents of the Hartwood district may apply for the School Board seat online at staffordschools.net through Nov. 16. That appointee would serve until a special election can be held.

Phillips, 49, had one year left in her second term. She first held the seat in 2006, and was re-elected in 2009.

Phillips said she would miss her work with the School Board and that she hopes to still help area children in some capacity.

At the most recent School Board meeting, Colonial Forge High School teacher Al Watkins called Phillips “the greatest advocate” for Stafford students.  School Board Chairwoman Stephanie Johnson echoed the sentiment Thursday.

“Mrs. Phillips has put a lot of time and effort into serving the students of Hartwood and Stafford County as a whole,” Johnson said. “I hate to see her go under such circumstances.”

In her resignation letter, Phillips said, “At no time did I intentionally take any actions that would not allow me to fulfill the duties required of me by the voters in the Hartwood District.”

Her resignation follows Riddlemoser’s Oct. 1 letter notifying Phillips “to formally acknowledge that you have vacated your elected position.”

Riddlemoser pointed out that Phillips has an address in Fredericksburg, where she is registered to vote.

Phillips said she believes she was still entitled to hold the seat, however. She had owned a home with her husband on Coakley Lane in Stafford since 2000, according to property records. That house was sold in May.

Doreen Phillips is listed as an owner of a home on Altoona Drive in Fredericksburg, purchased last November.

But she said she was also leasing space on Poplar Road in the Hartwood District.

Phillips criticized Riddlemoser’s handling of the situation.

“He’s very unprofessional,” she said. “Actually asking questions and finding a solution was not of his interest at all.”

Riddlemoser declined comment about Phillips’ resignation or her statements about him.

He previously stated that he sent the letter based on a strict reading of the state code and constitution.

Phillips said Riddlemoser did not have the authority to remove her from the School Board.

School Board Chairwoman Johnson said legal counsel reviewed the notice, and said that neither the registrar nor the board could declare the seat vacant.

Only a Circuit Court judge or the individual elected official can vacate the seat, Johnson said, referring to  counsel’s opinion.

Phillips said she’s not sure where she will ultimately end up living. She owns a property in Spotsylvania. She also said she’s dealing with some health concerns and juggling multiple work and parenting responsibilities.

“I’m a single mother with two daughters in college so it’s all about getting them through at this point,” she said.

Phillips works as a broker of Phillips Team Realty & Property Management, which she owns, and has a job at Quantico.

She described the professional staff of Stafford County schools “second to none” and praised fellow School Board members.

“Everyone has worked together first and foremost for the kids,” she said.

She said she received no pressure from the School Board after the registrar raised questions about her residency.

“Quite the contrary,” she said. “They gave me time to mull it over.”

The last time a School Board member stepped down mid-term was in January when Ty Schieber left to serve on the Stafford Board of Supervisors.

Interim Garrisonville School Board member Nanette Kidby is running unopposed in a special election for the seat on the Nov. 6 ballot.

—Katie Thisdell and Amy Umble contributed to this report.

Lindley Estes:  540/735-1976

lestes@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/newsdesk/2012/10/25/phillips-resigns-schools-seat/

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