WENTWORTH, N.C. (WGHP) – A legislator said he wants to ensure there is more local control over tax income designated to help Rockingham Community College, and he found a quick path through the North Carolina General Assembly to do just that.

The North Carolina House last week passed a “local bill” – which requires later explanation – to transfer the selection of the four spots on RCC’s Board of Trustees from the governor to the General Assembly, which some have described as a political power play.

Senate Bill 256 would have these positions filled by the president pro tempore of the Senate – that’s Sen. Phil Berger (R-Eden) – and the speaker of the House, who is Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), in consultation with delegates who represent Rockingham County, which would be Berger, Rep. Reece Pyrtle (R-Stoneville), who serves House District 65, and Rep. Kyle Hall (R-King), whose current district represents some of the western part of the county but won’t as of 2023.

State Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) (Courtesy of NC General Assembly)
State Rep. Reece Pyrtle (R-Stoneville) (GENERAL ASSEMBLY)

Pyrtle said the bill was designed to have local people making decisions about how to spend revenue from a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2018 to direct money for workforce development programs at RCC.

“I just feel like the General Assembly who has representatives responsible to that community college should be in charge,” Pyrtle said. “It is a ‘community college.’ And the board could have someone from the private sector or who owns a business … have the board more representative of the county.”

Pyrtle was appointed in August to fulfill the term of the late Rep. Jerry Carter – he’s up for re-election in November – but he is a former member of the Board of Commissioners and says he understands how that process works. He said he discussed this idea with Berger and Hall and found a way to move the bill forward.

The News & Observer in Raleigh reported the bill was fast-tracked through the House Rules Committee and to the House floor, where it was approved, 61-40, along party lines. The bill is headed to the Senate, where Berger likely will get it passed.

What ‘local bill’ means

That’s where “local bill” comes into play. A local bill is designed to address a specific need brought forward by a legislative delegation. In this case that would be Berger, Pyrtle and Hall but steered by Pyrtle. The N&O said a similar approach had been taken for the community college in Cleveland County, which is Moore’s district.

Gov. Roy Cooper cannot veto a local bill and thus the bill would become law if approved by the Senate. You may recall a “local bill” was employed in 2015 in an effort to change the structure and cycle of the Greensboro City Council. A federal judge threw out that bill because the public did not ask for its action.

SB 256 was created in 2021 as a bill to expand attendance at outdoor sports events post-COVID-19, but Pyrtle said he contacted Rules Chair Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) about finding a bill that could be substituted. Pyrtle is not part of that committee, but the process allows for a bill that is in Rules and going nowhere to be replaced.

That substitution was approved on Wednesday, and then the bill moved to the House floor and approved there on the same day.

Is the board local?

But the effect of that action could be described as more about taking political control from Cooper than increasing local representation – Democrats denounced it for that reason – because all 12 voting members of the RCC board as listed on the school’s website live in or have business ties to Rockingham County.

They are: R. Scott Barham (its chair), an accountant from Eden; Vice-Chair Randy Judkins, a retiree who lives in Rockingham County; E. Nelson Cole, a retired automobile dealer in Reidsville; Mark G. Collins, a retired bank executive in the county; Hal R. Griffin, retired dean of students; Elizabeth H. Maddrey and Elaine v. McCollum, retired educators from the county; Tango B. Moore, the grants manager of the Reidsville Area Foundation; Charles K. Rakestraw, a real estate agent from Madison; Thomas R. Schoolfield, a retired textiles executive and county resident; Janice R. Tate, a retired educator from the county; and C. Grayson Whitt, a former board chair and former bank executive from the county.

Cole (term expired in 2021), Maddrey (2023), McCollum (2024) and Moore (end of June) are the four who were appointed by Cooper.

Judkins, Collins, Griffin and Schoolfield were appointed by the Rockingham County Board of Education. Barham, Rakestraw, Tate and Whitt were appointed by the Board of Commissioners.

The RCC student government president (currently Dayahna Blatchley) is elected annually and serves as a non-voting member.

Pyrtle says the new process would determine in a timelier manner who is on the board.

“As we look forward, with investment the citizens are making in the community, [it’s important to make] practical appointments and not just political appointments,” he said.

Workforce programs

Rockingham Community College, which has about 2,300 students, ranks No. 14 among the state’s 56 community colleges and No. 326 out of 509 nationally based on the quality of the programs it offers and its teaching staff. Haywood Community College in Clyde ranked at the top.

RCC opened in 1963 and offers some 21 certificate programs. Among them the programs for finance, fire, HVAC, electrical and agricultural rank in the top 10 in North Carolina and among the top 50 in the South.

Pyrtle said 11 of the state’s community colleges had modified their way of seating their boards. He said his bill models how it worked in Cleveland County.

“The thing was obvious to me,” he said. “Citizens in Rockingham County have more of an investment. But workforce development is not just an issue to us.”