RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The steering wheel in the continuing dispute between the Guilford County Board of Education and Republicans who want a different member of their party on the board was grabbed by another set of hands on Wednesday night, perhaps leading to an immediate change of direction.
Even as the two GOP members of the board and the jilted potential member are suing to try to affect change, the North Carolina House, which failed in one attempt to take control, swerved into a whole new lane.
On Wednesday night the House surprisingly passed an unrelated local bill from the Senate that had been altered in committee by Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) to add language designed to intervene in that conflict.
Senate Bill 9, appropriately titled “Local Omnibus Bill,” was overhauled in the House Rules Committee on Wednesday morning, added to the calendar and passed Wednesday evening in a party-line vote over an amendment from Rep. Amos Quick (D-Guilford), who wanted his home county removed. That amendment was defeated along a party-line vote, too.
The bill’s description is now this: “An act to allow the Apex Town Council and mayor to make appointments and vote on certain matters regard the appointees for town manager, tow attorney and town clerk for the town of Apex; to further clarifying the process for filing vacancies on the Guilford County Board of Education; and to require that municipal elections in Haywood County and Madison County be conducted on a partisan basis.”
You see why the word “omnibus” is in the title. The bill now returns to the Senate for concurrence, likely in two weeks, and then would become law. As a local bill, it’s not subject to Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto pen.
You recall this is all because of a stunning and controversial turn of events on April 4, when the board’s Democratic majority – which for months had denied former teacher Michael Logan’s nomination by the county’s Republicans to fill an opening in District 3 – voted to seat Republican William J. Goebel after 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.
“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.”
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.
Board Attorney Jill Wilson said HB 88 required the full Guilford County Republican executive committee to nominate the person to fill the opening on the board within 30 days after the opening. But, she said, all correspondence with the board since Dec. 7, when the position officially became open, was from the “District 3” members of the committee, which, she said, invalidated those nominations.
Goebel – who had volunteered to be considered – was elected, 6-2, to fill the void created when Patrick Tillman was elected to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners last November. Logan, expecting otherwise, was irate and had to be removed from the meeting by police.
The new bill
The lawsuit seemed the next course of action until SB 9 emerged during a series of 22 bills the House considered in its final pre-holiday vote.
The bill’s section on Guilford County states that the board must accept a qualified candidate suggested by the party withing 30 days of a vacancy occurring and that the person would be seated at the next board meeting.
The bill also suggests that the appointment of Goebel would be invalidated.
“This section is effective when it becomes law and applies to vacancies existing on or after that date,” the bill says. “The term of office of any individual appointed by the Guilford County Board of Education to fill a vacancy occurring between December 1, 2022, and the effective date of this act shall expire on the effective date of this act.”
If the Senate were to approve the bill during the week of July 10 (when the General Assembly reconvenes), Logan could take over the seat as soon as the scheduled meeting July 18, but it’s unclear how the board might respond to this development.
‘Moving the goal posts’
Quick, in introducing his amendment to SB 9, asked that Guilford County be removed and said that it was included “because they got the wrong Republican on the board.” He said the bill was “moving the goal posts.”
Hardister said he opposed the amendment and that the Guilford County delegation was “at an impasse.
“The goal post was moved by the Board of Education, which refused to follow the law passed here that was going to fix that because of a discrepancy in how that law was drafted,” Hardister said. “The attorney for the Board of Education was able, in my opinion, to use a gratuitous interpretation, appointing a member of their own choosing.
“The amendment in part two would go back to square one and would go back the political board. It should be the political party who appoints to fill that vacancy. … The school board has ability to comply with the law.”
Said Quick: “I’m trying to get to Bible study, but Rep. Hardister won’t let me go. And the Lord is going to hold that against you.
“We do absolutely disagree. A party person was seated. We did change the law. They followed the law. Let the guy serve out his term.
“The voters of Guilford County, especially Republican voters, will remove him from office and elect who they want. Let board work on.”
Logan, a 26-year automotive teacher at Southern Guilford High School, 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.
He also was appointed by NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby to serve as an adviser to a task force on Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs)-Informed Courts.
Logan said in an email earlier this month that “the board chair and attorney with the chief of staff has willingly opened there selves [sic] and Guilford County Tax payers up to this litigation because of their actions,” he wrote in an email. “Bill Goebel has been illegally appointed by the six Democrat members of the board.”