Tarvald Smith’s surprise win Saturday night to become the newest judge on Baton Rouge City Court means his District 4 seat on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will soon become vacant.
Smith said he is looking to join the City Court bench Nov. 16. He will take the place of Judge Alex “Brick” Wall, who retired in February but agreed to stay, via a temporary appointment, until voters picked his replacement.
Smith’s longtime School Board colleague, Vereta Lee, meanwhile, fell short in her legislative bid. Lee finished third in a four-person race, coming in 373 votes short. The Nov. 21 runoff in the fight for House District 29 will be between Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards and Brusly attorney Edmond Jordan.
On Saturday, Smith attracted 52 percent of the vote in a four-person field, winning outright and avoiding a runoff.
“I thought I would be pounding the pavement today,” said a surprised Smith, the only Democrat in that race.
“What some people thought couldn’t be done was done,” he said. “I’m excited. I’m still a little shocked. Thank you, Baton Rouge.”
The last time Smith ran for Baton Rouge City Court, on May 2, 2009, turned out quite differently. He finished third in a field of six, earning just 12 percent of the vote.
Lee said she’s already congratulated Smith on his victory.
“I told Tarvald, ‘You’re leaving me. I thought we were leaving together,’ ” she said with a laugh. “The Lord, though, wants me to stay behind and serve these children a little longer.”
Smith said his tentative plan is to officially resign Nov. 5, the same day as the next School Board meeting, though he said he is still talking that timeline over with school officials. The board would then declare a vacancy for District 4. That opens the door for interested residents of District 4 to submit their names as possible replacements for Smith. At its Nov. 19 meeting, the board would then appoint a new board member from the names submitted.
District 4 covers the eastern portion of north Baton Rouge. It’s bounded on the south by Florida Boulevard and on the north by Greenwell Street, Joor Road and the Comite River. Lobdell Avenue and Elm Drive form much of its western edge while Flannery Road bounds it on the east.
If history is any guide, the vacant spot could generate strong interest. A year ago, seven individuals vied to fill the District 11 seat that became vacant after Randy Lamana’s untimely death in April 2014.
Smith himself was appointed to the board initially in April 2004, beating out four other candidates. Voters returned him to office in four successive elections, making him the second-longest-serving board member. He spent four years as the board’s vice president but was unsuccessful in reaching the presidency.
Smith said he has no successor in mind and is not likely to endorse anyone, though he welcomes anyone interested in serving District 4 to sit down and talk with him.
“I think we’re on the right track. I think we have the right superintendent,” Smith said. “I want someone to be a team player, who will ask the tough question and make decisions that will be in the best interest of the community.”
Whoever is appointed to replace Smith will serve until a special election is held. The next available election date is March 5, but the deadline to get on that ballot is Nov. 4, a day before Smith said he’s considering officially resigning.
If the board misses the Nov. 4 deadline, the next available election where candidates could run is not until the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8, 2016. Waiting until then, though, would mean whoever the board appoints to replace Smith would hold the job for almost a year before District 4 voters would have their say.
Board President David Tatman said he’s open to moving more quickly to get on the March 5 ballot, but said he wants to speak first with Smith and the board’s attorney, Domoine Rutledge.