GREENSBORO, N.C. – A Guilford County Superior Court judge has ruled a lawsuit, which was brought by two Republican members of the Guilford County Board of Education and a former teacher against the school board, can move forward.
Judge Brad Long on Wednesday denied the school board’s motion to dismiss the case brought by board members Linda Welborn of District 4 and Crissy Pratt of District 2, and Michael Logan, the former teacher who wants to join them.
They had sued claiming that the process the board used to seat another Republican, Bill Goebel, in District 3, had violated state open meetings laws.
Long’s ruling stipulates that the suit can be brought by the three as individuals and not in their official capacities, Welborn told WGHP.
“We’re glad we’re still standing,” she said. “We’re glad we didn’t go out in the first round.”
She said her group’s attorney, former District Court judge Jon Kreider, and J. Michael Crowell, a Raleigh attorney representing the school board, next would enter into discovery. No future court dates have been set.
Crowell in a statement to the News & Record said the ruling didn’t mean the board had lost the suit. “Whether the open meetings law was violated will be determined after witnesses are heard and other evidence is introduced and considered to determine what actually occurred,” he said.
Logan, a 26-year automotive teacher at Southern Guilford High School, was nominated by the Guilford County Republican Party to fill the void created this past November, when Patrick Tillman was elected to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
But the board’s majority of Democrats first rejected Logan in early December because some members accused him of insensitivity and “divisive opinions” in social media posts. They subsequently voted four times to deny his nomination, each vote along party lines.
The lawsuit emerged after a surprising and controversial turn of events on April 4, when the board’s Democrats voted to seat Goebel, another volunteer for the position, after their attorney found a loophole in a new state law that was designed to clarify their dispute. House Bill 88 had been passed in a local bill on March 15 and immediately became law.
Welborn, Pratt and Logan say in their suit that the process that led to that vote included a series of phone calls that constitute a meeting to which they weren’t invited and improperly was conducted in secret.
Their suit names as individuals Goebel and those six Democrats – Chair Deena Hayes and members Khem Irby, Bettye Jenkins, Deborah Napper, Allen Sherouse and T. Dianne Bellamy Small – and the Guilford County School Board at large.
The future of the suit was muddled somewhat by more recent developments related to Goebel’s position on the board. The NC General Assembly last week approved Senate Bill 9, which had been amended to require that Goebel be removed immediately and replaced by a candidate chosen by the Guilford County GOP.
Republicans have scheduled a meeting for Wednesday when their candidate will be chosen. Logan is one of those expected to be considered, party Chair Chris Meadows said.
But even that doesn’t mean an end to this tug of war for the remainder of a term that would roll over to 4 years after next year’s elections.
Goebel, who last week launched his candidacy for the full-term seat, has not said if he will participate in next week’s GOP selection, although he mentioned that the party had censured him following his appointment.
He had said last week that “our position is there is no vacancy to fill.”