Prince William County School Board member Gilbert A. “Gil” Trenum Jr., a Navy reservist, has been called up to active duty, which means he’ll soon serve in Africa as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. How the mobilization will affect his elected office, however, is unclear.
Trenum (Brentsville) said last month that Virginia’s Division of Legislative Services in Richmond told him that he can continue to hold office while deployed and that he can choose to have a temporary replacement serve in his stead while he is in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa.
School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers (At Large), however, said last week that he is not sure Trenum has the say on how a replacement would be appointed. He wants to seek a Virginia attorney general’s opinion on the matter.
The disagreement is the latest controversy for an elected body that already has tussled this year over several topics, such as school names and the allocation of resources in a county that is home to nearly 450,000 people.
Trenum, who is in his third term, surprised the audience at a June 15 meeting with news of his deployment, the first he has had in 14 years as a reservist.
“I haven’t had to pack a sea bag in many years, and I thought the days of being separated from my family for months at a time were behind me,” said the 50-year-old, who also served on active duty for nearly 12 years, according to prepared remarks for that evening.
He said then that he approached three people about being the “acting” Brentsville representative, and he recently announced their names. The three — Shawn Brann, Christopher Park and Kim Simons — are parents of students in Prince William schools and have served school-related organizations.
In an email to the school board, Trenum said that if one of the three suited board members, he would formally request the interim appointment for the time he will be deployed.
In an interview Wednesday, he said he figured providing three names would give his colleagues options about whom to select while assuring he would have someone in place he trusted.
“I’m not advocating for any one of the three above the others,” he said.
He also stressed that he should have a replacement with whom he can work, because he isn’t resigning his position. He said he will have email access while deployed and plans to watch videos of school board meetings online.
“This isn’t like a vacancy,” Trenum said.
But Sawyers said state law says a lot more about vacancies than leaves of absence, and he wants to make sure the school board is on solid legal ground as it moves forward. He wants to know whether the replacement choices can be restricted to Trenum’s picks or whether the board must open the process to all eligible Brentsville residents.
“Ultimately, one of Mr. Trenum’s people may be selected,” he said.
He followed up his comments Wednesday with a letter to the board the next day. It recommended asking a state legislator to formally request an opinion from the office of Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D).
“Requesting an opinion from the Attorney General does not guarantee that we will not get sued on this matter, but it would document a ‘good-faith effort’ on the part of the School Board to make sure that neither Mr. Trenum’s rights, nor the School Board’s rights, and most importantly, the residents of Brentsville’s rights are abridged in appointing his temporary replacement,” Sawyers wrote in the letter.
It wasn’t clear when a vote would be taken on the chairman’s idea, but at least two of the eight members of the school board don’t seem likely to endorse it. Trenum said that he does not think an attorney general’s opinion is necessary, and board member William J. Deutsch (Coles) said the body should defer to Trenum.
An attorney general’s opinion is “not something I would support,” Deutsch said.
Sawyers also said last week that a fourth potential interim replacement for Trenum had come forward.
Before Trenum announced his suggestions, the chairman reached out to Don Shaw, a former candidate for the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and for the Virginia House.
Shaw is a Democrat, and Sawyers was endorsed by the local Democratic Party when he ran for office last year. But the chairman said that his interest in Shaw was not partisan but rather about finding someone with a background similar to Trenum’s. Shaw, who lives in the Brentsville District, is an Army and Air National guard veteran.
“Don would be a great temporary replacement,” Sawyers said.
Shaw could not be reached for comment last week.