01/09/14 — Keen asks for school bond levy info

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Keen asks for school bond levy info

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 9, 2014 1:46 PM

Along with choosing candidates in the May 6 primary, Wayne County voters could be deciding the fate of a school bond issue.

Wayne County Commissioner Steve Keen Tuesday told his fellow commissioners that he had taken it upon himself to ask County Attorney Borden Parker if he would provide the protocol the county needed to move forward on a bond vote.

Keen, who was chairman when he made the request in November, offered no specifics as to how much the bond would be or what projects it would fund. The possibility of a school bond has received only cursory attention from the commissioners and the school board.

He said he wanted to see the issue on the forefront and to move forward at the commissioners' next meeting.

None of the commissioners responded to Keen's comments that were made during the board comments section of Tuesday's meeting.

It is not the first time that Keen has gotten ahead of the rest of his board, as well as the Wayne County Board of Education.

In June, Keen went as far as securing the services of Greenville architect Jimmy Hite of Hite Associates to prepare possible designs for a new K-8 Grantham school despite the school board's plan for a new middle school -- a plan that drew community support at a county budget hearing.

In July, he invited Hite to explain the plan to commissioners. Hite also made a presentation at a joint meeting of commissioners and school board.

The school board has since hired its own architect and has voted to complete the projects on its existing facilities plan that includes new middle schools at Grantham and Spring Creek.

"I am concerned about schools," Keen said Tuesday. "We have been talking about our schools for a number of months. We are not finished. It is something that we do not need to lay to the side. We need to bring the schools to the forefront to get these kids into these school buildings that have been promised to the citizens of this county through our meetings that we have had, through all of the conversations and the things we have done up here on this board last year.

"Just because we have a little hiccup in the road right now in terms of internal unbalance doesn't mean that we stop doing what we are doing."

Keen's comment about internal unbalance is an apparent reference to the board's 6-1 vote on Jan. 3 to suspend, with pay, County Manager Lee Smith.

Wake County has passed a "huge" bond referendum, and Johnston County has just launched a bond as well, Keen said.

"These bonds just don't happen overnight," he said. "As you know, Mr. Chairman and the rest of the board, we have to lay out groundwork for this."

Barbara Arntsen, the county's public information officer, said that Parker had contacted Thomas Lee of the Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge and Rice law firm concerning a timetable.

Rice did not charge the county for his response, she said.

Keen said Lee provided a calendar of events leading to a bond referendum for the May 6 primary if that is what commissioners wanted.

Under the calendar, initial paperwork would have to be filed this month. On March 4 a public hearing would be held, followed that same day by adoption of a bond order and resolution calling for the referendum.

"In putting together a calendar, Mr. Lee said we would use the regular scheduled meeting dates of the school board and the county commissioners," Keen said. "If a decision is made to proceed on that schedule some decisions would need to be made fairly soon, but it is not too late to start."

"If we were to use special meetings for some of the actions, certainly several weeks could be shaved off the calendar. The key date is March 17, the date that absentee ballots are to be available. The action by the commissioners to adopt a bond order or call a referendum must be done before that date."

Keen said Lee had laid out from Jan. 6 all the way through June 8 a list of what must take place.