03/04/09 — Duplin boards upset over vote change bill

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Duplin boards upset over vote change bill

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 4, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education both are opposing a local bill moving through the state Legislature that would keep their chairmen from voting unless there is a tie.

The Duplin County Board of Commissioners voted Monday and the Board of Education voted Tuesday night to write letters asking their legislative delegates to vote against the bill.

But the measure, S207 introduced by state Sen. Charlie Albertson of Duplin, passed the state Senate earlier in the day Tuesday. It would have to be approved by the state House and signed by the governor to become law.

Commissioners were unanimous in their opposition. Rather than limiting their chairman's power, the commissioners said they would prefer having the lawmakers challenge a consent order issued in 1988 to assure minority representation in two county voting districts. The consent order set the number of board members at six with no at-large members.

Albertson has said he originally considered introducing a bill that would create a seventh member for each board. These board members would be at-large representatives voted on by all voters in Duplin County. He said he was told having six members on both boards was impeding progress with too many deadlocked votes.

But when he found out that the consent order was standing in the way of a seventh seat, he chose to introduce the bill to limit the chairman's voting power.

Commissioner David Fussell said the consent order, pushed by the NAACP, has hamstrung both boards, and that state lawmakers should challenge the courts if necessary to put an end to it.

Commissioner Reginald Wells said Albertson's bill is a "bogus deal," and that Albertson should spend more time helping the county with its money problems.

"I'd hope he would spend more time getting money to Duplin County rather than trying to castrate one board member, whether a minority or not," he said.

Several school board members expressed the same sentiments Tuesday night, saying they would not want to be chairman if they had to spend a year not voting unless there is a tie. The only way that could happen is if somebody was absent that day, they said.

School board member Reginald Kenan said either way you look at it, whoever the chairman is would be depriving their district of a vote. Even an at-large member comes from a community where the residents are going to be calling him, he said.

"I think it would be a Constitutional problem," he said. "... If that bill passes, I don't want to be chairman."

Board member Willie Gillespie and Chairman Emily Manning agreed.

Mrs. Manning said if each member takes turns being chairman for a year, that member's district is not being fully represented.

"My personal feeling is I'm opposed to the bill. I don't see a need for it," she said.

Kenan made a motion to send e-mails and letters in opposition to the bill to state Rep. Russell Tucker, who represents Duplin, and House Speaker Joe Hackney of Orange County. The school board vote was 5-2, with Chuck Farrior and Jennings Outlaw dissenting. Both men said they like the idea of having an odd number of representatives on the two boards and that is what Albertson's bill would accomplishes.

"I think we don't call a question sometimes because we know there will be a tie," Outlaw said.