RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The standoff between the Guilford County School Board and the person the county’s Republicans want to fill a vacancy has now officially become a legislative matter.

State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett) on Thursday filed House Bill 88, a scant two paragraphs with a larger goal: correcting two mistakes in the bill from 2013 that made the school board partisan in the first place and gave the sitting members of the board the veto they have wielded three times over the GOP’s nominee.

In case you haven’t heard, the school board last week for the third time declined to seat teacher Michael Logan, an outspoken critic of the board who was nominated by members of the Guilford County Republican Party from District 3 to fill out the term Patrick Tillman vacated in November. Tillman was elected to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.

State Rep. John Faircloth (R-High Point)
Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitset)

All three votes have been along party lines, with only the two Republicans supporting Logan, an automotive instructor at Southern Guilford High School.

Into that fray wade Hardister and state Rep. John Faircloth (R-High Point) with this bill to correct what Hardister classified as “errors made by staff,” and he said he hopes HB 88 to pass through the House this week and get to the Senate for a complete adoption “maybe by the end of February.”

Their efforts are based on the general statute GS 115c-37.1, which specifies how seats on partisan boards “shall” be filled.

That statute was incorrectly undermined by language in the local bill – the bill applied only to the Guilford County Board of Education and no other elected body – that former state Sen. Trudy Wade (R-High Point) pushed through the General Assembly in 2013.

“There were two errors made by our [General Assembly] staff,” Hardister said. “This is not rare. These are incredibly talented people, but like all of us, they are human beings. Mistake No. 1 is when we passed this bill that changed the board, it failed to strike language that should have been stricken. …. The original bill referred to ‘letter D’ in the statute. That’s just a general list of counties. That should have been ‘letter B.’ … It’s a typo.”

Guilford County Board of Education candidate Michael Logan (WGHP)

By statute, the GOP is responsible for nominating its candidate from the district – Logan was chosen from two suggestions, Guilford County GOP Chair David Gleeson has said – but the conflict emerged because school board attorney Jill Wilson has indicated that the appointment of the person to fill the seat must be approved by a majority of the existing board.

“My bill does two things,” Hardister said. “It strikes superfluous language that should have been stricken 10 years ago that Guilford BOE is supposed to abide by how all elected partisan boards across the state are subjected to language dating back to 1991. … That would put Guilford County out of compliance with statute. If it went before a judge, the judge would say that language needs to be stricken.

“The bill also strikes the reference to letter D. … correcting clerical errors that should have been corrected 10 years ago.”

‘The board must take a vote to accept the person’

In drafting the bill, Hardister, the House majority whip, contacted Robert Joyce of the North Carolina School of Government to get his take on the issue, and Joyce was clear about the what the role of school board should be.

“Yes, I think the board must take a vote to accept the person put forward by the party executive committee,” Joyce wrote in an email to Hardister. “Under GS 115C-37.1(c) the board is to ‘appoint’ the person recommended by the party executive committee. 

“I know of no way the board can take the action to ‘appoint’ other than by motion and vote.  Since the board is bound by law to vote to make the appointment of the person put forward, I think that a failure to do so would subject them to an action in mandamus for a court order forcing them to.”

The bill could remedy

Joyce also reinforced his opinion that Hardister’s bill should rectify the questions about the board’s authority.

“Yes, in my opinion, the draft bill that you attached to your email would clear up the potential ambiguity,” Joyce wrote. “The potential ambiguity arises because GS 115C-37.1 does not by its terms provide for a ‘vote of the majority,’ but instead simply requires the board to fill the vacancy with the person named by the party executive committee. 

“So, what happens under Section 1.(c) if by majority vote the board fails to fill the vacancy with the person named by the party executive committee? That’s where the ambiguity lies. I think that the draft bill resolves this ambiguity and makes clear that the board must fill the vacancy with the person named by the party executive committee.”

Hardister said state Sen. Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), whose district includes a large swathe of Guilford County, likely would be the point person for the bill in the Senate. An email to Berger’s spokesperson to request comment on the bill and its prospects was not answered immediately.

Neither did Faircloth respond immediately to questions from WGHP.

Logan and the controversy

Logan is putting his hopes in that legislative approach. He wrote to WGHP in an email after the vote last week that he would continue to attend board and committee meetings to ensure that District 3 would be “represented in everything but closed-door meetings.

“It appears that GCS schools are unwilling to follow the motto ‘better together,’” Logan wrote. “My focus is on repairing, replacing and building new schools. I am in support of ‘all’ students in GCS without a focus of one group over another. The focus should be on education and the facilities used.

“So, while our school board is focused on partisan politics, we have parents, students and employees without district representation. We have an area that is being taxed for the schools and being denied official representation with a vote. It is not right.” 

Board members who have opposed Logan, long an activist commentator at school board meetings, have cited the fact that he was a teacher or that he had made derogatory posts about board members on social media. He has been called “divisive” by coworkers.

Logan has submitted his resignation pending his appointment to the board. He remains in his teaching position, but he also has been clear in every comment about his intent.

“I will still be the candidate … and, as previously stated, will be running for the seat in 2024,” he has said.

Non-partisan status?

All of this might have been avoided in 2019, when Hardister and Faircloth were among four cosponsors – along with Reps. Amos Quick (D-Greensboro) and Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro) – of House Bill 182 that would have returned the school board to nonpartisan. That bill went nowhere, but Hardister said Monday he remains open to its possibility.

He said he “felt confident” the House would have passed that bill in 2019 but that he had spoken to a few senators, including committee chairs whose names he said he couldn’t specifically recall, who told him they were philosophically aligned with the concept that all elections should be partisan because that provided more information on the candidates. They told him the Senate was not inclined to take up the bill.

“Most of the feedback I had received from teachers, parents and students is that the Board of Education should be nonpartisan,” Hardister said. “Most on the board … including Republicans on the board … want it to be nonpartisan. They think that’s the way to go.

“I’m willing to do it. … I’m willing to take another look.”