Lone Democrat on Bradley County ballot defeats millionaire Allan Jones for Cleveland District 5 school board seat
The lone Democrat on the local ballot in Bradley County, Jodi Riggins, won a school board seat on Thursday against Allan Jones, a millionaire payday lender who hosted a political fundraiser with Donald Trump in March and featured two photos of him with the former president on his Facebook campaign page.
Riggins won the District 5 seat on the Cleveland City School Board.
Both candidates were surprised by the result.
Riggins, 71, took two of three District 5 precincts to win 715-596 over Jones, 69, – 54.54% to 45.46% – Bradley County election records show. The results are not official until they are certified by the Electoral Commission.
Bradley County’s voter turnout wasn’t too affected by the high-profile race for the city’s school board seat, election administrator Fran Green said.
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“The turnout was low from my perspective,” Green said Friday in a phone interview. “But being one of our hard-fought races, I’m sure it had an impact on that.”
Green also said she wasn’t too surprised by the outcome of the race.
“Anyway, I just wanted this race to end,” she said, noting that the election commission had been named in a lawsuit during the campaign. The plaintiff questioned Jones’ residency because his home was not in town – although part of his ranch was. The lawsuit was thrown out last week when the judge ruled the person who filed it lacked standing.
District 5 voter Pamela Reynoso, a three-year transplant to Cleveland and a native of California, said the choice for her was clear.
“I voted for Jodi because she embodied a lot of qualities that I think are important for an elected official,” Reynoso, 49, said in a phone interview on Friday. “She’s humble, willing and eager to learn what she doesn’t know.”
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Reynoso — who had three children at Cleveland High, two of whom still attend — believes Riggins won because of her efforts to get to know the District 5 community and let them know about it, she said.
“She showed up at community events, she surveyed neighborhoods,” Reynoso said. “She worked hard. She let the community know about her.”
Reynoso said she was somewhat surprised at the result in a Republican stronghold, but thought voters in District 5 preferred Riggins’ more positive view of the school system over Jones’ criticisms.
“I was quite surprised. I really was. I knew I had a lot of support and a lot of good people cheering me on,” Riggins said Friday in a phone interview.
Riggins said she and her campaign volunteers urged residents of District 5 to vote and engage in a door-to-door campaign, where she said she heard issues and concerns first-hand, two facets of her campaign that she considered strong points.
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“I think there were a lot of reasons – some trusted me and some didn’t trust him,” she said, also pointing to her family members who work in the system. “Honestly, I think I got quite a few reputation votes for my kids and my husband.”
During his campaign, Riggins said his decision to run for the city school board stemmed from an opening seat in District 5 and his experience serving families in health care over the course of his career. of the last three decades. Riggins will replace Tom Cloud, who has elected not to run, on the school board.
As a 30-year-old veteran medical assistant, she has worked with children, parents, and schools as a health care provider, and her children all went to schools in Cleveland City, and now they teach in the system.
Riggins said his family is invested in the community and the school system, and a position on the school board seemed like a reasonable next step. She said last week that she was not focused on who she was running.
A newcomer to politics, Riggins is now aiming to focus on her new responsibility, she said on Friday.
Jones — a Cleveland High School alum who gained his wealth through a payday loan business that led to his huge financial success — reflected on the aftermath of the loss.
“I was beaten in Bradley County by the only Democrat on the ballot. That doesn’t speak well for me,” Jones said Friday in a phone interview. “They are my neighbors, they are people who know me. People were voting against me and not for her, I think.”
Jones acknowledged Riggins’ effort.
“She worked hard and she had a whole network of people working,” Jones said.
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He said going door to door wasn’t something he liked to do.
“But apparently it’s quite effective,” he said.
Jones hoped to use a six-year plan — similar to a plan he used to boost the city’s high school wrestling program in previous years to its current record of 145-3 — that would bring sweeping changes to operations, did he declare.
Before and during his campaign, Jones criticized the current school board, its president and the current superintendent of schools in the city. His six-year plan included reaching out to teachers to hear their concerns first-hand, boosting reading at the sixth-grade level with a renewed focus, bringing back an accounting course to rejuvenate the business curriculum, and launching a new biology program with field trips offering hands-on experiments.
Jones sought to return to the traditional recognition of a valedictorian and salutatorian at graduation while maintaining the current Raider Scholars curriculum, which sometimes includes a dozen or more high-achieving seniors in the “Graduates of Distinction” group of each school year. He argued that he would be immune to sweetheart deals and that he would reduce the expenses of the system’s main office.
Jones thinks his criticism of the city’s school performance wasn’t what people wanted to hear, he said, but he still thinks he would have made a positive change. He feels helped, but added that the election results may discourage other businessmen from seeking elected seats in local education.
Jones can always find a silver lining, even on Election Day when he’s on the losing side.
“It was a bad loss yesterday, but I had a huge stock market win yesterday,” he said, brightening up. “It was just a whole bunch of investments that I picked. Some people call it luck.”
Riggins, on the other hand, said she needs to start preparing for her new position.
“I have a lot to learn,” she said. “I’m going to be a team player and I’m going to work with the board. We have great schools and a great community.”
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