HAMILTON COUNTY, TN. (WRCB)-- The Hamilton County School Board has made it official. By a vote of 5 to 3, interim Superintendent Rick Smith will now fill the position under the terms of a new four-year contract.

District 2 School board member, Chip Baker, was absent and cast no vote.  Those in favor of Smith were Chairman Mike Evatt, Everett Fairchild, David Testerman, Joe Galloway and Rhonda Thurman.  Voting against Smith were Vice Chair Jeffery Wilson, George Ricks and Linda Mosley.

Earlier this year, the board voted to buyout  the final year of former Superintendent Dr. Jim Scales' contract for more than $280,000.  Smith will be paid an annual salary of $163,500, some $45,000 less than his predecessor.  Smith's contract also calls for him to pay for his own health benefits, and to receive 24 days vacation, "take them or lose them," according to Evatt.

The Board's vote came as no surprise, although Fairchild questioned whether the Board would take the time to accept applications from "anyone who works in the District who might want the job."  Chairman Evatt said they would not.

Mosley and Wilson peppered Smith, Evatt and School Board attorney Scott Bennett with questions.  Mosley wondered why  Smith had not gotten his doctorate degree, formerly a requirement to get the District's top job.  Smith replied that he had been focused on his duties as Deputy Superintendent under both Dr. Jesse Register and Dr. Jim Scales.

Wilson said "it does not look good" that a contract had already been drawn up without his knowledge, and that Smith had already "appointed his replacement," referring to Dr. Lee McDade, named earlier in the day as Smith's Assistant Superintendent for Administration.  McDade began the meeting at an administrators table at the front of the room, whetting Wilson's curiosity.  Thurman responded that Smith had vacated that job, and he needed someone else to do it.  Wilson shot back, "But he hasn't even been named superintendent yet.  And he already has chosen his replacement?"

After the meeting, District 4 Board member George Ricks said he was ready to put the recent controversies over Scales' contract buyout and the Smith selection process behind him.  "I'm ready to work with Rick Smith, and I hope the County Commission appreciates this, because they wanted a local man, and maybe now they'll give us some additional money."

District 8 representative David Testerman said, "I'm glad the process is over.  It's been tiring, and I just want to move forward.  Rick Smith will do a great job, and it's time we let him do that job."

About one-half of the packed meeting room was made up of members of the African-American community, who had been urged to attend by State Rep. JoAnne Favors.  Rep. Favors had criticized the selection of Smith, and had referred to recent comments by Thurman as "racism." When asked if Thurman should resign, Favors responded, "I would if I were her." Thurman said she had no plans to resign.  The two did not speak with each other at Thursday's meeting.

Among those in attendance was Pastor Anthony Chatman of Wesley Church, who said, "This entire procedure was flawed from the beginning.  These Board members made their own set of rules, disqualifying everyone except their man.  This sends a bad message to every teacher in the county."  But Chairman Evatt attempted to still the waters as he closed the meeting by asking for healing.  "We know everyone isn't pleased, but it's time to proceed with the school year and ask for your support in making Hamilton County schools even better."

Smith's narrow majority on the Board is likely to remain intact, or possibly grow during his four-year term.  The four Board members who are on the ballot in 2012 are Thurman, who has never lost an election in District 1; District 2 member Chip Baker, who narrowly won re-election in 2008 and has hinted he might not run again; Ricks in District 4, and Mosley in District 7, who could face a re-election challenge.  Of the other five Board members who serve until 2014, all but one (Wilson) appear to the firmly in Smith's corner.