03/22/09 — Most Duplin leaders oppose changing boards' makeup

View Archive

Most Duplin leaders oppose changing boards' makeup

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 22, 2009 2:00 AM

Duplin's school board and county commission aren't pleased with a bill that State Sen. Charlie Albertson has introduced to have voters decide whether to add a seventh member to both boards.

The bill, S550, has been referred to the Senate's Local Government Committee, and Albertson hopes it will be on the committee's calendar this week. If it passes committee, the bill will go to the Senate floor for a vote.

This is the second bill Albertson has introduced to change the dynamics of the boards. The other bill, S207, would keep the county commission and school board chairmen from voting unless there was a tie. This bill has passed the Senate and is now in a committee in the House of Representatives.

Both boards have opposed S207, and last week, they voted to send a letter to lawmakers asking for a "no" vote on S550.

During a commissioner meeting Monday, member David Fussell said he believes Albertson "jumped the gun" by introducing S207 and S550. He moved to send a letter opposing S550 as well as S207.

"He should have talked to us before introducing these bills. The appropriate time to redistrict is after the next census. Changes can be considered then," said Fussell before making the motion, which carried unanimously.

Before the meeting, Commissioner Chairman Cary Turner said he doesn't like either one of the bills. The first one takes away at district's representation when its commissioner or school board member is elected chairman for a year. And the new one throws in an extra mind and therefore more confusion.

"The seventh members would add more arguments, and we do our share of that," he said.

The Board of Education's decision came Tuesday night. School board member Reginald Kenan made the motion. He said there has got to be a better way, and local leaders are the ones who should be discussing how the boards are made up.

"Both boards and the community should make that decision," Kenan said.

The motion passed, but not without two members dissenting. Jennings Outlaw and Chuck Farrior said they want the bill to pass. They both said they like the idea of having odd numbers on the boards.

"I think it would make both boards more efficient," Farrior said.

But in a previous interview, commissioner Frances Parks said odd numbers might make the boards too efficient. Both bills were introduced to cut down on tie votes and speed progress along. But she said she is not so sure speed is the answer.

"I believe there are times a tie vote is a good vote," Mrs. Parks said. "A tie vote will come up again and go one way or the other because somebody has gone back and done more research. I think sometimes we make hasty decisions, and a tie vote slows us down and makes us think about the issue more."

But the tie votes are keeping the county from making the progress it needs to make, Albertson said in a separate interview. He said he introduced both bills because he wants to makes sure both boards have an odd number of voters.

"I'm trying to change the dynamics of the boards to give us a broader vision as we deal with critical issues that face our county," he said. "When you look across the state, 96 counties have an odd number of voters. I think there's a reason for that."

Turner offered a possible answer during an interview earlier, saying maybe Albertson should reduce the number of districts.

"If (Albertson) wants an odd number on the boards we can go back to five districts. Leave the two minority districts alone and split the other three even," he said.

The boards used to have five members.

Albertson said it seems like some people want to live in the past.

"For those who cling to the past, the time is well passed to let go of the past," he said.

But the past might come back to haunt the lawmakers in the form of a 1988 court order that established the six presently existing districts for the election of members of both boards

Albertson said nothing is going to happen to the court order until somebody changes it.

"If the people elect somebody county-wide, I guess it could be challenged," he said.

But he added that a report given by Dr. James Johnson of the Kenan School of Business at the University of Chapel Hill made it obvious that some changes must be made for the county to be able to move forward.

In his report, Johnson cited problems with unity among the members on both boards. He said Duplin is presenting an image to the world of a county whose leaders are constantly bickering, whose school system is failing and whose governmental components are not always working toward the same goals.

S550 is not the answer, said school board member Willie Gillespie before Tuesday's meeting. He said he thinks adding a seventh member to the boards would violate the court order.

"I think it's time for all Duplin County elected officials to identify the many needs of our county and to find ways to work cooperatively together to meet them. And no group can be or is going to be content to be left behind anymore," he said.

The new bill is making some minorities mad, and County Commissioner Reginald Wells is one of them. He said he wishes Albertson would focus on more serious issues like the economy, "and maybe we should start a campaign to replace our out-of-touch senator."