GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – North Carolina Rep. Jon Hardister says he is only “trying to remedy a situation” by introducing legislation to remove the Republican who filled a previously open seat on the Guilford County Board of Education.
During a House committee meeting on Wednesday, Hardister (R-Guilford County) added language to Senate Bill 9, a bill about the Apex Town Council that is titled “Local Omnibus Bill,” to require the school board to remove Republican Bill Goebel from his seat in District 3 and replace him with the candidate preferred by Guilford County Republican leadership, former teacher Michael Logan.
Goebel – who had volunteered to be considered – was elected on April 4 by the Democrat-controlled board, 6-2, to fill the void created when Patrick Tillman was elected to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners last November.
Logan, a longtime teacher at Southern Guilford High School, had been nominated in December by party leadership but was rejected in votes along party lines.
“This put the BOE squarely out-of-compliance with NC law, opening the door for litigation, but in lieu of litigation, the NC General Assembly (NCGA) intervened as the higher authority in an effort to resolve the dispute,” Hardister said in a statement provided to WGHP.
Goebel had been seated during a stunning and controversial turn of events on April 4, when the board’s attorney found a loophole in House Bill 88, which was passed in a local bill on March 15 and immediately became law.
Goebel, who had been endorsed by Supreme Court Chief Justices Paul Newby, among others, and who has a long record of working with young people, was sworn in that same night.
But Senate Bill 9’s section on Guilford County states that the board must accept a qualified candidate suggested by the party within 30 days of a vacancy occurring and that the person would be seated at the next board meeting, which suggests that the appointment of Goebel would be invalidated.
“Senate Bill 9 is very disappointing to me and the Guilford County School System in that it takes away focus from Keeping The Main Thing The Main Thing,” Goebel said in an email to WGHP. “The Main Thing is working for the improvement of our schools for the students and parents of not only My District 3 but the entire Guilford County School System.”
How this happened
Hardister said that “the loophole was essentially predicated on a previous law that stated that the political party executive committee members within a geographic district (in this case, District 3) vote to confirm the nominee, whereas a newer version of the law required the full executive committee to vote to confirm the nominee (the GCRP submitted the nomination to the BOE with only the District 3 executive committee members voting).
“In my view, this is a gratuitous interpretation that flouts the obvious intention of the law. It was an act of bad faith because it was clear what the intention of the law was and who the GCRP had selected to fill the vacancy.”
Rep. Amos Quick (D-Guilford) offered an amendment in the House on Wednesday night to have Guilford County removed from Senate Bill 9 – Hardister admitted that Guilford County’s legislative delegation was split on the issue – but that was defeated on a party-line vote, the same margin by which the overall bill passed.
SB 9 must have a vote of concurrence in the Senate – which may not happen until at least July 10 – but it is not subject to a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper. Sen. Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), whose district includes a large portion of Guilford County, is said to support the bill.
Logan, a 26-year automotive teacher at Southern Guilford, first was rejected by the board in early December because he was a vocal critic of the board, and some of its members accused him of insensitivity and “divisive opinions” in social media posts. They subsequently voted four times to reject his nomination, each vote along party lines.
In an open letter published in the News & Record in February, Board Chair Deena Hayes, writing on behalf of the board’s six Democrats, had suggested that Republicans “put forward” candidates who had “not engaged in racially prejudiced writing, who seek to embody the values a board of Education member should hold and who have expressed an interest in representing District 3.”
Goebel, a self-characterized fiscal conservative Republican who lives in District 3, was chosen despite both Republicans on the board voting against him. He is the CEO of MPACT Maintenance & Reliability Solutions, which provides assessments, education and training in industrial and facility maintenance, and serves as the area president of Focus CFO NC, which works to empower small businesses.
Both men have said they intend to seek a full term on the board in the 2024 election.
‘Remedy a situation’
Hardister said the entire situation “has created a great deal of consternation among people involved with the GCRP, as well as among citizens who have watched this saga unfold. In my view, this saga has been unfortunate and unnecessary, and the dilemma should be rectified.
“The purpose of the language in Part II of SB 9 is to take us back to square one, reset the clock, and allow the situation to be resolved in a fair and equitable manner.
“This is not meant to target Bill Goebel, but rather to remedy the situation by providing the political party with the ability to select a nominee, as is the political party’s right, and also by allowing the BOE a chance to do the right thing by allowing the individual to be seated.”
He said this “is not a matter of partisan politics; it is a matter of fairness and following the rule-of-law. I would say the same if the shoe were on the other foot and it were a Democrat who resigned from a partisan board with a Republican majority.
“It is my hope that this law, if enacted, will resolve this matter so that we can move forward and focus on other issues.”
In late May, Republicans Linda Welborn, who represents District 4, Crissy Pratt of District 2 and Logan filed suit in Guilford County Superior Court, saying that the Democrats on the board violated the state’s open-meetings law in a complicated complaint about “serial” phone calls among those members that ended in the seating of Goebel.
That lawsuit is pending and awaiting a hearing after the plaintiffs amended their complaint against the six Democrats on the board and Goebel to include the board as a group and hired former District Judge Jon Kreider to represent them.