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From school board to council, Donnelly ready to move on

Terry Donnelly spent seven good years as a member of the Farmington School Board. He thought about making it a few more.

Donnelly won a seat on the Farmington City Council in November. The board appointed his replacement Dec. 15. But just hours before his resignation became official last week Donnelly still wasn't convinced he was going anywhere. In the weeks following the election, he said, he became concerned about the disruption his departure might cause.

"At first ... it was an easy thing to move on to the city council and tackle those issues," Donnelly said last week. "But all the events that transpired kind of clouded the whole issue and made it hard."

Donnelly said comments made online and in e-mails about the makeup of the board next year made him worry the board would have trouble getting things done. Some have suggested the election of Tim Burke and Julie Singewald and the appointment of Veronica Walter as Donnelly's replacement would split the board 3-3 on most important issues.

It wasn't until he'd had a long talk with his wife Donnelly felt comfortable the district was in good hands. That's when he knew he was ready to move on.

"I guess I shouldn't read all those web sites," Donnelly said.

Donnelly came to the school board ready to shake things up. He was unhappy with decisions the board made during the construction of Meadowview Elementary School and concerned about the increasingly strained relationship between the district and its teachers. He came to the board like a new sheriff expecting to clean up a lawless town but he discovered early on there was more going on behind the scenes than he realized.

"It was a little overwhelming at first," Donnelly said. You go through this orientation with the departments and you see all the people you have to interact with. It's kind of daunting.

"There's a lot of students. A lot of teachers. A lot of staff. Then you've got all the residents. All the parents. Everything affects somebody."

It was two years before Donnelly started to really feel comfortable with his job as a board member and seven years after he was elected he was still learning new things.

Still, when Donnelly looks back on his time as a board member he sees some good accomplishments. During his tenure the district started construction on a new high school. Negotiations with the teachers' union are much smoother than they were a few years ago, when teachers were very public about their dissatisfaction.

It hasn't always been a smooth road. Donnelly said he regrets the dispute between school board and city council that led to a lawsuit and ultimately forced the district to scale back some of its plans for the high school.

Donnelly said some of that dispute was a matter of bad luck. But he also blamed a lack of communication between the two bodies.

"It seemed like there should have been a way to get together, but I don't know what happened there," Donnelly said. "It seemed like both sides dug their heels in. It was extremely unfortunate."

Communication between city and district is better now. And Donnelly hopes his experience as a board member will help keep communication strong as he moves to the city council.

Donnelly, who said he's been considering a run for city council for a year or two, also hopes to bring what he describes as a more professional atmosphere to city council meetings. He said the discord he's seen lately among council members has been unsettling.

"I guess I was kind of embarrassed for the city and the council and the staff," Donnelly said. "Some of the accusations. Some of the things that were said should not have been said in a public forum."

Donnelly knows he'll have a new learning curve when he sits down for his first city council meeting Jan. 5. Now that he's made his decision, though, he's excited to get started.

If there's one thing he's not so sure about with the change, it's his wardrobe.

"I don't know about having to wear a tie all the time," he said. "It's a lot harder dress code over there."