Wayne County Commissioner Joe Daughtery, known more as a firebrand, said Tuesday he was going to have a conversation that was bit out of character for him — that of peacemaker.
Daughtery made his comments after County Manager Craig Honeycutt said there had been an apparent misunderstanding as to whether commissioners had been invited to the April 11 school board meeting where redistricting was discussed.
“I really am greatly concerned, a lot of people in the county are concerned, in regards to the squabble that we are currently having with our fellow board members over at the school board,” Daughtery said. “I reflect on how we as a nation are looking at those fights on the national level and the state level.
“A lot of this has to do with communication. I have served on this board for some six years and during that period of time, the relationship between the school board and board of commissioners was exemplary. In fact, people bragged about the relationship.”
That relationship came about not by happenstance but because the boards communicated with each other, he said.
“We are not communicating, folks,” Daughtery said. “We are not sitting down and communicating. I, for one, want to offer an olive branch to the school board and say I apologize for anything that I have said that has exacerbated that problem. I think that it is long time that the school board, board of commissioners find a resolution before this thing gets out of hand.”
Daughtery compared it to watching friends battling over small things that blow up to a complete falling out.
Had the friends only communicated in the very beginning it would have never gotten to that point, he said.
“I really think that it is time that we lay aside those things that have happened in the past, the bruised feelings, and we sit down and find a way to work again together for the betterment of Wayne County,” Daughtery said. “It is a very difficult position for me to be in, but I think that it is time that we all find and move into areas that we are not comfortable with.”
Commissioner Bill Pate said there was a lot of wisdom in Daughtery’s words.
“We have got to find a way to get back together, and it is about educating kids is what it is about,” he said.
Pate then referenced comments made by school board Chairman Chris West during the school board meeting about needing $160 million for facilities.
He said he was not picking on West but that would be 12.5 cents on the county property tax rate.
“I am sure he didn’t mean all of that at one time,” he said. “But there are huge needs in facilities in schools. There are huge needs in facilities in the rest of the county. We need a new jail. This one next door is falling apart. We have to work on our DSS department. That will be several million dollars. We need a new health department.
“We try to save as much money by staff doing the work, but we also have really got to remember who is paying for this, and it is all of the taxpayers. I hate to keep repeating this, but right now our agriculture community has been hammered by two hurricanes in two years. We have lost some big farmers who are not having crops this year.”
The county has to give them a chance to recover, not to mention the residents who were flooded out of their homes, Pate said.
If the two boards sit down as Daughtery suggested and look at each other’s plans, then the county can prepare for the tax increases required to cover the needs, Pate said.
It cannot be all one big bite, he said.
“We are adults,” Pate said. “We can sensibly sit down together and find a way to make this work.”
Honeycutt said the April 11 special meeting of the school board had been mentioned as kind of a “for your information” at the bottom of an email he received from the school board concerning low-wealth funding.
“I was unaware that this was a joint meeting or that we had been formally invited,” he said. “That was a misunderstanding on my part, but it was not clear that we were expected to participate. We did not have anyone in attendance because it was an informational meeting, but it is my understanding that they are beginning the process — that it will be a couple-year process of redistricting.
“But the thing about redistricting, this is a decision the superintendent and board of education needs to make, not the board of commissioners. So, this is a project that they need to do for themselves.”
However, part of the presentation was that the school board has asked for help from the county planning and geographic information system departments.
Honeycutt said the county is formally offering that assistance and that he or Assistant County Manager Chip Crumpler are willing to sit on the planning team.
County staff are willing to help but the decision is placed squarely on the school board, not commissioners, he said.
Commissioner Wayne Aycock told Honeycutt it was no oversight on his part, and if it was, then it was an oversight on the part of all commissioners.
“By the way, I don’t see anyone from the school board here today,” he said.
In the past, commissioners have not attended school board meetings unless invited, Commissioner John Bell said.
The email did not indicate that any commissioners were invited, Commissioner Ray Mayo said.
“It was an FYI,” he said. “That should be made clear.”