GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — The Guilford County Board of Education will bring in new attorneys to determine how to proceed with a disputed state law that could unseat the board’s District 3 representative and install the county Republican party’s nominee.
The Democrat-majority board and the Guilford County Republican Party have been at odds since the board refused to approve GOP nominee and teacher Michael Logan to succeed former board member Pat Tillman following his resignation. House Bill 88, passed with the intention of clarifying the process, instead created a loophole that the board exploited to seat Bill Goebel, another Republican from District 3.
Now, another new law, Senate Bill 9, could end Goebel’s turn and give the county GOP an opportunity to replace him with their nominee, Logan. Goebel’s attorney has challenged that law.
The board convened a special meeting on Sept. 11 to discuss appointing third-party attorneys to help navigate the legal waters at the recommendation of Board Attorney Jill Wilson.
“At the end of the day, you are not going to pick between these two gentlemen,” Wilson said. “This is a dispute between those two parties and you’re just a school board trying to run a school system, and so I think you need independent counsel who can advise you and deal with those issues.”
Wilson proposed that the board hire election attorneys Eddie Speas and Caroline Mackie of Poyner Spruill. She described Poyner Spruill as “probably the most experienced and well-respected election law firm in the state.”
The board passed the motion, 5-2, with District 4 Rep. Linda Welborn and District 2 Rep. Crissy Pratt, both Republicans, opposing the move. Goebel recused himself.
“If we had followed the intent of the law to begin with, we wouldn’t be in this position, so, for me, to hire a lawyer and spend more money moving on something that should have never happened, I have a problem,” Welborn said. “… The District 3 does not have the representation that they requested, nor did they have any public input into the individual that was seated.”
Crissy Pratt added, “I have a lot of trouble spending money on another attorney when we already have a school board attorney.”
Poyner Spruill has agreed to work for Wilson’s hourly rate, the board attorney said. According to Wilson, this means that hiring these attorneys would not cost the district additional money.
“First of all, you would not be spending any more money,” Wilson said. “You would hopefully be spending the same money with a different lawyer. … We have to know how to proceed, and, at this juncture, we need legal advice on how to proceed. That’s what that lawyer would be doing or I would be doing, but I would like not to do it. I would like for you to have independent counsel to do that.”
Wilson emphasized that these attorneys would represent the “entity of the board of education, not any individual person.”
The next board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 18.
After Republican Pat Tillman resigned from his seat representing District 3 following his election to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, the Guilford County Republican Party nominated teacher Michael Logan to replace him. The board took advantage of its power to vote against appointing the nominee, leading to four votes rejecting Logan before the General Assembly intervened.
Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) and Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford) filed House Bill 88 to clean up language in the statute covering this process, seeking to force the board to seat the party’s nominee. However, using a loophole in the new law, the board instead seated Goebel, another Republican from the district.
The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 9 in June. The new law aims to unseat Goebel by shortening his term and allow the Guilford County GOP to nominate his replacement. The party again selected Logan on Aug. 30.
Goebel’s attorney Charles Winfree, in a letter submitted to the Guilford County School Board and copied to the chairman of the Guilford County GOP, argued that SB 9 does not in itself unseat Goebel and, if it it did, it would be unconstitutional.
Logan and two Republican school board members have filed a lawsuit claiming the board violated state open meetings law when it seated Goebel. That trial is currently in the discovery phase.