As a 20-something, childless man, we can’t expect Tucker McClendon to understand how parents must have felt about their children being forced to mask up long after the rest of the state had chucked their masks in the trash can. McClendon was elected to Chair the Hamilton County School Board in 2018 with an ambitious plan to take on crumbling school facilities in and around the Chattanooga area.
If the shouts and pleas of nearly 100 families opposing the county’s mask mandate in the background of May 13th’s Hamilton County school board meeting are worth anything, it was clear that parents and other members of the board were eager to offer children a respite from a whole year of masks. During the same meeting, with nine days left in the school year, McClendon chose to forgo a vote on whether to rescind the county’s mask mandate. His reasoning? Well, to listen to him waffle around the issue during the meeting is to witness a familiar ritual we’ve come to know and love from our politicians: talking while saying nothing — albeit much less competently.
McClendon, already showing weak leadership and initiative at such a young age, appeals to what surrounding counties are doing in making his case to keep on the masks for the final week of the school year. He cites Knox County whose school masking policy, as we addressed in our Serial Child Masker Award, was not subject to the will of the school board, but instead, to the county’s health department. Hamilton County, under no such limitations, could’ve effortlessly awarded its children a final week free of masks. Instead, McClendon clinged to his micro-pulpit and stared down a repeal vote for no other reason than that it would “appear political.”
The “political” defense is odd because McClendon’s tenure has been colored by purely political appeals. In the Fall of 2021, McClendon pushed for a motion to make masks optional for school teachers as a mask mandate for students persisted unless parents explicitly opted their children out. The “opt-out” measure is a convenient and cowardly way for the School Board to outwardly deal with the issue while not actually addressing it directly, leaving parents, teachers, and students to duke it out amongst themselves. Most recently, McClendon has pushed for a one time $500 bonus to all the school system’s full-time employees in order to “combat inflation.” Unlike most professions, public school teachers receive yearly raises that, until the past year, have easily outpaced inflation. The initiative would punch a $2.8 million hole in the district's inflation weary balance sheet. Critics called the one time bonus a “blatant proposal to win over voters” and a “vote-getting slush fund” in light of McClendon’s future ambitions.
In 2022, McClendon will end his run as petty tyrant to run for County Commissioner. If his tenure on the Hamilton County School Board is anything to judge by, it’s clear we’re witnessing the development of another swamp creature with the spine of a wet noodle right here in our own backyard. Thus, we award Tucker McClendon the Budding Swamp Creature Award.