11/18/12 — GOP planning swearing in

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GOP planning swearing in

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 18, 2012 1:50 AM

The five Republicans who won seats on the Wayne County Board of Commissioners are not talking about an unpublicized private meeting they held to discuss organization and other issues less than three days after they were elected on Nov. 6.

The five also appear to have made arrangements for next month's swearing-in ceremony -- including scheduling a N.C. Supreme Court justice to swear them in -- even though the board has yet to approve any changes to the procedure set down by state law and without telling the two Democrats left on the board.

The private meeting held Nov. 9 does not appear to violate the state's Open Meetings Law since only two of the five, Steve Keen, District 4, and Ray Mayo, District 1, currently serve on the board.

The other three are Wayne Aycock, at-large; Bill Pate, District 5; and Joe Daughtery, District 6.

Keen did not return a phone call seeking comment on the matter.

Mayo said the commissioners-to-be and those currently in the jobs are not speaking about the proposed ceremony or the pre-swearing-in meeting.

"I have no comment on that because the new commissioners have not been sworn in," he said. "The meeting was about preparing for the transition and is not public. We are holding off on any comment."

Mayo was asked how the five could reconcile the private meeting to talk about what they would do once they were on the board with their campaign rhetoric for the need for more clarity and transparency in county government.

In an interview prior to the election, Daughtery said, "I want to insist that we have transparent government. What I mean by that is I want to see that all boards, all commissions that every meeting not only be public, but be televised and placed on the Internet."

Also, in the months leading up to the election, Keen often spoke of a need for clarity and transparency by commissioners.

Asked if the five discussed leadership roles, programs and funding, Mayo again refused to reveal what was discussed.

When the five take office next month it will be the first time since Reconstruction that Republicans have controlled the county board.

An official in the office of N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby Friday confirmed that he will officiate at the swearing-in ceremony.

State law requires that newly elected county officials take their oath of office on the first Monday in December following each general election.

However, the board's agenda for its Tuesday meeting includes consideration to change the first December meeting.

Board Chairman John Bell, a Democrat, said that item was added at Keen's request. Also, even though the issue has not been discussed, Bell said that the Republicans asked County Attorney Borden Parker to determine if the swearing-in ceremony could be moved into the historic Courtroom No. 1.

In the past, commissioners have moved their meetings to bigger rooms to accommodate a large audience.

But, unlike the commissioners' meeting room, the courtroom lacks the audio or video equipment to record the historic event. The county has hired a contractor to do the recording at a cost of approximately $200.

The reception following the ceremony is expected to cost about $400.

Mayo said since he was not the lead in the planning, he was unsure if Bell and Commissioner J.D. Evans had been told about the plans.

"Steve Keen has done a lot of the legwork contacting people," Mayo said.

Bell said he knew the Republican members had requested using the courtroom, but other than that they had not "communicated with me, not one breath" about their plans.

Bell said he has asked Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones to administer the oath of office. Bell noted that fellow Democrat J.D. Evans is in the hospital and that he was not sure of Evans' plans.

Bell said had he known beforehand about the Republican plans that he would have had no problem with the idea and would have been sworn in by Newby as well. But now he said he plans to abide by the statutes.

In an article prior to the election, Keen had said, "Now, I have been left out for the last four years, but if things change politically in Wayne County, I don't intend to do the leaving out because that is not how I operate. That hurts Wayne County."

Legal experts differ on whether the Republicans' plan to move the swearing in is supported by law.

"I would think that they would be bound by statutes," said Frayda Bluestein, an associate dean and professor of public law and government at the N.C. School of Government. "I think, the way I read it, nothing supports it being optional."

The wording, she said, is plain, and that she was not sure how the court would view such an action.

County Attorney Borden Parker disagrees.

Parker said his opinion is that a simple majority vote by the current board of commissioners would be sufficient to change the meeting date and location.

Parker said it was his understanding some commissioners wanted to delay the ceremony because the person they wanted to swear them in was not available on Dec. 3, but was on Dec. 4.

Also, some relatives of the commissioners-elect had mistakenly thought the ceremony would be on Dec. 4 and already had made plans to be in the county on that day, Parker said.

Mayo said that Parker had assured the commissioners-elect the change could be made with no problem.

"Borden has assured all of us and (County Manager) Lee Smith that it is not problem," he said. "It is an option for commissioners to decide. That is second-hand information I have not talked to Lee Smith about this. It is on our agenda to vote on. It is not illegal to do that.

"Everything is tentative to the vote. It is public knowledge. It is on the agenda. We wanted to do something special. What we are trying to do is to make that day an historical day but also have everyone in this county, regardless of party affiliation, to enjoy the celebration that we are going to have."