Commissioner, legislator clash at meeting
By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 19, 2012 1:46 PM
Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders intervened Wednesday morning when what had started as a comment about state spending on education escalated into a contentious exchange between state Republican Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Kinston and Wayne County Commission Chairman John Bell, a Democrat.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," Winders said as he tried to defuse the confrontation during a meeting between commissioners and legislators.
The flash point was a follow-up comment about taxes by Commissioner J.D. Evans who had urged lawmakers to be sensitive in their cuts in education.
"That (education) is the bottom line for everything that happens in this state," Evans said. "If you keep cutting education we are going to suffer some major consequences across the board.
"Please show sensitivity to this area. We can build a better population if we adequately educate our young people because they will be as old as we are one day. If they haven't been educated to the point to improve themselves then we are going to be talking about the same things we are talking about today."
LaRoque asked Evans for specific cuts he was talking about.
"The half-cent sales tax that you eliminated. That would have helped us to administer education," Evans said.
"That was not for education, that was the liberals trying to say, 'We need to keep taxing the citizens of the state when we have suffered the worst recession since the Great Depression,'" LaRoque said. "We actually spent more on education this year. That is a fact. You have been lied to by your governor. That is quite the fact. She lied.
"We spent more money on education, state money, than the prior liberal majority spent. That is a fact, and I am getting sick and tired of hearing people talking about we cut education, we cut teachers. No. We added 2,000 teachers. It was the federal money that was spent unwisely by the previous liberal majority. They spent temporary money on permanent jobs. You don't do that, and that is the problem that they had, and that is why they got thrown out of office and we got put in."
It was at that point that John Bell told LaRoque that he would like to ask him a question.
"Why is it so important and necessary to talk about these liberals and stuff like that?" Bell said.
Because that is what the problem has been, LaRoque responded.
"That is why we are in the mess that we are in," he added.
"These are citizens just like you and we should all be working together," Bell said. "I get so sick and tired of hearing people talk about liberals."
"We do work together," LaRoque said over Bell. "Let me tell you something. Oh, no, no, no. Back up, back up."
"No, you back up," Bell said.
"No, you are the one who interrupted my conversation," LaRoque said.
"Well, you are beginning to piss me off," Bell said.
"Well, I don't care if I piss you off or not," LaRoque said.
"I don't care if I piss you off," Bell said. "I just want you to know that I get sick of hearing people talk about the liberals, the liberals and conservatives."
That has been the problem, LaRoque said again.
It needs to be kept "real," Bell said. LaRoque said that he was.
"No, you are not," Bell said.
"Yes, I am," LaRoque said. "I don't appreciate you interrupting me when I am talking to somebody."
Bell said he didn't appreciate LaRoque talking the way he was.
"I could care less, sir," LaRoque said.
Bell said he felt the same about LaRoque.
"Good, then don't invite me to the meeting," LaRoque said. "If you don't want my opinion don't invite me here."
Bell said that he had a right to say what he wanted, but LaRoque again told Bell not to interrupt him.
At that point, Winders stepped in to end the shouting match.
Bell got up and walked away.
Bell later said that while LaRoque's comments might have been suitable for a political event, that they were not for a commissioners' meeting regardless of whether they were made by a Republican or Democrat.
Commissioners had asked for the meeting with local legislators to talk about a number of topics. including mental health reform, easing restrictions on the use of 911 funds, lessening the regulatory burden on highway construction and working to find ways to help the county keep its jail population down.
However, state Sen. Louis Pate and Reps. Efton Sager, Larry Bell and LaRoque did not hold out much hope that the state would have any extra money even though there have been some signs of economic recovery.
The legislative short session will convene May 16 and will last no longer than five weeks, Pate said.
Pate and Larry Bell had prior engagements and left before the clash that erupted as the hour and a half meeting was winding down.