KENDALLVILLE — East Noble’s school board met Wednesday one person short after member John Wicker resigned his seat unexpectedly mid-term.
In his resignation letter, which was a topic of a terse exchange at Wednesday’s school board meeting, Wicker cited verbal attacks and allegations against two board members from the president as his reason for stepping down.
Wicker, who is the owner of manufacturers B&J Medical and B&J Specialty and well-known in the community for the many purchases he makes every year at the annual Noble County 4-H Auction, was first elected to the school board in May 2010 — when school board races were held in the spring instead of the fall — winning a four-way race for the seat.
Wicker won an unopposed re-election in 2014, but four years later in 2018 he chose not to run again. But neither did anyone else.
The seat went through the 2018 election with no one on the ballot. In that situation, the incumbent automatically retains the seat and, although he hadn’t opted to run again, Wicker agreed to stay on the board.
Wicker was one of East Noble’s more vocal board members and would more often than his colleagues air opinions or ask critical questions about matters before the board.
A supporter of building the new East Noble Middle School, he was later one of the bigger critics of the proposal to give away the vacated middle school for redevelopment into senior housing and a community learning center.
However, along with the rest of the board, he did come around in the following months to vote to transfer the old middle school to the local nonprofit that has since developed it into The Community Learning Center with major renovations. During an update on that project earlier this year, Wicker said he was “shocked” with the transformation that had been made.
While sometimes offering a contentious voice, Wicker also often rose as one of the board’s staunchest supporters for certain projects, for example, leading the charge of support for projects including the new interactive preschool program at Avilla Elementary or the recent $450,000 purchase of the bus garage facility on Ohio Street which the school started leasing shortly after he joined the board in 2010.
In looking back on 10 years of service, Wicker said bringing the districts bus maintenance in-house and building the new East Noble Middle School were two major — if not sometimes rocky — projects that he was proud to have accomplished. He also praised the leadership of Superintendent Ann Linson, stating the community was “blessed” to have her at the helm.
“The biggest one, one of the key things we were able to do was when we realized when we were being screwed on the service of the buses, we pulled the bus service into ourselves,” he said. “The school was being taken advantage of on the service being done to the buses. We were able to start our own bus garage, that was one of the biggest things that I felt was a huge accomplishment.”
The middle school project he described as “ugly in the beginning,” but the board, administration and community eventually all came together to get that new facility done.
Wicker said his focus over 10 years was to support the kids in East Noble and do what he could to not only give them a solid education but make them excited to go to school. He talked about how thrilled he was when his granddaughter came home from her first day in the new preschool at Avilla and told him about how cool it was.
“I was there for the kids, with all due respect, if you do any finding out at all, you would find out why I was there, and it was for the kids,” Wicker said.
Wicker’s unexpected exit, however, came following some recent friction with the president of the school board outside of meetings.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, board member Kara Hand asked about Wicker’s resignation, stating that she had only received an email note about it but had not seen his letter herself.
Board President Barb Babcock quickly quelled the issue, stating the matter was a personnel issue, not a public matter and not a public document and that board members would discuss the vacancy later.
Resignation letters, however, are public documents as defined by state law and in response to a public records request filed by The News Sun, East Noble provided a copy of the letter to the newspaper on Friday.
Wicker’s emailed letter of resignation was sent Friday, Aug. 28, stating that he was choosing to resign his position effective that same day.
“I want to thank you guys for allowing my self to serve on the board of trustees of the East Noble School system as of this date please accept this email as my official resignation 8/28/20,” the letter states.
The majority of the letter, however, states his reasons for leaving, relating non-specific comments and accusations made against two board members by the board president — who is not named directly in the letter but is the position currently filled by Babcock.
“If I’m asked why I stepped down I’ll simply say that the President of the board verbally attacked two board members with allegations that was completely false with no bases,” the letter states in part.
On Friday, Wicker elaborated and claimed that Babcock accused him of having an extramarital affair with another board member.
When asked Friday about the claims made by Wicker, Babcock said the incident didn’t occur at a board meeting and wasn’t board business.
“It’s a personal reason (for resigning), because it doesn’t have anything to do with the board,” Babcock said, adding later, “It’s not a board issue and he chose to make it a board issue.”
Babcock didn’t go in to more detail or verify what was said, stating she read the resignation letter and that “it doesn’t even deserve a rebuttal.”
Wicker said he asked Babcock to resign after making the comments and she refused. Wicker said the refusal prompted him to quit the board and he didn’t believe she should be leading it.
“When the allegation was throwed out, I said ‘I’m done,’” Wicker said.
Babcock, who has served on the East Noble board since 2002, refuted Friday that she was ever asked to resign. When asked, she indicated she had no plans to leave her seat on the school board.
Wicker had voted against installing Babcock as the board president for 2020 in what was an unusually contested leadership vote in December. The vote tied 3-3 with Wicker, Hand and Denise Holbrook voting against and Babcock, Jen Blackman and Brent Durbin voting for before then-president Dan Beall broke the tie to elect Babcock to lead the board.
The school board has 30 days to appoint a replacement for Wicker.
School board members discussed some potential candidates Wednesday who they will talk with to gauge their interest level and then make a selection at an upcoming meeting. Babcock said the board is not soliciting letters of interest as it will make the selection from a pool of candidates generated by current members.
Since the appointment must be made within 30 days, the board can’t wait until after Election Day on Nov. 3 to choose a new member, potentially selecting one of the candidates who doesn’t win in a contested race.
Wicker’s seat is an at-large seat so it can be filled by any resident living in East Noble’s boundaries.
The seat will be up for vote next in November 2022.